One of my dreams is to drive the whole Ruta 40 (Route 40) in Argentina. The Ruta 40 is more challenging because of its length and the extreme conditions that it traverses. It extends 5.200 kilometers from Cabo Virgenes at the entrance of the Straits of Magellan’s in the Province of Santa Cruz, to La Quiaca in the border with Bolivia in the province of Jujuy. My trip was confined to the northern end of the route in the province of Jujuy, starting in San Antonio de los Cobres and heading north. The accommodations are scarce and spartan, and having a guide made photographic trip more productive.
The Ruta 40 traversed a multitude of geological formations that in my opinion, encompasses landscapes similar to those in the southwestern United States and perhaps surpasses them in majesty and magnitude. Just to give you an idea, in descending order above are some of the formations I encountered during the trip. The Valley of the Moon was the most impressive; it should be noted that there is another valley in Argentina but farther south as well as one in Bolivia. The green mountain was the most impressive to me; not too common to see green mountains unless they are covered by vegetation. The third formation is called “The Hand” for obvious reasons followed by an eroded calcareous formation. The B&W image is of a ridge called the “Spine of the Dragon” and is located in the Horrolcal. And finally, the Vulcan Tuzgle. It brought back memories of the geology course I took more than 50 years ago; it allowed me to recognize the dark obsidian flows as well as the mounds in the foreground where the lava flow terminated. I changed the colors to make the lava flow easier to see and found a video in Vimeo that will give a better appreciation as to the size of this volcano at http://vimeo.com/71683759.
La Ruta 40 parallels in some sectors the track of the “Tren de las Nubes” and several train stops and viaducts are encountered along the route. La Polvorilla viaduct is a curved viaduct about 14,000 feet above sea level and approximately 740 feet long and 230 in heights. I spent some time admiring this engineering feast, designed by an American engineer Richard Maury. The train currently used is diesel powered; hat you see above is watering station from the olden days of steam engines. The train is mostly used now for tourism and only runs during the summer; that is December to March in South America. I encounter a single British couple during my travels in the Ruta 40. They were doing Chile and Argentina in a rented van (even Elvis is King here).
I saw a mural of Padre Chifri painted in one of the piers supporting the viaduct along the route and wondered who is this person? Padre Chifri whose real name was Sigfrido Moroder came to the Quebrada del Toro zone as a missionary and started backpacking to visit the various villages in his parochial territory. Due to the difficulty of the terrain, Padre Chifri decided to use a paraglyder allowing him to visit several villages in one day. He will climb a hill near a village and then fly to another. During one of those flies he crashed, was severely injured and was limited to a wheelchair for several years. He overcame the injuries, wrote a book titled “Despues del Abismo” (After the Abyss), and continued to work with his parishioners by establishing artisanal fairs to promote the local trades. He died in 2011. His work still continues today as represented by the mural in this school as well as the Alfarcito Center dedicated to the promotion of the artisanal work of the region. The center generates its electricity using solar power as well as the use of solar grills for the parrilladas.
The variety of fauna and flora is limited due to the altitude and dryness of the highlands. The predominant animal was the llama, which has traditionally being the source of wool and meat for the Indians in the area. These are domesticated and even when you don’t see them, always accompanied by a by a herdsman; these are shy and tend to hide since they do not want their photo taken. Llamas were friendly and easy to photograph but the guanacos were a different matter. At the time I was there, the llamas were decorated due to the religious festivals. I was lucky to arrive at a small river when the llamas were taken to drink water; what a great photo opportunities; it all the question of being at the right place at the right time. There were burros all along the route and I learned that during colonial times, these animals were the main mean of transportation and were in great demand particularly in the silver mining operations in Potosi, Bolivia. As a result, this area of Argentina became the main breeding grounds for these beasts of burden.
There were a few towns in the route but I found the door of the chapel in the cemetery in the town of Suesques the most attractive. I got there first thing in the morning and the colors were fantastic. The door is made of the wood of the large cacti that grow in the region. The holes are part of the structure of the cacti; notice that it was put together with rope made out of animal hide. Another point of interest was Salinas Grandes where salt is extracted for industrial purpose and very large and busy with truck traffic. When approaching the end of the trip near La Quiaca, people became more abundant and as always not pleased of being photographed. I got caught and mooned…well deserved!!! But I will return to the Ruta 40.