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Although our need to be back in Córdoba on Saturday means we can’t dawdle on our northward loop, we like La Providencia and Silvia so much that we decide to stay again on the return trip, since our figure-8 route will bring us back here. We promise to make her a taco dinner and, after a good breakfast with homemade bread and cake we pack and continue north.
We’re planning on a 230 mile drive today to Humahuaca, the town at the west end of the newly connected back road. The drive is somewhat tedious, since we’re not prowling for interesting side trips or stops. Subtracting even more from the excitement, the last third is a highway we drove a year ago on the way to Bolivia. We make a brief excursion a few miles off our route to check out Purmamarca, which we’ve been told is famous for its multi-colored mountain.
On arrival, we do find it, but after our experience on remote and massive Rainbow Mountain in Perú last January, it really doesn’t hold our attention. At the foot of the hill, we find a small but highly developed tourist town, its narrow streets filled with stores and kiosks selling a broad variety of goods.
The access road is filled with tour buses, so we aren’t tempted to stay there although, under other circumstances, Susan would like to cruise the hundreds of kiosks and shops.
We make it to Humahuaca, a town we had looked at briefly last November on our way to the Bolivian border, and the western terminus of what is no longer a dead end into the mountains.
It’s about 4 PM, too late to drive the full road through to the far side of the national park. Because of our tight schedule, though, we decide to start out now and hope to find lodging along the way before dark, with the risk that we’ll have to spend the night in the car.
The road starts out well, wide gravel, with lots of oncoming traffic which encourages us to think the new through road is attracting tourists. The weather is not looking friendly, but you never know what it’s going to be like in ten minutes.
Humahuaca is already at 10,000 feet elevation and the road climbs steadily eastward into the Quebrada de Humahuaca, an enormous valley, affording incredible views of the mountains behind us. After a dizzying series of switchbacks we come to a plateau at over 14,000 feet and a road junction. We bear to the right and Google Maps quickly indicates we are off our route. We try the left fork and see the same problem. Between the two branches is a narrow track that drops steeply down into the next valley. Maps is telling us this is what we want but there’s a problem.
Right where it starts is a permanent-looking road sign that translates, literally, as “road disabled” with a “do not enter” pictogram below it.
We’re really confused. This is the route that now connects through to the east? I’m willing to try it for a while, Susan is not. We hang around for a few minutes discussing it and see an ambulance working its way slowly down one of the two bigger roads heading back to Humahuaca. Figuring they must know local road conditions, we chase them down and ask if they know about the closed road. They tell us that it can only be navigated (pun intended) during the dry season, which is not now. Ironically, the missing link seems to have been completed but it’s not an all year route. We’ve come a long, long way only to be stopped cold.
Adding to our disappointment is some distress. For the last several hours, there’s been an unusual noise coming from under the hood when making a sharp turn in either direction and a simultaneous “surging” sensation in the steering wheel. It seems to be a power steering issue and it has now gotten noticeable enough that a U-turn seems like a good idea anyway. Finally, from our high vantage point, we can see rain showers in several directions, and rain can quickly turn a passable dirt road into a car sucking quagmire. With, believe me, the maximum possible reluctance, I backtrack down the steep road to Humahuaca.
I would never say a trip is wasted because there’s always something to learn and enjoy from any place we go but had we known the through road wasn’t driveable, we wouldn’t have come 600 miles north to try.
On the way down, we notice giant cactus in full bloom on both sides.
Near Humahuaca, we eventually find our way to a suspiciously inexpensive cabaña development. At that price, we’re not expecting it to be satisfactory,. Since there’s no identifying sign, we’re not even positive we’re in the right place. Going back to the town square, where there’s public wifi, we track down the owner via WhatsApp. We return to the site and he shows us to a simple but surprisingly nice cabin with adjacent shared kitchen.
Pleased to find something so cheap and pleasant in a popular tourist town, we take it for the night. As we’re moving bags from the car to the room, one of the owner’s dogs sizes us up, hops onto our bed, and makes himself comfortable.
We cook and eat a good dinner in the kitchen.
We’re soon treated to a beautiful sunset over the mountains to the west.
Shooing the dog out of our room, we gratefully begin a sound sleep after a long day with a disappointing finish.