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Tranquillo in the Cordoba Sierras

Posadas to Cordoba

Leaving El Arbol was hard, I had become comfortable there and had enjoyed a nice relationship with Axelle. I left El Arbol feeling fairly well rested, well fed. Granny had stiched all my clothes that were falling appart and Axelle had washed them. I definately felt that I couldn´t be more prepared for departure in this respect. However, knowing I would be saying goodbye to Al, he would be going his separate way to the Antartic, was over-riding my feelings for leaving Misiones. I hadn´t totally decided on where to catch a bus until I arrived at Posadas station My mind was made up between Salta and Cordoba when there were no direct busses to Salta. It was a tough goodbye at Posadas bus terminal, and a lonely 16 hour drive to Cordoba. It hit me on the bus that I have never done such a long journey alone and that the next 3 weeks on my own travelling would be an all time first for me.

Cordoba

Arriving in Cordoba terminal I managed to decide on a hostel and get there by public bus and walking. On arriving I met a nice french helpx volunteer working there. I got the last available cheap dorm room, I was pleased as it transpired later that it was the cheapest in town (30 pesos). I dumped my stuff and spent the day walking and walking around the city. I found a well priced coffee and empanada source near my hostel. Found Al online when I reached an internet cafe which was reassured me after an abrupt goodbye in Posadas when the bus whisked me away. For the remainder of the afternoon I picked up some food for dinner and had an overpriced beer, arriving back at the hostel with tired feet just before thunder and heavy rain came. I had been told that Cordoba was dry at this time of year, but looking out of my window the road had turned into a torrent. Not sure how my ideas of camping was going to work out! I sat in my dark dorm room trying to decide on a plan of action of where to head in the Sierras, it was hard making decisions. I was still feeling totally directionless. Decisions seemed like the hardest thing to make alone! One thing I could decide on was that this was my first challenge to overcome.

The following day, after a good rest, I woke early. With beautiful sunshine I was raring to go and be a tourist for the day in Cordoba. I enjoyed a brief breakfast with Marcello (a guy that worked at the hostel) who was happy to advise me on where to go in the Sierras. With a prior conversation with a German guy who knew a lot about the region, I decided to catch a train to Cosquin the following day and then make my way to Capilla de Monte (further north).

With some more certainty ahead I had a great day walking in the fresh sun. With a spot of culture, I enjoyed the free Municiple de Belles Artes (modern art museum) which was in a beautiful colonial house. For the afternoon I investigated the trains for the following day and found the city´s park. It was a bit scummy when I arrived, so I didn´t hang around, but did spot an unidentifiable creature before my exit. Walking the modern avenues of Cordoba with a chocolate bariloche icecream (that dripped all over me), I thought Cordoba was a really fantastic city. Apparently the second biggest city in Argentina, it certainly did not feel like this. I felt safe and it felt like a managable size to walk around. Saying that, I was hot and tired when I finally got back to the hostel. I learnt that there was a roof terace and ended up having one to many beers and waking up with an extremely sore head.

Cosquin

Determined that I would stick to my decision I checked out of the hostel feeling rather nauseous. The weather was promising rain. I went for my last coffee and empanada fix before venturing to the train station. With a heavy mochilla and a 10 block hill and a pounding head I gave in and caught a 6 peso cab, just to learn the train I was intending on taking only ran at the weekend. It was going to be óne of those days´…Caught another cab to the bus terminal and after an hour drive, slowly losing the cityscape and the mountains beginning to show themselves I arrived in Cosquin. Siesta plus miserable weather made the place feel like a ghost town. At this point all I wanted to do was  hide in my tent, but the day was not on my side. After a walk towards the river on the edge of town I learnt that ALL the campsites were closed! Eventually I worked up the courage to break into one and knock on the owners door. Two teenagers answered and in my broken Castelleno I pleaded with them to let me stay a night. With the rain streaming down by now, I pitch my tent under their open garage. Not knowing what the next few weeks held for me, I was at an all time low. Missing my partner in crime, cold, hungry and a tad hungover. I realised down the line, that I needed this low point. I needed to feel rough so that I would not get drunk like that again, and everything after this night could only be better!
I tried to fall aspleep early evening without success. I mustered up the courage to knock at the owners door to ask for some hot water. An old man answered this time, very obliging. He was lovely and brought me a whole pan. I was able to make tea and instant noodles which I ate on a rocking chair on the front porch of the campsite watching the rain fall and river gush. A friendly golden labrador puppy kept me company watching me eat some dry crackers with my noodles.
To my memory, I didn´t sleep that night, I just continuously tossed and turned trying to keep warm and battling with a deflating pillow. Surprisingly the next day I didn´t feel like death warmed  up, just dazed, perhaps overtired. I headed for the bus terminal after packing up and eating the remainder of my now cold instant noodles. I stuffed a 10 pesos into the keyhole of the family house. They hadn´t asked for money, but it was the only way to show my gratitude for the kindness at the early hour of my departure.

Two hours later I was in Capilla de Monte (Shrine of the Mountains). Put off by camping for little while, I needed to sleep. I found the first Hostel I could, 50 pesos per night. I book one night and see what happens after that I conclude. After checking in, I had a brief walk around. A man chased after me and shuved a flyer for a hostel in my hand. 40 pesos a night and it looked perfect so I walked there just to check it out.  The next morning I changed hostel, I had a good feeling about it. It was beautiful with a roof terrace view of Cerra Uritorco and a nice relaxed vibe.

Climbing Cerra Uritorco (Portal to the Underworld)

A beautiful day, feeling well rested now. Plus a really lovely message from my friends Sy and Nat, I was spurred on to climb Uritorco today. 10am, sun shining and a sky scattered with friendly clouds I walked half an hour to the base of the mountain. Then the climb began. It was hard, but magnificent. I felt an energy from the mountain and was motivated beyond belief to use every ounce of mine to get up and down this majestic rock. The views were staggering with shades of soft greens with lakes emerging in the distance below. The climb progressed as it should with a mountain; harder near the summit. Really climbing, not walking for the last half an hour I reached the top in a total of 3 hours. I wanted to make a noise in celebration, but didn´t.

There must have been about 30 people at the top, but it was almost silent with the wind (a cool refreshing breeze) blowing. I sat on a few different potruding rocks taking in the view with large birds of prey swooping around. I had some tuna sandwiches and sat for about an hour before considering my descent.
Climbing down pretty quickly, thinking of Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, as a bounced all my way down. I took some rests on the way down to absorb the good fresh air and energy from the mountain. At the bottom I was drained with very sore feet. On the way back to the hostel I found a quiet place for a beer and reflecting my intense release of energy.
Back at the Hunab´ku hostel, hardly being able to walk a nice Italian couple made me dinner and I began to meet the dynamic quirky residents of my new hostel. The Italian couple, about my age, an inspirational duo were moving into a little house in the mountains the next day, where they intended on spending their lives. Ermanno and Nora,  two people who had decided to try to hitch all the way to Posadas to find the Rainbow Gathering the following day. (The festival I had in mind to go to, but to my dismay the location had now been made to take place in Misiones, where I had just come from). And Luis, an old time tripper, archeologist, interesting character who had lived just about everywhere including the depths of the Amazon for many years. Wow, what a mix. It was hard to take it all in with my state of tiredness.  I was so appreciative to have been made a beautiful italian pasta before heading to bed!

After a difficult night of aching legs and stinging blisters, I headed to the roof for early morning meditation. A day of rest and recovery was in order! I was back to being unsure about what to do with my day after my attempt at meditation. I went to buy some fruit and sat in the park. I realised that everything was seeming like such hard work. I thought about how relaxing came so naturally when Al was around, it was the hardest thing alone! I walked to  the nearby lake I had seen in my view from Uritorco, it was beautiful and blue. But with no shade by the lake I tried to find some under a big rock but it wasn´t sustainable to sit there for more than an hour and a half. The sun was very strong and with midday approaching quickly, I started to walk back. It was good to have time to reflect and think, and really get to the bottom of my own personality traits. My feeling of indecision and not having a plan for the next few days was over riding the calm I was seeking. On the way back I saw Ermanno and Nora, the two Rainbow Gathering goers still sat on the side of the main road – they were not having much luck at hitching it seemed. I had waved hello on my way to the lake, but had not expected to see them still sat there. Ermanno looking indifferent and Nora looking a little fed up. I sat with them for a while and fed them a bannana and gave them water. I went back to the park to find some shade and read. Shortly after I saw them walking past me, clearly giving up for the day.
Back at the hostel I was considering to try camping again, but I met two young Israeli girls in my room who I shared a cup of tea with. They invited me to go on a walk with them tomorrow. Why not I thought, it was going with the flow that was an important strategy in my time of restless indecision! Ermanno sat on the next table and I sympathised with him for not managing to start hitching today. He just shrugged and said it was just not meant to be…but he had an idea that if we could find one person willing to drive, we definately had enough people to fill a car. This idea encouraged me to stick around for a couple more days so I could see if anything would come of the idea. My decision was to go nowhere.

Los Torrones
I woke up early and mediated on the roof , woke up the girls. A spanish girl about my age, Flor decided to join us. I had a good feeling about today. We bought two loaves of bread, and together we scraped together a can of tuna, left over cheese, packets of sauce, bannana, and ducle de leche (caramel spread). With all of this we had a feast in the making.

We caught a collectivo to the side of the road, where the road split and there was a turn off for Los Torrones. From here it was a long walk, about 4km, to the entrance. However, luck was on our side and we soon hitched a lift for more than half the way. For the remainder we walked.

For the whole day I had an indecribable feeling of a happiness growing inside of me. It was an overwhelming sensation, but I think the place combined with our fantastic adventure was just what I had been needing to unwind and follow my destiny.

At the entrance we enjoyed our picnic lunch looking over a lush green canopy with soft folding mountains in the distance. We started the walk, like a trek. Soon we were stopping in amazement more than we were walking. The gorge of the river gave an incredible feeling of energy surrounding me. At each turn in our walk, through the gorge especially, we would meet another beautiful place that I never wanted to leave. Especially near the beginning the gorgewas lined with peach trees. I ate one at the beginning and one at the end of the day. They were the most delicious I have ever had.
Eventually as we made the ascent the rock formations showed themselves as a collection of statues and faces with strong vibrations  and clearly the most spiritual of any place with such formations that I had ever come across. When we did reach the mirador of Los Torrones we were surrounded again, this time with veiws from every angle. Even above. A sun halo appeared around the sun and it stayed there for some time. It was a magical moment for it to appear just as we arrived at the top. It was crazy that we had the most incredible view, and I found us looking at the sky!

At the top we enjoyed dulche de leche and bananna sandwiches and took in the strong pure winds. I watched the rock formations for a long time.

Soaking up the energy. I desided that this area was worth spending more time at, so if the Rainbow Gathering didn´t happen, then ce la vie! I had my mind cleared at the top of Los Torrones, it was definately my remedy. For the remainder for my travels alone, my mind was clear and I had a new appreciation for just being and taking in the incredible energy nature had to offer me.

Our long descent back to Capilla de Monte wasn´t so painful. We caught two lifts all the way back, which was a blessing on our legs. The Israeli girls made me a great dinner, Ermanno volunteered a foot massage with Luis´s rose oil, and a new guy sat at the hostel dining table strumming his 12 string guitar fantasctically. Ending finally with the Oasis song, Don´t look back in Anger- a favourite of mine.

What a day. Everything fell into place and I had found a new harmony. Perfect. The following day was TODO TRANQUILLO: the energy I had soaked up was beginning to show its self. I made the ultimate and final decision not to go to the Rainbow Gathering. It felt good to have finally made it and I would not care anymore about this! I enjoyed an outing to Passe de Lindo with the girls in the afternoon. It was beautiful, but possibly a little spoilt by the amount of day trippers having assados (bbqs). In the evening I made home made pizza with Ermanno at the hostel and had an early night.

My time, I felt was coming to an end in Capilla de Monte. I had spoke to Flor and she had agreed to to lend me her sleeping bags so I could go camping. I had been recommended a place called San Marcos, one hour away. My last day at the hostel, I really chilled out and enjoyed sitting with Ermanno, Miguel (barman), Luis and Flor trying to chat in Castelleno. That evening Luis was taking us to a Shiva ceremony in the mountains. In didn´t know what to expect, but he had been inviting me to all sorts of events over the last few days and I wanted to go to at least one. To while away a hot afternoon I tried to walk to the base of the mountain where there was a small river. I didn´t get very far in the intense heat of the afternoon sun pounding down relentlessly. No clouds, no shade, just some ferroucious dogs following me. I turned round with all my courage and roared at them. They scamperred away never to be seen again. Instead of forcing this difficult walk I went for a small artesanal beer alone at the same place I had found after my hike up Uritorco. I liked it there, no talking, just sitting. After stolling back to the hostel to get ready for the evening, Ermanno heald an impromptu Worship the Sun yoga class on the roof.

I found myself in the corpse pose meditating in the setting sun an hour later. Woken up by someone in the class snoring. It was a great way to wind down the day before jumping in a cab and finding myself in the mountains with a clear sky of stars. The Shiva ceremony was held inside a living room filled with Shiva relics, soft pillows and a lot of insense. The ceremony started with insense wafting around and chanting for a long long time. It was the same chant that my friend Bongani taught me back in England and the same one we used in Omkareshwa. It was a strange thing to experience the Shiva ceremony, something so Indian in the mountains of Argentina. Either way it was the most intense 8 hours I have experienced. I found myself falling in and out of trance and meditating without trying. It was a fantastic experience. At 3am we made our way back to the hostel to sleep.

San Marcos

After my deep meditation at the Shiva ceremony I woke with a determination to leave the hostel and go camping. I took Flors sleeping bag and caught the midday bus. An hour later I was in San Marcos. Immediately as I disembarked the bus, a man asked me if I was going camping. Yes. He took me, I followed not protesting, to a campsite very close to the main plaza. 10 pesos a night with the use of gas, fridge and hot shower. I pitched my tent in this small campsite and felt exhilerated that I was finally doing the camping I had been dreaming of since leaving El Arbol.
Seeking the alone and reflective time, I went to the nearby Rio San Marcos and found a perfect spot. It was a stunning river, gentle trickling water that was clear with little fish visible everywhere. There were quite a few people, but once sunset came, surprisingly there was nobody around. So tranquil and quiet, it was heaven. That evening I had a soup and a beer. A quiet night and a good first sleep in my tent.

With good intentions to start early, I was up and ready. My early start soon ended up being delayed when I spoke to Juan, a guy at my campsite. He was interested in sharing ideas about art projects. I didn´t mind. I tried to write some of my diary with a coffee in the plaza before heading out on a 5km walk to Rio Quilpo, but to my sirprise a girl who I had shared a dorm with in Capilla de Monte for one night, Bianca, tapped me on the shoulder. We ended up sitting there and enjoying more coffee and chatting for some time. It was really nice to sit and chat, improving my castelleno too. We agreed to go to a Pena (traditional music and dancing) that night. Finally, about 11:30am, I headed out for Rio Quilpo. Luckilly the clouds were on my side, dotted in the sky and providing sufficient shade on the long unshaded road.. I saw a couple ahead of me hitch a ride, I considered this option but chose to walk. I arrived at a turn off to the river, ridiculously I discovered that I had to pay. Remembering Ermanno and Flors ethics, it was absurd to have to pay to enjoy a river. I decided to find a way to the river without paying. Only problem with this is that I wasn´t sure where the river was and I didnt want to get spotted on the main road. I turned off the road onto a small dirt path into a hill of spikey bushes. All about eye level. I figuered that if I made it to the top of the hill I might have a better view of the rivers location. After what felt like a long time I pulled my way through the spikes avoiding the cacti underfoot. It was a real struggle as the spikes kept entering my flip flops and clothes almost tearing as I literally crawled through this neverending hill of hell! There appeared to be very small tracks to follow on the ground, but the way the branches covered the wya certainly did not reflect them. After reaching the top, I could see nothing more than more of the same bushes. I managed to follow a slightly clearer path, which to my dismay took me back onto the road I had originally left. I soon saw the entrance, and didn´t want my mission to have failed. I dived under a barbed fence. I could now hear the water gushing from a river. More of the same bushes, I struggled through some more until I found some rocks, I climbed down them with a 3meter drop. WOOHOO! I was at the river. It was stunning. Without much shade though, I knew I needed to find a place to base myself. With many stepping stones across the river, I began to cross. My mistake here was not taking my flip flops off. I stepped on a wobbly stone, my right flip flop gave way, I lost my balance, and I toppled into the water with everything. Camera, wallet, lunch. Meanwhile my flip flop was moving quikly down stream! I chucked my bag on a rock and dived after it, fully clothed. After all those spikes, there was no way I could get back to San Marcos with one shoe. I managed to retrieve it and get back to my bag on the rock. I looked around for my water, oh no! Even further down stream…again dived after it. I absolutely could not spend the day here without water. Retrieved it and then realised I had a small audience who must have wondered what on earth this crazy gringo was up to! My camera didnt get wet and everything else was savable. Luckily they (2 guys) soon left and it was just me on a rock for the day. Able to relax with no one else around I enjoyed fantastic swims, synchronizing my swims with the sun and the sunbathing with the shade of the clouds. In a deeper part with a little waterfall I allowed the gently current to wash me back up onto my designated rock. Lying on the rock, I listened the the water trickly and glide pleasantly over the smooth rocks. The rocks dotted the rivers surface to create a fantastic series of stepping stone and little pools. The larger rocks retained the heat of the sun which I relished, lying in the corpse position absorbing the energy.
When I decided to start heading back, I tried out a different route. I walked in the river and along its banks until I found myself at the original campsite that want to charge me. It was a sensational walk back, the river filled with fish and river birds. After a cold drink I started the long hot walk back on the road back to San Marcos. After a short time I managed to flag down a ride and hitched my way back to the main plaza. The couple in the car were great and I held a whole conversation in Castelleno, which the complimented me on. It was nice to feel like I was getting somewhere!

Back at the campsite I enjoyed a cold beer and made some food on the gas stove. Waiting for Bianca in town, I sat at Lilys bar. Lily was a lady living in the campsite whilst she waited for her house in the mountains to be finished. I sat there, and before long with entire population of the campsite was there which was really nice. Eventually Bianca turned up and we headed to the pena. I found myself sitting at a table with everyone from the campsite, plus some local musicians. It was a great night with a lot of friendly easygoing people all with a zest for life and a deep apprectaition for the natural beauty of the Sierras.

Another tranquillo day in San Marcos was filled with chilling by the river and getting invited to eat assado with the campsite owner and all their friends. It was a welcome meal of meat after too many dry bread and cheese sandwiches with packet soup meals. It was so nice to be welcomed and included in their Sunday lunch. I didnt understand everything that was going on, but it didnt matter.

A second visit to Rio Quilpo

Bianca pitched up at 10:30am so we enjoyed coffee and chatted in Castelleno. I was definately learning and improving. Today we had agreed to go to Rio Quilpo together. I was determined not to push my way of doing things and to go with the flow. It was actually a bit difficult, I guess I was finally getting used to making all the decisions and doing whatever I wanted! Bianca wasnt up for walking, so we caught the collectivo which by doing this we paid for the admission fee to the river. I took her to the spot I found, it was a national holiday and it felt like half of Buenos Aires had had the same idea as us. However the spot I knew wasnt so busy and was still tranquillo. It was a great day with a perfect balance of talking, swimming and relaxing on the rocks. I really love this place.

Back at the campsite I found a new bunch of young musicians who had come just for the weekend. They were really good at improvising music. They invited me to sit with them and asked my loads of questions about what I am up to. They were really curious and interested in how I could be able to go on the journey I was on. They made music for several hours, including a few improvised love tunes for me. I think I was seen as a very unusual case…blond hair and white skinned is pretty rare in Argetina, but I didnt take it too seriously. The music had a ska egde to it and was pretty humurous even if the lyrics were….come to my tent Laura…come to my bed. I just thought it was hilarious as they were all very merry after many bongs all day long. Later that night I found out they were all about 20years, when I commented on being old, one piped up….but you are mature; experienced. Oh please! I almost snorted outloud. I had never heard that one before. Priceless, with that I went to bed giggling to myself.

My last day in San Marcos

I woke up early expecting Bianca to be knocking at my tent door. I should have realised when she said she wanted to go the river early, at 8am, it did not mean 8am. Todo tranquillo, I left a note on my tent and went for my usual coffee and wrote my diary. With still no sign of her I did my laundery in the little stream near the campsite and ate my usual dry bread and cheese sandwich with packet soup. With still no sign and it being my last day I decided to go to the river alone. Perhaps she had a change of plan. I walked to my usual place at Rio San Marcos but it was taken, so I decided to walk much further down the river than I had preiviously ventured. Soon I found myself in the mountains once more. It was serenly beautiful with the river changing the further I walked. Sometimes seeming larger and deeper with pools of water the like  small trickle again with progressive mini waterfalls where the gradient of rocks forced the water to plunge and cut throught the mountains. I was a little dissapointed I hadnt ventured this far up the river prviously and suddenly felt like I needed another week here. Randomly I bumped into a girl from my campsite. She was a lovely calm person and told me she would show my a muy lindo lugar (very pretty place), and it was. So very tranquil and cool in the shade of some trees with the sun filtering through. It had quite a stong little waterfall which was ideal for a neck massage. We hung out and chatted for a while. In the distance we could hear rolls of thunder and the air went cooler. Our time in this place came to an end and she started to walk back. I just couldnt resist going further up stream. I just had to explore this river more! Ignoring the thunder I successfully step-stoned my way across the river and ventured further. The thunder never arrived and the sun cam out once again. I found my own spot on a rock with a magnificent little pool that I spent the rest of the afternoon by.

When I finally arrived back at the campsite I found a lovely note from Bianca, I heard she had been searching all over San Marcos for me to say goodbye. I felt a little bad for having left to do my own thing…but I had waited 5 hours! I guess this really is a trait of many people in Argentina. Time is never en punto (on time).

Retreating from the Sierras

My last night in San Marcos was spent at Lilys bar for a quite beer and bed. A colder than usual night left me very tired for my departure. However, after falling in love with a near part of the river I was determined to go one last time. I packed up my tent and trekked an hour to the spot for an early morning dip and meditate. As a fell into the cold refreshing water I totally appreciated the moment, so thankful I had found and achieved what I had set out to do on my travels alone. I wondered if I would ever come back to this spot in the river in my life agian, I sincerely hoped so.

Within a couple of hours I was all packed up waiting in the hot plaza for my bus back to Capilla de Monte. Lily hugged me goodbye and before I knew it I had walked up the main road towards the Hunabku hostel. I was excited to see some friendly faces and have one last night chilling with Ermanno and Miguel. That is exactly what I did, although I was exhausted from my bad nights sleep so made it an early one. It had been fun telling Ermanno about my adventures and seeing him again. The following day I got a bus to Cordoba, it felt like eternity since I had been here! Then an 8 hour ride to San Luis with one more sleep before I see my Al!

On arrival in San Luis I had no money and the cash point near the bus terminal was out of cash. I ran after the lady who had been in the queue infront of me and asked her where else I could go. I just wanted to catch a cab to a hostel and sleep. She immediately offered to drive me to town and take me to another cash point. I was taken aback with her generosity and kindness. Several cash machines were out of cash so she ended up driving around a good chunk of the city centre. Then, when I had money she offered to take me to the hostel I had an adress for. For me it was such a fantasitc end to an epic three weeks of discovery and adventure. Her attitude and willingness to help in such a firendly way reflected of the amazing people I had met throughout my time in Cordoba. I was truly gratefull to have had such a mind opening experience for my time alone.

With one more sleep, I woke not knowing the time. All I knew is that I needed to get to the agreed meeting point to find Al. As I sprung out of bed I saw the bedroom door opening and in came Al and I fell into his arms with pure delight!

Written by Laura


I woke up early and mediated on the roof

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