As Rocio got ready for Day 3’s adventure, I took a stroll across the Malka Hostel to a viewpoint next to the entrance that overlooked Tilcara. At first glance, Tilcara looks like a different world. Houses are made from the most basic of material, old cars on dirt roads, scavenging dogs and short-women carrying 5 times their body weight.
However, as I looked closer it became much more familiar. There was an order to everything and everyone seemed to have a purpose. It was just a regular Tuesday morning in Tilcara and like anywhere else in the world the objective was commerce.
Once the lady was ready we headed down to the central market to get some breakfast and a closer look at a day in the life in Tilcara, Argentina.
Fueled up and ready for adventure we plotted our days objectives as we drove out of Tilcara. Iruya was the main goal for the day and then we decided to head through Humahuaca on our way back to Tilcara.
People told us that we might want to sleep in Iruya because it’s such an intense drive, but we were big fans of the Malka so we vowed to get back. Now that I think about it, a ton of people warned us about the trek out to Iruya. “The drive is hard,” “The roads aren’t safe,” “What does Iruya even me?” etc…
Not phased by the warnings Rocio and I channeled our inner Lewis and Clark and set out to explore! The first 30-minutes of the journey were just like the previous days drive. The roads were steep and curvy, but they were wide, paved and free of most traffic. I thought to myself “what were people talking about, this isn’t that bad.” And seriously, just as I was thinking that, just like in a movie, we see a sign for Iruya.
The sign read “Iruya – 47km” and pointed in the direction of an old dirt road that went on for as long as my eyes could see. Without much hesitation, Rocio gave me a “skrew it, let’s try it” look and I followed suit. Sunglasses over the eyes, two hands on the wheel and complete focus. The drive just got real.
We followed the dirt road for over 2 and a half hours. We crossed creeks, passed through small towns, traveled along empty river beds and up along tight cliffs with countless blind turns. It was awesome. The drive was intense, the people were right. If it had rained at all that day there would have been no chance of making the trip.
We never really knew when we were going to arrive in Iruya because every sign we saw varied. About a half-hour in we saw a sign that read “Iruya – 42km” and then 20 minutes later anther that read “Iruya – 44km”. And it wasn’t like we could have relied on anyone else for directions, we were literally the only (people) on the road.
Sure enough, just as we began to wonder if we’d missed a hidden road somewhere, Iruya appeared around a giant cliff. Here is was, this beautiful little mountain town, hidden from the entire world between this incredible mountain range. The town was separated in the middle by a large river bed where groups of men and donkeys seemed to be searching for gems or gold.
After a brief walk around town and a chat with a couple traveling hippies, we setup a little picnic next to the river and shared some mate with a wild horse who was trying to get down to the water. I closed my eyes and let the afternoon sun dance on my face for awhile before round 2 of off-roading with the VW Gol.
Almost 3 hours later, with my palms sweaty and my heart beating like crazy we were back on a paved road. It was a beautiful, dangerous and exhausting trip that I’d do again in a heart beat. It reminded me of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco, only this time it was done on dirt roads and there was nobody else around!
From there, it was about an hour drive into Humahuaca where we stopped to checkout the Monumento al Indio (Monument to the Indian) and did a little shopping. We gave our best effort to see the city but Iruya had kicked our butts. So, as the sun set in Humahuaca we jumped in the ride and headed back to the Malka Hostel in Tilcara.
After arriving back in Tilcara, we cleaned ourselves up and headed down into town for a nice quiet evening at La Peña del Carlitos. It’s this great little restaurant in the central plaza that we had actually went to the night before. I’m usually against going to the same place twice but it seemed to be the only place rocking in town. That and the fact that the owner would come around and greet everyone individually in-between live guitar sets was a clincher.
So the evening was going great, there was good music, splendid wine and delicious Locro, I couldn’t ask for anything better. However, outside the restaurant a tension was brewing. Turns out a group of hungry, stray dogs figured out that this was the only place rocking tonight as well, so they gathered out front for the leftovers.
It just so happened that Rocio and I were the first people to leave after the gang had gathered and as we walked out the front door a few of them tried to bum rush the door. The owner himself quickly booted them out, however he did so directly at us. As we started walking back to our hostel a swarm of 10 to 15 skinny, dirty, stray dogs began circling us, barking and fighting amongst themselves.
This completely freaked Rocio out and she jumped up onto the sidewalk and froze. I walked in the opposite direction to get the dogs away from her. I popped a few of them in the nose with my water bottle and yelled some random words in english, spanish and I think german but those bastards weren’t budging. Finally after about 5 minutes and a number of failed tactics, we noticed a group of guys eating pizza in the central plaza. So, we made our way right for them. Hand-off success. The dogs disregarded our stupidity for an actual food source and left us alone. I didn’t want to be mean to the guys but I figured they’d know what to do with the dogs better than us.
It was a weird end to a great day. Needless to say we slept pretty good that night.