Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Motorcycle trip day 5: Salinas Grandes

November 25, 2011
salinas grandes salta argentina

(If you're just coming to the blog and want to read from the beginning of the trip, start here.)

Day 5: Humahuaca - Tilcara - Salinas Grandes - Purmamarca
Distance: 170 kilometers

I can now say I've been woken by a rooster at dawn. We even got up when he crowed. Made ourselves a fire, toasted some pastries and then were on our way. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip since we planned it. We were going even higher up into the Andes to see one of the world's largest salt flats.

First we traced our way south back through the Quebrada de Humahuaca to Purmamarca. One waiter  had told us the salt flats were 4,000 meters high, so we were suspicious when the road past Purmamarca was completely flat. But then we saw the switchbacks.

switchbacks route 52 salt flats purmamarca

Watch a short video as we climb the switchbacks (the audio is wind mixed with Rascal Flatts):

Up and up and up. My one prior experience with switchbacks — crossing the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza, in a bus — had been terrifying. So I was prepared to spend the whole time clutching Ben and counting down the kilometers. But I have to give the Argentines a lot of credit. The road was in great shape, no potholes, well paved, wide enough and with plenty of room on the shoulders. And the scenery was fantastic. I'll save the descriptions and let you check out the pictures.

harley davidson motorcycle switchbacks argentina

After climbing for a while, and zooming past plenty of tour vans on the way, the road started descending. Down into another canyon, through a pass, and there we were in the salt flats. The road cuts right across them, so we drove halfway, parked our bike and got off to explore. The salt was much crunchier than I expected, we sank in when we stepped.

salt flats salta argentina
motorcycle salt flats salinas grandes
After an embarrassing attempted turn on sand — when the bike fell and we had to lift it up again ourselves, much to the amusement of a boy working at a rest stop — we headed back down to Purmamarca. We had great views down into the canyon with all the roads we had traversed. We were riding as high as the clouds.

desert northwest argentina
switchbacks road to salt flats argentina

Once we made it back down, we made the wonderful decision to find a hotel instead of camping. The one we had looked up in advance didn't have parking, but the woman there called around for us, and found us a really cute place (Paseo de Los Colorados). (See Ben's previous post about dinner in Purmamarca.) Before we left, our Spanish tutor told us the Argentines have a phrase: "Ask and you can get to Rome." It was definitely true for us this trip, nearly everyone we met was helpful and friendly, far beyond common courtesy. Waiters gave us information about the weather, town employees led us to the roads we needed, hostel workers advised us on the best highways, etc.

The downside to the day was that we realized we had lost Ben's excellent warm-weather riding gloves. Unfortunately, at some point while stopping in Tilcara the day before, we accidentally left one of the side cases open, and — unbeknownst to us until the next day — dropped the gloves. We came back to find them the next morning, but they were gone. They had been vital during the cold rain earlier, but fortunately weren't needed for the rest of the trip.

- Steph

Continue to Day 6...

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