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Wanting to explore more of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, we decided to make the long bus journey to a little-known town, in the middle of nowhere, at 2,780m above sea level, called Iruya (pronounced Irusha). This involved a 1-hour taxi ride from our finca stay to Salta’s bus station, a 5-hour bus journey from Salta to Humahuaca, followed by a hair-raising 4-hour bus trip to Iruya (more on the latter later!).

The local bus from Salta to Humahuaca, where we stopped to break up the journey.

Our overnight hostel accommodation in Humahuaca.

Arriving in the pitch black late evening, we dumped our rucksacks and headed out onto the cobbled lanes of Humahuaca to find something to eat. Finding a small candlelit place, we cosied up in an intimate corner and ordered.

At this point, Albie became overwhelmed, whether through tiredness, hunger or emotion – he was so sad to leave our finca stay, and was pretty inconsolable for the whole meal. Sad face. We’ve had no moments like this all the time we’ve been away (well, apart from Tash’s mini meltdown – due mainly to jet lag – when we reached Buenos Aires!).

Early-ish to bed, early to rise, we were ready for the next leg.

Hauling our luggage onto the roof of the rickety bus was a funny start (well, watching Jake attempting it made us laugh!).

This is when the real journey began! If you have vertigo a nervous disposition or suffer from altitude sickness, this trip is not for you!

We bought a bag of coca leaves, before we boarded the bus. Illegal everywhere in Argentina, apart from the northwest, it is said they help combat altitude sickness. Jake chewed in a leaf or two, but is unsure whether it helped or not!

Imagine: 46km of windy, unpaved roads sometimes meandering gently around rolling hills, whilst more often dramatically zigzagging closer and closer to cliff edges. Just as you think the bus might career off the side, it takes a sharp turn around a bend, back on track.

As the ripio (gravel) road ascended to a 4,000m pass at the Jujuy–Salta provincial boundary, we saw the apacheta (travelers’ cairn) of discarded plastic bottles, which once carried liquid offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). 

Since the time of the Incas, Pachamama has been revered as the world’s fertility goddess. It is she who harvests the land so that farmers can grow potatoes, corn and coca leaves; it is she who embodies the mystical snow-capped mountains; and it is she who will bring the rains, cause an earthquake or strike with a lightning bolt. Essentially, it is Pachamama – the ever-present spirit of the Andes – who has the power to sustain, or destroy, life on Earth.

Winding down a spectacular valley, it was as if rays of magic were lighting the way…

And giants’ fingers were protecting the land…

We eventually reached remote Iruya, looking like it was simply floating in the mountains and with the same magical light illuminating its presence.

Strolling or struggling (!) up and down the steep cobbled lanes, we felt like we’d stepped back in time as we uncovered the town’s hidden beauty:

A pretty yellow church, built in 1690, (can you also spot it in the photo above?)…

…with a warm inviting interior…

A creative museum where we learnt about the town’s history and the indigenous population…

Adobe houses and colourful tucked away shops…

The same streets glowed at nIght with an ethereal light…

A bright cemetery, where life is celebrated. The local indigenous community believe the spirits remain with them here.

A vibrant community, where all ages come together to celebrate occasions. Whilst we were there, it was time to party for Argentina’s Independence Day celebrations! What stood out for us was how teenage boys and girls were dancing, laughing and having fun, when in England there would be embarrassment…

Being at this altitude, we hadn’t realised how breathless we’d be, or how much care we needed to take due to the lack of oxygen! Jake, stupidly in the view of some, thought it was ok to run 6K here!?

Iruya was officially founded in 1753, but the first inhabitants settled here around 100 years earlier. They were mainly aboriginals, of which the oldest roots go back to an ethnic group from one of the four regions of the Inca empire.

The valley floor, devoid of its high summer waters, provided us with a wide slate carpet to wander along…

…donkeys to befriend…

…cold waters to paddle in…

…and for Jake to build ‘bridges’ or ‘walkways’ (in his words!) over, to help the locals travel to and fro without getting their feet wet. You see the river meanders constantly and keeps changing the paths’ direction, so it’s not easy to navigate a dry route!

…boulders to make sculptures with…

…a place to chill, just the four of us…

Friendly welcoming faces greeted us at every corner…

Chatting to the locals enabled Albie and Lola to join their play. Football is a language on its own!

We perched at the top of the town (thank you Hotel Iruya!), and were mesmerised by the condors soaring overhead in the bright blue skies and, surprisingly, hummingbirds rapidly vibrating their wings right in front of our eyes…

…from here, we were spoilt by the divine views from the nearby mirador.

After three days, it was hard to leave this enchanted oasis.

We took a different local bus back, because we were travelling further south to Tilcara.

Delightfully, the driver, clearly proud of his homeland, stopped at various points for us to appreciate the mountainscape of the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

His enthusiasm was infectious, although we did worry about his gesticulating hands whilst navigating the treacherous roads!!

Another photo of the particularly stunning array of pink-purple hues, remnants of mineral deposits over thousands of years and stretch all along the valley, is worth finishing this post with.