Talampaya, La Rioja

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a Rioja Province unfolded before us like a brick-coloured landscape with snow-capped Famatino Mountain, which seemed like a castoff bride.

We came here also to try the typical 'mate' tea. Our guide Marcelo, a charismatic middle-aged man, with long grey strands tied up in a pony tail, told us that “yerba” – its ingredient – can only be purchased in Argentina. The gauchos from Patagonia and Pampas would surely agree that this bitter beverage is quite a treat when taking a break in the shade cast by cacti. Marcelo took a package of herb powder out of his pouch.

He gradually poured the powder into the unsweetened, hot (but not boiling) water, he stired and shaked the preparation in the wooden gourd. 'It tastes better without sugar', he added. There are many different philosophies concerning the drinking of 'mate' and a whole selection of books discussing its preparation, each citing a slightly different version of the recipe. The three of us took a sip over the metallic straw, that had a sieve at one end. The bitter taste of the famous 'mate' tea reminded me of a horsetail drink back home. “You should never take the straw in your hand ...”, he gave me a smack on the arm: “... touch it only with your mouth." But he did not explain why ...  

The casual moment was cut short by a raspy: 'Vamos, chicos!' Marcelo showed us the white van, dotted with cactus stickers. It is impossible to take pictures during the ride. On a journey like this it is best to sit in the front next to a driver and on the way back in the rear from where you can marvel at the innards of the canyon.

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

Talampaya

 Marcelo, a charismatic middle-aged man, with long grey strands tied up in a pony tail, took a package of herb powder from its pouch. He gradually poured the powder into the unsweetened, hot (but not boiling) water; he stired and shaked the preparation in the wooden gourd. 'It tastes better without sugar', he added. There are many different philosophies concerning the drinking of 'mate'.


The vertical walls that reach up to 250 metres revealed a 30 km long canyon ahead of us. On top of a rock formation, remarkably resembled a Neapolitan wafer, I spotted a condor, which was keeping an eye over the goings-on in the area. Absolutely everything stopped there: time, biological clocks, overtime, aging, footprints, tracks, tectonic crack ... A mini tornado “diablo” occasionally gets blown on the ground as a result of the warm and cold air mixing. The dust-filled vortex whirled around the rocky terrain, which was flushed with draught, only to disappear in a few minutes. Whirly gold poured down at my feet, when I admired a bush so vibrantly yellow as though it had been licked by a fluorescent tongue. Its large thorns were extending toward the phallic rock formations La Torre and El Totem, that standed guard over the entrance to their realm, holding it open to tourism bulimists. El Monje (the monk) drawn our attention to the bottle-shaped rock formation called La Botella, popping the final cork of the visual desert opium.  

Up there the glaciers which for now are taken for granted in South Argentina are only an illusion on behalf of the rock draperies, pinned to the bosom of this arid land, fed only by a few artificial lakes in the surrounding villages. The nearest neighbour lives some 300 km away. Days of non-stop rainfall turn the road into a river bed, which is impossible to cross. If you don’t pay attention to the red flag on the side of the road, chances are you will be in for a surprise a few hundred kilometres further in. People usually don't take this road after rainfall. You should wait for the green flag, which can delay your plans for a few days.

A few minutes later we saw smoke coming up from the top of the hill. “Look! It is the gold mine up there,” winked Marcelo, struggling for the right words to say goodbye to us. “Thank you for everything, Marcelo, we will really miss you, you were a great guide and a true friend," I said, patting his shoulder and the Andes saluted us. “Now I can finally hug me wife and my four children again, I have been away for a month,” he said beamingly. We exchanged our contact information, hugs and promises, the stray dog by the side of the road waged its tail and the silver Citroën Berlingo drove off.

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