Argentina Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Tilcara

October 7, 2015

In 3 words: Quiet, dusty, another planet (that's 4, I know)

I didn't have this little town on my bucket list, but my mom's Argentinian friend had suggested it. I am so glad he did.

It literally felt like another planet. This dusty town of dirt roads and stucco homes might be fairly monotone and unimpressive if it weren't for the bright colored doors, mountain views and starry night skies. It's like I would imagine being on the moon to be - initially barren and colorless until you look up and see the view of earth and the stars, leaving you speechless.

I met a college kid from Washington on the bus from Salta and as soon as we arrived, we dropped our bags at the hostel and walked to a nearby archeological site called Pucará de Tilcara. It is a pre-Inca fortification - with remnants of a city believed to be over 10,000 years old. The following day, we did a short hike to a waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (one of many sites named the same across Argentina). Though because it is dry season, there was only literally a dribble of water! Ah well, it was still beautiful and a great viewpoint over Tilcara. The hike was fairly easy but the altitude had me sucking wind a bit. Once we summited, my buddy started to get a twinge of altitude sickness. So he hitched a ride back to the bottom of the mountain and I headed back down on my own and wandered around town.

The following day, I took a short bus ride to Purmamarca to see the Cerro de Los Siete Colours (the Hills of Seven Colors).




Wow - that is nature at her best. The colors of the mountains are unreal. I'm not sure the pictures do it justice, but I tried. 




The place I stayed and the people I met, as always, contributed to my love of Tilcara as well. The hostel essentially felt like Bob Marley's house - reggae, blues and jam bands played all day; hammocks were strewn about the property; lounge chairs faced the mountains, perched for sunset viewing; bonfires were lit at night (amongst other things); and everyone settled in once the sun went down to socialize in the courtyard.
Personal highlight: Besides being called a witch...I have to say the highlight of Tilcara was being asked to share some mate.

Mate is an infusion made from the leaves of a tree that is in the same family as holly. It has a flavor comparable to some varieties of green tea - bitter, strong, grassy and herbal. It's prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba leaves in hot water and is served in a hollow plant shell gourd with a metal straw that has a built-in sieve.

Mate is an important part of Argentinian (and other South American countries) culture, and the most important part of the tradition is that it is drunk communally. Drinking it is a social ceremony shared amongst friends. In the streets, on the bus, in the park, on the beach, at the office, at home, in the cold, during summer, any time of day - wherever you go, you will see someone sipping it or passing it with a thermos of hot water under their arm. Nearly every store - whether a gas station, cafe or craft store - will have hot water for folks to fill up on the go.

More than a drink, it is a lifestyle, almost an art - as there is etiquette and rules to respect. Traditionally, the herbal tea has to be shared in the “ronda de mate”. The drinkers sit down in a circle and pass the mate gourd around so that everyone can taste it one after the other. One of them, the cebador, is in charge of serving. He will fill the gourd up to one-half to three quarters with yerba, add hot water to fill the gourd, and taste the first brew before passing it around. The gourd will be filled up with water and emptied again until the yerba loses its flavor.

So I sipped mate with Marion and her Argentinian friend in the traditional way. I felt honored - like they were inviting me into something very special, sharing a moment with me.

It made me think of two of my favorite gals that I share a similar ritual with. Dani, with whom I have spent many hours in coffee shops around London - sipping, chatting, dreaming, setting goals, making plans and sharing ideas. And in Boston, I started to share the same with Andrea soon before I left. With both of these beautiful friends, it is always about more than the coffee (though we sip from our own cups). It's about the time spent together, sharing a moment, sharing more of each other - the cup of joe is just a delicious complement. 

Coffee: I had to settle for the hostel's morning coffee. I don't need to elaborate.
Food: I found some really good food here...can you say quinoa bowls?? Yum. Filled to the brim with veggies, I was one happy gal. My two favorites: Khuska and Kusikanki.
Accommodation: Casa Los Molles

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1 Comment

  • Reply Andrea November 9, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Oh how I miss you so, Nicole xo. Just catching up on all of your blogs 🙂

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