When asked what they think is the best spot in the area, the two brothers that take me back from Ischigualasto both say El Chiflón. However, I face the same problem as when I wanted to visit Ischigualasto: transportation is hard to arrange in San Agustín. I am already planning to explore the surroundings of San Agustín itself, when I meet two persons in my hostel. One older woman is interested to visit El Chiflón, but backs off when she learns that it involves hiking for three hours; the other turns out to be heading back north to Tucumán and it willing to drop me off at the entrance of the canyon. Looking at the map, I realize that I could try to continue from El Chiflón and reach Córdoba, and according to my friend at the hostel, there is a lot of traffic, and if all else fails, there should be a bus passing El Chiflón at 5pm. I decide to drop my plans to bus back to Mendoza and fly back to Buenos Aires from there. The risk involved in this new plan (after all, there are a few unknown factors) increases my excitement. The first hiccup is unexpected: when we arrive at the entrance of El Chiflón, an older man tells me that there are no hikes (unless more than ten people show up), and that I need a car to visit El Chiflón.
Unfortunately, my friend from Tucumán has to return north, and has no time to stop here. I try to take my luck, say goodbye to her, and wait for visitors. There is plenty of traffic (which makes me confident about getting out of here after my visit). Within half an hour, an older couple stops, and only reluctantly agree that I can join them and the guide. It seems that people in Argentina are afraid of strangers: they have had bad experiences with violent crime and plainly say that they have trouble trusting people. A short drive (we could have easily walked) takes us into the spectacular landscape of El Chiflón: steep cliffs and a narrow valley squeezed in between. We explore the area with our guide, an older man whose indigenous face has deep lines etched by age and the relentless sun. We discover fossils of trees, where it is remarkable how you can still see the lines and holes in the bark. We see rock formations in all kinds of shapes, all with nicknames which our guide is proud to share. We see plants and trees made for the arid climate here, almost all have spines. A low cactus full of spines is dubbed the Seat of the Mother-in-Law. When we reach the cliffs, they tower high above us, only contained by the blue sky above them. Apparently, the three-hour hike which I had hoped to do here brings you right on top of these cliffs. It will have to wait for another time. We reach a viewpoint which has great views over the landscape of El Chiflón: cliffs, mountains, rock formations. It is time to head back to the house of the guide, which is also the access point of El Chiflón.
it is a quarter past two, and I decide to skip lunch, and stand at the roadside to try and catch a ride. Another old man of the family tells me that there should be a 3pm bus as well, but I somehow assume that I will be out of here before. My destination: Patquía, a town more than 70 kilometres to the northeast. But cars do not stop, and there is no bus at 3. I keep on trying to hitchhike, but to no avail. People are probably scared to take a stranger. Memories of hitchhiking in Tierra del Fuego, many years before, come back: I waited 8 hours for a ride on a truck. Trucks don't stop here, either. When it is finally 5, I get ready for the bus to arrive. Of course, I know it will not show up on the hour. But when it turns 6, I start to get a little nervous. One of the old men from the family pass by, and dryly says that if the bus did not pass by yet, it means it will not be coming anymore - and walks away. I am disappointed that the family does not care at all about me, and when the sun drops behind the mountains to the west, and stops to warm me, I start to worry. Where will I sleep? There is nothing close to here. How will I reach Buenos Aires in time? It suddenly feels awfully far away from here. Where will I eat? I skipped lunch, and only have a few cookies with me. I feel the only option is the family, but they offer no help at all. More than 100 cars have passed - no one stopped. In a flash of smartness, I realize I should call my friend in San Agustín: his brothers might want to pick me up. But when I switch on my phone, I see there is no coverage here. I am in the middle of nowhere. And it is then, when my optimism finally fades, that ... a bus comes from around the corner. Within an hour, I arrive in Patquía, and only twenty minutes later, I am lying on a luxury seat in a direct bus to Buenos Aires - still almost 15 hours away.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from El Chiflón (Argentina). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to El Chiflón.
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