The Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) is a grand rail line that climbs from Salta into the Andes. It was engineered by an American, and is a really impressive piece of construction, with lots of zigzagging, tunnels and viaducts. Unfortunately, it’s closed till later this year, supposedly.
So we took the Truck to the Clouds. A local German-owned travel agency has created some fascinating truck mods for such journeys. The "Movitrack" is a semi that’s been kitted out like Scooby Doo’s mystery van. In the lower part of the truck is a kitchen and writing table. Above, sixteen passenger seats have removable roof panels. Passengers stand on their seats and look out at the landscape as the truck makes its way up the mountains. This is a lot of fun, but also windy and cold. The Movitrack staff were great, and we enjoyed meeting some fellow travelers from England, Harjit and Dan.
Outside this adobe house, kids came to the truck, asking for our extra coffee, which the crew dispensed.
The landscape was really varied. Trees disappeared early in the trip, because of increasing elevation. Cacti disappeared at 3500 meters. The mountains themselves contain a lot of minerals, and are vivid red, purple, yellow, blue and green. Their forms look ancient and wrinkled.
We stopped at the tiny town of Tastil, whose museum has a mummy and some flattened skulls. Jason played a xylophone made from big rocks.
Outside, we bought some crafts from some locals. Looking at my stuffed llama collection now, I wonder if the elevation was getting to me when I bought them.
The truck kept climbing, and we arrived at a high, flat plain, the Altiplano. San Antonio de Los Cobres, a borax-mining town, sits on the plain, with its dusty old adobe buildings and Monopoly houses. We had a nourishing lunch there.
Vicunas and llamas roamed the plain, too far away to photograph. They are camelids, South American camel species.
Further along the plane are salt flats. It was surreal to drive over a glowing salt lake, so white that hurts your eyes. Amazingly, some people live on the flats. At its center are swimming holes, cleaved in the wet season. They harvest salt from these holes. And some locals craft llamas and other tchotchkes from the salt.
The road’s highest point was 4170 meters. We felt a little woozy from the elevation.
The road is well-built, and quite impressive. It zig-zags up and down the mountains, doubling back on itself.
After miles of unforgiving landscape, we arrived at the charming town of Purma Marca. The tiny burg was nestled between painted mountains, and had a few little streets of charming old buildings, and few posh lodges.