THE road trip to the North of Argentina – Day 2 and the Pink Flamingoes

We found a hostel quite easily and the next day early morning we rose with many big plans for the day. We were going to cover the last 50km up to Iruya, the Northenmost populated place in Argentina. Then we were going to stop back in Humahuaca to check out the golden church. Then stop at the Tropic of Capricorn, then some fancy ruins and some more colorful mountains on the way back to Salta. Then we were going to check out a Shamanic Museum in Jujuy and end the day with a bath in the thermals. And make it back to Salta in time to return the car before midnight. Ah, sometimes humans can be so naïve… It reminds me of that joke: “How do you make God laugh?” “Tell him your plans”.

The guy we had rented the car from had instructed us: “When you get to Humahuaca leave the car in front of the police station (and he stressed this particular point) then take a bus for the last 50km as this road can only be done with a 4×4, not with the car you’re renting right now”. But then other people told us it was in fact not that bad and the trip could be done with a normal car, so we decided to give it a try.

We started in that direction and quickly found ourselves in a dead end. Then in another. We tried, we really did. We then decided on the spot we’d go to a pink flamingoes lagoon supposedly not that far away, and we’d get to see Iruya on our next trip there.

Less than 1km on the way to the flamingoes we saw another sign for Iruya – 47km. We just had to give it another try, so we started on a small road and managed to go a few good km before we could again go no more (with our little car that is – we could have definitely seen a 4×4 conquering those roads with little effort). The good news was we came upon this gorgeous little village that seemed to have not only stopped in time, but also been built to be camouflaged – all the houses were the colour of the earth around, and the only things that stood out were the bright blue and green doors and windows – not very useful for camouflaging, but certainly perfect in terms of aesthetics.

We took our time to take lovely photos, then turned back on the way to the lagoon. We knew it was 40km away, so 40 km later we reached a small dusty town and asked for the pink flaminos lagoon. We got pointed towards a small road and we were excited to see the beautiful birds any minute now… until our eyes met a sign that read “Flamingoes Lagoon – 57km’. How was that possible?? It was even more than the original 40 km… what twisted world does this happen in anyway??

Shock aside, we were not going to give up now, so we continued on (even thought it meant 57km of unpaved road), singing out loud and playing guessing games. We were going further and further into nothingness, and at some point we even suspected we might have crossed into Bolivia without knowing. There were nothing but cactuses, llamas and sheep around, and we started missing the presence of humans.

We eventually got to a place that said “Flamingos Lagoon – 7km’. We were at the park’s administration building but it looked completely deserted, and all our knocking on the doors and windows brought no result. We started joking about how the gracious birds have probably (e)migrated from there 10 years ago, and now instead of “The Pink Flamingoes Lagoon” it’s going to be just a g..damn lagoon…

We had to find out though, so the next thing we did was guess which of the roads around ended with a lagoon at km7. We tried one and reached another dead end, but saw 2 houses in the distance, in the middle of really… nowhere. There was hope!! We drove there and could not contain our happiness when we discovered they were inhabited. The man at one of the houses pointed us in the right direction, and while driving back we saw someone coming out waving from the other house. It was an 80 yr old man, his skin hardened by the sun and wind, his back bent, but his eyes very much alive.

He needed a lift! We told him we’d gladly give him one back to the nearest town, but we’re unfortunately heading in the other direction, towards the lagoon. He accepted a ride until the main road and we felt privileged we got to know him. He was born there, he said, in the middle of this thin vegetation, and spent his entire life taking care of sheep. He was heading to Juyuy to visit his son, who had settled there with his family.

We dropped him off at the main road and sunk into thoughts about what we and the world would be like when we reach his age. Even if impossible to know any of that now, we could only hope at least our eyes would be as deep and clear as his :).

After a 3-4hr ride and a total of 104 km (so almost 3 times more than we had expected initially) we FINALLY made it to the pink flamingoes lagoon! It was… nothing like we had expected it to be. It was a sad pond surrounded by… surprise surprise… a bunch of sheep, guanacos and even some ostriches… a million random birds… but NO pink flamingoes! Not one! We could not believe it… we were torn between laughing and crying, between being happy that we actually got there and upset that the ballerina birds were not there to welcome us. After a few minutes walking around we came across something that gave us a reason to smile – some pink feathers our friends had left behind for us, undoubtedly knowing we would be there that day, that moment… Ah, the happiness feathers can bring!! 🙂

And then, an even more unexpected thing happened! As Silviu was taking pictures of the birds and the surroundings, at some point he zoomed in on one of our… pink feathered friends! And then on another! And another! So they were there in the end!! They were just too far away to be seen without help from technology , but they were there! We felt fulfilled… in the end all this effort had not been in vain! We took a nice deep breath, said good bye to the lagoon and everyone in it, and headed back to the other million plans we had made for the day.

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