Llama trekking: The salt path, five days – four nights
Difficulty:: (very demanding).
Altitude: 4000 m.s.n.m.
Full trip duration: Five days, four nights. (Distance walked: 90 kilometres / 56 miles)
Departure hour: First day: 08:00 AM (we sleep the previous nigth in Pozo Colorado, departure place)
Arrival hour: Fifth day: 2:00 PM (to Tilcara).
Departure location: Pozo Colorado (near Salinas Grandes in Jujuy)
The salt path connects the city of Tilcara with Jujuy´s Salinas Grandes. It was recently used (only six years ago) by local families who, using troops of donkeys, exchanged salt, llama meat and animals for fruits form La Quebrada de Humahuaca. It is believed that the last llama caravan that used this path did it a hundred years ago.
Currently we decided to reopen the salt path, within the frame of the Rural Tourism with local communities program, administered by Jujuy Minister of Tourism. In this project we are working together with members of the local community of Pozo Colorado: Santiago Lamas, Carlos Lamas and Alfredo Valdivieso.
Previous day: The journey begins at the east border of the Salt desert, in the beautiful Pozo Colorado village. We spend the previous night in the village so we can adapt to the altitude. The next day we get up early with the first clarity of the sky.
First day: before departure, we perform a “Chayaco” in the llama pen. This is an ancient local ritual to bless the journey and the animals where we offer alcohol and coca leaves to the Pachamama (mother earth). Our host family prepares our lunch of the day and, after our offerings and goodbyes, we begin the trek towards the rising sun; 90 kilometres (56 miles), or five days of march, separate us from Tilcara. The serene llamas, with elegant pace, accompany us through the sand and tola desert. If we are lucky, we might observe herds of vicuñas and guanacos and while we enjoy a clear blue sky framed in the distant mountains of yellow, ochre and red colours. In the afternoon we are received by the Valdivieso family who provide us with food and cosy shelters with beds. We can also share their kitchen near the fire, where they prepare “Wilpada” in small mud bowls (Wilpada is a drink for hikers consisting of toasted corn flour mixed with cold water and sugar).
Second day: at daybreak, the Valdivieso family offer us Mate with yuyos (weeds) for the first morning thoughts and prepare us the day lunch. When dawn is breaking, we provide the llamas with alfalfa and, while we load the llamas with our cargo, api and tortillas (kind of bread), we say good-bye to the last family we will see in the next three days. The plain Puna path is ending and we begin to walk up through the mountain that separates us from La Quebrada de Humahuaca. Around midday we can find the first “apachetas” (mounds of stones erected by Andean Indians as a sign of devotion to a divinity) that indicate a millenarian path: near the ritual place we can observe remains of copper minerals and flowerpots. We make our own “Chaya”, asking permission and protection to the Pacha; and we leave two stones rapped in lama wool with colours from our animal’s signals, to leave a sign that “we pass through here”. At this point we are at a fourth of our journey, and the mountains raise high before us. By the afternoon, a purple mountain protects us and a small river provides us with water before it becomes ice with darkness.
Third day: early in the morning, the rustic tola wood provides us with light and heat to make coffee. During this day we have to pass through the beginning of Lipan, Hueco mino and climb up to the Alto before midday, in order to avoid the “waira” (wind). Giving thanks and “chayando” in other apachetas, we continue our journey and in the afternoon we are able to see Tilcara mountainous country in the horizon..
Fourth day: we already are in Quebrada area and the weather is different. The road is sloping downward and we can observed closely the “palete del pintor” hill of Maimara. As the expedition is very demanding, both for people as for animals, we camp early beside the first tree we see in four days, an old “churqui” that seems to have served as shelter to old llama caravans.
Fifth day: at daybreak we are ready for the last walk down to Quebrada de Huichaira. At midday we see the first houses. The way already has movement and city noise; in order to arrive to our destination we have to walk one kilometer (half a mile) through Route 9. We arrive to Tilcara and end our Journey. We gain wisdom from the slat path and keep a feeling of peace in our hearts.
It includes: Guide and helper (one every four guests). All meals and refreshments during the trip. Camping gear, cooking equipment and first aid kit.
It does not include: Sleeping bag.
We recommend bringing hat, jacket, trekking shoes, extra pair of shoes, and sun block.