March 17, 2006
This morning, Chris, Andre, and I went on a guided walk to the "hermanitas," large, colorful rock formations near Humahuaca. As we walked further and further away from civilization, it became apparent that our guide didn't know the area too well. He kept leading us in different directions through the hot, desert-like terrain. Finally, after about an hour of walking, we spotted what we were looking for.
The hermanitas were colored red, orange, yellow, and white by different types of oxidation over the millenia. When we got to the rocks, we squeezed through a tight passageway and started sliding our way up. Near the top of the rocks, the view of the area was great.
Our guide said in Spanish that this was the highest he had ever climbed with a tour. Andre joked in English that it was his first ever tour. Instantly the guide asked me what Andre said. Whoops. I just repeated that it was his first time climbing so high. It wasn't until later that we realized that the guide spoke perfect English. At that point, he had never uttered a word of English to us.
After leaving the hermanitas, we walked down to the small village nearby. The church had a solid silver key, which somehow had survived without being stolen. Next, we went to a grain mill and learned how water is used to turn the machinery to grind grains. Finally, we sat around and talked to the mill owner about soccer for an hour or so and headed back to Humahuaca. The tour wasn't very organized, but the hermanitas were still really nice to see.
In the afternoon, we decided to rent bikes and go off on our own looking for ruins. The guy who rented us the bikes, who was also our guide from this morning, said that the ruins would be easy to find and there weren't any hills on the way.
On the contrary, the road to the ruins was uphill the entire way. It had been about four months since I had been at a high altitude, so I was not at all prepared for the lack of oxygen that accompanied the 3000 meter (10,000 foot) landscape. The entire ride became a struggle to get some much-needed air into my lungs.
We also quickly discovered that there were no signs indicating where the ruins might be. Along the way, we found a local farmer lady who pointed behind a church in a small village we encountered. When we rode behind the church, all we saw were a few piles of rocks. We had seen lots of piles of rocks all day, so we weren't sure if this pile of rocks counted as the ruins or not. It was getting late, so we decided to say that we had found the actual ruins and headed back.
Going back was an easy downhill ride. When I turned in my bike, I realized that the day's activities were unorganized at best, but we still saw a lot. The area is beautiful enough that it's worthwhile just looking around and not worrying about seeing the "official" touristic sights.