We had already waited almost two hours along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires for the Gay Pride march, La Marcha, to start. Our little multinational group—a gay Brazilian, a German lesbian, an Australian lesbian and I (a gay American)—had managed to keep ourselves entertained by drinking giant cans of beer and watching the colorful characters pass through the crowd like human confetti. To our left, a trio of super-glam drag queens in mile-high wigs approached, but was stopped every few feet to pose for photos. A couple holding hands passed by and seemed to be dressed either as a strip of bacon and a mouth or, more likely, a tongue and a vagina. Before I could figure it out, though, a hot pink roller derby team zipped by and sent my gaze off in an entirely new direction.
Having polished off our last beers, we all agreed that La Marcha probably wouldn’t happen any time soon, and even if it did, that night was our first chance to make up for some missed opportunities from earlier in the trip. We couldn’t even get a Gay Pride parade to work for us. It was starting to seem as if our big gay trip was being repressed.
Tamales, humitas and empanadas
The previous week had been spent exploring Jujuy (pronounced “hoo-hwee”) and Salta, two provinces bordering Chile that are good nature-lover’s side trips. Argentina’s northwesternmost province and an increasingly popular tourist destination, Jujuy (Turismo.Jujuy.gov.ar) is well-known for its mix of stunning landscapes, unique natural landmarks, and well-preserved ruins. San Salvador de Jujuy, the capital of the province and home to about 230,000 residents, is a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires and serves as an ideal starting point for exploration, whether you plan to explore by rental car, as part of an organized bus tour, or with a private guide.
Clay pottery in a shop at Paseo de los Artesanos in San Salvador de Jujuy
While in town, get a great introduction to regional cuisine at Restaurante Viracocha (Barrio Centro, 388-423-3554), a favorite among locals and out-of-towners alike. If you are feeling adventurous, order the picante de llama, a spicy dish of llama piled over a generous mound of rice and potatoes. Llama meat has a taste and texture similar to pot roast, so even the not-so-adventurous need not fear it.
Although there doesn’t seem to be what you might call a well-established LGBT scene, Jujuy does have a disco (usually open on weekends only) and a few gay-friendly bars. Unfortunately, none were included in my itinerary since traversing the countryside visiting natural wonders requires early morning starts and a lot of time spent in a vehicle (and, I mean a lot).
Early the next morning we set out for the Quebrada de Huamahuaca, a spectacular narrow mountain valley that has been inhabited and used as an important trade route for over 10,000 years. In 2003, the region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the main reasons to visit is the stunning Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors), named for the rainbow-hued ribbons of rock running through them. OK, so it’s not a gay nightclub, but we’re getting somewhere.
At the hill’s base sits Purmamarca, a small adobe village with a few cafes and restaurants built around a central town square where, during the day, vendors sell local handiwork—knitted wool items, tapestries, pottery, etc. Its central location to some of the other regional attractions makes it an ideal area to lodge.
La Comarca Hotel
La Comarca (LaComarcaHotel.com.ar), located just a short walk from town, offers guests a bathwater-warm heated pool and a great on-property restaurant featuring local wines and cuisine. Designed as a hamlet of small casas, cabañas, and lodge buildings made of local materials like cactus, poplar, clay, and stone, the property seamlessly blends in with the colorful hills around it.
Located about 80 miles from Purmamarca, the Salinas Grandes, massive salt flats, are an incredible, awe-inspiring sight; the dazzling white landscape seems to stretch to infinity. I was glad to have brought sunglasses because the glare is intense. However, even repeated slatherings of SPF 55 sunscreen did little to stave off sunburn.
En route to the salt flats, hairpin turns wind uphill to the Cuesta de Lipán, the highest point of the trip, where the views are simply breathtaking, quite literally. At an elevation of more than 13,000 feet, the air becomes noticeably thinner and altitude sickness is a real possibility. (Slower movements and deep breaths can help with the lightheadedness.) Another point of interest north of Purmamarca, the Pucará de Tilcara is a partially restored pre-Incan ruin that is accessible to the public and also features a small botanical garden of indigenous cactus species and a museum of local found artifacts.
From Tilcara, arrange for a trek across the base of the Quebrada de Huamahuaca with Caravana de Llamas (CaravanaDeLlamas.com). The animals are cute, though my pack animal companion was at times about as easy to guide as a wobbly-wheeled shopping cart. Perhaps she suspected I’d eaten that picante in San Salvador.
Remotely located, the Hotel Huacalera (HotelHuacalera.com) successfully blends its Spanish colonial-style exterior with modern, individually designed rooms and contemporary art displayed in the hallways and lobby. A spa, solarium, and restaurant featuring ingredients from their own dairy and vineyard make a stay well worth the detour