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I arrived in Mesada Grande just by chance, due to the confidence meetings inspire when travelers go hiking. I left Iruya in the morning without a definite destination, with the idea of following the stream and see how far it went. The first time I was in this place I thought Iruya itself was the end of the world.
It is not easy to get there, but at least, there is a road' at present, with the arrival of tourism there are even two buses a day. Of course, for those adventurous enough to get on this extremely old bus and go up to the 4200 meters high path that separates the two chains of hills.
That weekend in October was a holiday and from all the hills, sometimes days far away, the farmers arrived with their goods. Towards the west the arid puna, towards the east, which I was heading to, if you cross the chain again, the yungas. But I was not going so far this time.
No sooner had I started going than I realizad that I would have to get wet if I wanted to sep going. The road is the river bed, a thin way surrounded by tall mountains, impassable in summer time. Although the level of the water was not very high it reached the knees most of the time. In a couple of months the area where I was heading to would be cut off.
Flavio, the school teacher of Mesada Grande, my host, would tell me several stories about it. About how he survived a sudden flooding, about where they had found the priest who was not as lucky as him on another occasion and lost his life.
Stories, stories. I didn’t know Flavio of course. Already at disk, wet and cold he welcomed me as an old friend.
We spent two days together.
He showed around the village (twenty families), the tiny school (he introduced me to his students in a morning I will never forget), I took photos of everybody, I watched him play football with a rag ball during the break, we ent up the hill to watch the sunset.
When I left Iruya that morning the sun was shining proudly. At midday, after a four hour walk, I was in Higueras. It was a surprise in these desolate lands.
From far away I saw a kind of oasis. A green spot stood out among the ocher of the mountain. It could be seen at the end of the road.
When I was close I saw that Higueras, just a few mud huts in the shadow of the trees that give it its name, at the top of a three hundred meters high hill, stood out above a crossroad. Or meeting of two streams, however you want to consider it.
Down the river, if you walk one or two days, you get to the jungle, a warm and luxurious world, not easy to imagine in that landscape of stone and thorny plants. Up the river, if you walk two or three days you can reach the frontier with Bolivia. This latter road is the one I decided to take. I had been told that after a few hour walk I would see the way up to Mesada Grande. Here the way became wider.
The river splits into several sandy branches and the landscape becomes more imposing. I walked for another four hours and nothing made me suspect that anybody could live here.
The sky got full of clouds and I could no longer see the roofs of the mountains. Shortly afterwards I had got lost. I knew that I had to find a path which, an hour later, as I had been promised, would take me to the mesada.
The village has that name because it is a kind of terrace, good for agriculture and with enough space for a football pitch. This four hour walk is the made by the people of Higueras every Sunday when there is a football match. With this journey ahead it is obvious that they are at disadvantage. Nevertheless, without protesting, they will play the match, the return and if possible the “good” one, as the third match that defines everything is called all over Argentina. Flavio would also tell me about that. But I still had to get there, lost as I am in the mountain and without knowing to find the path that will take me up to Mesada Grande.