I’ve always loved rock formations, escarpments, cliffs. When I was four or five years old I remember family trips to Ravello, a little Italian town on the cliffs above Amalfi. From the back seat of the car the slow and winding road to the top gave me close-up views of some spectacularly vertiginous cliff faces. Dad dodged buses and passed motorists with skill and carefully choreographed hand signals, Mum ran a commentary on our proximity to the cliff’s edge, and I quietly fantasised about scaling them, stumbling across a safe, secluded cave with unsurpassed views of the sparkling Mediterranean, and claiming it as my own.
The road to Salta from Mendoza flung us around the Andes like breathless children on a fairground ride. Eyes fixed on the horizon and cameras clenched, the other men in my family (this Argentinian odyssey was a bastion of male chauvinism) marvelled at the constantly changing landscapes.
Argentina triggers these memories, more than two decades later, as I begin an adventure with my father and my brother to a place in the world none of us have ever been, a tradition we try to repeat once every few years.
It took us four days by car to reach Salta. At the start, the surrounding rocks were so smooth and curvaceous you could imagine gliding down them on custom made skis.
As the trip progressed, the passing cliffs grew older. Gradually the landscape matured, the smooth façade blemished occasionally with protrusions and divots. The colour turned from soft grey to a multi-tonal mix, and as we drove further north, a stubble of shrubs and bushes began to appear on the rock face.
Just outside of Salta the cliff face appeared to grow very weary, its surface sagged and small divots and cracks were visible no matter what direction the light was coming from. The mantle was showing the strain of time and climate, a sharp contrast to the smooth, gentle undulations at the beginning of our journey.
The childhood daydream returns. Climbing the craggy rugged rock of Salta I discover a safe, secluded cave. The surface of the slow-moving river far below reflects an abstract impression of the clouds above the city and I feel again the strength of a landscape at once menacing yet somehow safe.
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