The driver is 62, red eyed and and in need of a shave.
The vehicle is a hopeful, dented and clumsy KIA that seems ill equipped for the road before us. Especially so as we approach the first of many washouts where a river spills over the road and in some cases carries it away.
The car idles as we wait for the truck in front of us to brave the washout.
The truck ahead of us lurches into the muddy water and the tires all but disappear in the rush of water. I gather my camera and prepare for the soaking wet end of a day trip to Cachi that has really only just began.
In this brief pause in our climb through cloud forest the driver takes the opportuntiy to put several coca leaves in his mouth and chew them up to pulp. He offers me the bag of dried leaves and what the hell, I follow suit and mash the bitter foliage with my teeth and hold it against my cheek like chewing tobacco.
The driver then reaches into the dash and uncaps a film canister and dips his pinky inside to gather a dollop of cocaine and rubs it on his gums. He will repeat this narcotic ritual all day. Hey, whatever keeps us dry.
Now it is our turn to cross the washout. The driver keeps it in low gear and powers through the flow with no sign of worry that our little KIA and its cargo of tourists may well be swept away over the cliffs edge 3 feet to my right.
We will climb 8,000 feet in 25 minutes through even stronger washouts that threaten to sink our ship and the excitement is well worth the $37 I paid for this tour.
Cactus. First a hand full, then dozens then hundreds then thousands rise from the dirt. We enter Los Cardones National Park, a place defined by the audience of towering succulents that stretches on one side to the horizon and on the other to the foot of some distant mountains.
This is what I came to see; something I have never seen before. I hop out of the car and run full tilt boogie into the midst of the cacti.
I run under a fierce mid day sun, past millions of thorns until the car is a black smudge.
Somewhere in this park are the fossilized footprints of dinosaurs and as the driver waves his arms in arches to call me back to the car, I allow myself the fantasy that one day, millions of years in the future, someone or something will find my footprints beside the tracks of some massive Jurassic beast.
I climb back into the cab and the driver shoves a new wad of coca leaves into his cheek and puts the car into first…
Joshua Johnson aka “JoshyWashington” is currently traveling through Argentina. Joshua is a Seattle-based travel blogger always on the lookout for the next journey. He also heads up MatadorTV. Read more from Joshua on his blog…