Everyone has scary moments when they’re travelling. Mine was when a simple hike turned into a run for my life.

“Run!” Marty grabbed my hand, Agostin and Vicky quickly realising the seriousness of the situation and following suit. We ran blindly up the steep incline, following the man who had hurtled through the trees and alerted us to the river which was about to burst just mere feet from where we were standing.

We ran through bushes, across streams – the sharp branches catching our clothes and cutting our skin – only stopping to catch our breath when we reached the top. Looking down below us we saw a huge wave crash down where we had been standing; turning the shallow, two-meter-wide stream we’d just been walking alongside into a raging torrent.

The day had started with glorious sunshine, beating down onto the lush greenery of Cafayate, Argentina’s ‘undiscovered’ wine region, close to Salta in the North. I’d met Marty and co in my hostel the night before; three Argentinians from Buenos Aries making the most of their holidays. Passing the night away sharing the traditional tipple of Fernet and Coke, we decided that the next day we would all hike the Cascades De Rio Colorado together, a trek 5k out of town, with plenty of beautiful waterfalls.

Passing the night away sharing the traditional tipple of Fernet and Coke, we decided that the next day we would all hike the Cascades De Rio Colorado together, a trek 5k out of town, with plenty of beautiful waterfalls.

Waterfalls

One of the waterfalls – it was freezing!

Calling it a hike, however, doesn’t really do it justice. At best it’s a scramble, at worst a death-defying no-ropes climb on sheer rock-faces. The guidebooks tell you to take a guide. Trip Advisor tells you to take a guide. I’m telling you – take a guide. We, however, did not take a guide. Trust me, their knowledge of the local area and weather could become invaluable.

One of the trickier – and scariest – crossings

One of the trickier – and scariest – crossings

Marty (real name also Agostin, nicknamed Marty due to his striking resemblance to Marty McFly), had lived in Cafayate and had done the hike numerous times. Confident he knew the way, we headed off. Technically, he did know the way; I’m just not sure it was the easiest way. Despite the tough ascent, we soon made it to the fifth waterfall, where we unexpectedly met a dog. We named him Hugo.
Say hello to Hugo

Say hello to Hugo

We had struggled to make it over the steep inclines, clambering over rocks and swinging from trees to keep our balance. How did Hugo manage it? We have no idea, but here he was. And he was distressed; whining, shivering and unable to get back down or up from where we found him. Deciding to give the other two waterfalls a miss we put our heads together to form an action plan. It was time to commence Operation Save Hugo.

First, we tried to go up – impossible. Next, we decided to hike through the river – we knew Hugo could swim – but it soon got too deep for us to walk in, the current too strong for Hugo. The only way was back down the way we came. At first, it went well, but soon we came across one of the hardest parts and needed to jump from one rock to another, a vast drop in-between. No matter how much we coaxed Hugo to jump, he was having none of it.

Then, the rain started. Knowing we needed to move quickly Marty and Agostin hauled (threw!)  Hugo over the gap. Without so much as a backwards glance he darted off from view following a track he obviously knew well. We’d saved Hugo!

High fives and cheers followed. But our joy was short-lived, as then the rain really started to come down. Within a few minutes we were soaked to the skin, our eyesight jeopardised by the water running in rivulets from our foreheads. We moved as quickly as we could, laughing with relief when we finally reached the bottom and began to follow the stream back to the car park.

At first, we thought it was thunder; the loud rumbling in the distance. But we soon registered what it was when the man – whose name I wish I knew – appeared from nowhere telling us to run. He risked his life, spotting us from above and, knowing we couldn’t hear him, running to help us.

Raging river

I’ll never forget the feeling when I got to the top, turned and realised just how lucky I was to be alive. Walking along the ridge, the burst river roaring below, we descended to the car park.

The police had already arrived and were busy checking names against the hike log book. They gave lifts in the back of their pickup trucks to the bedraggled and shaken survivors whose sunny afternoon walk had turned into a near-death experience they’ll be telling people for years to come.

As we dried off, our heartbeats slowing to normal, our thoughts turned to Hugo. Had he made it? We hoped so, but there was nothing we could do.

Ready to leave, we jumped into Agostin and Vicky’s car. Then, just as we passed through the main gates a familiar brown blur ran past the car. Hugo!!

Hiking in Cafayate