A Travellerspoint blog

North-West Argentina - The Salta Region

Roadtripping - Bodegas & Mountains

sunny 30 °C

Since our last entry in Tucuman we had planned to head next to Tafi del Valle the following day. Luckily, we had emailed a B&B we hoped to stay in at Tafi because she informed us that the road northbound would be closed for 3 days after our arrival. As we only wanted to spend one day in Tafi we decided to take the 8.5 hour bus straight to Cafayate. Although the bus trip was long it was very picturesque with varying landscapes - rolling green mountains and rainforest to Tafi, before changing to arid, cactus inhabited land to Cafayate. Cafayate is a small, scenic town surrounded by the Andes and vineyards. The town lives for wine, with 8 bodegas (wineries) within walking distance of the town centre and many more in a short driving distance. Our sort of place! Our first tasting experience was that night at a lovely little wine bar, Chato`s. This was an excellent evening as Chato spoke English well, providing in-depth information on the wines we tasted all from Cadayate and gave recommendations for the rest of our stay here. We had our first taste of the white wine unique to Cafayate, Torrentes, which is sweet on the nose but has a crisp taste. Every bodega in Cadayate produces Torrentes. We were fortunate enough to have Chato offer us some of his own Malbec, of which he had only produced 100 bottles.

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The following day we explored some of the town and what it had to offer. First stop was a goat´s cheese factory where we sampled numerous types of tasty cheeses (after waiting over half an hour for them to finish their siesta close down). Afterwards we headed to 2 bodegas, Domingo Hnos and Nanni. We preferred the wines and scenic location of Domingo although Nanni did provide us with an insightful tour on the processes involved to produce their wines. Later that afternoon we met a Canadian guy in a laundromat who we bumped into again later than night with his girlfriend and we ended up having dinner with them at a parrilla (grill house).

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Our next day in Cafayate we hired bikes along with the Canadian couple with the intention on cycling 6kms to the Rio Colorado cascades and gorge, then hiking upsteam to view waterfalls. The cycle was on a very rough upwards decent and unfortunately both our back´s didn´t even make it to the halfway point of the cycle. We decided to go back and attempt it the next day taking a taxi to the start of the hike. After some rest and a siesta we visted a further two bodegas that afternoon. The second, La Esteco, was spectacular with its long driveway and large white bodega. Its wines proved to be the same and to this point are the nicest we´ve had! We tasted two of the mid range wines, so impressed we purchased a bottle of their top range the following evening for a bargain price compared to anything of that quality back home.

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After a restful morning and feeling in better form we hopped in a taxi heading for the cascades. As it turned out, the previous day´s failure turned out to be a blessing in disguise as this time around we were much better prepared, having had a full meal beforehand and packing extra water. We also decided to go in the afternoon so the scourching heat would not be a factor for the way back. Luckily our back´s held up well throughout the day. The hike turned out to be the best part of the trip to date - very challenging, but rewarding. It was often very hard to find the path and we had the cross the steam many times as well as climbing rocks and pushing through thick shrubs and reeds. The scenery was like the setting from the cartoon Road Runner and Cayote. There was cactii everywhere up the steep gorge walls, some as tall as 5 metres. We also saw plenty of wild animals including horses, donkeys and mountain goats crossing streams and climbing steep rockfaces. After 2 hours of treking, we made it to what we assumed was the main cascade before making our way back. The only downside of the day was that we must have got back to the road around siesta time which meant no taxis and a further 6km walk back into town. Scott tried sticking his thumb out a few times but to no avail. We arrived back in town feeling a bit sore and sorry but were quickly cheered up with the prospect of trying the renowned Miranda´s Vino Helado (wine icecream) where the lovely old lady serves up a potent and very tasty Torrentes and Cabernet flavoured icecream. Yum yum!!!

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We were sad to leave the charming Cafayate, but knew we would be back in a few days for a night in our hire car. We caught a 3.5 hour bus to Salta, the major City in the region. We were welcomed by heavy rain so didn´t do much on arrival. We had a big night out with the hostel and we found that Engish was much more prominent here with a few Aussies who spoke less Spanish that us. Yay!

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We woke up the next morning in a world of pain, especially Georgie. I guess that´s what happens when the bottle of rum is cheaper than the bottle of coke that went with it. We mangaged 2 siesta´s on this day before feeling up for a wander around the City and catching the cable car up to San Bernado where we got a birds eye view of the City. There was nothing up the top apart from a gym where the loco Argentines run up the hill, do a work out, then run back down. We struggled with just the walk down, although we were still hungover and it was over 1000 steps so we were quite proud with our efforts. We decided to treat ourselves and splurge on a fine dining dinner at a top notch Parrilla as we were still yet to sample Argentina´s famous quality meats. We found it quite funny that only Scott was given a menu and the waiter completely disregarded Georgie. We ordered the selection asado, which means bbq. which was a great choice as we got to sample about 8 large different types and cuts of juicy meat. Way to much food (and money for a backpackers budget) but it had to be done!

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From Salta we decided to hire a car to go through some routes unaccessable by bus or public transport. This would also give us a chance for photo stops and to appreciate the scenery. We would hire the car for 3 days going in a loop from Salta to Cachi to Cafayate to Salta. We found a good rate with Europcar after checking out a few reputable companies, nervously signed some papers in Spanish, and we were off!

Day 1 - We left Salta with Scott feeling a bit nervous driving in a foreign City on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car and with strange road rules, but after about 15 minutes we were out of the City and into the countryside. We stopped on many occasions to take snaps of green hills followed by desert ranges. The highlight of the this leg was reaching the church in the clouds at the peak of one of teh mountains at an altitude of 3457m above sea level. After arriving in Cachi we checked into a hostel and roamed the deserted streets searching for water for about an hour. Being a Sunday and a small town meant that Cachi was a ghost town.

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Day 2 - Cachi to Cafayate was the most impressive of the 3 days driving. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking!! It was also our longest day on the road - about 11 hours all on unpaved dirt, gravel and/or sand road. Very rough driving - we couldn´t go over 40kms/h in our nifty Chev Classic. The main stop of our trip, an hour detour, was to Colomé Bodega which has the highest vineyards in the world. Prior to tasting and lunch we were shown around the winery and a movie about the history of the bodega. The tour was great and we saw all stages of their wine making process. Their bottling machine bottles 1000 an hour compared to their old antique machine which does something like 5 in half an hour. The tastings were from a range of their different vineyards across varying high altitudes. We had a glass of special ´Lote Especial El Arenal´produced in the highest vineyard in the world at an altitude of 2700m. After lunch we manged to take a wrong turn and after about 45 minutes we decided to turn around after not seeing any cars or signs. Back on track and we took heaps of photos of rock formations and landscapes created from 1000´s of years of erosion. We were in awe of the size, colours and textures which unfortunately could not be fully capured in the photos.

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Day 3 - We spent the morning in Cafayate checking out a bodega that wasn´t quite in walking distance the first time round called J.L. Mounier - Finca Las Nubes. This place had a simply stunning setting, the nicest in Cafayate. The wines were nice but didn´t go down so well at 11 in the morning. The road back to Salta was more of the same scenery but on much better roads. Back in Salta we returned the hire car considerably more muddy than when we got it but no problems with the company which was a relief after hearing some horror stories from people hiring cars in Salta. We really enjoyed the freedom of having the hire car, but for peace of mind we´re not too upset at taking busses again. Now here we are back in Sol Huasi hostel fighting the noise in the bar trying to write this blog and hoping the photos upload quicker than the last place as we have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning for a bus further north to Tilcara. These entries are very time consuming so hopefully you are enjoying them and getting jealous! hehe.

Georgie & Scott xxx

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Posted by Scott-Georgie 12:56 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The Beginning of Our Adventure

Stop 1 - Cordoba

all seasons in one day 27 °C

Hola chicos,

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After a tiring 22 hour trip from Sydney via Aukland and Santiago, we arrived in Cordoba, Argentina, safe and sound though slightly weary. We checked into Tango hostel in the centre of town in the early evening, went for a short walk around town and had an early night. It has taken us a while to adjust to the time difference and get used to the South American way of life which consists of afternoon siestas, late dinners after 10pm and going out very late at night.... well the siestas didn´t take so long to get used to!

On our first full day, Wednesday, we explored the town centre checking out the plazas, parks, museums, cathedrals and other cultural sights. The City is pretty easy to get around but we weren´t particularly taken with it as it is a bit run down apart from a few nice buildings. It is quite western and there is quite a strong Eurpean influence. We didn´t stand out quite as much as we thought we would apart from when we opened our mouths. Apparently there are 200,000 students living in the town and we hardly saw anyone on the streets over 60. You really notice how young the population is walking around the streets.

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By Thursday we had met a few people at the hostel. The hostel is quite small but had a great vibe and there was always someone to chat to in the courtyard or in the common room. The staff were really friendly too. We did a day trip to Alta Gracia (40 minutes out of Cordoba) with 2 guys we met in the hostel, Sam from London and Jens from Belgium. The town was very quiet and chilled, or as the local would say ´tranquillo´. After getting some directions (luckliy Sam and Jens speak good Spanish), we walked up the hill to the Jesuit Farm recognised by UNESCO where there was a cute little chapel and other religious sites. We then walked to the Che Guevara house museum which is the house he lived in from 5 - 16 years. The museum mainly told the story of his early life with each room depicting a different stage before he became the famous revolutionary. In 2006 Fidel Castro visited the museum. We were looking forward to going out this night but by the time everyone was ready to head out from the hostel at 1:30am we were too exhausted and decided to try again on Friday night.

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On Friday we visited a couple of art galleries and got a nice lunch with Sam. It came over quite rainy in the afternoon so we spent it relaxing in the hostel and had a siesta. That night we got to know most people staying at the hostel, some of which only spoke Spanish so we had to try out our broken Spanish which seemed to improve with every drink. We tried some Fernet and coke which is supposedly the national drink which tastes like cough medicine. We much preferred the local red wine (vino tinto). We went through a few bottles of Malbec which were delicious. All bottles cost around $4. When we went to get a bottle at the convenience store down the road after 11pm the shop owner told us we had to hide the bottle under our shirt as he was not supposed to be selling it after 11pm. At 2:40am (later than we would usually get home from a night out) we left the hostel to go out to a local bar/club.

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After getting to bed around 5:30am on Saturday we woke up surprising fresh, bidded farewell to our new friends, checked out of Tango hostel around midday and took a 8.5 hour bus to Tucuman. In Agentina, Chile and Brazil there are 3 classes of busses - semi cama, cama and cama suite (cama means bed in Spanish). We got the lowest class, semi-cama, which was far more comfortable than busses in Australia and reclined about 60 degrees back and provided food, drinks and movies. For the next overnight trip we´ll try out the cama.

We are in Tucuman now for the day. There isn´t much to do here, especially being a Sunday, so we are just chilling out. We are staying at Tucuman Backpackers. It´s a nice hostel, much bigger than Tango Hostel, but it´s very empty here and doesn´t have the same vibe. We´ve only really come here to break up the bus trip and tomorrow morning we are heading north 3 hours to Tafi del Valle. Tonight we are planning to sample some Argentine steak and vino tinto.

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One thing we have noticed so far is that the need for Spanish here is vital, more so than we thought. We knew that most locals would not speak English but even in the hostels everyone speaks Spanish and not everyone speaks English. In Tango hostel people either spoke Spanish fluently or were staying there for some weeks to learn the language. We are very glad we did a beginners course in Perth as the basics we learnt are essential. Just in 5 days our Spanish has improved considerably. We are thinking we would like to do a 2 week intensive class at some point however we cannot afford to stop anywhere for that long for a few months as we have to get to Valparaiso in Chile for New Years and Rio for Carvival in early February. Sucre in Bolivia sounds like a great, cheap place to learn so we might settle down there for a few weeks in mid Feb.

We will aim to post blog entries roughly once a week.

Please keep us posted on everything happening back home and if you would like to chat anytime we can always chat on viber or skype.

Georgie and Scott xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 10:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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