27.12.2013 - 04.01.2014 34 °C
Quebrada de Humahuaca - Tilcara (27th December - 28th December)
We have now made it to Argentina, arriving at the border crossing in La Quiaca at 6am on the 27th after a cramped overnight bus ride down from Sucre. My first thoughts about Argentina...much more comfortable buses, we had comfy seats, aircon and a toilet on board, luxury! Our first stop in Argentina was the village of Tilcara, in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and we enjoyed the bus ride there, surrounded by fantastic scenery as we drove down a wide valley with hills on either side.
Getting off bus in Tilcara, and out of the aircon, my second thought about Argentina was that is is blooming hot here! By the time we had arrived at midday the tempertaure was about 32 degrees and climbing. We got to the hostel and immediately changed into shorts and t-short and slapped on the suncream.
Our first afternoon in Tilcara we set exploring the village and visiting the nearby fortified ruin of Pucara. There wasn´t much left of these ruins, but it was nice strolling around in the sunshine and reading the odd information board. Then came the long wait until Argentine dinner time at 10pm...going to take a little getting used to this new eating schedule, and 6pm snacks are definitely needed!
Our second day in Tilcara we did a lot of walking, which was pretty hard work in the heat, but Duncan kept telling me was good practice for our trip to Patagonia in 3 weeks time! In the morning we walked to the "Garganta del Diablo", a gorge and waterfall a 12km round trip out of town. I was surprised by the amount of water in the falls, given the hot dry climate we were in. Then in the afternoon we walked out the opposite side of town and followed a dirt road through the countryside and past small adobe houses, with nice views of the red-coloured mountains in the background.
Salta (29th December - 1st January)
Next stop in Northern Argentina was Salta, a big city, but with a very relaxed feel to the place. The relaxing feeling was probably partly due to our arrival on a Sunday during siesta time...absolutely nothing was open, and only a few people were braving the heat outside!
We took an organised tour from Salta on Monday to the village of Cachi, about 4 hours drive away. The highlight of the tour was the journey there, through some amazing scenery, ranging from lush green valleys to desert areas with lots of giant cacti, and a scary section of narrow winding road taking us up 2000m from Salta to Cachi. Cachi itself was a pleasant village, with a pretty plaze, but our 2 hour stop there for lunch and exploring was plenty, before we headed back to Salta.
We spent the next 2 days in Salta itself, and soon discovered that whilst the city is very nice to stroll around, there really isn´t that much to actually do here. Instead we spent a lot of time sitting in the main plaza, picnicing in the park, and taking refuge from the heat in the air-conditioned supermarket. We also made the hike up Cerro San Bernando, a hill overlooking the city. Although the climb was not strenuous, we still arrived sweaty and hot at the top, and appreciated the breeze up there whilst we checked out the view.
We had expected busy and bustling New Year´s Eve celebrations in Salta, and were shocked when on leaving our hostel that night that everything was shut...including the restaurants and bars! After walking round for 45mins with no luck, we finally found the one open restaurant in town, and were lucky enough to grab the last unreserved table. The food was great, and Duncan was happy tucking into our enormous grill for two, which included six huge chunks of various types of meat each, washed down with some good (and really cheap!) local wine. After dinner we headed to the main plaza, which was surprisingly empty, to see in the New Year with only about 50 other people. I guess New Year here is more of a "stay at home" celebration with family and friends. Nevertheless we had a good night, even if it wasn´t quite how we had anticipated it.
Cafayate (2nd January - 4th January)
Next stop was the small town of Cafayate, about 4 hours south of Salta, famous for it´s wine and scenery. On our first afternoon there we looked around the town, and found a great empanada place for lunch, called ´Casa de La Empanada´, which had a huge selection of fillings which were all great. We also went to a local goat farm, where we had a short tour to see the factory, meet the friendly goats, and try some of the cheese. Whilst there we met another couple from the UK (the first British people since arriving in Argentina), who we hit it off with, and met later on for drinks. They were doing a cycle tour of the Americas over 18 months, and I think they have inspired Duncan even more to try cycle tourism in future. Not sure I could manage their route though, as their next few days would be heading up over the Andes! On leaving the bar at 1am it started to rain, so Duncan and I hurried back to our hostel and bed before we got too wet...only to be awakened an hour later by rain pouring through the ceiling and soaking our bed! Needless to say it was not a good night´s sleep after that, curled up on a damp mattress underneath our plastic ponchos, listening to the rain drip down!
Day 2 in Cafayate we dragged our tired bodies out of bed, hired bikes and took them on the bus 50km out of town along the Quebrada de Las Conchas for a day of cycling. The lack of sleep and having not cycled for months made the ride hard work for me, but the scenery made up for it, cycling along a river valley, with amazing hills and weird rock formations to see the whole way along. Unfortunately it started to rain (hard!) about 6km away from town, and we arrived back soaking yet again. Thankfully though we had managed to change room by this time, so warmed up with a shower then caught up on some sleep in the afternoon while the rain passed.
Our final day in Cafayate we hired bikes again, and headed out to find some bodegas and sample the local wine. To begin with we had little success. We cycled along lanes through vineyards, but couldn´t find the first two bodegas labelled on our map, despite following signs saying they were only 300m away! Eventually we found a small ´artesanal´ bodega, and had a short tour and tasting. We were amazed to find that the wine here was less than 2 pounds a bottle, and delicious, so I couldn´t resist buying a bottle. After this we headed to two of the larger bodegas, and had more tastings, another tour, and of course bought more wine! We finished our cycle with more empanadas and some malbec and torrentes wine flavoured ice cream, yummy! Then we were back on the road, heading to Cordoba, 18 hours away...