(And a lot of rocks!)
18.07.2010 - 22.07.2010 20 °C
Sunday 18th July 2010
After 19 hours on an overnight bus with the enemy (AndestheivingMar) we- and our bags- made it to Salta. We were met, once again, by someone from our hostel (Backpackers Soul) and put in a taxi which was then paid for by the hostel. We´d like to point out here that taxis in Salta are dirt cheap, the five minute ride cost slightly over 50p. You can´t even open a taxi door in Manchester without being charged 2.50 pounds!
The first thing we did was go out and compare the dozens of tour operators and their prices. We decided on Salta Connection (after a lot of Googling and asking around) for both our tours; one south to Cafayate and the other north (in both direction and altitude!) to Humahuaca. It was a bit more expensive than other tour agencies, but as we had been warned against booking with budget operators and it had been recommended we went for it. We got a discounted price for the two tours, coming up at $AR640 for the two of us.
That night we ate out at a restaurant on the main square (this was all we actually saw of Salta). We got a full-blown `asado´ (bbq) and chips for two for just $AR60 (about 10 pounds). The meat came served on a portable hot plate with coal underneath, keeping it warm and sizzling. We ate ribs, chorizo, steak and even cows kidneys (which was promptly washed down with a mouthful of chips and beer).
Monday 19th July 2010
The next day we were up at 6:30am for our tour to Cafayate, which started at 7:15. We went downstairs, ate a rubbish breakfast and waited. And waited. At 7:45am Fernando and his little red van rolled up spouting some nonsense about problems with the frost. Of course, he hadn´t expected it, it had only been -5 for the last week or so... we suspect he had a lie-in.
Anyway, we picked up our Argentine comrades (who we later found out would be our amigos on the next day´s tour), stopped for some hot water for Mate and made our way down the Quebrada de la Concha. It took about two hours to get to our first stop (we think, we slept most of the way!). All of the stops were to see different rock formations- some were shaped like castles, another like a toad, one like a mummy and so on. Two of the most impressive were the `Devil´s Throat´ (they like that name over here)- which was formed by two tectonic plates colliding- and the `Ampiteatro´, which was the result of a waterfall which used to flow over the rocks and left a large hole. The acoustics in here were apparently amazing, better than that in most theatres, but all we remember is the crazy guy playing the flute and trying to scav a lift home (there´s a video of that!)
At the highest point in the range- Tres Cruzes- we encountered an Argentine man selling paraphenalia, but mainly Ocarinas, which Liam was fascinated by (he kept harping on about Zelda or something...) He played a song for us and we filmed him doing so. It was the windiest place EVER so kudos to him for standing there all day.
After a (long) while we got to Cafayate and had some lunch. Liam and I went for the picnic in the park option, whilst the Argentine lads nailed a muhassive asado and complained about how full they were for the rest of the day. They had informed us, as soon as they got in the car, that they liked food, something we noticed when they just kept pulling biscuits/bread etc out of their bags.
Post-lunch it was time for a(nother) wine tour or two. The first one was Nanni wines, a small family business which has been going since 1897. They make organic wines and only sell them in three cities in America and restaurants in Salta. That´s a massive shame as the wine was the best wine we have ever tasted, no exageration!
The second tour was of a more industrial bodega- Domingo Hermanos- and the tour guide admitted that if you were to ask for a glass of the house wine in North-West Argentina you would probably be drinking a glass of theirs. The proof was in the tasting. The best part about the tour was seeing THE BEST Robin look-a-like EVER. Liam kept following him around with the video camera (I think his parents were getting worried!)
Outside the bodega we sampled some llama salami and a bit later on we felt shamed as we fed some llamas on the side of the road.
When we got back at 8pm we were glad that we had chosen Salta Connection to do our tour with. Our guide, Fernando, was a friendly fella and seemed to know what he was talking about (even if his English accent did leave us a little confused at times!)
Cafayate is a nice little town, but very much aimed at tourists and all the shops sell the same things- the woolen jumpers, hats and socks that we managed to resist, just thinking how much cheaper they´ll be in Bolivia (where it is all imported from anyway!)
That night we headed to the sister-hostel of Backpackers Soul for free dinner which is included in the price every night. Dinner was spagetti and meatballs and it went down a treat.
Tuesday 20th July 2010
Another early rise today as we got up at 6:30 (again), eager for our tour to Humahuaca. This tour promised to be less about the nature and more about the villages. We were picked by Hasan and the Argentine lads from the day before in a lovely little silver van and headed up north (via another stop for hot water for Mate, of course!) Within a couple of hours we were in Pumamarca, a tiny little village at the foot of the seven colours rock formation.
The town was full of markets once again selling woolen goods aimed at tourists. There was a band playing and the atmosphere was quite lovely. We took a few pictures and then decided to climb to the top of the hill next to the village to breath it all in.
The view was spectacular. Pumamarca is in a small valley, surrounded by not only the seven colour hills, but many others, too.
Back in to the van and our next stop was Tilcara, where we reached 3,000m altitude and saw some Inca village ruins and a cactus farm. There´s not really much else to say about Tilcara, except that Liam got very very sunburnt as the sun was so fierce being so high up, but it was a nice visit.
Our third and final village of the day was Humahuaca, where the first thing we did was eat. Sixteen empanadas (Liam had ten, Jaz five, Argentine guy one). The other Argentine guy preceeded his llama steak lunch by running off as soon as we stopped to go and buy a sandwich (much to Hasan´s dismay- he had only gone to park the car and told us to wait two minutes!) He also had empanadas to start. And bread. Liam called this one Kenan (and the other one Kel, obviously).
After lunch we wandered around amongst the masses of tourists and yet more market stalls selling the ame things. We climbed the 106 steps to the monument of Independence (106 steps to mark the 106km from Salta). This was not easy at such a high altitude, but good training for the auld Inca Trail.
Back in to the wagon we went and headed back to Salta, via a stop at the Tropic of Capricorn (must wikipedia and see what that actually is...), a lake and some forest (where Hasan told us to get out and drove off! He was waiting around the corner...)
The journey back was immense, it started with a stop at a bread stall on the side of the road (we literally pulled the car up as if we were at McDonalds drive-thru). Kenan and Kel (obviously no longer full from their massive lunch) bought three massive naan-looking type bread and quesilla (a stringy, mild cheese which was almost a mixture of Babybel and Mozarella). They explained that this was THE bread to eat with Mate and they were not wrong. Having stopped (again) for hot water, Kenan made us some Mate con azucar (Mate with sugar) and Kel handed out the food. It was amazing and we have been craving it since.
Anyway, this mixed with the cheesy English 80s megamix being pumped out at full volume meant for a highly entertaining couple of hours drive. Especially when Kel was backseat dancing.
We had a really good day and we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends (though we did later see Kel through the window of his hostel and he looked very chuffed when we knocked and waved!)
Wednesday 21st July 2010 and Thursday 22nd July 2010
We got up at 5:45am...there´s no rest for the wicked. This time it was to catch our ridiculously time-tabled bus (6:45am!) to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. We would have liked to have stayed in Salta another day to actually see the town, but the buses ran five days a week and Thursday wasn´t one of them and we didn´t want to have to wait until Friday to leave.
The bus ride was scheduled to take nine hours but actually took just over twelve, why were we not surprised?! Thankful that we had endured our last Argenina-Chile border crossing, we got off the bus (after having got back on after Chilean customs only to discover it was literally a minute drive to the town) and searched for our hostel. If it wasn´t for an elder couple we bumped in to, we would never have found it! We later went out for dinner with said couple and eventually got to bed ready for a long lie-in after a manic week or so.
We spent Thursday sleeping and booking tours (after having consulted the recommendations and complaints book in the tourist info office to find the best company) and settled on sandboarding and valle de la luna the next day and a three-day tour to Bolivia on Saturday (with Cordillera who, according to the book, were by far the most reliable and their being the only company without an accident in 10 years made us feel much better, too).
And that´s where we´re up to now, we´ll update on sandboarding and Valle de la Luna soon, but now it´s time for bed before our 8am pick-up for the start of our mini adventure within our big adventure (-20 degrees beckons tomorrow night!) We´re very excited to get to Bolivia and will update you all as soon as we can.
Hope everybody is ok and Happy Birthday Mum (Rosa)!
Jaz and Liam x