Red, red, wine!

Trip Start Apr 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 09, 2010

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Friday, July 3, 2009

We were told that a visit to Cafayate, the wine producing town in North Argentina is a real must if you are in Salta and have the time as it is only a few hours away. There is also another town called Cachi which is a small but pretty town on the way to Cafayate and the road between Salta and Cachi is meant to have really beautiful scenery.  So,the cheapest way to do it was to hire a car between a few people and this is also the best way to do it as you can stop the car whenever you want to take photos and admire the views. So, thats what we did!

Me, Luke and Stephanie, a girl we had met on the Salt Flats tour hired one car, and our friends Fred, Martin and Marieke hired another. Luke was the designated driver, and Stephanie the navigator (she is even more organised than I am!) so I just sat back and enjoyed the drive! We headed for Cafayate first and then intended to visit Cachi on the way back to Salta.  The drive was really spectacular as we drove through several valleys and gorges with different coloured rocks and dramatic views after every corner.

We arrived at 3pm and after a bite to eat, tried to visit some wineries - but they were all closed! Damn election. We thought they would be open as we knew that a guy from our hostel in Salta was on a tour of the wineries with a tour company from Salta - surely they wouldnt take a group of people on a 3 1/2 hour drive to Cafayate if there were no wineries open?! Well, we met up with this guy - his name is Rich, and they had made it to a few wineries - we think they were open for the morning only and closed in the afternoon.

Oh well, we thought, our hostel offered a free tour of 3 local wineries so we would just go on that the next day. It was a really hot day, and we fancied a swim so Luke, Stephanie, Rich and I headed to the Rio Colorado as we had seen photos in the hostel of people swimming in the waterfalls there and we fancied a bit of that action! We took the car as far as possible down the long dirt road leading to the river, and then we had to get out and walk from there. After about 15 mins walking along the river, we met a local guy who told us that the waterfalls were at least 90 minutes walk from where we had started, and as the sun would be setting in the next hour or so we realised it wasnt gonna happen today. We resolved to return the next day, with a picnic, after the wine tour!

So, back at the car luke says `Do you want the good news or the bad news?`` It transpires that there was no good news, it was just a cruel trick. There was bad news however...the car wouldnt start. It was dead. Muerte! We looked around at Steph and Rich - both only 19, and at ourselves -  24 but never owned a car in our lives and have no knowledge of how to fix one! Oh shit.We knew the battery was dead, but we didnt know what to do about it. If we were in the UK i would have rung my dad in a hearbeat, but we were in Argentina and I didnt even have a signal. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.

And then, like our guardian angels, Fred, Martin and Marieke appeared in their car to save us! hurrah! They didnt have jump leads but Fred seemed to know what he was doing and instructed us all in how to try and get the battery going again - one person in car with foot on the clutch and then everyone else pushing! Pushing a car is not easy in flipflops I must tell you! And after several failed attempts we admitted that the battery was totally dead - muerte!

So what to do next? The car company had told us that if the car broke down they would send out a guy with another car. So, all we could do was leave the car where it was, walk back to the hostel and then call the car hire company. And then, like our second set of guardian angels...came the police!! They seemed reluctant to help at first but when they realised the car was totally muerte, are we were stuck in the middle of nowhere, they gave in and decided to help us out.

Whilst Rich, Steph and I got in the back of the police truck, Luke sat behind the wheel as the police towed the car back in to town. It was hilarious! Everyone in town was looking at us in the police car as if we had been arrested and we just couldnt actually believe this was happening to us! They took us to a mechanic and we were like - `woah, we arent paying any money to a mechanic! this is a hire car! ┤ So the police lady very kindly rang the car company and explained to them what had happened. We agreed to leave it with the mechanic for an hour so he could give a diagnosis and then decide what to do from there.

When we returned, he told us that the battery was totally dead, as we expected. What was funny to note was that although the car was relatively knew, the latch in the bonnet where the rod goes when the bonnet goes up, was totally worn! This car had had some work done! The mechanic had told the car company and they had the cheek to ask us to pay for a new battery, and they would ┤pay us back when we returned to salta┬┤ !! I told them in the politest way possible to get lost and that I would not be getting one pesos out of my purse! Either they pay or they send a new car like they promised. And sure enough, they agreed to pay it! We had to wait til the next day however for the mechanic to buy and then fit the new battery. This didnt really affect us as we didnt need the car til the next afternoon but we made a mental note to kick off about it when it came to paying for the car!!

The next day we went on the tour of the wineries - 10.30am was a bit early to be tasting wine but the tour was free so what the hell! We went to 3 wineries, and supposedly learnt how to taste the wine properly.

The last `bodega` we went to was an organic winery and was about the best. Luke and I never drink red wine really (unless its free at xmas party, that kind of thing) but I had been trying to broaden our horizons whilst in Argentina, and so we bought a bottle of the organic red wine Malbec, as rather strangely we both quite liked it! It was a steal and it went down nicely with dinner a couple of nights later.

We picked up the car from the mechanic with its new battery - it was alive! and as we had planned went back to the Rio Colorada with our picnic, in seach of the waterfalls. And oh my god - hardest trek ever!! There was no clear path to follow, you just had to follow the river and this was very difficult at times. We arent sure if we took a wrong turn or something but it took us two hours til we got to the first waterfall and it was like going through a bloody entrance exam for the marines trying to get there! At one point a falling rock missed my head by about one inch and there were times when I was really really worried that I might fall and die! But thankfully, we all lived to tell the tale! When we got to the waterfalls, we werent even that impressed (Rich and Steph had been to Iguazu and Luke and I to Yosemite) they really werent worth the effort!! The sun had also gone behind the mountain by the time we arrived and the water was bloody freezing so we didnt even want to swim in it when we got there!
It was a fun afternoon despite all the fear and safety worries, and we felt a good sense of achievement we finally made it. I couldnt wait to get back to the hostel and chill out!

The next day, we took our car and its new battery on another road trip to Cachi. As Cachi is up in the mountains and the road is winding and mainly dirt road, it took a good 5 hours to get there. We had made a packed lunch tho and we enjoyed the scenery on the way so it was a pleasant ride .

Cachi is a small town and there is not much to do. We went up to the cemetery which is at the top of a hill so you get a good view of the town and then we mainly had some food, a few beers and cards with the rest of the gang.

The next morning we had to get up early to get the car back to Salta before 11.30am. This time Luke allowed me to drive and so I didnt get to enjoy the scenery as much but we stopped a few times to appreciate it and it was lovely. It was hard work driving tho with lots of steep drops and roads curving around the mountains. When we were on the outskirts of Salta, I swapped the driving with Luke as he is more confident with driving in the city centre - and five minutes later, for the second time in four days we had a run in with the Argentinian police! A police lady pulled us over and we realised she had a speed gun in her hand...uh oh! She explained to us that in an ┬┤urban zone┬┤ the limit was 40kmph and Luke had been doing 69kmph! So, what does one do in these kind of situations??...Play dumb!! We pretended we had no idea about the speed limit and that we werent quite sure what she was saying to us! She gave up after a while and just told us to keep to 40 in the urban zones and then let us go - phew!! Lucky they hadnt caught us earlier on the country roads when we were doing a lot more then 69kmph!

Being stopped by the police cost us valuable time, but we got the car back just in time and sucessfully argued with the woman from the car company that as the car was in the garage overnight and as ┤we were forced to spend an extra night in Cafayate` we shouldnt have to pay for 3 days car hire, but only 2! hurrah! So in the end it only cost 15 quid each for the 3 days car hire - bargain! and it was a great road trip!
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Where I stayed
Hostal el balcon
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