Cold heart, lukewarm liver

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thankfully the next leg of our South America By Bus tour was the relatively short trip to the small Andean town of Cafayate. Like the journey up to Cachi this was a local a bus that wound round twisty mountain roads through magnificent desert scenery. Unlike the journey up to Cachi the roads were sealed and the bus had air suspension which made it more comfortable for some (i.e. me) and more like a boat for others with motion sickness (i.e. Wendy and the puking kid two rows back). The stopping every ten minutes to pick up peasant farmers smelling of wee and cabbage - and this time booze and cigarettes - didn't make it any easier.

Adding to the aromatic pleasure was the teutonic pong emanating from across the aisle. There weren't your typical Germans though; these two blokes looked as though they had caught the bus in the late 1800s - or perhaps in Narnia. With dirty matted hair stuffed under leather top hats they wore baggy shirts with flared threadbare, leather-trimmed cords and scuffed hobnail boots. They looked ridiculous and smelled worse. Maybe this is why the kid was puking two rows back.

Only four hours later we were at the town square of Cafayate (pop 12,000). The soap-dodging Narnians had taken their bundle of smells tied to an intricately carved wooden stick and probably found a tree to sleep under, or possibly a passing minstrel show. Despite it being out of season we found it quite difficult  to find a cheap decent room until we came across Hotel Victoria. It wasn't so much a hotel than a northern England B&B without the second B: crotchety landlady with an indecipherable accent too old to climb the stairs. But for about four pounds each we had a big clean room with a decent hot shower but no heater. Bugger.

Sitting in the square drinking coffee and eating piles of empanadas was very comfortable in the sun but in the shade you needed a fleece and possibly gloves. At night we piled on the layers and raced to a restaurant where we sat by the fire eating bowls of locro the local stew. One night though we did return to meatville and ordered an parillada which is basically a selection of 'meat' off the menu. The chicken, ribs and one of the sausages were pretty good and I quite enjoyed the hearts, but the liver, kidney and intestines weren't that great. Despite leaving most of these and not having fava beans or a nice bottle of chianti I was still as full as fat lady's sock when the waiter eventually took the mess away.

The Cafayate valley is home to a number of wineries which we had intended to explore by bike but after getting sandblasted at some dunes, stopping for more empanadas, and eventually fixing a puncture we arrived at Bodega Etchart ten minutes before closing. Maybe we'll wait to Mendoza to hit the wine trail instead.

The next day we joined a group for a five mile trek through the Quebrada de Cafayate. Over time rivers and wind have forged an eerie landscape and strange formations in the limestone, and judging by the strength of the wind today it was still at work. Fortunately we were layered up again so it wasn't too cold in the shade but boiling in the sun.

Our next stop was the tiny town of Valle de Tafi to do more hiking but we had heard that it was very cold. As we came over the mountain Tafi below was hidden under a blanket of thick cloud with the trees and ground - and even the poor horses - covered in the heaviest frost  I'd seen since Sir David's little known thyroid problem. When we eventually arrived at the town the frost had given way to heavy grey cold fog. It was like a January day in London without the traffic. So we decided to stay on the bus to Tucaman where we spent the night before getting another bloody bus to Córdoba. I have to admit that the constant moving around coupled with the imminent arrival of winter has begaun to wear me out. Hopefully a few days in one place dreaming of warmer climes will sort me out.
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