Wine-tasting and the "Quebrada del Cafayate"

Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spent the weekend in Cafayate which is three hours south of Salta and sits in the "Valles Calchaquies" , a very scenic part of Argentina. The bus journey along "Ruta 68" runs right through the fabulous "Quebrada del Cafayate" (aka "Rio las Conchas") which is a really remarkable landscape. Got up early in Salta so as to get the first bus down to Cafayate and I was able to get myself on a trip to the "Quebrada del Cafayate" in the afternoon. Aswell as seeing more of the landscape from the road this tour stops in a number of different places so you can take some short treks to see more of the different rock formations ... many of which have names which based on things that their shapes resemble. So for example we visited such sights as "Los Castillos" (the castles) , "El Sapo" (the toad) , "El Obelisco" (the obelisk) , "El Anfiteatro" (the amphitheatre) and the piece-de-resistance "La Gargantua del Diablo" (the devils throat !). The shapes of the rock formations & perhaps even more impressively the different colours are magnificent and quite unlike anything Ive seen on this trip or anywhere else. The colours are caused by different minerals and geological/chemical processes such as oxidisation which meant you can see brown , grey , green , yellow ... in some places an impressive "sandwich" of all these different colours. Hope the numerous photos do justice to this superb natural attraction. The tour guide said that each year they hold a concert in July in "El Anfiteatro" which must sound quite amazing due to the natural acoustics - you enter through a relatively narrow crack in the high rocks and it opens out into a circular arena just like an amphitheatre with lots of echoes if you make a loud noise ... as tourists being tourists we were trying out. "La Gargantua del Diablo" was even more impressive and was the last place we visited before sunset - again you enter through quite a narrow slit .. almost a large V shape in the rocks ... but it opens out into a large open-aired layered rock formation. The tour was very good and in the evening there was entertainment in the little plaza in cafayate - "the festival of international tourism 2008" - which was a series of dancers , musicians , performers and even a beauty pageant for the catchy title of "Queen of International Tourism 2008" (entered by local girls I hasten to add rather than travellers). I found a table at the restaurant on the corner near the plaza where I could watch the stage and also enjoy tucking into yet another succulent Argentinian steak , washed down with a glass of the local red wine. When I sum up my "Best Of" lists as I plan to do at the end of my trip it is going to be a tough battle between Argentina and Mexico for the "Best Food" award ... almost everything that Ive eaten and drank in Argentina has been absolutely top class ... if I dont put back on all that weight (which I mentioned I had lost in Peru) whilst Im here in Argentina then quite clearly I never will ! After my early start in the morning I was feeling the effects and pretty tired by about midnight so I retreated to the hostel but as I fitfully slept I could still hear music from the stage until about 5am as the festivities continued almost until first light. On Sunday I had a lazy morning , a nice breakfast al fresco in the plaza and then headed off to find the "bodegas". I visited a vineyard called "El Esteco" which is the most prestigious in the area ... you have to pay 20 pesos for the tour here whereas the others are generally free.
El Esteco is in a fabulous setting just outside the town of Cafayate - picturesque scenery , impressive buildings & well-kept grounds ... there is a top-end hotel attached to the "bodega" which I wandered around and which also looked mightily impressive. Before the end of my trip I am planning to treat myself to a night or two at a real
top-end hotel .. see how the other half live after a year in dorms , hostels and budget accomodation. The guide at El Esteco , Eduardo , spoke great English and showed us around the place explaining all the processes and details of the wine-making. They sell their wines under a number of different brands both at home and for export ... I recognised one of the labels "Michel Torino" (The Torino family own the bodega) but not the others - Ill be looking out for them in Tescos and Sainsburys when I get home to England. After the little tour came the tasting session in the bar where we had a white Torrontes and a red Malbec which were both really excellent ... the bottles of the stuff are also very cheap to buy but I simply cant carry any more stuff around with me ... Im already overloaded in both rucksacks. A fabulous "parillada" lunch at a nearby restaurant followed ... you get your own little hotplate set at the table with various different types of meat sizzling away ... so tasty & although Argentina is more expensive than Bolivia , the food is still very reasonable ... this meal was about GBP 3.50. Then I wandered onwards to a second Bodega , "Vasijas Secretas" ... this had been recommended by the hostel people to visit as it is the oldest in the valley. Frankly after El Esteco I found it a bit disappointing ... it was a free tour & tasting as most are , so I guess its true you get what you pay for ... but the quality of the tour , the bodega itself and most importantly the end-product were all in my opinion considerably inferior to El Esteco. The weather was absolutely searingly hot that Sunday afternoon - in the North of Argentina the siesta tradition is adhered to strictly & quite understandably as I was wilting in the heat ... so went back to the hostel and crashed out for a few hours. Become rather addicted to "empanadas" during my time in Argentina ... these are little pasties traditionally filled with beef , chicken or ham & cheese but also with a number of other fillings nowadays. Sunday evening I went to the "Casa de las Empanadas" which was close to the hostel and where the empanadas were amazing .. the best I have tasted so far in Argentina ... normally I have maybe 3-4 but here I gluttonously munched my way through 8 of them ... well it was an evening meal , normally they are a breakfast snack in the morning with a "cafe con leche". Early night beckoned on Sunday as I was planning to get up at 5am on Monday morning to catch the bus to Cordoba via a change at another city called Tucuman ... total bus journey time scheduled at 14 hours so another long travel day ahead ... distances in Argentina are vast - top to bottom I will cover more than 5000km , then I have to come back up aswell ! At some point when I have a minute I am going to work out the total distance I have covered overland on my entire trip ... thousands and thousands of kilometres no doubt but will be interesting to see just how far I have been.

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