Northern Argentina Wine Country

Trip Start Jun 23, 2011
Trip End Aug 30, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We booked a two day tour to see the wilderness around Salta and the small village of Cafayate, which has many wineries (bodegas in Spanish, which makes me even more confused as to why the little stores on the corners in New York that fit about 80% of a Meijers into 650 square feet are called that). We were supposed to be picked up in a Toyota (Toyshota, according to the girl who sold us the tour) and go with a guide and 2 other guests. Instead we were picked up in a bus with about 25 spanish-speaking people. This is why Nordic Travel is horrible, and everyone should stay away from them.

Anyway, it was 7:30 in the morning and none of the tour offices opened until after 9, so if we wanted to go to Cafayate that day, we had no choice. We jumped on and made the best of it. The ride from Salta to Cafayate is down a long valley with mountains on both sides, and then you cut through a gorge to a parallel valley where Cafayate is. The gorge has incredible scenery with multi-colored layers of rocks in the mountains and strange rock formations on all sides.

After we arrived at Cafayate, we had lunch and went to two wineries for a few tastes. This region is famous for Torrentes, a grape with only really grows well here. It makes a white wine that smells very sweet and fruity, but tastes dry. It's unusual and not like anything we’ve had before. After the tour bus of day trippers from Salta headed back, we were left at our hotel in Cafayate and we headed out and visited two more bodegas on our own. At the first one the girl working there and explaining the wine during the tasting spoke American English (as well as Spanish), so we stayed to talk to her after the tasting and found out that she graduated from University of Michigan in 2003 – the same year we did. UM has a lot of graduates, but it’s still quite a coincidence to meet one at a town of less than 5,000 in the mountains of northwest Argentina.

We bought two bottles of wine and some bread, cheese, and salami and planned to have a dinner in at our hotel (We had cable with a few english movie channels), however, I came down with a splitting headache that didn’t go away after 3 advils. Not sure if it was the altitude, the wine tastings, the bash on the head the day before, or some combination of the three, but it was pretty miserable. So I took a three hour nap while K-money had dinner before I woke and rallied.

The next morning we were actually picked up in a Toyota by Rapheal, our guide, and we picked up the other two tour guests – Rodolpho and Omar – and headed up the Cachiqui valley. This valley runs parallel to the one we came down yesterday, and it also had really amazing scenery, but the really crazy thing was that it was so different from what we saw the day before.

We went to the small town of Cachi, which was having the town top spinning tournament, which seemed to consist of two competitors lining up and the referee saying "go" and they both take these wooden tops around which they’ve wrapped about 5 feet of string and throw them down and snap the string back at the last moment to make the tops spin. The one whose top spins longest wins. It was interesting. We also saw a few marble competitions and some older kids doing pretty cool tricks with their tops. We went to a small bodega outside of town for lunch, which was really good.

After that we turned back east towards Salta and drove over a crazy winding dirt road up and down a mountain. We got to our highest point yet – about 3,500 meters. At one lookout where we stopped to, well, look out, Rodolpho had a question for Rapheal, so Rapheal got out of the Toyota to talk to him. As we all stood there discussing the views and the rocks, we heard the crunch of tires on gravel and looked back to see our truck, which was a manual, starting to roll down the hill. Rapheal ran after it, and caught it after about 30 feet – no harm, no foul, but it could have been a disaster.

We drove through the Cardones National Park. Cardones is a kind of cactus that grows tall and straight, basically the stereotypical cactus you see in cartoons and old westerns. They just created this national park around 10 years ago to protect the cacti, which have a really cool looking wood inside them that people use to make crafts, furniture and al kinds of stuff. Now there is a lot less crafts, but a lot more cacti. We took some cool pictures in the park and then headed back to Salta.

K-money and I had dinner and waited for our midnight bus to La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia.
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Sarah on

Can't wait to hear about the trek through the salt flats... Toula missed you at her party! XOXO



Bob massey on

Did your "quickie" spansish lessons help?

jefe on

Bob, yes, they did. We went from understanding virtually nothing when we arrived, to understanding a tiny bit after our lesson. And now, after nearly 3 weeks in Spanish-speaking countries, we understand very little. Sorry to use such technical terms, but trust me, that represents steady progress.

Sarah on

Tour with 2 other people = bus filled with 25 spanish speaking people... LMAO! PS Jeff - I love that you ate a corn dog.

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