Cafayate – wine, cheese and sun...

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Where I stayed

Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cafayate is four hours south of Salta and so a relatively short bus journey for us but with spectacular scenery. To get to Cafayate you have to pass through the Quebrada de los Conchos (Gorge of Shells) which is a large gorge with unusual rock formations caused by a big earthquake hundreds of years ago.  It's called gorge of the shells as shells can be found in the rocks as thousands of years ago it was the sea bed.  Anyway, we pass through in the bus and know we have to go back to explore.

We stay at a hostel called Rusty-K which is a small hostel with a nice big courtyard for sitting out and relaxing in the sun next to the grape vines.  Cafayate is a small town but the main draw here is firstly the 30-40 bodegas (vineyards) and secondly the amazing scenery.  Despite these obvious attractions, the town still feels sleeply and not touristy – a perfect place to relax for a few days.  The staff are really friendly and encourage us to practice our Spanish with them, the hostel has an easy going vibe to it.  We arrived at the hostel with an English couple that we met on the bus (John and Jo) and so end up spending the next few days with them.  This confuses any locals we meet as the introductions go 'This is Janette, Jonny, John and Jo’.  ‘J’ being a letter which is a bit more difficult for them to pronounce.

We take a wander around the town but as usual we have arrived in siesta time so it’s very quiet.  We do manage to find a restaurant that’s open so we have a drink and something to eat with another couple from the hostel.  This couple is an older American couple who quit their jobs 30 years ago and have been travelling ever since – they claim to be ‘on strike’.  Very interesting, (and a little eccentric), couple to meet but also quite keen to share their views on various topics...wars, banking, big corporations, governments, a bit heavy going for an afternoon drink in the sun.  However there are interesting stories in there so we power through... and Jonny does manage to keep his mouth shut for most of the topics.

Back to the hostel for another bbq evening with again a good deal of meat, salad and wine, and a chance to meet everyone in the hostel.  The hostel has got a really good crowd of people in, with a couple from S. Africa and a couple from Canada all doing the same sort of thing.  So the evening is spent exchanging stories and tips until a new drinking game is introduced.  Half a pack of cards is put on top of an empty wine bottle and the aim is for each person to blow off at least one card but also leave one card on top of the bottle.  It sound easy but there is a lot of tactical playing by the locals and the girls seem to lose the most.   We then head out to the town where there is meant to be local folk music but when we arrive to a man rapping over a guitar about the plight of the cowboys (the gauchos) – so we don’t end up staying too long.  Just long enough to try a glass of hot white wine which is the local drink.

Next day we have a wander round town and discover that the bodegas are open in the morning so with time to kill we pop into an organic bodega called Nanni.  We miss the tour and go straight for the tasting (by accident of course) and try three wines, a white called torrentes which is the local grape and most popular, a cabernet and a tannat.  Not so sure on the white as it’s quite fruity but the two reds are good so we get a bottle of the tannat for later.  We have booked on to the tour of the Quebrada with the hostel owner Walter.  He takes us out in his car, so it’s just the four of us plus him, perfect tour size!  He takes us to all the main rock formations (some of which look likes shapes such as frogs, trains, faces, castles etc, talks about the plants and animals that live here and gives us a chance to explore ourselves.  The scenery is beautiful and at some points we can see the different minerals in the rocks as different layers of colours – I’ve never seen anything like it – amazing (the photos say more than I can describe). 

At night, six of us from the hostel head to a local grill for some more meat – the local places seem to be more of a grill in a garage with plastic tables and chairs but the food is really good.  The boys seem to be on a challenge to see how much meat they can eat and so we all leave feeling very full and sleepy!  We also get to see the Argentinean version of ‘Strictly come Dancing’ which as you may have heard on the news is a bit different from the British version – let’s just say a lot less clothing....

Next day off to the goat cheese farm where we get a tour around the farm in Spanish but the guide talks slowly so we can understand.  The best bit we learnt was that the goats eat grape seeds as part of their feed and listen to classical music when they’re getting milked – very cultured goats.  As you pay for the tour, we each get to pick a cheese so we come away with two smoked cheese, one with pepper and one with garlic.  This will be our main food group for the next few days – apart from meat of course.

In the afternoon we head to some more bodegas including the oldest one in town called Vasija Secreta.  We get a tour (in English) and some wine tasting for free – again the torrontes, cabernet and a malbec.  We then pay for the premium wine tasting where we taste a sauvignon blanc and a malbec.  We automatically taste the difference and they both are very good – unfortunately at $100 AR, they’re not really in our budget (we’ve been paying $15 AR in the supermarket!).  We then go to Nanni again and do the tour this time.  We learn that the reason that Nanni can be organic is that their vineyards are out near the Quebrada where the usual pests don’t exist as it’s so dry.  We also learn that these wines are stronger than most (14-15%) as they are at a high altitude and so because they get so much sun and grow tougher skins to cope with the conditions there is more sugar to be made into alcohol. A very interesting tour – and we do feel we know a good deal more about how wine is made rather than just drinking it!  The third bodega of the day is El Transito which actually exports to Britain so we’ll be looking out for these wines when we get back as they are one of my favourites.

Quiet night after the wine during the days just spent with people from the hostel and tasting our day’s purchases.

Today we decide to go on a walk to some waterfalls nearby.  We get a local guide as we’re informed there is not much chance of us finding them ourselves – that was definitely correct.  Our guide is called Franco and he grew up in the mountains just outside Cafayate.  He asks us if we want to do the adventure tour and we say yes.  This involves a lot of climbing rocks and squeezing ourselves through crevices – a bit daunting at times but Franco is really helpful showing us how to do it and telling us about the local animals and all the plants that they use as medicine.  The scenery is amazing as well – we follow a river bed up through the valley and are surrounded by mountains and cacti.  The waterfalls themselves are nice but would be better in summer as you can swim in the pools around them – a bit cold at this time of year.  We stop for lunch before walking back the easier way and we get to see the town from a viewpoint on the mountain which is impressive.

Back to the hostel to recover and then out for more steak as all the shops are closed as it’s a Sunday afternoon.  We sit in the main square and listen to the local music being played and enjoy some more steak!  Then head back to the hostel for some cheese and wine and chat to Patricia who works at the hostel.  She has been one of the members of staff that is most patient with listening to our Spanish, plus she likes to talk so we have been spending plenty time with her – and I think the Spanish is finally improving! At midnight we decide we don’t want to leave the next day and so we book in another night.

Our last day is a lazy day, spent enjoying the sunshine in the morning.  Then we head to ‘Casa de Empandas’ for some empandas and torrontes wine – it’s growing on us now.  Next stop is to try the famous wine ice cream – I have a white wine sorbet and Jonny tries the red wine one.  I like mine but there is definitely a kick to it!  Most the bodegas are closed today as it’s a public holiday but we do another tasting at Nanni and El Transito again.  Then we take our purchases back to the hostel and have some wine and cheese (again) in the courtyard. 

In the evening about 8 of us head out for some dinner and to play ping pong – John has challenged one of the staff from the hostel so pride is at stake here.  We have a bit of a wait as we’re waiting for the person to arrive that has the ping pong ball.  Then the boys play while everyone else has wine and watches Argentinean Strictly Come Dancing.  The game comes to a halt at one-one as the ball breaks so at least no pride was lost!

And now we have decided that we really should get going and head north to Bolivia – we’re very sad to leave Cafayate as it’s definitely been one of our favourite places since arriving in South America – beautiful setting, small town feel and we’ve met a really good group of people, staff and travellers not to mention the wine, cheese and steak!
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