Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Dramatic Drive from Salta to Cafayate

Thursday morning we took a taxi to the Puerto Iguazu airport to catch a plane to Salta, whence we had bus tickets to Cafayate.  We grew nervous, though, as the plane was delayed -- we had heard from Jean Schramm that Aerolineas Argentinas has a reputation for being late, and we had only a 90 minute window to catch our bus. 

At the airport, we ran into a couple whom we had seen from time to time in the Argentine and Brazilian parks. We introduced ourselves to Wolfram and Anne, and it turned out that they were flying to Salta as well, and indeed that they were renting car and had in mind to visit Cafayate after driving through other towns that I had contemplated but passed up because, as automatic shifts drivers, car rental was not a realistic possibility for us. We shared a cab with them to the Salta bus station, exchanged contact information, and allowed as how we might meet up in Cafayate.

There are two roads leading from Salta to Cafayate.  Route 40 is the indirect route, running high up into the mountains to Cachi, then back "down" to Cafayate, which is only about a mile above sea-level. The guidebooks tout the wonderful location of Cachi, and  we heard later from Wolfram that this road reveals magnificent views, particularly the second part, from Cachi to Cafayate.  But we wanted to spend a few nights in a single place, and the bus route running directly to Cafayate goes along Route 68.  Here I describe what see saw and photographed through the windows of our Flechabus.

We got to the bus station with barely 15 minutes to spare, not even enough time to grab lunch before boarding the bus.  The bus was less than half full as we left Salta, but there were a number of stops in the suburbs as more people boarded or got off the bus.  After an hour or so, we picked up several young teenagers who were using the bus to get home from school, and several older people who were apparently bringing groceries home.   After about two hours, we stopped at a small shop to get food.

As we entered the last half of the journey, the terrain began to get hilly, and then, just after we passed through the small community of Alemania, truly mountainous.  We could see the sedimentary layers in the rock that underlay the bushes and trees, but there had been sufficient upthrust that the layers ran at a 45 degree angle as in the photo below, or even vertical.

Soon, the dark or light rock gave way to bright reds, and the mountains became dryer, exposing wild forms.  

Then the bus drove up onto a dirt road; as we looked out, we could see that the paved road had been washed out by a flood or perhaps a change in the channel of the river that we had been following.
Route 68 washed out between Alemania and Cafayate
We learned later that this had happened only the year before.  On the way back, a few busses passed each other on this dirt road; it was a tight fit indeed.

Now we entered the Quebrada de Cafayate proper, and colors became varied, with reds, browns, and off-whites visible; the rock forms became more sensational as well.

I'll have much more about this area in a later blog post.

In a few places, we noticed that houses near the road had small installations  of solar panels mounted on their roofs.  

We have been proud to contribute to energy conservation by installing solar panels on our own house and rental property, reducing the amount that we need to draw from the grid, but these houses showed an equally important role for solar power -- bringing electricity to people living completely off the grid.  In one small community where the bus stopped to drop a passenger on the way back from Cafayate, there were several houses with solar panels.
Solar panels in small village along Route 68 south of the Quebrada de Cafayate

This dramatic landscape continued for roughly 75 kilometers until finally the vista opened up into the Valles Calchaquies; another ten kilometers brought us into  Cafayate.  We found our way Hostel Ruta 40, where we would be staying.  The one two-person room with a double bed did not, however, have a working ceiling light, so we opted for one three-person room (at a slightly higher charge, but still a great deal).  This was still not a great room -- Nancy spent a fair amount of time swatting mosquitoes, the ceiling fan clicked annoyingly whenever it was in use, there were no hangers in the armoire and the armoire's drawers were useless for storing clothes, which would have been nice to do because we were staying for three days. Still, we knew we were getting a budget accommodation, and it was more than worth what we paid for it.
View of mountains above Cafayate from walkway outside our front door  at Hostel Ruta 40
After we dropped our bags, we walked off to find a winery where we could begin our wine-tasting.  Pia, the charming woman who staffs the hostel in the late afternoon and evening, was very helpful in identifying several nearby bodegas that would still be open even though it was already close to 6 PM, with special reference to those that would likely be less crowded and that do not charge a nominal fee for tasting.  We chose one that was outside of town, and walked in the dripping rain to Bodega La Banda.  I thought the wines were pretty ordinary.
The small museum in Bodega La Banda, Cafayate
We walked back into town, and decided to at inside because it was still raining steadily.  The meal at El Terruño was quite nice -- I had a dish of grilled beef with a malbec-based sauce, and we had a malbec from Finca Las Nubes, one of the local wineries.  

After dinner, Nancy went to sleep but Pia was kind enough to offer me the use of her work computer, which she did not need for most of that evening, so that I could post and upload photos from our days in the Iguazu area.  We had a delightful chat while I blogged and she dealt with her paperwork.

1 comment:

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