Salta – high altitude wineries, only the experienced need apply.

22 Jan

After last night’s star gazing we’re up at first light, a great time was had in San Pedro but we’re dog-tired and it seems it’s going to be a long day…. trundling in thirty minutes late in a cloud of dust, the whole day bus to Salta is bursting at the seams …

It takes half an hour just to load us and the last 15 people on board before setting off and then stopping not 5 minutes later. Kelly and I exchange bemused looks as we’re marched off to stand for 2 hours in the blistering sun to get through the border crossing.

From San Pedro we climb back into the Andes to over 4000m, long dormant snow-capped volcanoes the only things higher than us on the road make for strange companions. They’re so massive and yet so far away that their appearance is almost constant.

Up here the air is thin enough to wake me short of breath from dozing, meanwhile Kel’s got a thumping headache (can’t possibly be from last night’s $2 bottle of vino). Once up on the Antiplano we seem to stay there for a very long time – after climbing, I keep expecting to drop down into Argentina. Yet we cross these super high plains for several hours before skirting the squintingly bright Salinas Grande salt flat.

As we drop down through the clouds towards Jujuy we’re overtaken by a trio of bikers, I look on longingly as they disappear off…

Arriving in Salta bus terminal (just 13 hours after leaving San Pedro) our good intentions for an alcohol free day long have long since been abandoned… Kelly and the bags join the taxi queue, I as my father’s boy head off in search of some cold beer, just as she reaches pole position in the queue I arrive back with clinking carrier bags. Not long after we’re safely ensconced in the charming gardens of Hostel Salta por Siempre, the edge taken off with a drink and a chat with the mixed bag of fellow guests.

The next couple of days see’s us really enjoying mooching round Salta, a charming city. It has a fine Plaza (9 de Julio) with grand architecture and a bevy of coffee shops from which to watch the world go by. It is hot and humid by day with thundery downpours in the afternoon – the rain really welcome after our parching in San Pedro.

Between the showers we visit the MAAM museum of Inca culture – its eerie centrepiece that of the body of an Inca child, one of three entombed in the High Andes as offerings some 500 years ago. They have been incredibly well preserved by the altitude and were removed by an expedition team in 1999. The jury’s out for me – the child looked so much at peace I think it a shame she wasn’t left resting in it.

By night, the hostel is a convivial and sociable place to be between bee stings (I would like to know what I have done to have angered them), card tricks are exchanged with characters Fernando…

And Erwin ‘Boogie Cat’ Latala…

Neither of them guessed it was really under my hat…

Wednesday night was an Asado – great steak which was washed down listening to a live band with newlyweds Pete & Ashlee. Tequila the drink of choice, what else?

Thursday morning saw the arrival of a hire car to take us south to the high altitude wineries of Cafayate & Cachi. Loading the bags one or 2 concerns began to creep in about the roadworthiness of the aged VW, namely that the stereo came on when the boot was opened (with key in pocket) and that when shut, the force of the closing boot was sufficient to roll the car forwards even with the handbrake on – ah well, get what you pay for – and yep it was the cheapest.

Four hours later we roll into the outskirts of Cafayate, Kelly had a lingering headache (clearly altitude related) so I’m driving. We visit a couple of wineries for a taste or 2 before parking up and seeing a few more around town. Our lack of fluent Spanish speaking, for once, played on our side – with us escaping the sometimes long-winded tours and tastings conducted by each vineyard to the masses and instead receiving a personalised tasting with the token English speaking wine connoisseur.

In Cafayate, the altitude (1700m) gives a longer growing season and a greater temperature range, so the wines here are unique to the area. The Torrontes (it’s a white) and the Domingo Molina Malbec (definitely a red) both score highly.

The wineries turf us out by 6pm so we hang out in the Plaza San Martin for tapas and dinner – eating on the pavement until rain forces us inside and then to dash back to the Hostel (I am assured that going via the Heladeria was the quickest route back).

Next morning Kelly takes the wheel and skillfully guides us through rivers, sand and stunning countryside towards Cachi, which takes all day to reach; we’re staying at a motel at the top of town from which the views are amazing.

From here we muse our options once we’re back in Salta… a must see is Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian border, just 2 days away by the bus. There is though from one of the party an enthusiasm for more horseriding and an estancia in Uruguay has previously been mentioned. It seems like that if we don’t go now, we’ll soon be too far north to make it to this little country. Pros and cons are weighed, concepts such as ‘dumb animals’ and then ‘compromise’ get a mention…. and voila it looks like once back in Salta we’ll be taking the bus to Buenos Aires for a boat over to Uruguay to ride more horses.

Well rested, we leave Cachi at 8.30am – the car has to be back at midday, so stopping only to photograph llamas, donkeys and the stunning valley we press on.

Most seem to reckon it will take four and a half hours to get back to Salta, we do it in 3 and a half, our man waiting outside his office as we pull up at the appointed hour. He doesn’t bother looking over the car – seemingly content that it still has a wheel at each corner and doors where it should. Strangely the only thing he does check is that we haven’t pinched the spare wheel or jack – an absolute must have for any backpacker on a budget.

Refuelled with a couple of café cortados we then climb the 1000 steps to the top of Cerro San Bernardo to take in views of the city before heading back to the Hostel for a last supper.

So one man’s supper is another man’s leftovers – lunch isavoured next day over a bottle of Torrontes, we chew the fat with Fernando before taxiing to the bus station for the 20 hours to Buenos Aires – this time it ought to be more comfortable, we’ve splashed out a little extra; we’re going executivo class, and here’s me with no tie, shame!

Cheers for now

Matt x

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2 Responses to “Salta – high altitude wineries, only the experienced need apply.”

  1. father bear February 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    All those years driving the Triumph Spitfire must have been good practice, it’s handbrake didn’t work either.
    I tried to empathise with you 2 when reading this by cracking a bottle of Chilano ( chilean red). I wouldn’t wash my feet in it and it tasted as though someone already had!
    Am envious of the weather it’s 0 degrees here — could be worse it’s minus 30 in Moscow.
    Have you had any tinned corned beef yet. It used to be known as typhoid meat a few years ago.
    Onwards and upwards.

    • wordsfromtheview February 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      Great practice indeed father, I am truly indebted as is Kelly for my years of training and her safe passage through the Andes. Re – World renown, internationally awarded, Chilean wine. As wise as you are; can I just check that you know it can be found not only for less than two quid, in the knock down isle at Lidl?

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