The road to Mendoza.. Salta, Cachi, Cafayate and cactus!!!
It`s January 2nd and we are off to Salta in Argentina. I hear you ask, aren´t you in Chile! The answer would be yes, but for a number of reasons, primarily the places we want to go but also the fact that Chile is SO expensive, we are going to criss-cross between Argentina and Chile for the next month or so...
Saw a good quote on someone´s t-shirt this morning, "A happy traveler is one that travels light"... hmmn that makes me completely miserable as my rucksack weighs approx. 2 tonnes! But i digress! Our bus leaves San Pedro at 11:30am sharp...now there is normally no such thing as sharp in South America, in fact when you plan to meet people you usually ask is that regular time or South American time, ´cos SA time is ALWAYS later.. but no, off we sped at 11:30am for our 10 hr bus ride to Argentina and the colonial city of Salta...or so we thought!
After a 3 1/2 hour border crossing in Argentina, we began to think twice about the whole criss-cross thing, what a bloomin` waste of time, and the system is just daft! One wee man to stamp your passport saying "Welcome to Argentina".. one man for about 4 large bus loads of folks!!! I ask you, couldnt they get one more person maybe to help out? I assume it wouldnt break the bank! But enough of my border ranting...got into Salta just after midnight, and stayed at one of the yukkiest hostels so far.. .we had to make our own beds up, and when you brushed your teeth in the sink, the drain in the middle of the floor, where you would stand for your shower, gurgled and spewed up some dodgy looking water..phewww .. but the people were very nice indeed and im a softy so ALMOST felt bad about hightailing it out of there the next day, almost, but not quite!
Jan 3rd found us in our new pad, Hotel Manay, (no dont get excited the pic is of the Cathedral! not our hotel!) sheer luxury with a TV AND shower gel sachets no less (yes that is indeed luxury for us backpackers!) and our own bathroom, all for the same price, minus the gurgling drain - amazing! Torrential rain all day as we tried to check out the sights of Salta! Surrounded by "verdant peaks" (not sure what Lonely Planet means by that!) 1,200m above sea level, Salta is known for its wonderful climate (well, except for the day we arrive of course!) and of course its attractive colonial architecture. We weren´t feeling the love here so decided to head out to Cachi, a small and picturesque pueblo, about 4 hours south of Salta the next day. Very organized, right! Bought our bus tickets for 7am the next morning, pottered around some more in the town centre; Salta feels much more like a European city and we couldnt quite get that Andean atmosphere any more, even tho´ the books say that´s what you come here to soak up! Checked out the Cerro San Bernardo , from the teleferico (AKA gondola) to see the spectacular views of the city below us! Then we went for dinner, where we met a very chatty Dutch guy called Dennis Ram (yes we questioned his last name too but apparantly he didnt make it up!). One thing (aka cerveza/mojito/vino!) led to another and so at 3am we headed home after great chats about how we could all fix the worlds problems if everyone was just a little bit nicer to each other!
So of course, when the alarm went off 3 hours later we didnt quite manage to make it to the bus station for our 7am kick off! We are such rubbish budget travelers as we had to then buy new bus tickets for the next day! Pathetic eh! We did try and chance it by telling the girl at the counter that we had an "incident" which meant we just couldnt make it in time! Of course, she was having none of it, so it was "2 new tickets to Cachi please"! Oh well! That day, we decided to hang out in the Plaza de 9 de Julio, and just watch the world go by, and nurse our "chuchaqui" hangovers! Hot, hot, hot today (with not a rain cloud in sight!) so we see the city in a completely different light. It really is quite lovely and the colonial buildings certainly do the city justice! Checked out Iglesia Catedral and Iglesia San Francisco at night, quite beautiful lit up.. then its dinner and bed, as we MUST make the bus tomorrow at 7am!!!
Jan 5th...phew we do! Arrive in Cachi at around lunch time. Its a beautiful little town, with incredibly scenic surroundings, an 18th century adobe-style church and a few picturesque little restaurants surrounding yet another attractive plaza (all the pueblos, towns, and cities have these squares it seems, that almost anchor the place and the people.. they are usually really well looked after and provide a great meeting place for locals and tourists alike to hang out and watch the world go by, i love them!). And the odd donkeys casually walking down the main street!
We checked out the town, which literally took about 10mins as this is even smaller than San Pedro; booked a guide, Santiago, for a big hike the next day, then spent the afternoon at the gorgeous campsite pool (im not being sarcastic, this was a lovely pool in a desert setting, kinda wierd but fantastic as it is so HOT here!).
Ahh... the dreaded alarm off at 6am again! Aren´t we supposed to be relaxing! Oh well, up and ready to go off for our big hike. Met Santiago in his clapped out Renault, (no idea how this car made it through the roads we traveled to get to our starting point!) then we headed off to climb Cerrado de la Virgen (a mere 4,000m so not too strenous as we have done higher climbs!). As usual, Dominique, my friend the star athlete, casually bounded ahead with Santiago, with me bringing up the rear, but it was a lovely climb and when we reached the top, the views were stunning! Hmmn....and so was Santiago´s singing voice as he decided to give us a rendition of some ode to "Pachamama"(mother earth to you!) then asked us if we would like to sing a little something ourselves! Dominique and i didnt really know where to look to be honest as Santiago got quite misty eyed with his "cantar" , but hey, you have to be respectful right!! Anyway, back to the countryside - it really is incredible here, with mountains everywhere...Dom decided this one peak wasnt enough for her so she and Santiago headed off for another 1 1/2 hr jaunt while i waited by the little church the local people had built into the mountain in honour of the Virgen (which they all come and visit as a town pilgrimage once a year!). I admit it, i was quite happy with my hike as it was, so enjoyed the view, took some pics and waited for the others to return!!
Back in town, we took a well deserved siesta,then headed out, you guessed it, for some more "vino and queso". No-one eats till about 10pm here at the earliest so we were always the first to show up for "la cena"; we cant quite get the timing right!
Next day more of the same, pool, sun, relaxing...oh yes and we organized how we were getting to Mendoza..... well, lets just say we had a plan ......as we waited anxiously for our bus to arrive (yeh, i look really anxious dont i!).
The actual road to Mendoza was a little different...we got into our very dusty collectivo on Sunday afternoon to go to Cafayate, (which ended up being the most mind and bone crushingly bumpy bus ride we have taken so far - for the WHOLE 5 1/2 hours!!). We stayed overnight in Cafayate in a room covered in mosquitos where i got bluuudy bitten about 40 times again! Then we had to be up at the ridiculous hour of 5am to catch the 6 1/2 hour bus to Tucuman (yet another city on our way to wine country!). We were then supposed to be able to pick up the bus to Mendoza from Tucuman and we would be in wine country on Monday night. BUT for the first time (mainly due to it being Argentina´s summer time so everyone here is on holiday!) we couldnt get a bus out so had to stay over in Tucuman for one night (and it was seriously about 110 degrees here!! never been so hot!!) then catch a bus to Mendoza via Cordoba the next day...so all in all, the trip took just a little longer than we would have liked .. with the last leg a mere 20 hrs .....what we will do for wine eh! Definitely some numb bums all around here.....
However,all of that can´t take away from the fact i had a thoroughly enjoyable time in Cachi! It was all about taking it easy, although I was definitely ready to head off to Mendoza. Don´t worry folks, we probably won´t manage to get around all the vineyards there, but we will try!