Author Archives: Gio&Bert

An alternative rhumb to Cafayate

19-21/02/2014

It dates back to 20 million years when large stones began to rise at the edge of hard crystalline rocks originated in the Precambrian.  Deep faults in the crust were raising granitic and metamorphic rocks forming a mountain buttress, breaking the sedimentary plaques (older than the Andes) and causing the elevation of an edge pointing to the sky, arming inclined narrow canyons with walls about 20m high.  Bit by bit erosion did its geomorphologic part to leave us with the looking like arrowheads sharpened blades of the Valle de las Flechas as we are driven through this stunning whimsicality of nature towards the heart of the Calchaquíes Valley.  The ‘Ruta Del Vino that starts in Salta is the alternative route we decide to follow, from the village Molinos on a true adventure of hitchhiking-luck to over win the 115km till Cafayate through this valley.

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Most tourists would take the road to Cafayate through the Quebrada de Las Conchas but unlike our itinerary there are plenty possibilities to visit this polychrome landscape with its interesting geological and cultural history.  The self-appointed capital nests in a beautiful landscape, mild climate, fine wines and friendly people.  Being a small but lively modern place, the centre of the province’s eno culture, a crossroad between Salta, Cachi and Amaicha and well foreseen of all type of accommodations, Cafayate is the main tourist base for visiting the valleys.  We find our home in Cafayate Backpackers Hostel where we connect fast with the rest of the guests.  We join their active organizing attitude and on the first evening we get ourselves fully booked for the next two days.

First day we go with a group to Las Siete Cascadas Rìo Colorado some 6 km away from the town centre.  A canyon where Rio Colorado’s crystalline water fall brute on a rocky frame and paints the whole scene with vivid greens.  It justifies the frequent stops for gaping at the viridescent wonder along a trail that goes upstream and connects the different waterfalls.  It’s a labyrinth of tiny paths that are hidden in between the luxuriant riverside all going the same direction, crossing several times the river over, between and under the smoothly polished boulders.  We end up at a waterfall with pool where only the brave will suppress the freezing water. A beautiful hike in exuberant nature shared with hostel roommates and goats that brings our legs and minds back in shape.  We close the day having dinner in a local restaurant on the main square with all the guests of the hostel and with a long discussed discount.

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The second day we decide to go to visit the Quebrada de las Conchas.  This bizarre eroded multi-coloured valley that has recently enlightened archaeological investigations with the existence of a beautiful stretch of Inca road, is located a few meters from the 68 Highway and by this easily reachable with bus, rented car (not too expensive if shared with) or even bike.  This valley is an Eden for the shades-worshiping-photography-lovers, an utopia for geography teachers and a dream for nature devotees.  We like it and more than once we look at each other astonished and overwhelmed by it.

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With the right sensation in our body we say goodbye to Cafayate and prepare ourselves for the next episode of our Argentinean hitchhiking adventure.

Our recommendations:

  • We reached Molinos by bus from Cachi (28 ARS per person) and from there we kept on travelling hitchhiking our way till Cafayate.
  • The Cafayate Backpackers Hostel offers private luxury rooms, dorms and a small campground. It gives a good impression at first and the prices are ok (50 ARS a night/person in dorm) but once paid everything changes. The first day we did not get any bedding, the kitchen is not prepared for backpackers (it was already difficult to cook something for just the two of us) and those paying the campground can’t use the kitchen at all. No hot water, we ask for lockers they said there was no problem but later on it seemed that the staff locks everything in a closet so we can only get to our personal belongings when the staff is working,… and so much more inconvenients!!! Luckily there was an awesome group of travellers with which we laughed the misery away.
  • Cafayate is a big dot on the map of Argentineans wine route so, apart from a wine museum, there are many wine houses to visit and wine tastes to do.
  • We paid 220 ARS for the both of us for a sightseeing tour through the Valle de las Conchas. Many prices are offered so our advice is walking the centre and compare the different options.
  • El Cañon de Rio Colorado or El Cañon de las Siete Cascadas is reachable by feet but go in the morning in order to be ahead the midday heat. Entrance is free. Locals offer their “knowledge” and guidance but try to get more money out of the tourist once halfway. We did realize that following a river upstream does not really require a guide so… be adventurous!!!       
Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Cachi charms heart and soul

15-18/02/2014

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The road serpentines outstretched into the mountains, higher by every turn we take and more abrupt and deep are the ravines just next the by now becoming straitened dust path.  The 160km ride from Salta is an adventure on itself and rewards with a sunset at the 65 620 hectares ‘Cardones National Park which is driven through.  The cactus as old as 300 years are standing tall and proud in an arid silence desert-like scene.  It’s a region where flora and fauna show as singular characteristics as the arid décor they are standing in and delight the eye seems their only purpose.

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We arrive long after the sun finished nightfall, when only a few orange streetlights enlighten what is left of a joyful day in a rural town.  Heavy loaded with our backpacks we stumble from street to street looking for a place to sleep.  Amongst the last living souls we find a friendly youngster indicating us the way to a hostal.  In an orange gleam between the black shades a small door incrusted into a white wall is the gate to heaven and our new home for the next days while visiting Cachi.  This picturesque village nestled in the Chalchaquí valleys of Salta on the east slope of Nevado de Cachi (6380m)whose peak looms only 15 km to the west, is a pleasant place to wander the paved streets with white buildings, to contemplate children playing in the park from a bank while enjoying local goat cheese on a fresh BBQ-baked torta with a wine glass in the hand or even to climb the cemetery for brilliant snow covered mountain views and a panorama of the Calchaquí river surrounded by green valleys.  The hostel feels like a home, the owners like a mother and a father and the other guests like brothers and sisters.

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At night guitars are filling the air with melancholy, stories filling the mind with imagination, laughs filling the heart and the shared love for travel… fills the soul.  Together we make plans and the next day we visit the remains of the settlements of Las Pailas.

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Here pre Incas lived in a community of which, after the passage of flooding rivers, looters and tourists taking “souvenirs”, only the foundations remains, some of the circular tombs, silos and underground irrigation channels.  Only one house, built with rough stones, no windows and a door leading to a side street, was excavated and used as an example of Pailas architecture.  Located at 16km and reached by taxi (100pesos divided by the four occupants) this site located at 3000MASL not only has a cultural interest but is set in a stunning natural landscape where the sound of the river and meltwater streams are the only sound that cut the stillness of the mountain in this inhospitable place.  So we relish the amazing walk back to the village.  That night, with the full hostel ‘gang’, we decide to do some UFO spotting at the, and this is true!!!, ufo-port made by a Swiss guy, who completely lost it!!!  So there we are… some beers, some wine, some smoke but no alien landings.  Even though we did not spot a single UFO it was worth the try as we had a great time under a billion stars sky.

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But Cachi, as small and insignificant as it is, offers even more!  So the next day we decide to walk the streets, up to a viewpoint and from there down to the river and like this back to the town.  Another nice day with marvellous people, adventurous decisions, spectacular views, discovering hidden places where (seems like) no person ever has set foot before.  We have a break in the shade of and old tree, escaping the midday heat aside the river at this very end of paradise… a place God forgot to doom at the moment Eva took that bite of that apple.

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That evening between giggles and howls of laughter we get introduced to three Argentinian legends: the glorious hitch-hiking-culture, the mythical generosity and Argentinian ‘Asado’ which was delicious!

Cachi was a highlight for us as in that little town at that very moment with that very group of persons we feel and understand once more that happiness is to string along with the simple things in life.

Our recommendations:

  • The simplicity of Cachi is heartwarming so walk the streets and get in contact with the people: buy tortas at the corner of the street, purchase fruit and vegetables at the pick-up truck that drives through the village,… be part of it!
  • Hostel Mamanà has cost us 50 pesos a person a night and offers all you need (shared kitchen, shared bathrooms, shared patio, shared BBQ and shared joy)
  • Reserva Natural Las Pailas is free to enter, the taxi cost 100pesos. There are also guided tours organized by locals penetrating even more the archaeological site showing all the features.
  • The UFO port is free to visit… though we can’t confirm if the aliens are asking money or payment for any photography ;-)

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Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Argentina’s outmost colonial: ‘Salta La Linda’

12-14/02/2014

About 100km down from San Salvador de Jujuy on Argentina’s map, situated in the Lerma Valley at 1152 MASL at the foothills of the Andes mountains, we enter after a 2 hours bus drive in Salta, the historic capital of one of Argentina’s biggest and most beautiful and yet less well-known provinces with the same name.  Salta city is becoming a major tourist destination and is the exception in a province where the landscape and nature, rather than the towns and cities, are the main attractions.  Due to its old, colonial architecture (which within Argentina is the best preserved), city museums exhibiting a wide range of artefacts and art works from the native civilizations that flourished in the area (Salta was the southernmost region in the Collasuyu area from the Inca empire), tourism friendliness, its balmy climate, the nationally famous tobacco plantations and the natural scenery of the valleys westward, the city was nicknamed ‘Salta La Linda’ (Salta The Pretty).  Hidden in the south west area of Argentina far away from mass tourism, at 1500 km northwest from Buenos Aires, Salta is not yet over estimating and over prizing itself and for this, gaining points at the touristic scoreboard.  Offering beautiful views such as the 18th century council house, the colourful San Francisco Church, the neo-classical style Cathedral, the Victoria theatre and the ‘9 de julio’ central square it even reminds us of some Spanish cities.

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Salta is also the starting point of the famous “Train to the Clouds” (Tren a las nubes) that climbs to the village La Povorilla at 4200MASL passing through nine tunnels, precarious zigzagging the steep mountain slopes and overpassing thirteen viaducts of which some constructed over 200 meter deep ravines.

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We find a nice place to stay offered by a gentle man at the bus station which is not too far out of the city centre and has all the features we are looking for: kitchen, Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms and a cosy collective area with pool, billard and ping-pong, just perfect to get in contact with other travellers. We walk the streets, squares and parks during a few days and have a bizarre kind of sensation of feeling at home while we saunter the pedestrian shopping streets.  Restaurants with recognizable menus, a cinema with up-to-date billboards, a casino and the fashion shops with dresses and outfits we would actually see ourselves clothed with, makes us forget for some instants that we indeed are at the other side of the globe.  Luckily there are some things that are unmistakable so Argentinian that we stay aware of our geological situation.  The first one are the small eateries with different kind of empanadas and other fried or oven baked eat-out-of-the-hand dainties spread all over the city.  As common as the first, is ice cream as each town or city has its own ‘heladerias’(ice cream parlours), open and crowded till past midnight, which offer a wide range of varieties of creamy and water-based ice creams, including both standard and regional flavours.  There are hunderds of flavours but Argentina’s most traditional and popular one is ‘dulce de leche’.  Another indisputable sign is the Friday evening cue at the butcher where meat is sold by kilos and half carcases to prepare the typical weekend barbeques as in Argentina the ‘asado’ is a serious issue and a cultural culinary statement of friendship and pleasure.  Although founded in 1582, garbed colonial Salta fizzes of juvenility and makes it imposible for the traveller not to reside for some days.

Our recommendations:

  • January and February are the months with greatest rainfall. During the spring, Salta is occasionally plagued by severe, week-long dust storms.
  • We paid around 80 pesos a night a person at Hostal Palo Santo and enjoyed very much the ambient as well as the helpful staff.

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  • Lots of different tourist friendly agencies offer all kind of services and activities and are happy on helping you out with any questions or information. Comparing prices will take some time but will be worth the effort.

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Crossing the tropic along one of Argentina’s top scenic roads

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11/02/2014

The impossible hue of the Quebrada de Humahuaca keeps being fascinating no matter how long a person has been staring at the valley.  It looks unachievable for the brain to understand and get used to this view.  And when our host in Humahuaca tells us that it gets even more spectacular as we would follow the valley of the Quebrada traveling to San Salvador de Jujuy on National Route 9 (NR9), we can’t wait to get a transport early in the morning and do some bus-hop-off-hop-on to eyewitness this quirk of nature.  Our first stop after passing the Tropic of Capricornio is Tilcara, as head of the department; this small settlement is located at 2465MASL on the banks of the Rio Grande, at 84 miles north of San Salvador de Jujuy.  With a mild dry climate the poor vegetation of the area is made by acacias, cactus, poplars and willows, providing development of a varied fauna including vicuñas, guanacos, foxes, ferrets, viscachas and condors.  This town of low adobe buildings with steep streets offers a magnificence outlook on the Quebrada and its polychromatic hillocks.  Leaving our backpacks in the luggage lockers of the bus station we enter the village and get some information on a hike, following a path contrary to the current of the Huasamayo River.  So after walking a 5 kilometers path without much difficulty among the mountains of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, appreciating the eccentric landscape, we can see a waterfall flowing out of this large crack formed by the eroding force of the Huasamayo river called: The Garganta del Diablo. We go a bit further on the main path, leaving any turist behind, and descent to the river for a nice relax time in the refreshing breeze coming from the surface of the flow.

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Back at the village we eat something and after a saunter at the local handcraft market we continue the NR9 down to Jujuy.  The bus takes us through Maimara to get to Purmamarca which means “Town of the Virgin Land” in Aymara language.   Nestled at the foot of Cerro Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours) Purmamarca grants another stunning view on the Quebrada de Humahuaca and its multi-coloured naturally carved slopes since it delights the senses of travellers passing through the town.  The village, with adobe buildings likewise Tilcara and ceilings made of teasel covered with mud pies, was drawn around the main church in 1648 consecrated as St. Rosa of Lima, today declared a National Monument because of its architecture as well as the paintings and images from Cuzco that contains its interior. We read and heard about the distinctive cuisine with authentic dishes but were not able to try them.

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The bus goes on and we pass hamlets with names as Tumbaya, Volcán and Yala before we enter the first big city of Argentina coming from the north, named San Salvador de Jujuy.  Big buildings, a river with ramshackle bridges, a park with flowering trees, a traffic free shopping street for those who like expensive coffee houses … nothing special as a city, so we stay here just one night and take a chance on the first true opportunity to look for a good rate at the blue dollar market.

Our recommendations:

  • Tilcara is cosy as a village and with lots of tourists, so a bit more expensive to spend the night but a good centre of operations to visit the whole area.
  • Aimara and Purmamarca are very small communities but still have the possibility to spend the night in hostels or family houses. The celebrations for Pachamama at both places are very old traditions worth a stop and participation.  Typical dishes should be cheap, tasty and generous as lots of backpackers and locals told us.
  • In Jujuy we stayed at Hospedaje Castaneda for 50 pesos each, not very recommendable but as we arrived very late on the evening we did not have much of a choice.
  • If the alarm clock is set very early in the morning, a traveller has a daylong time to organize carefully the journey and to take buses from village to village to see all without staying in all the different communities.
  • Check daily the blue dollar exchange rates.

 

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The Quebrada de Humahuaca, welcome to Argentina.

8-10/02/2014

Bolivia was great.  A lake as large as an ocean with a culture as old as the hills, a city fusing modern and ancestral, as dense as an anthill, mountains as high as the sky covered by eternal snow, mineshafts so deep they descent straight to the abode of the spirits of the dead and a salt desert from outer space will travel with us for the rest of our lives.  At Villazón, on the bridge over the river with the same name that separates the two countries, we leave Bolivia behind us and enter Argentina in the republic most northern village, La Quiaca.

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From there we take the bus and drop 160km down on the map to the village of Humahuaca at 3012MASL.  The rugged topography of this area determines distinct climatic zones: during the day recorded a high temperature (38 º C), while at night it can drop considerably (-10 ° C), varying according to the season.  Humahuaca has a colonial look and with its narrow cobbled streets with lanterns stolen from middle age fairy tales and adobe houses, is it worth a walk through.  The fragrance of ‘tortitas’ (flat round bread filled with cheese or ham, or both, or not) freshly baked over red glowing charcoal and the aroma of big chunks of meat roasting on improvised barbeques float at nose-heights throughout these alleys.  Cute little squares cheered up by youngsters playing music for a few coins are dispersed through the centre of the town.  At the church there is daily a celebration showing typical dances in emblematic clothing on the rhythms of folk music and ending with the twice-told ‘Carnavalito de la Quebrada de Humahuaca’.  A wide staircase brings the visitor at the feet of the ‘Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia’ which offers, apart from some history knowledge, a beautiful view over the whole area.

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 During the meeting held on 2 July 2003 in Paris, France, the Andean valley that stretches for 155 kilometers in northwest Argentina, obtained a unanimous vote of the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, who described the landscape as a “hereditary ancestral system of outstanding features”.  The Quebrada de Humahuaca possesses a cultural itinerary from over 10000 years.  Its trails are walked by different indigenous ethnic groups and continue to hold religious beliefs, rituals, festivals, art, music and farming techniques that are a genuine living heritage.  With this declaration, UNESCO is committed to support the education and sustainable development of the area as well as the preservation of the culture of the native people.  So we can state that in this region the traveller is brought into direct contact with the roots of Hispanic America, amid a landscape of valleys and ravines where indigenous and Spanish cultures merged.

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Astonished by the surroundings we feel the need to lose ourselves in the rough environment which locals are so proud of and that presents a landscape flowed through by the river Rio Grande and climaxes interesting archaeological sites framed in colourful hills.  It’s a day where a minute counts an hour, lukewarm feels hot and where a Sunday afternoon stroll turns into a daylong hike.  The views on the ravine edging the horizon as far as we can see are amazing and the wildly growing endemic vegetation with its tiny flowers has an interesting beauteous.

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We liked every inch of Humahuaca with the open hearted being of the gentle population and adored the nutritional change as we adventure ourselves in a country that brags about culinary supremacy… as the matter of fact we couldn’t imagine a better entrance in Argentina.

Our recommendations:

  • Besides the Quebrada itself, there are more interesting sites and spots around Humahuaca than first expected: the archaeological ruins of Coctaca, Uquía, Peñas Blancas, Chulín and in the city, the Independence Monument and the Regional Archaeological Museum,…
  • Humahuaca is an outstanding location for travellers with time to perambulate the North-west corner of Argentina.
  • For travellers traveling towards Argentina from Bolivia, use the banks and ATMs (most have the option for Bolivianos or dollars) to obtain dollars. As in Argentina changing a dollar on the street gives you about 25 till 45% more value for your money. Big notes of 50 and 100 are getting the best rate. Look for the right rate at twitter (@DolarBlue) or on the internet comparing the many websites.  The same story for those traveling with euros (max 200€ notes!).  We noticed that the change offices at Villazón offered a very good rate.  Humahuaca as a small village does not have good opportunities to change dollars.
  • We find the food on the streets from very good quality and with the ‘blue dollar’ change exceptionally cheap. Tortitas at 10 pesos… try it and be prepared to be amazed!
  • Different hostels are to be found in the centre of town at fair prices. The real backpackers-deal is to take advantage of the possibility that people offer.  Some of the locals rent rooms in their homes and give the traveller the opportunity to be part of the family.  We met our lovely host lady as we got out of the bus.  She explained her proposition and paid the taxi to her home.  We paid 25 pesos a night a person (around 2.25 euros) in a room for the two of us, a bathroom to share with the other 3 rooms (also travellers) and a kitchen where we cooked together with the host family.  It’s almost unnecessary to tell that instinct and a feeling of trust are very important here.

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Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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