Northern Argentina…the good life

I only spent the morning at Pumamarca and had a walk around the mountain of 7 colors, than biked north  along the ‘Quebra de Humahuaca’ to visit the town of Tilcara, 25km north of Pumamarca. I wanted a rest day, but the 25km turned into quite the mission with a head wind and no energy, as I still was fighting my cough. Tilcara is a nice town and I settled into the beautiful Hostel Malka, a very nice place a bit out of the way, overlooking the town. Life suddenly got easy again: the water from the tap here in Argentina is save to drink, I had a heated room for the first time on this trip, the room was clean and there was a warm water tap even at the sink! Bolivia is harsh, poor and dirty, but has a raw beauty, while Northern Argentina seems softer and a lot more civilized with a sense of order and beauty. Also here you get the soup after the main if you order the lunch menu, but I can live with that.

I stayed 3 days, started taking Antibiotics and the cough slowly receded. I also had my first day in a deck chair reading a book…finally holidays! This was the kind of place I could have stayed much longer, but I still had a fair way to go to get to Santiago and only 3 weeks left. It was only a day’s ride to Salta, where I had another day rest to enjoy some city culture. Salta has a colonial center, but wasn’t as elaborate as some of the other many colonial towns I’ve seen in my travels. But I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and I thought it had a south Italian feel to it… best to be enjoyed from the cafés on the plaza. Even though it was the end of winter and the trees only just started to have the first flowers, the temperature already was at 30 degrees during the day! Salta also is known for its many museums, but unfortunately it was Monday and the once I was interested in were closed. I also was unlucky in my efforts to watch a ‘Pena’ in the evening. Salta’s ‘Pena’, a folklore guitar and sometimes dance performances, are famous, but Monday night was not the one to go to a local pub. I should have just gone to a tourist one!  I did eat my first 350gr Argentinian steak for lunch though and great Italian pasta for dinner… close to midnight. Here in Argentina they eat very late, after 9pm the restaurant open and life goes on till late in the night. The mornings start late and siestas are long to make up for the lost sleep…not a very cyclist friendly timetable!

I carried on south the next day, …and again chosen the dirt road over the asphalted one! I would regret that later…not! The road climbed about 2500m via the Cuesta del Obispo to the National park ‘Los Cardones’, an altiplano-like landscape with thousands of Cardones (Cacti), than dropped back down into another valley and to the beautiful colonial village Cachi. I stayed in the boutique art hotel Viscocha, and ate my first Locro (local dish) in the attached restaurant at night. I left after breakfast the next morning and made good progress through a beautiful, but barren landscape with still many Cardones and following the Valles Calchaquies. By late morning the wind had come up and got stronger by the hour. I have been told that August is the windy month and the prevailing wind is from the south….argh!!! Wrong way! The afternoon was a battle with the wind and a not so good road, but the landscape made up for it. There was hardly any traffic in that remote part of the world, which was nice. I arrived early evening in the tiny settlement of Angastaco and stayed in a local hospedaje. I like to stay in the local places rather than camping as it allows me a glance into peoples’ life’s, a hot shower at the end of the day and support the local communities. Argentina’s hostels are very clean, come with breakfast and since it is low season they are cheap and I am often the only one in the dorm. I got up early the next morning to beat the wind and was on the road by sunrise. The landscape with its bizarre sandstone formations was amazing, tiny adobe settlements along the way made for interesting distractions, but the sandy road made for slow progress, still all ride-able though. By mid day I hit the asphalted road, had a quick stop in the cute village of San Carlos, than carried on through the vineyard lines road to the town of Cafayate. There was still the end of winter light/feel in the air, the trees barren, the poplars and willows only just getting their first leaves, Cardrones lining the vineyards and the days very warm already….all making for a distinct combination of feelings, unknown to me.

I enjoyed my first wine ice cream that afternoon and also went to a wine tasting at the oldest Winery of Cafayate, the organic Bodega Nanni. I tasted the local specific Torronte, a white wine and the red Tannat, also a grape not normally used by its own. Not much more was needed to send me in a deep rejuvenating sleep!! I stayed an extra day to eat and drink my way through the local specialties: La Casa de las Empanadas, more wine ice cream, goats cheese farm and wine testing at the Bodega Domingo Hermanos.

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