Sunday, 1 January 2012

Cordoba, Salta, Cafayate and Cachi!

We passed the weekend in Cordoba who’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s South America’s most colonial style city with loads of European architecture.  Essentially this should mean that if you’ve been to Europe don’t waste your time visiting South America’s copy cat city.  Unfortunately, Cordoba also follows Europe in the way that absolutely nothing is open on a Sunday, which also meant that one of our two days there was spent discovering that anything we had wanted to visit was not open and the place was deserted. We weren’t too sad to board our next overnight bus and start the trip North to Salta and eventually Bolivia.

DSC01478Our Andesmar cama bus was not very comfortable so we arrived in Salta fairly tired. Thankfully we were staying in a great hostel, El Argentino Hostel, and we quickly booked it for a second night (they do a fantastic cappuccino for breakfast!).  Compared to Cordoba we found Salta to be a great little town and we thoroughly enjoyed a lunch at ‘Casa de los Empanadas’ which serve home made empanadas with all types of fillings and delicious salsa for on top.

DSC01476Salta’s is ‘famous’ for its MAAM museum which displays one of three mummies found dating back to the Inca’s time.  The very abbreviated version is that three children were found at the top of a nearby mountain and archeologists believe they were sacrificed to the gods.  The museum is very well presented and educational about the history of the Inca’s and their beliefs. 

For some reason after we’d visited the museum we decided it’d be a good idea to hike up the nearby lookout, San Bernado. Hiking in the heat at 3pm is never a good idea and before long we were sweaty, thirsty and dying for a drink by the time we reached the top.  In a cruel twist for thirsty hikers, the lookout consists of a beautiful series of waterfalls, all flowing with cold, crystal clear ‘non potable’ water.  So instead we soaked our feet and then went to buy some ‘potable’ water and enjoyed the view over the sprawling town.

6497235933_9e77b47e5aSince it was so expensive to hire a car we had to book tours to visit the nearby towns of Cafayate and Cachi.  So the next morning we were up at 6am and ready to roll but then promptly fell back asleep on the bus until the scenery got interesting.  The mountain colours enroute to Cafayate and amazing and our driver stopped frequently so that we could admire the best features of the landscape.  All the variety of colours is due to the iron, copper, cobalt, zinc and fossilised algae present in the soil, but luckily the percentage content is too low to make it worth mining. 

6497275371_021f515f80In Cafayate we were treated to a winery tour and tasting of the two local specialties: Torrentés – a dry, white wine and Malbec – a nice red wine. Instead of accompanying the group to the ‘best restaurant in town’ (which always means overpriced tourist food) we found our own and tried a ‘parrillas’ which is an Argentinian meat plate comprised of all different types of meat.  This meant that along with the quality steak and chicken we were also presented with blood sausage and gizzards.  The blood sausage was surprisingly not too bad, but the gizzards were another story altogether.  Since we were both hesitant to try it we decided the only way was to suffer together so we both took a bite at the same time…. Dave was the first to dive for the napkin, but I quickly followed.  No offense to those of you who enjoy eating gizzards, but we found the appearance, smell, flavour and texture (i.e. everything associated with food) to be disgusting and for once I had no problems with leaving some food on plate at the end of the meal!  The saving grace was the Torrentés flavoured ice cream we tried for dessert, it was essentially sorbet laced with wine…

6497353253_def430f126The next day was another 6am morning, but this time we headed to Cachi, a small town more famous for the cactii (or cactuses?) that surround it.  In the four hours that it takes to travel to Cachi we passed through four distinct climates due to the change in altitude and mountain ranges.  We started in the plains, then passed through rainforests, followed by dry mountains before reaching the desert with the famous ancient cactii.  We ascended up to 3200m and it was still strangely warm.  It took a while but we’d eventually learnt our lesson in Switzerland that if we were going to go up a mountain we needed to rug up as this meant the temperatures would be on the low end.  However, being back in Southern hemisphere must change this and at 3200m we were fine in T-shirts and shorts, just the way it should be.

6497465579_765c903c35The cactus desert was very impressive, and thankfully  protected since most are over 500 years old.  These type of cactii only grow a couple of inches each year and in the past the indigenous people used the wood from the cactii to build anything from furniture to houses.  We again boycotted the restaurant for lunch as it was at a winery and way out of our budget and settled for a picnic in the main park of Cachi instead.  Cachi is pretty much a one-horse town, with it’s claim to fame being an old cathedral that still has the original cactus beam roof (before the cactii became protected). 

Back in town we enjoyed our last quality Argentinian steak before boarding a midnight bus bound for the border town La Quiaca from which we planned to walk over the border and into Bolivia.  We were keen to get a move on and into a new country as even though Since we’d seen parts of Patagonia a few years before, we found that Argentina had held a few gems but generally speaking the cost of living was very high and didn’t offer us a great deal extra from what we’d already seen elsewhere.

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