It took us about three hours to cross the border on foot. We caught a “collectivo” (collective taxi) to Villazon on the Bolivian border and then walked across to La Quiaca in Argentina. We had an unforgettable time in Bolivia but we celebrated our arrival in Argentina with a ‘high five’ and a yee haa!
The luxuries of the developed world met us immediately, there were street signs and traffic lights and lovely things like that. We walked to the station and caught a bus to Jujuy (pronounced oo-hoo-ee). The 10 hour trip to Salta seemed too much after the stress of the border crossing and Jujuy seemed like a convenient stopping point for steak and red wine.
Jujuy was fun, its largely off the Gringo trail, a typical Argentinian city, shy on tourism but with plentiful Argentinian life. Tourism was so scare that we struggled to find a room after we arrived at about 10.30pm. We stayed two nights spending days strolling the streets basking in the normality of the developed world and wondering how there could be such contrasting lifestyle less than 10 hours away. We enjoyed a night in a local Parrilla, a restaurant dominated by a huge grill. There isn’t a menu, instead the waiter brings you different cuts of meat and sausage until you put on your best Roberto Durran impression and cry “No Mas!” then the bill arrives.
From Jujuy we ventured on to Salta, a charming city with a pleasant upmarket feel. We met Jeff and Esmee our Dutch friends from the Salt Flats who arrived the next day. We travelled to the top of the city on a cable car but preferred a one way ticket so we could take a leisurely walk down. The travel trail was full of rumours about the beauty of the Cafayate wine region so we decided to hire a car and left for Cafayate the next day with Tracy at the wheel.
The trip to Cafayate was awesome, I doubt there can be many more picturesque road trips. Tracy drove for four hours down Route 40, a valley flanked by colourful mountains. The road was quiet, when we stopped, we took in the silence of the vast mountain valley. The valley was so deep and the mountains so big that the silence was eerie. On the way to Cafayate, we even passed occasional Gouchos on their steeds, I thought those folk were only the stuff of legend.
Life in Cafaytae revolves around its many vineyards and we thought it best to visit as many as possible. We left the car at ‘Hostel Rusty K’ where we were staying and we visited the vineyards on foot, making an initial stop at the goats cheese farm. After goats and cheese we hit the bodegas, it works something like this – you go in and ask for a tour of the vineyard. The staff instinctively seem to know you want to taste wine and so the tour bit is only given welcome lip service. No sooner than a cork is popped we were sat at the bar. We were then able to taste between 2 and 5 wines at each bodega, we visited four before midday. The process is actually a bit embarrassing, the wine is poured and you put it to your nose, you swill the glass, take a sip, blag about how you can smell, cinnamon or tobacco all whilst a serious looking sommelier looks on. We were provided with a spit bucket at one place but we decided not to use it. For some reason I felt like I was in a Peter Kaye sketch throughout.
We ate a brilliant meal at Piattelli vineyard. The restaurant was in a magnificent new mansion surrounded by masses of fields of bare autumnal vines. On the walk to the front door it was like being in an American gangster movie, I half expected a mafia shoot out to kick off at any minute. The meal was just amazing, two courses, a bottle of wine and a coffee cost £28.79, in Blighty I’d imagine the same meal would cost close to £100. I felt a bit out of place wearing shorts and my Crocs but I’m a traveller and I was spending money. The next day we drove back from Cafayate this time I took the wheel. The journey back was just as spectacular as the out leg. We met a couple of Canadian girls who were cycling from Chile to Nicaragua – inspiring.
We left Salta for Cordoba on a 12 hour night bus, we were served whisky and wine, Cordoba was a brilliant city. The shops closed at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and it seemed that the whole city then decamps to the park. There were all manner of activities taking place, skating, running, football, zorbing, a fun fair for children, coffee drinking on patios outside bars under the trees. I was inspired by this garden of life so I returned to the hotel to change and then I went for run. The outer circuit of the large city park was busy with athletes and it felt good to be running in Argentina after so much inactivity in Bolivia and Peru. In the evening the city doesn’t get going until close to midnight. We left a restaurant on on final night in Cordoba at 11:30 pm and there were still families coming in asking for tables. Cordoba’s a buzzing city with a really good vibe, I would have liked to stay longer but we had to journey on to Puerto Iguazu. There was even a shop called “Manchester”!
I write this entry from our 21 hour bus between Cordoba and Puerto Iguazu. The bus left at 12:30 and is due to arrive at 9:30 tomorrow morning (its currently 23:00). Argentinian buses have reawakened my kindred spirit for road travel, the same spirit that had been shot dead in Bolivia. The buses offer a service similar to business class on a plane but 21 hours is a long time, the water falls had better be worth it! In ten days in Argentina we have already clocked up 46 hours on buses, there is plenty more to come!