Travelling can take some interesting turns. It is full of pleasant surprises and some disappointments.
Your perception of a place is often affected by preconceived ideas. These preconceived ideas and images are created from information received from guidebooks, from fellow travelers, the media and your own thought patterns. It is influenced by what you have previously seen, where you have just come from, your likes and dislikes, your mood at the time, and of course the direct experience you have in a place.
Mendoza had always been on our list of places to see. It is the heart of Argentina’s wine district. If you buy a bottle of wine from Argentina it is likely from Mendoza and is usually really good. Even the boxed wine which most wine critics wouldn’t touch in our countries is really good and cheap as an extra bonus.
We had not researched much about Mendoza. We usually get into an area and then decide want we want to do. Our preconceived images of the Mendoza wine region were of rolling hills full of grape vines in a very tranquil setting. As we drove into Mendoza itself we passed through the wine country. There were no rolling hills; only flat land and the wineries were amongst industries and very close to the town. Our romantic image dissolved.
We spent 2 nights in Mendoza itself, opting once again for a hostel due to there being no campgrounds close to the town. Luckily this time the hostel had parking.
Our first task was changing US dollars into Argentine pesos; as we were now back in Argentina playing “the money game”. The next day we had housekeeping tasks to complete. Also, we were very aware that Keira had been doing a lot of adult activities, so we decided to take her to the local zoo as a treat. Keira did love seeing the animals. However the whole experience was very disturbing for us all. The animal’s habitats were very small, they smelt, there were too many animals to an enclosure, and the animals were pacing and not eating their food. We only saw one zookeeper whilst there.
Later we found out from locals that there is a movement to either close the zoo or move most of the animals to another zoo and just keep species native to the area. We vote for closing the zoo.
During our stay in Mendoza we went back and forth as to whether we should visit the wineries. We thought we should because we were there and that is what you come to Mendoza to do, but it that a reason to see a place? In the end we decided to give it a miss.
Mendoza the town itself was a nice town and we enjoyed exploring its many plazas. Keira has become our social director, introducing herself to everyone in the hostels. It is an opportunity for her to be around English speakers. Her little voice can be heard throughout the hostels as she shares information about our trip with fellow travelers. Most travelers love it, as they rarely get a chance to mix with children.
Our next destination was Salta province in the north of Argentina. We had 3 long days of driving to get there, but there were several points of interest along the way.
Ischigualasto National Park was our first stop. It is also known as Valle de la Luna (valley of the moon), as parts of the landscape appear moon like. In the park they found many dinosaur fossils from the Triassic period. It was once an inland lake and riverbed. The rock formations in the park are very interesting. Our favorite was the bochas, balls of rock that are formed from pressurized gases.
We camped in the campground at the visitor’s center. Even though it was windy and cold we were happy to be camping again.
Another long day of driving took us through many small towns and desert landscape that resembled New Mexico. The locals were even drying chilly peppers and were using mud ovens to bake their bread. Night 2 we stayed at a small town called Chilecito, finally arriving at Cafayate on day 3.
Just south of the town we visited the Quilmes ruins. It is a pre-Hispanic settlement dating back to 1000 AD. It housed about 5000 people.
We were pleasantly surprised arriving into Cafayate. Here was our romantic vineyard area, a beautiful valley, Spanish type architecture and rural setting.
Cafayate is also known as a top wine region. It has some of the highest vineyards in the world. The town itself was quaint with a lovely town plaza, some nice cafes and restaurants and a really relaxed atmosphere. Whilst there we visited wineries, completed wine tastings and visited a goat farm where they made incredible goats cheeses. The wines from the area were high quality and cheap in comparison to prices back home.
The area is also known for its 2 canyons, Quebrada Cafayate and Valles Calchaqui. We completed a day trip to Cafayate canyon, which provided some amazing scenery with red rock canyons and rock formations.
We met many interesting fellow travelers in Cafayate. We were lucky to cross paths with a Dutch couple Els and Garret. We were all travelling the same way so we travelled together, wild camping for 2 nights, sharing stories and meals.
The trip with Els and Garret took us up the other canyon, Valles Calchaqui. It is actually Ruta 40 which we had followed on and off throughout Argentina. The scenery was again spectacular.
We parted company with Els and Garret. They were heading towards the Chile border to the west and we were heading northeast to the city of Salta, so Mike could complete some work and we could complete “housekeeping tasks”. We were sad to be parting with them, and hope our paths will cross again.
The drive to Salta took us over another high pass 3700 meters. I know I keep saying the scenery was incredible but it was, and has been throughout Argentina.
Arriving in Salta, we opted for a hostel to have Internet for Mike’s work and to be close to downtown. Mike has worked, Keira and I have just relaxed and we have completed the usual chores that accumulate after wild camping for a time, washing, money changing, repairs, and grocery shopping. Mike also had to find a dentist to get a tooth repaired. All of these tasks take time and extra effort in a foreign country.
We visited the Museum of Anthropology in Salta. It was an impressive museum, housing the mummies of 3 children found in the area, dating back ~ 540 years ago.
A check engine light has turned on in the car in the past few days, and we have a vibration upon initially starting the car. We are hoping it is nothing, but we are now awaiting a diagnostic consult from Toyota.
Our plan now is to head further north for a few days and then cross back into Chile to San Pedro de Atacama. All this will be dependent on the news we receive about the car in a few hours. We will keep you posted.
Our trip so far is everything we hoped it would be and more. We are thoroughly enjoying the experience.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: Mike's laptop, giving him the ability to work on the road.
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike-meeting Garret and Els/Cafayate to Cachi ; Keira- visiting the goat farm/getting a doll "Elsie stripes" from Els and Garret ; Riss- Cafayate and Cachi/meeting Garret and Els
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-dealing with another car problem; Keira- getting out of bed ; Riss- making the desicion not to go to Iguazu falls
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- parillas again, plate full of a variety of grilled meats/wine in Cafayate, Keira- papas fritas with lots of salt (french fries) ; Riss- warm cheesey flat bread that my stomach tolerated/goast cheese from the farm
BEST CAMPING SPOT: wild camping spots with Garret and Els- good locations, great company
Mike was not impressed, "is nothing sacred?"
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.