Thursday, January 31, 2013

Salta to Cafayete via Route 40

Dale has long wanted to visit Salta and Cafayate in northern Argentina. A Seattle lawyer friend told us not to miss the side trip to Cachi en route to Cafayate. He enthusiastically described the diverse climates and ecological types, from lush semi-tropical jungle, through a mountain pass, high cloudy mountain plateau to blue skies and arid desert. Sounded good. He provided the name of his travel agency and itinerary. So, we contacted them and booked a similar trip. But somehow we missed the fact that it would be a ten plus hour tour on a rocky dirt road most of the way. Our guide spoke pretty good English and drove a pickup. Gail sat in the back seat with another young couple from Buenos Aires. Dale made endless small talk with our tour guide up front.We left Salta at 7 am to begin the arduous journey up a rather primitive road.
We first passsed through rain forest vegetation outside Salta

The green hills and red earth were a gorgeous contrast in color. 

After an hour`s drive or so the views began to change little by little.

We continued our drive following the dirt switchbacks that curl and bend up the Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop´s Slope). 

We continued to gain altitude until we came to Pedro del Molino the viewpoint at 3,457 meters above sea level. The views were fantastic but the air very thin. (Mt Rainier in Washington is 4,027 meters high)  
Our travel companions from Buenos Aires posing in the clouds.

After we drove through the high mountain pass we reached  this vast mountain plateau. Our driver pointed out several boarding schools for the children who live in these empty hills. They board there during the week and return home by horse or donkey to see their families on the weekend. We passed a bus stop that had a built in fire pit. There is one daily bus that passes by this remote area but sometimes there are land slides or floods washout the road and people have to wait for hours. In the winter months it is bitter cold so they build a fire inside the mud walled bus stop.

These giant cardon cacti can grow up to 50 feet high and live as long as 400 years.

The Los Cardones National Parque with endless fields of cacti, from afar they look like an army on the march. 

We stopped for a delicious roasted lamb lunch outside the colonial village of Cachi that was first settled in 1673 as a Spanish outpost. The town had narrow cobbled streets and a simple ancient church with mud brick walls. At this point we realized we were not even half way through our journey....sigh.

Refreshed we climbed into the truck to drive for another five hours. The road was rough and of course we had a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere!
The tree where we waited place to sit!

After 20 minutes waiting in the hot sun for our driver to change our tire, we pressed on until we reached the unique geography of the Quebrada de las Flechas. This place looked like a scene from Star Wars. This surreal landscape was formed 15 or 20 million years ago. The etchings in the pointed rocks were formed by rain and wind over time. We got out and walked down the dusty road to experience the eery stillness and desolation. It is impossible for our camera to capture the vast size of this place. These rock formations went on for over 20 miles.
Route 40 (notice the small sign to the left of the road....puts the landscape in perspective)

The amazing thing about this National Route 40, is certain stretches of the road are passable only during the dry season because it crosses so many riverbeds. This road runs parallel to the Andes mountain range. It begins in the north at the Bolivian border and goes through Cachi, Cafayate, Mendoza ending in the south at Punta Loola making it one of the longest routes in the world (along with the US route 66). It is the main road through Argentina and it is unpaved much of the way...unbelievable.

 Quebrada de las Flechas

Finally, after our ten hour drive a vineyard appeared roadside and we smiled. At 6 pm our driver dropped us at the gorgeous Cafayate Wine Resort set in the middle of a beautiful vineyard. We knew we had earned the complimentary cold, crisp glass of Torrontes that a waiter served us after we checked into our room. This trip was interesting but would have been much more enjoyable had we arranged stay in Cachi or Molinos to break up the long journey. Gorgeous, diverse landscape but be will be in a truck, car or van for many hours. Oh yes, don´t forget your water bottle and make sure your driver has a spare tire or two. Gail

Cafayate Wine Resort

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