Mountains of a million colours, giant cactus, red peppers and white wine too. Hop on, time for a road trip – yes, another one.
Finding some wheels
Big smiles on our faces as we wander through Plaza 9 de Julio admiring its colourful mix of colonial buildings and churches. We had just been in Salta for a couple of hours and everything, from the lovely lady at the tourist information centre – who could not stop talking about Spain, Argentina and everything in between – to the lively streets seem to be screaming “welcome to our city”.
Our first task in town was to find a rental car for the next five days. Whether you fancy a trip to the steppes of Mongolia, the Australian coast, or New Zealand stunning landscapes, nothing, I repeat, nothing beats a road trip. After rejecting the expensive offers of well known companies, we sealed a good deal with a local agent. Let the fun begin.
Introducing the Quebrada de Humahuaca
It took a few minutes and one or two stalls to get used to normality again: a steering wheel is on proper side and a gear box! Ahead of us, a few hundred kilometres of forests, narrow roads full of cows and horses, a highway and finally a dirt track. Climbing all the way up to 4350 metres, our little car took us, without a hiccup, to a very special place, El Hornocal.
Wow. We were so excited that we forgot we are wearing flip-flops and shorts and had to run back to the car to get a jumper. With no signs of altitude sickness we waited patiently for the sun to sneak pass the sea of clouds to shine on the mountain just before sunset.
On the way back, the ladies controlling the access to the viewpoint asked us for a ride to Humahuaca, the nearest town. What followed was an entertaining half an hour of jokes, deep cultural exchange and language lessons – at last, we learnt a few words in Quechua!
The Quebrada de Humahuaca – of which the Hornocal is part of – is a deep valley that extends for a few hundred kilometres all the way to the town of Purmamarca. Here too, the minerals that are often locked away deep inside the mountain, can be seen in all their glory.
The Cerro de los Siete Colores (Mountain of the Seven Colours), attracts people from all over the area. Luckily, there is plenty of place for everyone, and even a few hidden places where you can get real close to the mountain.
All great so far, but it is for those who venture further into the wild west, that the best surprises await.
Vintage cars on salt
A mountain pass and a couple of hours later, the immense salt flat of Salinas Grandes appeared before us. The area is extremely dry, but waters rich in minerals do flow down from the surrounding mountains and eventually evaporate, leaving behind crystals of salt and potassium.
The salt fields can be explored on foot as long as one can endure the heat and the sunshine. Heat and sunshine, Paula could not be happier. And when she’s happy, I am over the moon.
Just when we are about to head back, we noticed a huge noise coming from Chile. It was a non-competitive rally of supercars, old and new. They were driving from Atafagasta to Valparaiso in just over a week. A new Aston Martin and a Lamborghini Gallardo led the way. But who cares about those when you have beauties like these:
As we watched a 1965 Jaguar making its entrance, we cracked open a second avocado. It turns out Argentina produces some of the best avocados we have ever had too. Thanks.
A cactus for my birthday
April 11th, one year ago, on this very same day, we purchased an ambulance to take on the Mongolia Charity Rally. It has rained a little bit since then. It also happens to be my birthday and to celebrate we decided to feast on empanadas. Simple is good. Simple and tasty is better.
After lunch there was another mountain pass to be dealt with. El Paso del Obispo greeted us with fog, rain, horses running wild on the road and a few cows here and there. It was not safe but boy it was fun! On the way down the clouds disappeared and we finally got a glimpse of the Cardones National Park. A cardon is a type of cactus, a big one by the way.
Theirs is a story of survival. From the eighty thousand seeds produced by each fruit, only one will survive and only if it lands beneath another plant that will offer it refuge and shade for its first few years of existence.
From cactus to red peppers. Left in the sun to dry, they can be found everywhere in the fields around Cachi, our final destination for the day. Life seems to go by at a different pace in this village, slowly, enjoying every second of it.
Looking out the window of our restaurant and witnessing a superb and unexpected sunset I think that I would not want to be anywhere else right now – a good bottle of Malbec may had something to do with that thought.
Yet another different landscape
A couple hundred kilometres separate Cachi from Cafayate, our last port of the trip. Quick drive? Nope. First, the tarmac disappeared, giving way to a dirt track which our tiny car mastered rather well. But more importantly, the surroundings changed again, and with views like this it was hard not to stop every few minutes.
Cafayate is home to Torrentes, a wine grape variety which turns into fresh, aromatic white wines. After the now familiar tasting in a couple of small wineries, we ended buying a bottle… of Malbec. Anyways, more interesting than the white wine perhaps was a visit to Cabras de Cafayate, a goat cheese factory. Their goats were brought in as fertiliser source for the vineyards and now they are the bigger producers of cheese in the region. And it is good too!
The road leading out from Cafayate passes through yet another Quebrada. This time, there is only one colour in the palette, bright red
And as we rolled in to Salta, our story in Argentina came to an end. From the streets of Buenos Aires, to the ice in Patagonia, the food in Mendoza and now this. But above the locations, we will remember the steaks, the Malbec and the long conversations with the locals. Well, and views like this too.
Things get a bit weird: snowboard gear in a dessert, followed by red lagoons and salt, a lot of salt.