Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Argentina: your meat is amazing!

We left steamy Salta and headed along Route 68 towards the wine region of Cafayate, a route that we have heard is amazing.  It did not fail to disappoint, and after we had gone through a number of smallish towns we entered into the phenomenal Quebrada de Cafayate.  It is hard to describe just how beautiful the land formations are along this route not to mention confusing that there could be so many different colours of soil and geologic layering.  It is quite possible that when we head back to Chile we will come through Argentina again to see this valley once more!

Quebrada de Cafayate

 The number of wineries (Bodegas) increased the closer we got to Cafayate which is set in a luscious valley surrounded by mountains.  We booked into a campsite (which oddly charges per person, per tent and per vehicle – actually pretty common we have come to learn in Argentina) just in time before the afternoon shower and relaxed the rest of the afternoon watching the storm pass over and locals enjoying family time in the campground
 After visiting the tourist information office in the town square we went to find bicycles we could hire for a day exploring the wineries.  The first wine tour was pretty interesting, although we didn’t manage to catch everything that was being said, we still understood the very important point “there is no bad wine, as every wine depends on the setting, food and personal preference!”  Next stop was the goat cheese factory shop! Unfortunately we hadn’t taken into account that it would close over lunch and missed the tour, but bought some amazing flavour cheeses and a bottle of wine and enjoyed the quiet setting of the farm sitting under the shade.

Future wine !

Pyramid of house wine

 On our way back we bumped into a couple we had briefly met in San Pedro de Atacama also travelling on a motorbike.  Not having really had a chance to chat too much there, we happened to be heading to the same wine tour and luckily Heather speaks Spanish very well and translated what the tour guide was saying.  Some interesting points were that the altitude of Cafayate, specific growing systems and limited watering as well as the torrentes grapes are what make the wine so delicious in Cafayate.  This winery also mass produced the wine used as ‘house reds/whites’ in restaurants, and it was fascinating to watch the 5l bottle filling process, something like 2000 stickers are hand stuck onto the bottles every hour!!  It is worth noting that this bottle filling process doesn’t happen every day, and we were quite lucky to have seen it in action!
Our friend, Sebastian (Argentinian fellow biker), had asked us in the morning if we would like to have a braai (asado) with him that evening. Assuming the more the merrier, we invited Heather and Oliver to join us!  Little did we know that when we told Sebastian that 2 more people would be joining the braai he would head out and buy 3kgs of meat for all of us! Goodness what a fantastic evening of local wines and mass meat feast!  Argentinians could definitely teach South Africans a few things when it comes to braaing, they have it down to an art and boy do they love their meat!! 
Sebastian and 3kg of meat yummi !!

 The next day was extremely hot again, and we headed into town to try the wine ice-cream we had heard about.  Surprisingly it tastes like litchis and was quite sweet!  The clouds rolled in after the hot day and in the morning we weren’t sure if we were going to get soaked driving up and over the mountains.  So we took the day very easy stopping in at the Ruinas de Quilmes before travelling to the base of the mountain Amaicha Del Valle to camp for the night.
Ruinas de Quilmes is the site where the over 5000 strong Quilmes tribe used to live.  This tribe was known for its strength and struggle to defend their home against the attacking Inca’s and Spaniards.  It was only in 1650’s that they were defeated after the Spaniards cut off their water supply forcing them to surrender.  They were then made to walk to Buenos Aires where a camp was set up for them outside of town.  Rumour has it that this was an arduous walk and many did not survive. Today there are a few descendants of this tribe in the area, and we met a man who told us he was Quilmes and the site is ‘muy significado’ for him and the area.

Ruinas de Quilmes

 The drive out of Calchaqui valley and onto Tucuman Province took us through the most beautiful town called Tafi del Valle. Nick has decided he wants to live there, and I’m not sure if it was the fact that it reminded us so much of the Drakensberg towns in KZN but somehow prettier, or the salami we bought, that convinced him. The road then winded through a beautiful rainforest valley with hairbend turns until opening up to the agricultural fields surrounding the city of Tucuman.

Our new home !!!

 Our visit was very short in the city, we exchanged money, got food supplies and information from the tourist office how to best to travel through to Puerto Iguazu to see the falls.  That night we camped at a dam outside of the town, a much better plan than staying in the city itself!
After the amazing landscape we had seen, the monotonous agricultural fields and flat, straight roads were not all together exciting.  We figured that this would probably continue until we reached the big rivers in the north east province of Argentina, so decided to push 2 long days of riding.  During the drive we did see some great birdlife but also a lot of dead animals: dogs, cats, ferrets, ant-eater and thick, pretty scaring looking dead snake. It was very hot, and at times felt again like someone was opening the oven door in front of us!
Arriving in Resistencia we found the municipal camp ground, and suddenly wished we had researched a little before we arrived.  It was not a particularly pleasant spot, and the next morning we crossed over the bridge to Corrientes which was much nicer town along the river Parana.  We booked in the Beinvenida Golondrina Hostel (definitely recommended) and wandered the town, ending the day watching a fantastic sunset together with the locals who sipped their mate (very popular herbal tea drink) and nibbled on Chipa (corn bread with cheese).

Queue for petrol

Bridge over to Corrientes

 During the next morning we spoke with the friendly and very helpful hostel owner and he suggested as we have our own transport that instead of doing the normal routeto Esteros de Ibera we do the less touristy route down to San Miguel and then do the 30km drive through to San Nicolas on the west of the nature reserve described as “Muy Tranquilo” very relaxed.
We arrived in San Miguel and it was a scorcher of a day, so we stopped in at the tourist information centre and got a few details, and after the lady saw how hot we were she told us to follow her on her motorbike…. She led us through the sand roads of the town to the dam which is the local swimming pool.  Well it took us about 5 seconds to change and run into the refreshing water. We ended up camping at the dam for the night in amongst the pine trees.
Next morning it was overcast and we left midday for San Nicolas, we had heard many different stories of what this road was like, from yes there is a little bit of sand, to it is a very bad road. Well it was A LOT of sand and clay which made it a very interesting ride for sure !! 5 Km`s in Teeny had a little woops and got a little battle scar from the exhaust ! Half way through the heavens opened and a much welcomed down pour helped cool us down for the rest of the ride into San Nicolas.
Local swimming pool

Battle wound !

Scene of the crime !
 The drive in we saw Cathybura, crocodiles, many birds and some foxes, as we drove into the grounds of San Nicolas it looked almost like a 5 star lodge back home and we held our breathe as we asked the price for camping for a night or two. Much to our surprise we were told it was only 35 pesos (R55) per person per night so we booked in for 2 nights. We had our own little braai and thatch area and some beautiful soft manicured grass for us to pitch our tent on, and the bonus being so remote we had the whole place to ourselves !!
That evening we did the short walk down to the marsh lands and saw many different birds and sat and enjoyed the sounds of nature with no traffic or loud tourists around. The walk back was stepped up to a slow jog when we noticed a huge storm coming in straight towards us. We only just made it back in time as it hit. We made some dinner and sat and watched a spectacular lightning storm that evening and fell asleep to the pitter patter of rain on our tent !
Up early the next morning to try avoid the midday heat we set out on the 7 km walk to the port, lucky us it became overcast again that day so it was a rather comfortable walk to the port. We sat at the port, which is just a small jetty with a few canoes and boats for people coming there from the other lodges around the reserve, and had some lunch on the river bank with some crocodiles watching us !!
Another thunderstorm hit us on our walk back which left us a little drenched and concerned about the road conditions for when we leave the next day. However due to the rains the sand had become a lot more denser and made the 30 km ride out from San Nicolas rather pleasant just having to avoid a few small dams that had formed in the roads !!

incoming storm

 With only 150km to Ituzaigo we decided to go to the place recommended as a popular beach front holiday place. Arriving in town we found a little pizza place and had lunch / dinner there while listening to the stories of the 3 men that ran the place as well as admiring the lovely wooden cottage that one of them built over a course of ten years.
They recommended El Mirador camping grounds outside of town for the night. A little disappointing and very expensive after being spoilt at San Nicolas.

 It took us another 2 days to arrive in Puerto Iguazu, a much anticipated stop since the start of the trip for the Iguazu falls.  After much looking around for a hostel and hearing many stories from people on the streets pushing their hostels we eventually found a nice quiet little place called Hostel Natura and settled in very excited for the next day’s adventure.
Trying to avoid some of the crowds we were up early and on our way to the falls, WOW can’t really put words to describe it all and hope some of the pictures do it justice, can only imagine what it would have been like for the person to stumble across this little piece of heaven. The next days we spent admiring the falls and doing some hikes searching for toucans, coatis and capuchin monkeys.
We received a message from Tineke and Sam, who we spent new years with in Vaparaiso, saying they were also in Iguazu, so met up with them for a buffet dinner in the evening and a few drinks.

Sam and Tineke

The plan tomorrow is to go across to Brazil and then into Paraguay as there is no direct border crossing into Paraguay from Puerto Iguazu.