Days 121 to 126: The Cachi Adventure between Cafayete and Salta
After the boozy enthusiasm of the vineyard harvest party, I wanted another day of rest. There are two routes from Cafayate up to Salta and I was planning on taking the longer one via Cachi, but I’d read the shorter option also had some spectacular rock formations so found a tour agency that ran half-day tours out there. I wasn’t disappointed, as the wacky rock formations of northern Argentina continued on in their warped manner.
The 320km cycle loop-around from Cafateye to Salta was also riddled with crazy rocks and the appalling sandy, gravel roads were very light on traffic. The eerie quiet mixed with the surreal landscape for some reason kept making me think of the original Star Wars movie, and whether Jawas or Sandpeople might appear out of nowhere. I would have been an easy target as the sand roads meant I even ended up walking the bike for short stretches quite often.
Tough going and I seemed to be averaging a shocking 6km/7km per hour as the road slowly rose in elevation.
Toward the end of the first day I stumbled on a couple of families in a tiny village having a small party outdoors and they invited me to stop and help them eat their food, which I was happy to do. The bloke who did most of the talking even told me he visited New Zealand when he was 18 back in the mid-80s as the hooker in an under-20 “Pumas” squad that squared off against an under-20 All Blacks and other teams. Shortly after he got a serious knee injury and his playing days ended.
The surreal landscapes took me on to Cachi, where I enjoyed a half-day cycling between the three wineries in the countryside above the village. At about 2600 metres, Bodega Miraluna and Bodega Puna are two of the highest commercially-successful vineyards in the world.
Bodega Isamendi is slightly lower at about 2400 metres, and their Malbec-Merlot blend was probably the best tipple of the day, and also generated the best photo of the day.
Upon leaving Cachi I got actual tarmac back again which was a relief since I had a 1000 metre climb in front of me up to about 3400 metres. It was literally a mountain of two halves as it was sunny on the way up, but as I hit the summit I cycled into cloud, and the other side of the mountain was so densely clouded over that I couldn’t see much more than 15 metres or so for a while. I still managed to knock off 120km that day, which left just a short 40km to bring me up to Salta.
With over 600,000 people, Salta is the first city I’ve been in since I rolled out of Mendoza on Feb 19th. I think the biggest place I was at between times was no greater than 15,000. It really has been all villages or tiny towns for 6 weeks. The final day riding into Salta was a bit sketchy, as there was only about 5-10cm of hard shoulder over the white line and a shit tonne of heavy trucks and buses thundering past in both directions, but for the final 10km into the city there was a separate cycle lane which brought much relief.
Since then I’ve just spent days 127-129 relaxing and enjoying being in a city again. The city centre has a real Spanish colonial feel which is nice, plus there’s plenty of grassy plazas and tall trees to make a nice ambience. Eating, drinking and sleeping have been my main 3 hobbies although I’ve mixed in a bit of touristy sightseeing. Been to see a few local bands play, and last night I went to this awesome place spread over several rooms where local musicians show up and start a sing-song.
They have a Museum of High Mountain Archaeology here which contains the bodies of some dead Inca children who were sacrificed and put in a cave near the summit of a 6700 metres extinct volcano. Because of the cold at that altitude they were almost perfectly preserved, and gave a bit of a shock to the mountaineers who decided to poke their nose inside the cave back in 1999 and saw something they weren’t expecting to see! Now they’re kept in refrigerated glass cabinets in the museum and seem strangely lifelike and certainly not deceased from hundreds of years ago. No photos allowed.
Three days of rest has been great, but it’s back on the bike tomorrow for a final week of Argentina before I hit the northern border with Bolivia.