RIDING ALONG THE VINEYARDS

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We spent a couple of days in Cafayate, a small town located in the very south of the Province of Salta. It’s situated at almost 1,700 meters above sea level and is considered the second center for quality wine production in Argentina. The town itself is small but very pleasant and the locals are very friendly. Actually, Argentinians overall may be the friendliest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.

As is the case with most towns/cities in Argentina, there is a plaza in the center of town. Cafayate’s main square, Plaza San Martín, is surrounded by nice, small shops and good quality restaurants. And, of course, there is a church/cathedral facing the plaza as well (unfortunately I did not take any photo of the plaza).

We decided to rent bicycles one day to visit a winery or two. There are plenty to choose from, but we decided on one that the owners of the guesthouse we stayed in recommended. They told us that the bike ride is quite tough, especially the last few kilometers on the gravel road leading up to the winery. We had had torrential rainfall the night before so the guesthouse owners called ahead of time to check whether the winery was open for visitors before we set off. The answer was: “Sí, está abierto.”

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The handwritten map from the guesthouse. It was pretty accurate.

The owners were not kidding. It was a hard bike ride. And the road was not in the best of conditions. We actually had to push our bikes quite a lot. On top of that, it was a very hot day and we of course did the trip under the midday sun.

Finally we reached the winery, Domingo Molina. Carola, a friendly lady welcomed us and introduced us to the winery. We were the only visitors. Soon, it was time for wine tasting accompanied by cheese and some other snacks. We tried a number of different wines, and I really liked every single one! We must have sat there for a few hours.

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The fact that we tried the different wines outside, under the big tree with this view, added to the experience.

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On the way back it was all downhill, much more pleasant.

It was the first time I tried Torrontés (white) and Tannat (red). Both were excellent! I ended up buying a bottle of Torrontés, which we managed to forget in the guesthouse’s refrigerator when we left… ☹

Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, is practically surrounded by wineries. One area just south of Mendoza is called Maipú and is literally inundated with wineries. We rented bicycles one day and set out to explore a few of the wineries. You can easily visit five or six in one day. We tried three and I felt that that was enough, and so did my liver. :-) They gave a very good tour of the facility at the first winery, but I didn’t like the wines too much. I kept on comparing the wines to the ones we had been served in Domingo Molina.

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The second winery was very scenic and the wines were good. We also took the opportunity to have lunch there. The third and last winery was the best one. It was a small winery and we were the only people there at that moment. I must have tried almost 20 different wines before the day was over.

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We also stopped to try some locally produced olive oil and chocolate.

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The last winery of the day

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And, just to be clear, I didn’t actually drink all the wine I tasted. I was pretty professional, like a sommelier. I took sips, worked my cheek muscles to circulate the wine in my mouth to get the taste, and then it was time to spit. But I have to admit that I alternated between spitting and swallowing. :-)

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A long bike ride back to return our bikes

Overall it was a really cool experience. I really enjoyed it. I should have done more wine tasting when I was in Italy. I love Italian wines too.. well, next time. I also learned a LOT from the sommeliers about types of grapes, the maturity level of a wine, etc. And I got to know what kind of grapes that I like. At the moment I know very well that I like Malbec and Torrontés. And the wine’s quality from Domingo Molina was fantastic.

And all along the way we met other people as well that took different routes around the vineyards on their bikes. Everybody was smiling and we waved to each other when we passed one another. How wonderful the world we live in is.

 

WHITE WALLS SAY NOTHING

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Enjoying art outside, while walking on the street, is one of the ways you can pass some of your time in Buenos Aires. You can stop, look at the art and try to figure out what story the artist is trying to deliver.

I joined a Street Art / Graffiti Tour in Buenos Aires. The tour guide explained each piece and it was very interesting.

And in Buenos Aires, where you will meet the most genuine and friendly people (my experience!), one foreign artist admitted that to do a mural or other work on a wall will normally take longer time than in any other place, but he always loves doing it, every time. The reason is that the people in the neighbourhood will stop by, asking questions, offering some food, a mate tea (a traditional tea in Argentina), discuss or argue about the painting he is about to make.

Some street art is political in nature and tells you stories of what the country faces/faced during particular periods of time. Others may focus on showing the love of a certain football club, be dedicated to a musician, or something like that. And some are filled with secret messages that are only understood by the artists or certain groups.

I liked most of the murals/graffiti pieces I saw, but some I didn’t understand. But the idea to paint boring empty walls with meaningful and beautiful art that makes you stop, look and think is a great way to liven up a city. :)

Here are some samples of the street art I saw during my stay in Buenos Aires, Salta and Mendoza, Argentina.

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Some people got so interested with the street art, they asked the artists to paint their house too

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The white head scarves worn by Argentine mothers (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) whose children were “disappeared” during the Dirty War of the military dictatorship, between 1976 and 1983.

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Haydée Mercedes Sosa (9 July 1935 – 4 October 2009), known as La Negra (literally: The Black Woman), was an Argentine singer who was popular throughout Latin America and many countries outside the continent.

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This is a pub/ restaurant where the owner once asked some of the artists to paint his restaurant with their arts and the owner gives some space on the backside of this place as a gallery where they can showcase their arts.

THE MAGIC OF NATURE

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It took roughly 18 hours from Buenos Aires to Salta – the distance is around 1,500 km. We took an overnight bus and both of us managed to sleep quite comfortably. There was plenty of leg space and the seats could be reclined almost 180 degrees.

Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world, almost 3,000,000 square kilometres, and we had limited weeks of vacation. This meant we had to decide on a couple of places to visit; it would be impossible to ‘do everything’. We decided to start off with Salta and the northwest because my husband had been there before and he had only fond memories.

Argentina’s northwest is lofty and dry, and sits against the beautiful backdrop of the mighty Andes. Nature works magic here with stone; strange, wonderful, tortured rock shapes are visible everywhere. And the puna (altiplano or Andean highlands) and its fauna need to be experienced in person.

Colorful traditional handicrafts, indigenous communities and Inca ruins give the area a definite Andean feel, so does the animal, llama, that I saw (and tasted for the first time!). Coca leaves are sold openly and legally. It is part of the culture to chew coca leaves mixed with bicarbonate of soda to assist breathing at higher altitudes. The mixture is also said to combat fatigue and hunger.

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During our stay in Salta, we went to a museum named: Museo de Arquelogía de Alta Montaña. Honestly, this was the first time I read and saw some videos about the Inca culture. When we visited the museum, the well preserved, mummified body of one three children discovered at the peak of a volcano, Llullaillaco, in 1999 was on display.

The Incas practiced what some may consider bizarre custom of sacrificing children of royal lineage or higher status to appease the Gods and ensure safety and fertility. Sacrificed children were buried on some of the Andes’ highest peaks. Llullaillaco is 6,739 meters high. It is not clear whether some of the children were actually buried alive!

It was a bit eerie to see the mummy, but I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards. ☺ It was not allowed to take pictures in the museum so I’m not able to show you what it looked like. If you want to know more, visit the website.

After exploring the city of Salta for a couple of days, we rented a car and headed north up to the Quebrada de Humahuaca for a number of days. We made the small town of Tilcara our base for daily excursions.

Now let me share with you some pictures of the magical, awe-inspiring nature in the northwest.

IMG_7002Tilcara village

IMG_0254This is the blue backpack I told you about in my previous story :)

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Purmamarca village, 30 minutes by car from Tilcara

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Hill of Seven Colors (Cerro de los Siete Colores) in Purmamarca

Cañon Colorado

We followed a homemade map to get there. The problem with the map was that distances were approximate at best. But good fortune comes to s/he who tries and after some walking under the scorching sun we finally found what we were looking for.

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The beautiful tortured rock shapes (don’t you agree?)

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El Hornocal

Roughly 25 km up a winding gravel road from the town of Humahuaca at an altitude of around 4,200 m is the Mirador del Hornocal, a viewpoint from which the splendor of the Serranía Hornocal can be seen.

The colored limestone formations are simply amazing. It is best to visit in the afternoon when the sunlight intensifies the colorations. It was a bit cloudy when we went there, but nonetheless indescribably beautiful. And it was quite chilly, only around 8-9 degrees Celsius.

The Mirador del Hornocal is much less visited than the well-known, easily accessible Hill of Seven Colors (Cerro de los Siete Colores) in Purmamarca. The Hill of Seven Colors is fantastic, but bleaks in comparison to the Hornocal, at least according to me.

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Salinas Grandes

The salt flats of Salina Grandes are located on the puna at around 3,500 meters above sea level. Salt is mined here for human, industrial and animal consumption. I cannot describe the salt flats and the surrounding landscape in words, but let me give it a shot: amazing, incredible, dramatic, endless, powerful, extreme, awesome, mind-blowing… And I’ll never forget walking around on the salt flats.

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That big white spot in the front is the Salinas Grandes

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MY BACKPACK TRAVEL TO ARGENTINA

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The start of my holiday to Argentina was all but smooth. The drive from my apartment in New Delhi to the airport and the arrival in Argentina turned out quite stressful, or I can say now, a little adventurous.

One of the tires of the car that took me to the airport was punctured just 15 minutes after I left my apartment, and it was 1 am in the morning. The spare tire was broken, so there I was, by the street in New Delhi at 1.30 am in the morning with the driver , trying to find another taxi… We eventually found a taxi, which basically “flew” me to the airport. He was fast!

Argentina is very far from India. The total trip for me was around 29 hours with 2 stops; in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I arrived super late in Sao Paulo. Instead of having 1 hour and 50 minutes to get to the next flight, I had only 20 minutes!

I ran like a gazelle, dressed in my winter clothes (it was, and still is, winter in India) in the warm airport of Sao Paulo, where it was and still is summer. Reached the gate out of breath, sweating…but I made it. Phew!

The problem with that kind of short connection is that the luggage is not always able to run as fast as the person making the connection. And sure enough, after a long waiting until the conveyor belt was basically stopped, and my luggage hadn’t arrived, I went out to find the baggage claim office to report about my missing luggage. Not a fun feeling at 11.30 at night after such a long trip. It was also quite warm in Buenos Aires that evening.

The next day, Saturday, I was not really sure where I was, a real jet lag, and I really missed my toiletries. I bought some new clothes, a pair of sandals and some toiletries. Over the first couple of days, I also started to hear all kinds of stories of missing luggages that will come after 2 weeks and started to accept the idea that I might travel Argentina without my bag, and I slowly let go of my luggage..

The hop on/off tour bus was the best way to get to know Buenos Aires in a short time. So that’s what my husband and I did to get to know the city.

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We also changed our travel plans a bit because of my missing bag; instead of leaving Buenos Aires for Salta on Sunday evening, we decided to go on the next day just to give another chance for my bag to arrive in Buenos Aires. And we decided that whether or not I would have my luggage on that day, we would go ahead with our plan to go to Salta (around 1700 km from Buenos Aires).

On Monday morning, I made one of my regular routine calls to the Aerolíneas Argentinas. And this time the answer was a bit different. “We have your luggage, it is a blue backpack, no? We will deliver it this afternoon.” said the guy on the line. I was very happy, and instead of waiting for the airline to deliver it, I went to the airport to pick it up.

And there she was, my own blue “smurf” backpack… standing in front of the counter in the baggage claim office. You see, I bought this backpack just for this trip. I was all smiles. Never been so happy to a see a luggage.

With all the travel I have done (almost to 40 countries now), this was the first time that one my bags has gone missing. And of course, this was the first time that I didn’t have my carry-on luggage for such a long trip. Everything was in that luggage/ backpack. All of a sudden that backpack and what was inside became more precious than anything else.

And now that the drama of the missing luggage was over, we spent the last afternoon in Buenos Aires before we were off to the bus station, by visiting the famous cemetery in the neighbourhood we were staying, named Cementerio de la Recoleta.

This cemetery is a bit special. It is like visiting a housing complex. The individual tombs are decorated in different individual ways. I was not so comfortable walking around here though. Mostly because in quite a few of the tombs you are actually able to see the coffins!  You will see on the pictures below what I mean. Nevertheless, I must say this was a beautiful cemetery.

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In the evening we were on the bus on our way to Salta, which I will write about in my next post!