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31st March 2010
Salta boasts the finest colonial architecture in Argentina and is the place to experience a Peña, a restaurant serving local food together with traditional music and dancing. They say the best empanadas come from Salta and we agree.
The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology displays the three “Llullaillaco Children”, together with offerings, found frozen at 6,700 m. above sea level in 1999. These were Inca sacrifices to their gods. Very eerie.
We took the train to the clouds (Tren a las Nubes), the first trip in 5 years, a 16 hour excursion through the Quebrada (gorge) del Toro up into the mountains. The 217 kilometre route crosses 29 bridges, 13 viaducts, 21 tunnels, does 2 complete circles and 2 zigzags to reach an altitude of 4200 metres and then does it all over again on the way back.
A truly spectacular bus ride up a narrow winding road took us to the little pueblo of Cachi with its cobblestone streets and adobe buildings.
24th March 2010
The high altitude and dry climate of the Calchaqui Valley make it ideal for growing grapes, especially the Torrentés, a unique Argentine variety. The white Torrontés wine is called ¨the liar¨ because it smells sweet like a rose but tastes dry.
We stayed in Cafayate, the biggest town, at Rusty K Hostal run by a lovely young couple. It has a vine covered courtyard where we joined the other guests for the weekly asado. At the heladería we enjoyed the Torrontés and Cabernet ice cream.
A few kilometres north is the Quebrada de las Conchas with stunning coloured rock formations and to the south are the ruins of Quilmes where the local villagers resisted the Spanish for more than 130 years.
21st March 2010
We are moving into the baking hot north west of Argentina where siesta goes from 1pm to 6pm.
The historical centre of San Miguel de Tucumán has many fine old buildings which are spectacularly lit up at night.
Leaving behind the vast fields of sugar cane, our bus began the climb to Tafí de Valle (2000 metres up), winding through jungle and into the clouds. Lovely little Tafí lies in a fertile valley surrounded by high mountains. It is famous for cheese made from old Jesuit recipes. We stayed in the 200 year old adobe Estancia los Cuartos with original furniture and friendly llamas.
17th March 2010
La Rioja was our base to explore 2 Unesco World Heritage parks.
In Parque Nacional Talampaya, we passed between the high red walls of the canyon, the dry river bed the track. The wind and water have sculpted the rock into fascinating shapes. The early inhabitants carved figures and shapes into the rocks which can still be seen.
Adjoining is the very different Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) with its surreal landscape formed by constant wind. The worlds oldest dinosaur remains were found here.
13th March 2010
Córdoba and the area surrounding it has 5 World Heritage Jesuit sites.
The Jesuit estancias outside of Córdoba supported their university, the oldest in the country, with crops, cattle, sheep and wine production. Estancia Coroya was the earliest from 1616. Jesús María from 1618, Santa Catalina from 1622 and Alta Gracia from 1643. The Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1767.
Ernesto ¨Che¨ Guevara spent his teenage years in Alta Gracia, 40 kilometres from Córdoba and his family home is now a museum.
09th March 2010
Mendoza, where 70% of Argentine wines is produced, is a good place to sample some. Many of the best wines can be purchased by the glass at a bar in the city.
Another fun way is to hire a bicyle and pedal between the vineyards. We had such a wonderful day in Maipu that we hired bikes again in Luján de Cuyo for another full day of cycling and sampling (liqueures, jams, chutneys, olives and olive oil as well as the wines). This is Malbec country and we were able to taste the lot, from last year´s Rosé through to an 8 year old blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Many of the wineries have Italian origins. The annual Festa in Piazza is a celebration by Italian immigrants and food originating in small Italian villages can be sampled. We missed the parade of floats through the city for the Vendimia, but a float full of beauties was staying at our hostel and posed with us for a photo.
In San Juan, 200 kilometers north of Mendoza, we spent an afternoon tasting along the wine route. Our favourite was the little family run champañera Miguel Mas where the owner demonstrated the final process of removing the sediment by freezing the neck of the bottle, then adding the syrup. We were able to sample before (Nature) and after (Brut).
Another special winery was the adobe Bodega Las Marianas. Here we tasted 2 week old Malbec from the fermentation tank, then later the finished product.