Argentina - La Ruta de Los Vinos / Salta photos
Feb 5, 2005
|Picture this ... you're on a wine tour. You're visiting one of the bodegas, admiring vines now heavy with grapes that should be ready for harvest in a few more weeks. You pluck sweet fat grapes from the vines, eating until your hands are sticky with juice and your belly is full. Ominous clouds darken the sky and the sound of thunder echoes around you. You move indoors, into the wine storage room where the bodega owner is explaining the bottling process. You start to hear the patter of raindrops as they hit the steel roof above. Just a few drops at first but within minutes the sound is deafening. Someone opens the door and you see rain coming down from the sky in thick white sheets. The owner quickly closes the door, not wanting to alter the temperature or humidity levels in the room. The power goes out, leaving the room in absolute darkness. Somehow the owner finds a flashlight and leads the group into an adjacent workroom. Another door is opened from where you can see the grapevines you stood beside only moments ago. Large hailstones have joined the rain to pummel the earth ... and the beautiful bunches of grapes. The rain and hail continues to fall for another 20 minutes. You're trapped inside, watching the storm unleash its fury. Someone tries to make a joke ... surely there must be worse places to be trapped than inside a room filled with thousands of liters of wine? But the laughter is forced and brief, and soon a thick silence falls over the room. Everyone watches the face of the bodega owner who, before your very eyes, is witnessing the destruction of at least 25% of his grapes for this year's wine production.
Feb. 5 - The Bolivian immigration officer started off with a stern lecture about me being over the allotted days on my visitors visa, but in the end only charged me for 5 days over instead of 8. Sweet apologies and a bit of eyelash batting works like a charm on these Latin men!
Feb. 6 - I'm now in Salta, Northern Argentina. Everything here is so different from Peru and Bolivia. The vehicles, buildings, food, people, lifestyle, conveniences - all so modern and developed. I hate it. I miss my ladies with their beautiful hats. I know I'm suffering from major culture shock, but I actually feel more like I'm in Europe or N America right now than S America.
Feb. 7 - Did some Salta sightseeing today. Admired the colonial architecture of buildings and churches, and strolled through some beautiful plazas and parks. Took a cable car ride to the top of Cerro San Bernardo for stunning views of Salta. Discovered a few things that aren't so bad about Argentina ... like the heat ... and the wine ... and the empanadas! Dealt with the haircut issue again, this one costing me around 10 times more than my last cut (gasp). Carnival festivities are in full swing here as well, and there are large outdoor markets and lively musical performances right outside my hostel.
Feb. 8 - Within a stone's throw from Salta is a region that produces some of Argentina's best wines. I immediately signed up for a 2-day tour. On the tour are 3 Argentine women, the guide/driver and me. None of the women speak any English. I don't understand much of their Argentine Spanish, which uses different pronunciations than I'm used to and sometimes different words. The guide is supposed to speak English but it's very poor; I actually understand his Spanish better than his English! The others all chat at least 10 decibels louder than necessary, and they NEVER stop talking. Already I have a major headache ... this is not the makings of a great trip. At least the scenery provides some distraction. The lush green valley in which Salta sits soon gives way to sandstone mountains and deep gorges where the elements have carved sharp peaks and interesting formations. Near Cafayate, where we'll spend the night, the scenery changes again into large flat fields of grapevines. We visited two bodegas for wine tours/tastings before heading off to our respective hostels where I finally escaped the noisy ladies.
Feb. 9 - We visited 3 more bodegas in Cafayate before hitting the road again. Should I be concerned that our driver is doing more than his fair share of wine sampling? We took a different route back to Salta with more small villages & more interesting rock formations along the way. On the outskirts of Salta we hit a dog in the street. Yikes, I've now been party to a second dog murder in as many weeks! At least this time the driver stopped briefly to advise a street policeman who will supposedly send in a clean up crew. Glad to be back in Salta - think I need to lay off the tours for a while.
Feb. 10 - The maté tradition in Argentina is fascinating. A special drinking gourd is filled with a strong herb-like tea. Add hot water and a decorative silver sipping straw and you've got yourself a maté. You can always spot the Argentine in the crowd because they're the one always carrying the maté gourd and thermos of hot water and sipping all day from their beautiful maté gourd. It's a very social tradition; the gourd is passed around to anyone willing to drink the stuff. I've tried it, but have to say it's "an acquired taste" ... I actually prefer instant Nescafe!
Feb. 11 - I'm on my way to Mendoza today, which means I'll be sitting on a bus for 23 hours. If I were traveling in Bolivia right now, I'd be contemplating Hari Kari as a preferred option to sitting on a bus for that long! But this is Argentina - buses are luxurious, the washroom works, people don't stand or sit in the aisles, and roads are smooth.
Feb. 12 - I love this bus! I never want to get off. It's the most luxurious thing I've been on. They serve food and refreshments, show movies, play music, have comfortable reclining seats. To kill the last hour before arriving in Mendoza we played bingo with a bottle of wine to the winner. The winner was a 12 yr old boy, just didn't seem right that he walked off with the bottle of wine!
Feb. 13 - The Mendoza region is Argentina's main agricultural area. 70% of the country's wine is produced here, which in itself makes it worthy of a visit. But it's also a beautiful city with wide tree-lined streets, plazas and lots of outdoor cafes and restaurants. It's also a thriving center for outdoor activities - trekking, rafting, horseback riding and paragliding to name a few.
Feb. 14 - Happy Valentine's Day. I bypassed the outdoor activities and spent the day with my true love ... wine! This was the day of the amazing rain/hail storm. Not only were we trapped inside the building when the storm hit, we were also trapped inside the entire bodega as the electric gates wouldn't open. When they finally did, we couldn't believe our eyes ... the street in front of us was a river carrying tree branches and miscellaneous debris. What a shocking sight. But we continued on with our tour, slowly heading to our final destination where we sampled more wine and received detailed instructions on the "fine art of wine tasting". And then, for the next 3 hours, we were entertained by the bodega owner and with an amazing sample of local foods and wine.
Feb.15 - I had planned on traveling south through Argentina, but scheduling problems down the road made it necessary to change plans. So I'm now crossing into Chile and will return to Argentina later. The border crossing through the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago was nothing short of spectacular. We gained altitude and went right past Aconcagua, the highest summit in the Western Hemisphere (6962m). Hello Chile!
Currency: Argentine Peso
Exchange rate 1USD = 2.9 Pesos
Languages: Spanish & Quechua (in Andean north)