Monday, 2 April 2012

Into the valley


It's a 4 ½ hour bus ride from Salta to the village of Cachi and for some reason the bus left at 7am. For the 1st time since Puno I had to set the alarm and wake up early (I used to wake up at 04:30 six days a week but that was a lifetime ago). Thankfully at the bus station a man was selling strong sweet coffee from his little Thermos laden cart...yippee!

Cachi is about 1600m higher than Salta and the road followed the path of a small river and as the bus went higher, trees gave way to grass. The views were great but unlike the hoards of minibuses ferrying tourists on day trips the bus didn't stop (which is why the photos ain't that great).

Finally the bus reached the top of the mountain and crossed the watershed. From here the grass was replaced by cacti and scrub thorn trees surviving in a dry and arid landscape. The vista was wide and sloped gently towards the river. On the other side of the valley, far off in the distance were snow capped mountain peaks under blue skies.

The bus stopped in Cachi 50m from the main square and after the usual I walked there and then carried on for another 100m to an okay hostel at the rear of a restaurant. By the time my bags were hitting the bed I was walking out of the door back to the plaza for 3 cups of coffee...well what do you know...turns out it was actually 4!

The little village of Cachi hasn't changed much in the last 200 years and the centre is still postcard pretty. The tree laden plaza, with the adobe church next door, cobbled streets and kerbs 3 foot high in places. I liked what I saw and the place was relaxed and tranquil.

The next morning after a long lie in and more coffee than you would think was good for you I went to the bus company office. The next village I was heading for had buses going there only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Not wanting to leave the next day I thought Friday would be a good day to travel.

A few hours later I was having lunch when I remembered that it was Easter on the weekend. There are two times I don't travel in Christian countries, Christmas and Easter. I went back to the hostel and gave them a wad of cash that paid for my room till I checked out on the following Monday. Looks like I’ll be in Cachi for a week and lets face it that ain't a bad thing.

Cachi is in the Valle Calchaquies, a famous wine growing region of Argentina. They also had steaks that were non to shabby as well.

My time here wasn't all coffee, wine and steaks! I was able to squeeze in a couple of bimbles in the beautiful countryside. Along dried up river beds and cacti covered mountain slopes I strolled (and at least once an hour I stopped to remove the various bits of plants that were sticking out of my shorts and socks).

The week passed surprisingly quickly and on Easter Monday I got on the 11:30 bus to Molinos.

The even smaller village of Molinos was a few hours down the world famous “Ruta 40”, a road that stretches for almost 5000km from the Bolivian border to the bottom of Argentina. This section was narrow, twisty, untarmaced and with fantastic views out of the bus window.

The village of Molinos is a mixture of the old and the new. Standardised government housing line up along dirt roads laid out in grids whilst nearby a 400 year old church stands opposite an even older hacienda once owned by the last Spanish governor of the Provence of Salta (which is now a 250usd a night hotel). The road that goes past them is colonial with a cute little info centre in a fully restored house. The wide and shallow river Molinos gently curves nearby defining the shape of the village in one direction whilst the multicoloured mountain ridges take care of the other sides.

I found a great little hostel on the edge of the village and for 100 pesos (or 15gbp) not only was it en-suite, it had satellite tv. Crashing out on the bed I turned into ESPN and watched the 2nd half of Aston Villa v Stoke and then Fulham v Chelsea, at the end of the game I kinda wished I hadn't bothered.

As the day turned towards night I went and hit the mean streets of down town Molinos. This place was really quiet! The only restaurant I found didn't open till 20:30, which was over two hours away. However a local shop sold bread, cheese and salami (and of course beer). So I had a quiet night in watching tv...bliss!

The next morning I found myself wandering aimlessly around the village, why? The café didn't open till 10am...after a big breakfast of champions I checked out the “old stuff” in the village and then slowly wandered down to the river. Seeing a sign for an artisans shop that was pointing in the direction I was going I thought to myself “why not”. To get to the “San Pedro Nolasco de los Molinos” meant crossing the river...there was no bridge.

Wading across the wide river in my bare feet it was only a few inches deep all the way across. Well apart from twice when my foot fall landed on soft sand and my knee got wet. Once again on dry land it was only a few hundred metres to the shop and by the time I had got there the dirt from the road had dried my feet, on the downside my feet were dirty.

This place is also a breeding centre for Vicuñas, the wild relative of lamas and alpacas and they had quite a few handwoven items for sale...I brought a very nice 3x2 foot wall hanging for only 300 pesos, or 45GBP.

The next morning I was off to the village of Angastaco, 42kms down the road. There are two ways of getting there

A) hitch-hike

B) taxi

Hitch-hiking is great if you are travelling light and there is a good volume of traffic on the road. I ain't and the road didn't, so I got a taxi. At about 1GBP per 1000m I was once again being “ripped off” by a taxi company. However the lass in the office was so bored with her life she had given up swatting flies...haggling with someone like that is impossible. It was at this point I reminded myself of the following: money, its only bits of coloured paper.

The drive took about 90 minutes and I enjoyed every single second, the landscape was de...wait for it...lightful!

Arriving in the really really small village of Angastaco in the late morning I got a room in one of the two places to stay. Then I went for a bimble...ten minutes later I had seen the entire place. Thankfully when I was in Salta I stumbled across a little multi language bookshop. Its English section was small but eclectic. I decided to pass the afternoon reading several chapters of the “Vicar of Wakefield”.

In the evening I found a delightful and completely unexpected restaurant. It's behind the church at the end of a dead end street and then up an alley next to the car mechanic shop. When the meal was over I asked the dude what time in the morning was the bus to Cafayate...I didn't believe him! Back at the hostel I asked the lass the same question, she gave me the same answer! Cafayate is only 100kms or 2 ½ hours down the road so why the fuck does the bus leave Angastaco at 6am!!

The next morning I caught the bus!

At 08:30 I was in Cafayate and walking the two blocks from the bus company office to the main square, a café that was open and the 1st of 4 coffees and several fags...then I went and got a room!

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