Argentina: Salta, Juyuy, Tilcara
Greetings, I think this is more information than you want, but I am attaching my entire travelogue for Northwest Argentina north of Mendoza. If you need more information, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org Enjoy.
Travelogue January 2007 Northwest Argentina from Mendoza
Part I: From Mendoza to Quilmes
We left Mendoza on January 3rd, driving north through San Juan Province to La Rioja Province. It was a 473km/294m drive on Ruta 40. The Auto Club of Argentina in Mendoza had telephoned the club in San Juan and had been assured that the road was paved all the way to our destination in Villa Unión, La Rioja Province.
We saw that just south of San Jose de Jáchal Ruta 40 stopped being paved. So we chose the alternate, Ruta 491 through San Jose de Jáchal, because a man along the road said it was fully paved. Well, it wasn’t. With 11 suitcases and 2 bikes on top of the car we had decided it wasn’t wise to travel on a dirt road for so many kilometers but we had no choice.
All day we had seen warning signs that there were animales sueltos (loose roaming animals) and, while I was driving, I saw goats. Dimitri started driving on the dirt road and at km 340 near Huaco a cabra/goat jumped into our car. The thump didn’t sound like much but when we got out to check the damage and the beautiful view, the hood of the car looked bad, and the grill work in front needs to be completely replaced. There are photos of the view and the car in the sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the Album “2007 South America”.*
The views and colors were amazing and the drive was otherwise pleasant, though longer than we prefer. The red/ochre and contrasting green bushes made for a visual feast. The desert gets rain at this time of year and there had been a torrential storm the day before. We could see the damage and we were told that the road had been closed. So we were happy that we could get through even if slowly on the dirt road. There wasn’t much traffic.
In Villa Unión, Dimitri had identified a hotel, Las Pircas Negras, he thought would be good because it was new. We looked at the standard room and we couldn’t fit in, with all of our luggage and it wouldn’t be comfortable, without a sofa from which to watch TV. The only other option was the Carlos Menen Presidential Suite and at AP$200/ US $65.36 (including breakfast), we grabbed it. It was huge with a living room, dining room, bedroom, and second toilet room and, of course, air conditioning. Evidently Carlos Menen comes to the hotel often.
We chose Villa Unión because it is only 57 km/35 miles to the Parque Nacional Talampaya. Other options were farther. We were told that the Parque had been closed that day because of rain. The other park we wanted to visit is Parque Provincial Ishigualasto, known as Valle de la Luna. It had also been closed because of the rain. First thing the next morning we called the park and were told it would open at some point during the day.
We drove to Talampaya and were told that the driving circuit showing all of the unusually colorful and beautifully carved rocks was closed. However, we could do a hike. The entrance fee and the hike cost AP $84 for the two of us/ US $27.45. It was a two and ½ hour hike at midday in 36°/96° dry heat. The vistas were so gorgeous that neither the heat nor scrambling up to the miradors/vista points was an issue. Have a look at the photos in the sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. Dimitri says the rock formations look like Bryce Canyon National Park, his favorite.
After the hike we took a siesta. Our little town was shut tight from about 1 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Evidently, it gets so hot that no one moves during the heat of the day. After our siesta, we used the hotel’s pool. It was quite pleasant and the pool was warm enough from the sun for us to use (momentarily).
That night it rained again and we were sure that Parque Provincial Ishigualasto, known as Valle de la Luna would be closed. So we decided to pack up everything and drive further north to La Rioja 276km away/171 miles. Because we would be passing by the Parque along the way, we could stop to find out what was going on. The turnoff to the Parque said it was 20 km/12 miles into the Parque. We decided not to go. So we missed the site designated one of World Heritage Site with petrographs from the civilizations more than 2500 years ago. And we missed seeing the dinosaur remains from 200 million years ago. The ochre rock formations in this park are supposed to be like Bryce Canyon or Zion in Utah and beautiful, but not as gorgeous as Talampaya.
We pushed on and at km 122 we got a flat tire. It was the same tire that had gone flat in October and was fixed. All of our tires were new in April 2006 and we were disturbed that we got a flat at all, let alone twice. Dimitri changed the tire (see the photo in the sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”) and I watched (never having changed a tire in my life). Fortunately the car had all the necessary tools and within 45 minutes we were back on the road. About 12 cars passed by us and two of them stopped to help (but Dimitri said he didn’t need it).
After the flat, Dimitri started driving and we limped into La Rioja using the spare tire, doing no more than 80 km/50 miles an hour. Along the way we saw small memorials on the side of the road, presumably to commemorate the death of a loved one in a road accident. We’ve seen these in many countries, most memorably in Greece. The difference in Argentina is that around the tiny, dollhouse sized memorials are hung red flags. To us, that makes the memorial look Tibetan.
The hotel that Dimitri had identified in La Rioja, Naindo Park Hotel, turned out to be fine and we took an Executive Suite: a bedroom, a living room with a sofa, 1 ½ baths and cable Internet at approximately AP$193/US $63 per night. (They had a stay 3 nights, pay for 2 so we decided to stay through Sunday.) We arrived during siesta and used the hotel’s sauna and pool while waiting for the town to wake up so we could find a new Michelin tire. Fortunately the town has a Michelin dealer and we replaced the two rear tires with the new model Michelin. That night we ate at the hotel and it was good.
The next day we toured the town. This town and the others we’ve visited have lots of small businesses and very few big ones. Carlos Mayol had told us that if a small business starts to become really profitable, a new tax is instituted in Argentina, thus ensuring that businesses stay small.
We had our laundry done for AP$15/US $5; it has been slightly less in Argentina than in Chile. La Rioja would never be called a rich town. The sidewalks are narrow and not maintained, making walking hazardous. There are big shade trees in La Rioja like there were in Mendoza. It is hot, and because of the recent rain, humid. Fortunately our hotel room is well air conditioned. It threatened rain all day but didn’t and we decided to go out bicycling during siesta time when the roads would be quiet. We did and it was fine. With the Velasco Mountains nearby, the way out was all uphill and we had a great downhill on the way back. There always seemed to be yellow butterflies around my bike in La Rioja and elsewhere in Northwest Argentina. I really like butterflies.
Our second night we ate at a parrilla (grill) restaurant, La Vieja Casona, specializing in regional dishes. Of course we had their special (small sized) parrillada (meat, pork, sweetbreads, kidneys, sausages (blood and chorizo)) and it was huge; we ate too much. On top of all the meat was a big round of the cheese called “quesillo”, a baked white cheese with oregano. We remembered to tell them not to overly salt the food; it was good. The meal cost AP$85/US $27 with 2 mains, vegetables, French fries, 2 desserts and a good wine from La Rioja region (La Puerta Syrah from Chilecita). Very reasonably priced for such a complete meal.
On Monday we set off for Belén, not far from La Rioja, for two reasons. Our first choice had been Termas de Rio Hondo, a town of fancy hotels and thermal baths. Once we determined that the best hotels were closed in the summer, we decided that the description of Belén in Lonely Planet required us to stop there instead. It asked “Did it [Belén] get a visit from ‘queer eye for a straight town’?” To us the town looked like the rest of the dusty, poor towns we had seen. The Hotel Belén, however, did look like a cut above. Unfortunately it was full. It turned out we had another long day of driving. The roads were all paved, good and had very little traffic. An annoying aspect of driving in Argentina is the number of police or agricultural checkpoints. Each village seems to have one. When they are manned, one has to slow down until the police wave you on (or not). When the police stop the car, they ask where you have come from, where you are going and, curiously, your name. The town of Santa María wasn’t an inviting one so we continued on. We arrived in Quilmes at 9:15 p.m. after 480km/298 m.
Going to Quilmes was a lucky break. It was remote and really only an archeological site with a hotel, perfectly integrated into the surroundings. Fortunately the Posada de Quilmes had a nice room (no air conditioning but it was cool and quiet at night in the desert and there was a fan). Moreover, the restaurant was open. The room cost AP$164/US $54. The restaurant was full of a group from France, with whom we could parle and Argentineans of Italian extraction with whom we could parlar. It was fun. Another “all’s well that end’s well” kind of day.
The hotel was beautifully designed and decorated with Incan motifs. See the photos in the sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album “2007 South America” for some examples. The next morning, before the desert heat kicked in we walked the site, which was an urban center about AD 1000. We climbed the surrounding hills that had formed the fortress or “pucará” of the Quilmes Indians. It was fantastic; look at the photos in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in our album “2007 South America”. The Incas did not conquer these Indians. Instead they incorporated the Inca culture. The Spanish, however, were another matter. After many years and a siege, the last of the Quilmes were deported to Buenos Aires, to a place that is now a suburb called Quilmes. I felt we were back to our old enjoyable days
in Turkey and Greece, exploring ruins.
Part II from Quilmes to Paso de Jama
From Quilmes to our next stop, Cafayate, was a short 60 km/37 m. We knew there was a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel in Cafayate. As unlikely a place as it may seem for a Starwood, the area gets lots of upscale tourists on the Argentinean wine tasting trail. Luckily our budget for 2007 reflects the great year our mutual fund investments had in 2006. Even so, we decided not to make a reservation at Patios de Cafayate because we thought we might be able to negotiate a good price on the spot.
Fortunately, Charles Kramer, the general manager, was at reception when we arrived. He upgraded us to a suite at the price of a standard room, provided us with a bottle of the wine from the Bodega El Esteco (formerly known as La Rosa) on the property, and gave us a special price. We ended up paying AP$525 per day/US $170 for a room with a rack rate of US$378 or so. Now that’s the kind of deal we love.
The hotel is a renovated “estancia” or estate and has a Spanish style, with Italianate flourishes. The family winery of Michel Torino was established there and part of the hotel grounds. The views from our room were of the vineyards and the mountains beyond. Our suite was comfortable, with plenty of storage. See the photos in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”.
The Wine Spa part of the hotel didn’t interest us—not even the Jacuzzi. We had a 2 person Jacuzzi in our suite that we luxuriated in each afternoon. The first night we ate at the hotel and it was disappointing. The Don David Malbec from our Bodega El Esteco (AP$35/US $11.36) was delicious.
The next day we went on a grueling bike ride up, up and up to 2000 m. As usual we were biking during the hottest part of the day. The surface of the dirt road was sandy and sometimes technically challenging. The views back down to Cafayate reminded us that we were in an irrigated desert. Areas of green surrounded by sand with a few scrubby trees.
By the time we got to Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya we were out of water and needed a rest. There was a big sign saying that we were on private property and the rockweilers would get us. At the moment we were reading the sign, a car drove up with two couples who had an appointment to tour the winery. We were permitted to join them. It was fascinating. The winery is owned by El Esteco (where we are staying) but a Frenchman was commissioned to create a high end wine: San Pedro de Yacochuya. The Brazilians who we joined on the tour bought some Malbecs for AP$100/US $32.46 and a local white called Torrentes for AP$35/US $11.36. The wine is exported to France and maybe also to the US. The production is so small, however, it would be hard to find.
Before we left Cafayate we bought a bottle of the San Pedro de Yacochuya Torrentes for AP$24 and it was great. It has complex fruit flavors and a crisp, dry taste. That night we had a wonderful meal at a new restaurant in Cafayate. Macacha is owned by Matias Rodriquez Wilkinson and his wife Sandra Elizabeth deAguirre. He also owns Baco in Cafayate. We had one appetizer assortment, which was enough for a complete meal. It had a quinoa salad with tomatoes, a small dish of lamb stew and vegetables, a small soup/stew called locros (which is made with pumpkin, beans and corn), humitas (which is a corn and onion mash steamed in a corn husk), tamale (the same thing but smaller and filled with meat), empanadas, lentils, black beans in a marinade and a paté of tongue. The wine, a local, organic Nanni Malbec 2004 for AP$35 cost more than our appetizer assortment at AP$30. We spoke a little with Matias and enjoyed his personality.
The next day we toured the gorge, Quebrada de Cafayate, and it was another spectacular visual experience. The road is called “camino sinuoso” as it winds its way through the canyon. The red/ochre sandstone has been carved by wind and rain into fabulous shapes. We started doing a hike without a guide and we decided that we could get hopelessly lost. So we went back. The day was cloudy and the photos we got were a little washed out. Since the Quebrada is along the main route between Cafayate and Salta, we hoped it would be a sunny day when we drove north to Salta two days later. That night we ate at a local restaurant called El Rancho that wasn’t nearly as good as Macacha.
One of the other guests at Patios was a family from Buenos Aires with a gregarious 15 year old daughter. She chatted with us in English for quite a while. When we got to Salta, her family had moved on to tour that area too. It was fun to meet the same people on our tourist circuit.
One day we had Patios de Cafayate to ourselves. No one at breakfast. No one sitting at the pool. We felt like the place was our own and we loved it. Many times when we are alone in a restaurant or hotel it feels funny, like the place is going out of business and we are the last customers. At a Starwood resort, it didn’t feel like that at all. It was pure luxury.
We had our laundry done in Cafayate for AP$10/ US $3.26. That has to be the cheapest we’ve experienced since Asia in ’95. We also found DVDs to rent for AP$3.50/US $1.13. We watch them on our portable computer if the hotel doesn’t have a DVD player we can use. Now we’re finding things in Argentina as inexpensive as we had been led to believe that they would be.
As we’re walking around Cafayate, for the first time, I saw plastic sandwich-sized bags of dried leaves. They are sold at fruit and vegetable shops and along the street. At El Rancho Restaurant a seller came into the restaurant with them. They are coca leaves and the bag costs AP$2/US 65¢. Often the sign says “coca and bica”. Bica is bicarbonate of soda, which evidently, when chewed with the coca leaves, releases the stimulant effect of the coca leaves. It’s tolerated, I guess.
Our last day in Cafayate it rained in the morning. In the afternoon we started to another “quebrada”/gorge in the Valles Calchaquíes (the Indian name for all of the tribes in the area) to San Carlos along the continuation of our old favorite north-south route, Ruta 40. We didn’t get far. The road had been recently washed out. The road crew was already working when we got there. There were lots of people around and it became our afternoon’s entertainment to watch them work. See the photo in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. We were worried that the route to Salta would have problems too because we had heard it had been closed after the previous rain.
We were able to drive to Salta the next day without any problems. It was cloudy and the photos of the beautiful views in the quebrada that we took the other day will have to do. See the sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. It wasn’t far to Salta, only 186 km/115 m, the road was good (and dry), there wasn’t much traffic and the vistas were lovely.
In Salta the landscape changed and the people-scape changed as well. We were out of the desert and into a green hilly area. The people are chocolate-y-colored with square, American Indian looking faces. In Chile and South of Salta, the people all look European. Now there is a sprinkling of people who look more exotic.
There is a Sheraton in Salta, newly built into the side of a mountain. They upgraded us to a suite at the price of a standard room. Including the standard 21% tax, breakfast and an Internet cable charge of AP$30/US $9.74, our price was AP$378/US $123. With our cable Internet we listened to our favorite radio station in Seattle, Washington: KPLU It is a fabulous jazz station that “streams” into our far-away locations when we have a broadband connection. We could also stream and also our favorite radio stations in Chile: Beethoven and Oasis.
On Sunday we did a city tour on bicycle. Salta has great architecture. The guidebooks say it’s colonial. To us it looks like baroque/rococo. Look at the pictures in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. Many of the buildings are beautifully restored and maintained. To me, it’s only the private homes that have a Spanish colonial look, with the wrought iron balconies, the whitewash, dark wood and the orange roofs.
After our city tour, we climbed the mountain behind our hotel by bicycle (as always during the hottest part of the day) to 1445 m/4470 f from the town, which is at 1271 m/4160f. At the top of the hill (which most people reach in a gondola) we had lunch. Then we went to our hotel’s spa and Jacuzzi where we met the gregarious 15 year old from Patios de Cafayate and another couple. When we arrived at the Jacuzzi, two women got out and sat nearby. We chatted with the teenager and the couple in the Jacuzzi. When we got out, the two women jumped up and practically ran after me. They said in English “Not all Argentineans are stupid” and one of the women touched her right forefinger to her right cheek, under her eye and pulled down a little. I said “I don’t think Argentineans are stupid.” There was no animosity and they walked away and so did I, shrugging.
When I got back to our room, I related my encounter with the women to Dimitri. He said that the gesture they made is equivalent to saying “you can’t put anything over on me”. I spent that evening worrying that somehow I had offended the women and I was creating an international incident. The next morning at breakfast the women came into the dining room and gave us a friendly greeting. I was perplexed; they didn’t seem to be acting as if I had offended them. As we were leaving, I went up to their table and asked if I could join them. I told them that I was worried that I had offended them. Fortunately Dimitri joined us because their English was limited and they didn’t understand me. With Dimitri’s help, we learned that the women had been listening to our conversation in the Jacuzzi with the teenager and the Argentine couple. They thought the Argentines sounded dumb and they wanted me to know that all Argentines aren’t that dumb. The gesture, in that instance, meant “watch out”, presumably for people like that. Phew, international incident averted. But it’s kind of weird to me that they would bad-mouth their fellow citizens like that.
The anthropological museum near our hotel in Salta was good. It is small and the exhibits are well displayed. The neighorbood around our hotel had nice houses that looked middle-class to us. They were probably houses of the fairly well-off.
In Salta, we had to decide whether we were going to stay in Argentina for a few more days or beat it back to Chile before our auto insurance ran out. The tourist brochures say that Salta gets 360 days of sun a year; we were there during the other 65 days and Dimitri was looking forward to the dry desert of Northern Chile. I wanted to slowly see more of Northwest Argentina. So, for about AP $55/ US $20 we bought another month’s auto insurance. (The same insurance had cost US $50 for a month when we had bought it in Santiago!)
Salta was such a change from the Argentine pampas; it was green everywhere. On our last night in Salta we ate dinner at a local (non-touristic) restaurant, Jovi Dos, where we sat next to a family celebrating their mother’s/grandmother’s birthday. They took pictures with us and were effusive in their welcome. Our meal of lamb in the oven with oven-roasted potatoes cost AP$55/US $18 (this is a favorite meal of ours and hard to find in restaurants).
Jujuy and Susques
Our next stop north in Argentina was Jujuy where we stayed at the Howard Johnson’s (a lifetime first). They upgraded us to a suite and charged us AP$290/US $94.55, with breakfast. See the photo in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. We got to Jujuy in the early afternoon and decided to go to the gym for some aerobic exercise after our car ride. I went on the treadmill and Dimitri worked out on the stairmaster machine. There was an attendant in gym showing me how to use the machine. When I ratcheted up the speed the attendant came back to me and reminded me that we were at 2000m/6561f and that I should be careful. Then she touched her right forefinger to her right cheek, under her eye and pulled down a little. I guess the hand motion meant “watch out” in that case!
There are some nicely preserved architectural treasures in Jujuy. On our first full day, we went on a 40 km/24.85 m bike ride to Dique Aliosis and met, Coco, the man from the bike shop in Jujuy who sold us new inner tubes for Dimitri’s bike (and who we thought over-charged us). He rode with us for a while but I was too slow for him. By car, we toured the Quebrada de Humahuaca (not nearly as astounding as the Quebrada de Cafayate) and the charming village of Purmamara. See our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America” for some great photos and postcard photos too.
Another day we drove to Lagunas de Yala and picked up three teenage girls who were hitchhiking/”hacer dedo”-ing. They were from Buenos Aires and talked to us in Spanish/English on the way up on the gravel road to the lakes. They said that during school holidays they had been hitchhiking since they were 16. On our last night in Salta, we had a good (not great) Arabic meal at a Palestinian restaurant called Casa de Hassan.
Jujuy was our last city in Northwest Argentina but we decided to break up our trip to Chile with an overnight stay in the tiny mountain village of Susques at 3443m/11,292f in the Andes. The road trip to Susques was quite beautiful and the road was very good, with very little traffic. The Paseo de los Coloradas was breathtaking and the road that climbed into the Andes, Questa de Lipan, was serpent-like. We crossed the Salina Grandes at 4170m/13k681f. Our pictures are really good. See our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”.
In Susques, we stayed at El Unquillar, a very basic place and (with as much energy as we could muster at that altitude) toured around. We didn’t stay many hours in Susques but there was a lot to photograph. See our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. One of the tourist attractions of the Andes is seeing condors. There are many of them but when we were living in the Andes in El Colorado to ski last winter, the condors flew so close you could almost touch them. On our travels we didn’t need to go to the condor viewing spots.
At dinner at the hotel that night we met a couple from Idaho who were riding a motorcycle all the way from the States to Ushuaia at the tip of Southern Argentina. We had a great time with them at dinner and drank a bottle of wine. At that altitude, the wine had a severely debilitating effect on us. There is a photo of us in our sub-album called “12-06 + 1-07 Argentina” in the album called “2007 South America”. Dimitri was fascinated with the comparison of the gear they were carrying on their motorcycle for several months and our 11 suitcases in our station wagon. Dimitri wishes that I didn’t need so much stuff on our travels and is always trying to get me to lighten our load.
The next day we climbed to 4,400m/14,435f through the Paso de Jama and into Chile. We saw guanacos (a more graceful relative of the llama) or vicuñas and a rhea. It’s a bird that kind of looks like a big ostrich (and one we saw in New Zealand too). The road was good, it was paved and there was almost no traffic.
* To see our photos go to: http://aledm.fototime.com
After you are in, you will see our introduction to our Odyssey. Go to the Index on the left. You can see our most recent photos in the last album before the --DIVIDER--At this time, the last album is: "2007 South America". Click on the “+” sign to see the sub-albums.