Cafayate and the Quebrada de las Conchas

It seems as the more up North I am heading, the worst the internet connection and technology will get. I already faced a day where there was no working Internet (even in the Internet café) and the banks were empty. As I am currently finalizing my university registration from abroad in parallel, it isn’t the best, but we’ll work it out. Plus there is less and less places accepting credit cards, so I am mentally getting ready to upgrade my budget for ATM fees (haaaa…). After leaving Mendoza, I took the 14hrs bus to San Miguel de Tucuman, and then hopped on the 6h bus to Cafayate (there are no direct bus from Mendoza to Cafayate). One thing I realize is that I tend to have a very slow travel mode… I like staying around a place long enough to feel connected – to the people, to the vibe. But it also creates this feeling where each time, it is harder to leave and be alone once more. It doesn’t last very long, though. As life always has a way to make things just right, I was seating next to another solo traveler from Belgium in the bus. We chatted all the way and enjoyed all the incredible views from the front seats of the bus as we went up the mountains to Cafayate (1700m). The day before there was quite a bit of rain in the area, which actually turned out into snow in the nearby villages. It is quite unsual in this region of the country, as we could guess by the amount of people driving their car up the roads and making snowman on their hoods (and dressing them quite well, to say the least).

When we arrived in Cafayate, we checked-in at the Hostal y Cabanas del Suri, a small hostel located on the periphery of the town, a few blocks from the main plaza. As soon as we arrived, I loved Cafayate. The town is completely surrounded by mountains and has a typical gaucho vibe, with food vendors in the street, and right now it is also really quiet due to low season. I love these little villages where you don’t have to worry about “How are we going to get somewhere”. Here you can just walk, as everything is basically within a few kilometers away (bodegas and wineries included!). I am actually shocked at how cold it gets here at night. I pulled back out my big puffy jacket, which I had packed very far when I left Bariloche. I am actually going out at night with thermal leggings under my jeans and look ready for a winter trek. Ha well. I have surrendered to the warm and practical travel look. I have also used the excuse to buy myself a lovely pair of legwarmers made of wool… with llamas on it!

On my first night, we set out to eat dinner in a local restaurant, The Hornito. We were amazed by the prices and had a real feast (1 litre of local wine for 50 pesos and 12 empenadas for 70… hello!!). It was also the evening of the final match of the Copa America (Argentina vs Chile), so we sat with some other locals and tourists to enjoy the match. On our second day we went to visit the only free vineyard that offered a free wine tasting (seeing a trend here?), La Bodega La Banda. There were huge travel buses stopping by so we joined one of the groups to do the tour and tasting. Had some lovely conversations with ladies from Buenos Aires that decided that my new friend and I looked like a great couple and ended up taking photos of me because their sons love Canada. Things like that, you know. Something about Argentine people just wanting to match you as soon as you say you are not married… The wineries here have for me such a unique location – we can see the mountains all around and the sky is bright blue. We enjoyed the quick tasting and headed back for our afternoon tour at the Quebrada de las Conchas. It is located in the Valles Calchaquies, in the province of Salta.

For those of you who never set foot in Argentina, know that here, the lumfardo (slang) signification of conchas is actually ‘vagina’. Therefore, it is quite interesting that the valley has been named that way… although we were able to find some areas where we could see rock formations that could explain it. Our guide said that back in the days, the people who lived in the area probably drank too much and spent their days trying to find shapes in the rocks and gave them names (like for cloud watching). It actually is a famous thing when going on tour in the Quebrada, to look at the shapes of the rocks which look like owls, trains, frogs, monks, etc. If you don’t have a car, the only options to visit the Quebrada are by bikes (although in total it is a good 50-60km one-way) or with a tour. We took a tour (250 pesos) in the afternoon (it is the best time for the sun to observe the rock structures at this time of the year) and I am glad we did. There was only 6 of us in total (all from our hostel) so we basically had a semi-private tour. Because we were also a small and energetic group, we hiked a bit longer than usual in one portion. To be honest I don’t think I have enough eyes to be able to look at everything around us in the valley. All the different type of rocks, sediments and shapes created by the composition of the rocks and the wind are out of this world. We made about 10 stops in total, including shorter hikes, a long hiker, view points along the road and a quick stop at the Anfiteatro (known to naturally better the acoustics) and the famous Garganta del Diablo (our last stop heading North on the road). Our guides were really knowledgeable and our drive back in town with the sunset over the mountains was just another of these life moments to enjoy at the fullest for its immense simplicity.

At night we went out in one of the local pubs to listen to some live acoustic music. I was invited to do my first Ukulele show, but as I didn’t have it on me, couldn’t join the fiesta! I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this small bar, with a fireplace – wine and empenadas, acoustic guitars and listen to tangos, chacareras and other local folklore and argentine rock.

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