The Ruta 40 is a classic overlanding route and stretches the full length of the spine of Argentina from the Bolivian border in the North until Tierra del Fuego in the South. The road is over 4500kms long. It used to be unpaved but now most of it is tarred although there are still some dirt sections left. We would be following this road a lot during our time in Argentina. First as we head North from Mendoza and then later when we head into Patagonia. We took the Ruta 40 out of Chilecito back into the desert and headed on a long drive North. Our destination was Taffi del Valle a town up in the hills that involved crossing a 3000m pass. As we headed up the pass the views were stunning in the late afternoon sun. But as we neared the top we became enveloped in cloud and it was then a foggy drive all the way down to Taffi del Valle. The weather on the two sides of the pass could not have been more different. We pulled into the town campsite for the night and it was pretty deserted so even though it was a Saturday night we thought it would be quiet. As we were cooking dinner we were aware a car had pulled in nearby and, as is often the case in Argentina, left its doors open with its stereo on loud. After 15 minutes of this we had had enough so Gilly went out to ask them to turn their stereo down. They happily obliged but said that they had a big group of friends coming for a party that night and they would be arriving around midnight (things start late in Argentina). We decided to move to the far corner of the campsite and hope for the best. Either it was a lousy party or they were quiet, but in the end we had a peaceful night. The next morning the weather was still pretty miserable but we decided to head out on what was meant to be a picturesque loop near town. With the clouds on the hills and cows in the fields it reminded me of the Pennines in England although the llamas looked a bit out of place. We went to a lovely Estancia (farm) for lunch where we could also walk around the farm. On the farm they made Manchego Cheese and we were given a tour of their cheese making plant.
As the weather was still not very good we decided to go back over the pass and push on to Cafayate. As we crossed the pass the clouds cleared and we had a lovely drive down in the sunshine.
Cafayate is the second largest wine producing area in Argentina and is famous for its Torrentes grape to make white wine. It also makes a lot of red wine too. The town is only small, around 15,000 people and we were able to camp a 10 minute walk from the centre of town. It was a lovely town with a delightful main square surrounded on each side with restaurants their seating spilling out onto the pavement. The weather was excellent, dry sunny and in the mid 20s. We could tell we were going to enjoy it here.
The following afternoon we headed out of town to the nearby canyons, Quebrada de Cafayate. This is a stunning landscape of sandstone hills and rock formations and made for a beautiful drive. Along the way there were some great places to stop where you could see how the rocks had been weathered away. The girls loved scrambling up and down the rock faces.
That evening we ambled into town for dinner on the square. We had to wander around for a bit as none of the restaurants opened until 7.30pm, a little late for us. After dinner we went to a wine bar where you could taste flights (5 small glasses) of wine. The wine was good and we got talking with some English and Irish people who live in Buenos Airies and were visiting so time quickly passed by. Alisha and Lucy are currently studying the Victorians in schools so while we drank they watched a number of episodes of Downton Abbey. Although it is Edwardian, they started watching it to see the servants costumes, which wouldn't have changed that much in that time and now they are both hooked. With all the chatting and drinking it was 11.30 when we got back to the truck. We must be adjusting to the Argentinian way of life.
The next day we were keen to visit some of the Bodegas (wineries). You may recall we had done this in Mendoza but that with the public transport it had been a bit frustrating. Well in Cafayate there was no such problems. There were at least 6 Bodegas in town, all no more than 2kms from where we were camped. During the day we managed to visit 4 of them and the truck is now well stocked with wine.
To break the visits up we went for lunch at a place that specialised in Empanadas. We can confirm they tasted great.
As Alisha and Lucy were very good trooping around the wineries we felt they deserved a treat and also stopped at the ice cream shop. Not that you could get away from wine there either as Gilly and I both had Torrentes flavour ice cream.
Not having had enough wine we went back to the lovely wine bar again that evening. However this time we had a much earlier night!
We reluctantly headed out of Cafayaye, taking the unpaved Ruta 40 North through the Valles Calchaquies a drive through a rugged landscape with more sandstone rock formations along the road. Our intention was to drive to the little town of Cachi but about half way there we stopped for lunch surrounded by the sandstone rock formations and followed a little track down to the river. It was such a nice spot and very quiet and hidden from the main road that we decided to stay there for the night.
After a peaceful night where the only sound was the chirping of frogs we headed along the winding narrow road to the small village of Cachi. The weather was gorgeous but when we went out for a walk the wind whipped up blowing the dust so rather than head out for a walk in the countryside we headed for a wander around the town square. As it was siesta time everything was closed except the one thing that never closes for siesta the Heladeria (ice cream shop) so of course we had to indulge ourselves. That evening we were able to cook on a fire and to taste Alisha's first attempt at Apple pie. Delicious.