Puna - Day 10
Not sure what to expect in the next 5 0r 6 days. Have done some research and digging around but except in the most general sense, haven't yet got a good feel for the conditions, the landscape in the region that we are driving through or how and where we will be spending our days and nights. All will be revealed today by Adolfo, our driver, and we are both very excited at what we will be seeing and where we are going.
Adolfo on time and truck loaded up. Truck is a loose term, rather it is a Ford 4x4, 4 wheel drive, which Adolfo has fitted with two radiator fans instead of the usual one since we will be driving through desert and climbing mountain passes as high as 5,000 metres and an overheated engine is not a good thing when there is no help for hundreds of kilometres. For the same reason we carry on the roof shovels and digging equipment in the event that we are stuck in the sand, as well as 3 thirty litre diesel cans since there are no gas or service stations until we leave the Puna and return to the populated valleys, and we must carry enough fuel for the next 5 days.
Very excited to begin our adventure. The first days driving was up the Lerma Valley which is largely under agriculture, mostly tobacco, and green and verdant up to the surrounding mountains. After a couple of hour's driving we crossed through a wild, rocky canyon with beautiful craggy cliffs in an austere rocky landscape where much of the background scenery for the Star Trek films was shot. Passing through the canyon we arrived in the Calchaquíes Valley where we will reach our first day's destination, Cafayete, a really neat, picturesque, colonial town near the middle of the valley in an area given over almost completely to wine growing. Cafayete looks like the kind of city I expected to Salta to be, an Argentine version of Healdsburg in Sonoma County or Napa Valley. Clearly a wealthy town since wine growing is a venture that needs lots of capital and time and many of the vineyards also offer high-end hotel and restaurant choices.
Some of the vineyards here are the highest in the world since Cafayete is at an altitude of roughly 1700 metres but the grapes seem to be quite happy with their lot in life. This area is also the home of the Torrontés grape whose wine we had drunk last Saturday night at Casa Coupage, the closed-door restaurant, and which we had never heard of before this trip; a wild, intense floral nose but dry and fruity. V has fallen for it in a big way and we bought a couple of bottles in town to take with us on our drive.
We stay in civilization tonight, a lovely hotel, The Wine Resort, surrounded by vineyards and our last bit of luxury since we drive up to the Puna tomorrow. Room was lovely, grounds were lovely, pool was lovely and from our balcony we watched the sun setting over the mountains surrounding us. Very good dinner in the restaurant and once again an early night, term used loosely since the restaurant as in all of Argentina, did not open until 8:30.