The tour bus: If you achieve a solid blend of fun passengers, enthusiastic tour-guide and interesting destinations, you can have yourself a pretty damn good time. Against townie regulations, Friday morning we decided to trade the rental car for the tour bus to go see Cafayate. I was pretty tired of driving everywhere and it worked out to be a lot cheaper to take the bus. We ended up paying only $100 pesos per person per day (Cafayate and Cachi). Where as the rental car would have cost a lot more with gas and peace of mind.
The only downfall of not driving yourself is that you have to wake up on some else’s schedule. So, needless to say, when the bus came around 7am we may have questioned our decision.
The choice paid off! We had a great group of energetic ‘older’ folks from all over Argentina, 3 really fun girls from England and a spunky 20-something tour guide. However, Rocio wasn’t a big fan of the guide because when she called us to leave somewhere she would say “Let’s go Gareth… and guest”. Haha, understandable.
We hit all the popular stops along the beautiful ride to Cafayate including pictures with a friendly llama right before a llama sausage stand stop (weird). Then we stopped at two giant rock formations called La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) and El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheater). On the way to El Anfiteatro, the guide told us that it was a rock formation shaped like a huge theatre and it gave the best acoustics for singing. With that in mind, I secretly mentioned to a group of nice old ladies I was chatting up that Rocio was an amazing singer and that she’d love to do a song for us when we arrived. Without a seconds hesitation, as soon as we got off the bus the group of women grabbed Rocio by the hand and took her to the middle of the theater to sing. For the record, Rocio is a terrible singer and she was not happy with everyone begging her to serenade them. She managed to flip the story somehow and convince everyone I was a magician.
The pranks continued all the way into town. Cafayate is a beautiful, quiet village that is very traditional but also aware of the vineyard tourism. The main plaza is very clean and organized and all the roads stem out from there with the vineyards just beyond the town center.
Rocio and I decided to break away from the group for lunch and try to find a little hidden gem. This is the best advice I could give when taking a tour. When you eat with a tour you pay tour rates and usually you are offered a limited menu. Also, you are with foreigners all day so this is your chance to go mix it up with the townies! And that we did!!!
One of the greatest experiences of this entire trip so far was the next half hour we spent in the old fashion convenient store just off the main plaza in downtown Cafayate. After a quick lunch, we curiously walked into this poorly lit, old-school general store style establishment. There was a small group of guys just hanging out in there gossiping the day away and I wanted to be a part of it. So we walked in and struck up a convo and these guys jumped up liked we’ve known each other for years. They offered us beers and wasted no time showing us around the shop.
So as I was drinking a beer, one guy (I’m not even sure if he worked there) walked us around and let us try a bunch of different nuts, berries and dried meat. Another guy showed us all the fabrics and materials they use, while a third guy just sat quietly drinking his beer and laughing at what everyone said. After we took a few pictures to document our encounter, I bought some walnuts and then headed back to meet the group. Talking with those guys made my day and I think taking pictures with Rocio made theirs.
From there we did some wine tasting at a few local bodegas (wineries) and I got to try the famous Torrontes wine that, that region is known for. It was a little sweet for my liking but it was good. The wineries were small and quiet and they didn’t have much going on.
We guzzled down some wine and then we all jumped into the bus and made our trek back to Salta.
The scenery on the way home was just breath-taking. This region never seizes to amaze me. We’d be driving along and see red rocks and cactus and then all of a sudden its rolling green mountains and rivers.
It was a long, incredible day, where we got to experience a real piece of Cafayate and still have the comfort and care-free travel of the tour.
We were hoping the Cachi trip would be just as successful as Cafayate.
The next day we woke up just as early and headed out on our adventure to Cachi. The group was a little quieter but the tour guide was wicked informative. Funny thing was, is that his brother actually is a professor at St. Bonaventure right outside of Buffalo (where I used to live).
We spent the day just like the day before. We traveled for awhile and stop to admire the beautiful scenery, incredible cactuses and interesting landmarks. It was chill.
Cachi was quiet like Cafayate, and like in Cafayate, Rocio and I broke away from the group to go explore the town on our own. We had a great conversation with a street vendors who carved animals by hand out of wood and I got some cooking tips from the grill master at the outdoor restaurant we stopped at for lunch. From there we just cruised. We saw a llama tied up behind a house like a dog, we found a secret river that we followed for awhile and I bought some holy cookies from some monks doing a bake sale outside their church.
I look back at the day and it relaxes me. Sometimes those are the worst days to write about because everything just went smooth and easy. It was the freshness air that was noteworthy, it was the peaceful faces of the locals and it was the breathtaking terrain that surrounds them. That’s what I think about when I think of Cafayate and Cachi – peaceful, calm and comfortable. It’s warm, friendly and breathtaking. This definitely won’t be my last trip to Northern Argentina.