Our first week or so in Argentina has been spent driving, yeah I know that this is one long road trip but we have been driving more than normal, and the scenery has been spectacular, most of the drive has been along the Ruta 40. We have made a few stops along the way, Salta to change money, our first experience of the Blue Dollar exchange. This entailed seeking out a gentleman carrying a black shoulder bag full of Argentinian Pesos, negotiating a rate then checking every note. This unorthodox system is a result of Argentina’s insane rate of interest and devaluation of its currency, it has created a grey market for stable currencies such as the USD and Euro. Had we withdrawn cash from an ATM we would have got 9 peso to 1 USD but the grey or I guess blue market route yields a rate of 15 to 1, dealing with a dodgy guy (actually he was quite friendly) on the street to get 60% more for our money is well worth it. Salta itself had a quaint plaza but otherwise was not a terribly inspiring city to visit.
Next up was El Cafayate via Colome winery. They produce the highest altitude wines in the world on the oldest vines in Argentina. The altitude apparently increases the intensity of the wine as well as it’s health benefits, that was according to the timeshare-esq video we watched before our tasting. The wine was deliciously complex, illicting notes of chocolate, tobacco and berries, that was what we were told, to me it was just really good wine. In particular the region specific Torrontes was an easy drinking young white. The tasting is not cheap 17USD per person, but the experience was beyond anything else I have encountered at other vineyards, also the 6 wines we were to try turned into 10, as we got chatting to the guy. After sobering up , the pours were rather generous, we made our way through yet more stunning scenery to Cafayate.
As we got close to town all did not seem well with the world, wind was wiping dust clouds across the road and tree limbs were littering the road. We arrived at the campground to find downed trees, we were directed to a safe area to park and told to wait until the wind had passed before setting up camp. The wind storm was an odd experience, storms are in my mind wet and cold affairs, this was quite the opposite, but no less powerful, then at 7pm it simply stopped.
The town of Cafayate is very charming and one night quickly became four, with cute cafés and plentiful wine tasting rooms, what’s not to like. In particular the house of (casa de) empanadas was a favorite, a dozen creatively stuffed empanadas and a terracotta jug of Torrontes cost about $8. We enthused about the different fillings the same way as we had with our wine tastings. Friends if we are chubby upon our return it maybe because we have developed an empanada problem.
Finally we dragged ourselves away and spent another couple of eye achingly pretty days driving to Mendoza, where it decided to rain. Mendoza didn’t charm us, the rain didn’t help nor did the busy city streets, but mostly it wasn’t Cafayate. We had planned to rent bikes and explore the surrounding wineries but it just didn’t seem like that much fun in the rain, oh well Easter Island in a couple of days.