Valles Calchaquíes (Cafayate, Angastaco, Molinos, Seclantas, Cachi)

Day 1: July 14, 2010 – Cafayate
We got off at the central plaza in Cafayate and the first thing we noticed was ho pretty it was. Next thing we got approached by touts offering accommodation and one of them caught our attention. It was ridiculously cheap and it sounded alright. We went to the tourist office looking at the accommodation prices as well as getting some info about local activities. As we couldn’t find a cheaper option we headed to the place they had offered us earlier.
We only had the house description (the only adobe house on such and such street) and we couldn’t find it at first. We walked a bit further up and we saw it. The rooms were arranged along a dirt courtyard boasting some vines at the further end. The bathrooms were decent, they assured us there was hot water, the rooms were basic but clean and comfortable and we decided it would d for a couple of nights. We settled in and went out. As it was already dark we only had time for dinner before we went back to the hostel.
Day 2: July 15, 2010
On the next day we visited yet another winery and a goat cheese production farm. We had a late lunch, played some backgammon and walked to another winery for the walk’s sake. The rest of that day is rather blurry. I just remember having dinner that night and going to bed.
Day 3: July 16, 2010
This was the day of our trip to the local quebrada. It didn’t start until 2.30pm so we had a relaxed lunch and a stroll in town before we left. It was fun. We enjoyed walking between the colorful, funky rock formations and enjoyed some marvelous panoramic views. The stop before the last one was a natural amphitheater with 85% acoustic. We enjoyed a wonderful traditional flute/guitar performance and even bought the CD that we forgot in a restaurant a few days later.
Back in town we had dinner in a lovely restaurant offering live music. What was really cool about it was that the bands and the music styles changed throughout the night creating a merry atmosphere. It was then time for bed. We were catching a morning bus to a small town further into the valleys.
Day 4: July 17, 2010 – Angastaco&Molinos
Our bus was supposed to leave at 11.00am but it was late due to road blockages caused by the snow (turned ice) that had fallen a couple of nights ago. The bus was coming though so we just sat and waited. We got some burgers for breakfast as well as some tangerines aimed at maintaining high levels of Vitamin C in the battles against our colds. The bus came and to hours later we were in Angastaco, a small ton in the middle of nowhere. Now this is where the fun began as there was no further public transport and we had to figure out how to get to our next destination of the loop.
We walked around a bit, bumping into two Argentine travelers who were also looking for transportation. There were private cars willing to take you places for a fee but they just charged way too much. We decided to ‘explore’ the town before we tried to hitchhike. Not more than 30min later we had seen the church, the plaza, and had even climbed up a hill for a panoramic view, thus exhausting the local attractions.
We went to the petrol station at the end of town, hoping to get a ride but got advised to completely leave town and head to a crossroad that was a kilometer away in order to get better chances of hitching a ride. We got a local man, who had packed all his family in a truck to take us to the junction and rode on the back bumper of the truck holding tight to ropes and whatever else as available. We were happy to have avoided all the walking but it was hard to hold onto the truck for much longer. We were relieved to get off the back of it.
We started walking down the road, hoping to get picked up soon but we had advanced a few kilometers before we decided to stop and have a break and decide on our next move. It was late afternoon and we didn’t have that much daylight left. We sat on the road nearby an adobe shack and waited. Mario entertained himself with a friendly dog playing fetch and other silly games while I rested on the sandy rocks. A couple of cars went the other way but none passed our way. After a while we decided we would take the next car going back to the village and spend the night there before we attempt hitchhiking again in the morning. Luckily, at that moment a car passed our way and took us. 20mins later at the back of the truck we stopped at a farm and the driver asked us to get off since it wasn’t his. He promised to come back for us in about 15mins. We waited and took photos and a bit later he re-appeared, having picked up another lady on the way. We got back on and a little while later we arrived in Molinos, a small, dusty town half way through the valley. Although the scenery up to Angastaco wasn’t that impressive it quickly changed once we left it turning into the most spectacular view (one of the best during this trip) all the way to Molinos. Sitting at the back of an open truck just helped us appreciate it better.
Once in town, the lady riding with us advised us on some accommodation and we went looking for one. The lady offered a room for AP$35 per person and we decided to check out a cheaper place first thinking it as a bit too much. We found the place she had recommended and it turned out to be a student camping facility that also had a few old fashioned rooms available. It all looked like a horror movie hospital or a mental institution and for the difference of $1 e decided it wasn’t worth it. We went back to our lady and imagine our surprise when the accommodation offered turned out to be a beautiful private house that we had all to ourselves. We got the beautifully decorated master bedroom, settled in and took a wonderful hot shower before we headed out for some food. A restaurant we had seen earlier that day was closed so e headed to another one recommended by locals. It turned out to be a lovely family run restaurant and we had some delicious chicken soup and freshly squeezed orange juice for $2.50 per person. We then walked back and went to bed in our beautiful house.
Day 5: July 18, 2010 – Seclantas&Cachi
We woke up, had breakfast in the nice kitchen of the house, again all to ourselves, and headed out. We had to make it to the town of Seclantas that wasn’t originally a place we were stopping at but after the locals told us about the festival taking place there e decided to check it since it was on the way.
We walked out of Molinos, and pretty soon a local truck picked us up. He dropped us off a few hundred meters away from the village, trying to avoid potential trouble with police control checking vehicles at the entrance. As we entered town we heard music coming from the church and just as we got there, people were taking the Virgin out of the church. We had made it just on time for the main procession. We humbly walked among the locals and carefully observed the procession. It went around town and back into the church making a stop at a predetermined spot on the main street. There were some speeches before the gaucho parade began. I was hoping there would be one since I had seen them carry the statue of the Virgin and then disappearing into the side streets where their horses stood. It didn’t take too long for the parade to begin and soon enough several schools were performing up and down the main street. It was rather impressive since they had the horses trot in a certain way and all of the men wore their parade uniforms turning the defile into quite a show. They went up and down the street three times before they left which was more than enough. We then followed the procession back into the church and went looking for a place to eat lunch. We found another family run restaurant that served good food but not as nearly as cheap as the other place we had visited the night before.
As we were walking out of town we heard music coming from the local sports center. We went in only to find a few hundred people sitting around long table, having cheap lunch while a band as preparing to play some music. We got invited by a local man and also found out that there will be a traditional dance off in the evening. We were bumped for not having had lunch there, for missing an opportunity to mix with the locals but we had to go. The traditional music and dancing sounded very appealing but we had to go. We had to hitchhike our way to our next major stop – the town of Cachi.
We walked out of the village and managed to get a few kilometers before we stopped for a break. All that time not a single car had passed us. It wasn’t looking good. We waited for a while but still nothing. Then we decided to just keep walking. It wasn’t getting us too far but it was at least keeping us warm. We had walked a good 7-8km before another local truck picked us up. A few tourists with empty cars had passed us by and refused to take us and by then we had committed ourselves to just walking the 20km (we later found out it as a lot more than that) to town. We were so grateful and happy when the truck pulled up and let us climb into the back of it. Just as we were approaching the truck thought he seemed to be leaving and for a moment we stood still before rushing into the back. We thought he was playing tricks on us but we later found out he actually had problems with his engine and the mere fact that he had stopped to pick us up could cost him and his family (wife and a baby daughter) getting back home. We couldn’t believe that despite it all he had still stopped to pick us up. How very nice! That was only the beginning of the afternoon’s odyssey though.
We had reached a small, dusty town and a few men standing on the side of the road had hailed the truck driver to stop. He did and we thought they were hid friends, wanting t give him a package or something. It turned out that they were just strangers whose truck had broken down and they needed a lift to the next town. Despite the problems with his engine our knight of a truck driver pulled to the side, waited until the son (there was his old father too) had attached the emergency chain, and left again dragging them behind. It was all going fine until the chain broke due to the pressure put on it upon climbing a steep section of the dirt road. Again, the truck driver stopped, somehow backed the truck down the road trying to turn the engine back on, and again waited until the chain as fixed and re-attached. Back on the road again, we went for a few more kilometers before the chain separated again. Same thing, backing down, engine wouldn’t start, waiting. Eventually we made it into town, we got off, shook hands, said thank you and walked up the street looking for a place to stay.
We knocked on the door of the first hostal that e came across but nobody answered so we just walked further up. We asked a few locals and one of them, a mentally challenged young man pointed us to a place. We couldn’t quite figure the directions though; he saw us standing there with confused looks on our faces and kindly offered to take us. Again, very kind. The locals have been absolutely amazing. A gaucho whom I’d remembered from the parade had also stopped trying to help the father and son with the broken truck. Amazing really.
We settled in and went out for dinner. Mario was feeling sick so we just decided to get something and go back to the hostel. Mario went back and I picked up the chicken and followed him a few minutes later. I found him sitting by the fireplace trying to warm up after the cold truck ride and the freezing cold night of Cachi.
We had dinner and then Mario decided to shower. Big mistake! He wouldn’t come out for a really long time but I didn’t think much of it. I thought he was enjoying a much needed hot shower and I didn’t want to disturb him. After a while though his absence got really suspicious and I walked towards the bathroom to look for him. I bumped into him walking towards the dorm, shaking. It turned out that the shower arrangement had been really weird and the hot water had run out a couple of minutes after he had got into the shower. He had spent the next 25mins freezing cold, waiting for more water to warm up. ‘That’s just what we need!’ I thought. ‘What if his cold gets worse after this…’ I wondered. Luckily, I had prepared his bed and had put a hot water bottle in it. I had also prepared a hot medicine tea for him. He drank it and went to sleep. Luckily, he woke up feeling just fine the next morning.
Day 6: July 19, 2010 – Cachi
We checked out of the hostel thinking there was a 3.00pm bus leaving to Salta. We decided to kill some time by hiking up one of three lookout points in town. We walked out of town, and up a hill leading to the local cemetery. Goodie! I like cemeteries, they can be very interesting. We walked into it and strolled through the graves, every now and then having our attention drawn to a really old tomb, an interesting name, or dates. One family tomb in particular drew our attention – looking at the family names of women, men and children we tried to figure out their family tree. It was virtually impossible. We got some of the relations right but then some were a complete mystery. We then stopped at one of the most ancient tombs in the cemetery. It was build out of adobe and by now almost completely ruined but the recently put cross indicated its date. It was built in 1884. What did I tell you about cemeteries – exciting!
We then made out way to the actual lookout point and sat there for a while, chatting, enjoying the warm sun and the magnificent mountains surrounding us. We wondered why people raved about this small town. It was pretty, but not exceptional and the views of the valley had been times better earlier on, compared to the ones we were faced with now. Oh well! It was time to make our way back to the bus stop and we slowly descended. It was 2.50pm and the ticket office was still closed. It wasn’t looking good. We walked up to the tourist office and asked them about it. They said the bus was most probably not leaving due to the road blockage on the way to Salta. There had been some snow and it had apparently turned into ice. The lady advised us to go back at 5.00pm when another bus was arriving in order to get information. Since we were not going anywhere we went back to the hostel and checked back in. We then went to lunch.
At 5.00pm we went to the bus stop and finally found it open. There hadn’t been a 3pm bus but luckily the services were restored back to normal on the following day. We bought our tickets and got on with our day. Later that night I cooked dinner and we went to bed. Our bus was leaving at 9.30am.
Day 7: July 20, 2010 – Salta
The bus left and soon revealed some pretty amazing views. We knew what to expect and were eager to see it. At first the scenery was rather flat and desert like. But then we got to this lush valley with steep hills on both sides. This was also the frozen section of the road. Of all the places to have ice, it had formed on the most dangerous section of the road. It was narrow and steep. A precipice was looming on both our sides. The driver slowly inched his way through the valley though and we eventually made it.
After the big valley we stopped for a short lunch break and we got some empanadas. Back on the bus I felt a bit dizzy because of all the steep turns and dozed off. When I woke up we had almost reached Salta. Back in town we looked for a different, a cheaper, maybe even better place to stay but unfortunately we didn’t have any luck and we ended up going back to our pretty colonial house which really wasn’t the end of the world. We settled in and must have gone out but none of us actually remembers.
Day 8: July 21, 2010
We had a relaxed start, got some breakfast, did laundry, and went to the Inet before we finally left to Tilcara – a small town in yet another quebrada.
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