Friday, September 30, 2011

The lovely wine town of Cafayate

After reluctantly leaving Salta, we set out for the quite small town of Cafayate. First we took the road least traveled Hwy 33 and made a stop at the National Park Los Cardones a large park full of cactus with some reaching heights of 30 meters. Next we spent a night in Cachi a pretty tinny village with a lovely municipal camp for only $5 usd they had hot water, only in the evening hours. They had an indoor pool that they were getting ready for the season and clean tidy sectioned off sites, overall one of the best campsites we have visited in our travels. At over 4000 meters high the night was bitter cold so we only stayed the one night and the town was cute too clean park with cobblestones laying the streets and cozy restaurants and bars. 

Cafayate where the hell are you
Next day we took Hwy 44 south and should have known better since the number 4 in Chinese is a bad luck number. It was a long bumpy, dusty and sometimes dangerously narrow and it took us a little over 5 hours to drive 160 km. When we finally arrived in Cafayate, we made a stop in the lovely town square to get information at the tourist office. On the main road south of town we found Luz and Fuerza campground they had wifi and 24hr hot water for only $5 usd a night. We planned to stay a week to catch up on the blog so we pitched our tint but to make things worst as we try to erect this thing a huge sand storm hits, we managed to get it up but the tint and us were covered with sand after. A few hours later the winds calmed down enough to cook and clean up. The camp had a great location on the main road and only 5 minute bike into the centre of town.

my favorite part of any tour the tasting
We only manged to visit one winery and regret not seeing more.  Bodega Nanni, a family run company that had an English guided service they have tours going on everyday from about 10am to 4pm. The wines they make are organic so don't have a supper long shelf life but tasted great, tour was free but the wine tasting cost us $2.5 usd each.

Jieun was getting tired of BBQ meat everyday so she made some kimbap

they sure love there wines ice cream flavor too
beef that melts in you mouth and to help digestion a bottle of the finest
typical breakfast for Argentinians media lunas
not only beef they BBq
If you like to wine and relaxing this is the place to be with lots of wineries offering free tours, a wine museum and the pace of life just crawls, its easy to stay here for a while. Restaurants don't start serving dinner until 9pm which was kinda of late for us so we only eat out once but we quickly befriended a local butcher that spoke English and we were regulars for the week. He recommended good cuts of meat and how to cook it Argentinean way and we must have ate beef 5 of the 7 nights but we also matched it up with some great Cafayate wine. Some spots that stand out for us was a ice cream shop that served red and white wine flavored ice cream and a bakery shop serving up the best media lunas (sweet Argentina croissants) Both are north of town on the main road you can't miss them look for the line ups.

Wow 7 days went by so fast and if we don't leave this place we might be stuck here, like an American family we meet they have been here over a month, but its not a bad place to be stuck next we will head to Termas de Rio Hondo for some natural springs.

Cafayate in the rear view mirror

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Municipal campground in the city of Salta

We arrived in the Salta, late at night and after driving through the city centre didn't really feel like searching for a hostel, parking or even a campsite we headed just outside the city and found gas station that charged us $5 to park and rest (they called it a security fee) it turn out to be a quite spot for the amount of truckers rolling in and out. Next day pick up some supplies just across the road at a large shopping centre and head into town to find the municipal campground that was in our new Firestone guide map. It was pretty easy to find and nicely located just 20 minutes by bike or 10 on the bus to the centre. Campground cost us only $5 buck a night had hot showers and lots of space for the BBQ grills pits.

long time since we've taken public transit
On the first day the weather was perfect warm and sunny we spent the day cleaning the van and cooking up some really nice Argentina beef, this time it was exactly what we expected tender inside and crispy outside. As we eating away and enjoying regional wine we found ourselves with a new friend a cute black dog just waiting patiently for us to finish and give her the leftovers.

Jieun just adored this dog we name blue shirt
Second day weather turn bad cold and at night it rained but we had a great night with the other campers. We warmed up with a fire and Murizio, a Argentinean from Mendoza shared with us a cup of mate, a kind of ritual tea passing around a cup and each time the next person finishes and fills up for the next person. We have seen many Argentinians doing this while traveling in Latin America and always wonder what it would taste like and now we know, alot like green tea but much more bitter was a great experience. As the night progressed Murizio opened his truck that was full of the most amazing malbec wine from his friends bodega (winery) We started on that and I don't remember too much after that you going to have to ask Jieun because she wasn't too happy next morning.

the day started out cold and wet with mate tea keeping us warm
next some fresh baked bread everyone enjoyed
after was the red wine, look at the guy beside me he knows
We spent a total 5 days in Salta, enjoyed the city and cafes with its many European inspired streets and buildings but what we will most remember is the campground (wished the massive pool was open), the people and our adopted dog for 5 days that we fondly named as blue shirt because Jieun gave he one of her shirts to keep her warm on those freezing nights. Would have like to stay much longer but the urge to keep moving south is in our blood now, see you in Cafayate is next.

cactus art at the contemporary museum of art
cutest mate cups
inviting cafes line the town square

funny didn't notice it until reviewing our pictures (little boy in the back)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First impressions of Argentina

This is going to be my 101 post so I proud I got to this point on the road and on the blog I hope you are all enjoying it.

With auto insurances in hand, car permission and passports stamped it was time to see what everyone was taking about it. First thing we notice was the nice paved road, which was a nice change from Bolivia but thats not what stuck out the most not the stunning views of the land but the lack of garbage on the road and street signs. We haven't see this many signs since we entered Mexico, was definitely a nice change not having to ask people at every road turn. When we got to Tilcara, it was apparent this country was going to be alot different than the rest of Latin America. 8 pm and its dark and this tinny town was just alive with action, restaurants open bars full street lights, alot different from most of Latin America when darkness falls almost everything is closed only in the large city centres. As we drive in town we see a tourist info office still open at this hour and got info on where to eat in town and sites to check out.

smooth cruising in Argentina
Now at this time we are starving and check out the restaurant recommended on some back street but was very warm and inviting from the out side in. First thing Ji, tells me is we have to try the empanadas, little stuffed backed pastries of meat, cheese or veggies. I could eat these things all day and not get tired at just under a buck each. After dinner it was time to find a place to rest so we checked out the camp ground in the tour book, they wanted $10 for the night to camp which would have been ok if we didn't read about travelers resting at gas stations in Argentina and we notice on the main road. YPF gas station I asked a worker if we could spend the night, he told me "its fine just no tent please" like we're going pitch our tent in gas station LOL. We got the ready for bed and when Ji, came back from the washroom she tells me they have showers so it was perfect place to rest a night the showers were coin operated for only .50 cents for 8 minutes.

empanadas yummy

clean restrooms, hot showers, food all day plus free to sleep YPF rocks
 Next morning we saw the town during the day and had breakfast at the YPF gas station before heading for Jujuy hoping to find a new tire. We made a stop at Purmamarca to see the seven color mountain with shades of terracotta to green tones. When we arrived in Jujuy just after lunch all the tire shops in town were on siesta (still not use to these 5 hour lunch breaks). So we decided to do as the locals do and visited a restaurant across from the tire shop that was serving up bife de lomo (fillet steak) we waited anticipating a juicy Argentinean steak what we got was a tough piece of meet that the local street dogs got to enjoy disappointed to say the least, the steaks cost us about 6.50 usd each. We did how ever got to talk with some local drunks in the place as we waited for the tire shops to open.

5:00 rolls around and we start getting quotes for tires of the 3 shops Firestone was the cheapest we payed just over $300 usd for 2 new tires and plus we picked up a Firestone road map of Argentina showing all roads and campsites very detail map recommend to anyone traveling Argentina by car $10 because we got the 2010 edition.  Funny thing when they removed the spare tire I changed they told me one of the bolts was lose which explained the rattle noise on corners from the rear. With 2 new front tires next is Salta, things are looking better. 

this piece of meet was tougher than leather

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Accidentally left Bolivia for Argentina perhaps a blessing

After one of the best days we've have had in Bolivia, we had our breakfast in the salar and with the advise of yet another Bolivian, left Uyuni for Tarija via Tupiza. It didn't pan out that well because the road to Tupiza was so bad that half way we got another flat but this time tire was unrepairable. We continued cautiously and hoping to make it Tupiza without having to test a can of tire foam pump that I have had for 10 years (hope they don't expire). We made it Tupiza without trouble but the town had no tire that would fit the van. It was getting late and we decide to spend the night.

nice views on this dirt road
but a little too much dirt road for us

tunnel in Bolivia just enough space for one

Next morning we would take the road south almost near the boarder of Argentina for the road to Tarija. As we headed south surprise to us both the road was mostly paved only detours on the bridge sections. I didn't see any signs or anything that would resemble a road turning for Tarija and we arrived at Villazon the boarder town. I asked Ji, "did you see the road to Tarija?" she replied "I think I saw it but it was dirt road" I am thinking to myself "forget that another dirt road and plus I didn't even notice a turn off, we don't want to take it" So Argentina it is! At the Bolivian boarder we tried to bribe a young gas attendant to fill up our van with cheap Bolivian gas, she finally agreed after 10 minutes of back and forth talk, I offered $5 bucks for her trouble.
boarder the only one before guards told us to stop taking photos
At the actual crossing it was packed with people crossing into Argentina, so we quickly joined the line and waited about hour to get our passports stamped, next the car papers across the street took pretty fast we handed in our Bolivian permission and walked next door for our Argentina ones. We have read everywhere online you need auto insurance to enter Argentina, and the guy doing our paper work asked us for it, we told him we didn't have it and wanted to buy it, he quickly got on the phone and got us an address and number where to buy in La Quiaca, the Argentina boarder town. We got lucky I think because of the timing just before their lunch break and I guess he wanted to process us quickly and he let us enter with auto insurance.

Buying insurance was an adventure in itself in this town of La Quiaca. We got to the office the aduna agent gave us at about 12:30 and they were on lunch The address the aduna agent gave us, after waiting around till 1:30 we asked people around when will they reopen they replied maybe 5 or 6. OMG that late. (Welcome to Argentina where siesta break is half the day) with no sign stating hours, we weren't sure this guy would even return so I asked a local lady going into the office next door if she knew when this office would reopen she told us don't wait here, there's another place where they sell insurance all day you just knock on the door and they will come out. She us good directions and we found the place very easy. This office was a half finished wreck of a home with an office. Outside there was another local couple waiting to buy insurance too, they knocked on the door and a old lady came out and told us they are coming back. After 15 minutes the locals left and we waited another 20 minutes and another old lady off the street holding a baby opens the office door so I quickly follow. She tells me they don't sell insurance to foreigners I told her please try. She than searches for the on switch for the computer so I showed her how and the PC boots up she begins filling in the form on computer after sending it off  she gets a no accept reply back, obvious to me the numbers for my passport are not the same as local ID #, I gave up on trying to explain to her and went back to the first office. 2:30 now and we ask a local couple on the street if they could call the number the Aduna office gave me, and they told me they don't sell to foreigners either. The couple the help me call gave us another office to ask in town so we left looking for this place and 30 minutes of searching we could find it. Finally getting frustrated we went to the police station asking where to buy auto insurance thinking they would know since they enforce the law to have the stuff but no luck they had no clue where a foreigner could buy insurance.

first office we visited on a 5 hr lunch break
disappointed again
4th times a charm
Jieun, had remembered reading online where to buy insurance in that small town so we headed to an internet cafe and got the info from the blog she follows of a young Korean couple that had just finished their own trip down south.  There was no address they had a street number of 189 and 190 and a photo of the door that sold them insurance. So a little help but not enough so we asked a taxi driver and he pointed us to a street that we could buy and sure enough at 189 had an office door with a tinny sign saying they sell insurance. We knocked door 190 because to Korean couple wrote thats where the owner lives, when they knocked he helped them. So I bang on the door and a man came out and told me at 4:30 they reopen, its 3:00 so I told him, we will wait. We see this man walking in and out of the home a few times and each time he looks at us knowing we are waiting and Ji and I are both thinking why doesn't he just sell us the stuff so we can be on our way. 5:00 and still he hasn't open his door and just as I going to kick in his office door an old man in bicycle rolls up and opens the door, I guess the guy next door doesn't work here. We tell this old man we need auto insurance and expecting to pay about 15 maybe 20 bucks a month he tell us that only one company sells to foreigners now Liderar seguros which was the same as the old lady at the wreck house and now cost $50 usd a month. We bought 3 months it took about 15 minutes for all the paper work and got out as fast as we could heading south for Tilcara.

For anyone interested the address is 189 Ave Espana.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Salar de Uyuni a must see place in Bolivia

Before coming to Bolivia we knew it was a love or hate it place so we really tried not to expect too much from it and we haven't been too disappointed but we haven't really seen a place that wowed us enough to comeback and visit another day.  Until now, Salar de Uyuni with over 10,000 square km's its the largest salt flat in the world, driving on it is surreal. You can drive in any given direction and not hit another person or thing for miles. The only thing that keep us from getting lost was the road impressions left from all the tours that past before us.

the old hotel playa blanca now a museum
soaking up the rays
no Canadian flag so go Korea

Now about the road to Uyuni from Sucre, was what we expected, poor condition and took about 7 hours, making a stop in Potosi to get gas and we got the gringo deal. The place charged us $1.20 per liter well over double the price locals pay. Asked why the price difference he told me because we are near the boarder (Potosi is in the middle of the country the nearest boarder would be Chile, about 500km's away) so we gave in because of the stories we read of gas shortages in Uyuni. Now we reached Uyuni, just before 5pm and decided to top up the gas tank before hitting the flats, same thing they wanted double, but with the advice from Celine another traveler we meet on the road we offered the gas attendant a tip of about $3 and he agreed to sell us at the normal price. Now it was getting dark so we decided find a hostel to spend the night in the dusty town before hitting the flats early next day. After a cold night sleep in the secure parking lot of a hostel ($8) we drove another 45 minutes to the town of Colchani, where we entered the salt flats and you are greeted by large pools of water that we navigated carefully around, when we noticed a Subaru driving right through them and we just followed. After that we were on the flats and we didn't know what direction to head but when I put on the sunglasses I could make out the path.

camping on this great
moon and the sun
picture says it all

 love Salar de Uyuni will be back someday
Before arriving on the Salar, we saw tones of funny travel pictures and a large amount of them seemed to be taken in Salar de Uyuni, don't know why but when we talked with a traveler in Sucre that had just came back from the flats and he mentioned to us his tour guide takes the most amazing funny pictures with props and everything (i guess the guides make the funny pictures). So we did our best to take some funny shots spending over an hour of doing stupid things for your enjoyment. After we made a visit to the Hotel playa blanca, no longer in service but a museum with a collection of flags at the front marking another great photo opportunity. We drove around the flats exploring a few islands and before sun set we camped near Isla Incahuasi, with a breath taking view of the sun set. There was a RV camping near by so we weren't alone which made us feel a little better not being thing only people out in no where. That night was freezing but was well worth the experience and the moon was huge. 5:30 am we could see the light from the sun over the horizon and the moon in the opposite direction 6:00 am bliss we saw the sun rise and the moon fall.