Steak and Wine....we'll be fine
Trip Start May 04, 2011
23Trip End Jun 23, 2012
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Arriving to the boarder in the early hours there was no queue which meant a straight passage to the land of steak and wine. Our first stop was the town of Salta, a short 7 hour bus journey south.
As Bolivia's internet services were shocking and the new hostel we checked into had remarkably fast WIFI, the next two days were mainly spent uploading pictures, catching up on emails and skyping. We had a few spare hours to walk around the town and somehow Layla even managed to get given a couple of free treats... I think the shop keeper fancied her!
Sayta Ranch 4th – 6th October
Back in Bogota a group of English girls gave us various recommendations of tours and hostels they had used in their ascent through South America
The ranch was an hour’s taxi ride out of Salta through the small country towns and finally down a long dusty path. We were greeted with open arms by two girls rushing towards the taxi, to our surprise they grabbed our heavy backpacks and carried them into the house with ease! It was already early evening but as Layla and I had already come to discover the Argentineans ate dinner very late (22:00 onwards!), so we spent the next few hours chatting to our new ranch friends trying to suss out what to expect from the next morning.
The owner of the ranch, Enrique, introduced himself and explained that his ranch’s main objective was to make sure that everyone was satisfied! The two volunteers, Martina and Amelie, spent a short time going through what we could expect from the next couple of days, as well as the full glass policy in the ranch; your glass will always be full of red wine, so if you don’t want any more, simply stop drinking as they will continue to fill it. Dinner was a feast of local foods all prepared in-house apart from the tamales that had been bought locally, we ate and drank late into the night singing songs and other shenanigans
Saddled up and on the road Layla seemed to know exactly what to do and trotted past me bouncing up and down, however my first hour was spent wondering when the pain would end! After a few handy tips I got to grips with the whole trotting thing and we headed back for lunch. There had been mention of a "parrilla" (Argentinean BBQ) and someone had hinted at UNLIMITED steak and wine which had us both excited. The banquet that awaited us was incredible. There was fresh vegetables, roasted pumpkin, salads, sausages and this was all just a starter! The meat that followed had been slowly cooked to perfection by Enrique over a wood fuelled grill. The afternoon’s riding was definitely an interesting experience, slightly inebriated, the horses seemed much more relaxed and easier to control. The Guachos leading the group took us up into the mountain side, stopping in a flat area to give the group a chance to gallop. Layla went off first with a Gaucho by her side and made it look easy, nervously I followed with the youngest Gaucho by my side. I was horrified! At no point did I feel in control and in all honesty I think that I am lucky to be alive. Of course that is a massive exaggeration; I was perfectly safe but definitely got my fair share of adrenaline. The evening was again spent eating and drinking with our ranch companions ready to go riding again the next day.
The second days riding was even more enjoyable than the first, now we kind of knew what we were doing everything seemed much easier. In the morning session we had a chance to gallop again, clearly we were keen for another rush of adrenaline. To my surprise this time the Guachos did not ride by our sides but instead galloped behind, a much better way to do things
It was with teary eyes that we left the ranch, what an amazing experience and Enrique was even kind enough to sneak a special bottle of wine into our bag before we left as a parting gift.
Cafayate 6th – 9th October
After the ranch we were in need for some relaxation, Cafayate was a small town lying in the middle of a valley a few hours south of the ranch. It is famous for its bodegas and wine production, particularly Torrontes (white grape), only grown in Argentina. Perhaps even more appealing was the Torrentes and Malbec wine sorbets we were planning on sampling.
Cafayate was basically a sun trap filled with cute little restaurants and cafes, again with a massive European influence. On our second day we went to the main plaza, thinking it would be a great idea to hire a tandem bike to visit the local vineyards. As neither of us had ridden a tandem bike before it took us a while and a few disagreements on each other’s riding styles before we got the hang of it
Mendoza 10th – 13th October
We expected an easy journey; an early start but a long 25 hours would get us into Mendoza. Having not experienced any major travel issues to date we were shocked to have our first problem in Argentina! One hour outside Tucuman, the main hub in the middle of the country, the bus stopped with no explanation. Casting our eyes over into the distance we could see what looked to be a JCB truck shifting dirt. A landslide on the only road to Tucuman, unbelievable! The bus was forced to turn around and go one hour back on itself to the last town to wait for the road to be cleared!
What I haven’t mentioned was just as we were leaving Cafayate our South African friends from La Paz sent us a message saying that they would meet us in Mendoza
The wine tour, guided by a rough map of the area was awesome, we managed to meet the guys in the morning and spent the whole day whizzing around a mix of bodegas and olive farms, tasting the local wines, olive oils, chocolate and liqueurs. After the bodegas had shut we stopped at a hippie beer garden to sample some homebrewed beer and empanadas, before having a police escort back to Mr Hugos - the bike hire shop (after dark it’s common for the tourist police to accompany tourists back to the hire shops for their safety!).
Cordoba 14th – 15th October
The plan was to use Cordoba as a stopping point on the way to Iguazu and only stay 24 hours to break up the 40 hours of bus travel. Cordoba being Argentina’s second largest city, the plan was to kill as much time as possible before our bus the following day. Looking in guidebooks and speaking to hostel staff only really gave us two things to do apart from shopping and walking around; the Zoo and according to the internet our hostel asado (a traditional Argentine roast/BBQ). The zoo had 167 animals ranging from Pygmy Hippos to Meerkats as well as a 30 minute sea lion show
That evening was the asado, bearing in mind we had already experienced an authentic Argentinean parrilla at Sayta ranch, we had high expectations. Unfortunately they were not met, we were made to wait until 23:00 and then asked to cut and prepare our own salads and vegetables. This was then followed with a tiny serving of meat which was fatty and tough. I think it’s safe to say that we have been spoilt when it comes to BBQs and will have to massively lower our expectations in future! After the loudest and worst night’s sleep in an overcrowded dorm we were more than ready to leave, so packed our bags and jumped on our 21 hour bus to Iguazu.
Puerto Iguazu 16th – 18th October
In our first week travelling we had met a couple called Sarah and Simon, who had given us countless travel tips and hints as well as recommendations for places they had stayed at further down the line. One of these was the Hostel Inn on the Argentinean side of the Iguazu Falls. After the 21 hour bus ride this hostel turned out to be exactly what we had expected from Sarah and Simon’s description. It was basically a holiday resort; boasting a massive pool, beach area, pool tables, ping pong, restaurant and bar! Our first day was literally spent sitting in the sun and feeling just like we were on a mini break from travelling.
The next day, feeling refreshed, we had an early start to the falls, planning a full day of walking around the different levels that were on offer
On offer were a series of metal paths, at the bottom looking up and at the top looking down, giving a great view of the rivers flowing over the cliff edges. There was one platform at the bottom which allowed you to stand within just a few meters of the mighty falls, providing a free shower! Boat rides were also available taking groups into the turbulent waters and sprays at the falls heart, not afraid of anything anymore we jumped on.
After a light overpriced lunch we set off to the “Garganta del Diablo” (Devil’s throat). Just a short train ride and walk took us to possibly the most breathtaking view so far; standing right above the most violent part of the falls, on thin metal grating starring right down into the powerful and unpredictable force of nature below.
Also included in our ticket was a gentle boat ride down the river back towards the main entrance, what a great way to finish the first part of our Argentinean experience!
Favourite Meal – Parrilla at Sayta Ranch = Both
Favourite Drink – Red wine at Sayta Ranch = Chris, Red wine in Mendoza = Layla
Favourite Place – Iguazu and Sayta Ranch = Both
Bus ride to Mendoza and the horrible hostel in Cordoba= Both