Indulging in Wine Country, Northern Argentina

A certain set of conversation topics inevitably end up on heavy rotation when you spend endless hours driving with someone. The beef in Argentina was one of these topics. I, as a vegetarian, silently will George to stop salivating over the idea of rib fat melting on his tongue and biting in to a juicy blood sausage to no avail. Taking the Paso Jama from Chile, we finally made it to Argentina. George could finally grill meat to his hearts content. Unfortunately for me, the availability of Argentine beef only meant that it became a daily topic instead of a twice weekly ordeal.

We made it to Salta Argentina in time for a police strike. Looking at the faces of the city’s residents, it was clear the populace was on edge. This made the decision even easier to hightail it to wine country.

Inexpensive and delicious wine would begin to flow in Cafayate Argentina, a base for exploring Valles Calchaquíes.

Cafayate is an adorable little town overflowing with temptation. Pulling into the town’s campground, we were greeted with some company to enjoy the ample wine, cheese and meats – Kyle and Joe (Patagonia or Bust) and Brooke and Tom traveling in a VW Van-Again. At Bodga Nanni, we were introduced to the Torrontes grape which made for a delicious aromatic wine full of fruit that was not sweet. I was in love.

We hopped on the iconic north-south highway Ruta 40 to head south along the andes, making a quick stop at the Ruins of Quilmes.  The story of the Quilmes is disheartening at best. They resisted Inca invaders and then the Spaniards for 130 years until they were defeated in 1667. The Spaniards marched the 2000 survivors 1500 km to Buenos Aires.


Ruins of Quilmes

That night George got his grill on in Tafi del Valle. The rolling green hills surrounding the town are a stark contrast to the rest of dry and open Ruta 40. The evenings entertainment was a concert in the town center complete with gauchos (South American cowboys) on horses galloping through the center of the crowd.

Continuing on Ruta 40, we made it to Mendoza taking advantage of the ubiquitous grills in the campground. Maipu, just outside of Mendoza, is a great area for some wine tasting as well as a visiting one of the many olive farms.

And the verdict on wine country in Argentina? We’ll be back soon.

The Overlander’s way to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was the finale of our trip through Peru with our friend George M. Being overlanders, George I. and I found the most inexpensive way in. Our team of three drove through the Sacred Valley to Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is the jumping off point for a 3-6 hour hike into Aguas Calientes (town next to Machu Picchu). The drive through the Sacred Valley was…windy, up and down and back and forth. We were rewarded with vibrant villages and beautiful vistas for our efforts.

The stop at Moray was a highlight. From what we understand, Moray was a crop testing area for the Incas and included 3 pits that plunged up to 100 feet. We read that the temperatures differs by as much as 15 degrees celsius from top to bottom.

Arriving at Cola de Mono Canopy to park the truck before the hike, I discovered the best toilets on the entire trip. Okay, maybe a little dramatic, but part of overlanding in a pickup is giving up the luxury of your own toilet. So, bathroom facilities become a very distinct part of our day. Back to the toilets though, three clean and spacious ones facing the river. All of the toilets had three walls so you were greeted with a picture framed scene of a lush river and the soft whisper of the water flowing by as you went about your business. Perfect.

Getting our act together, we opted to shorten the hike by three hours with a taxi ride and spare ourselves a dusty road full of traffic. The next three hour we spent sometimes in the rain hiking along the railroad track to Aguas Calientes with a short stop over for lunch. The scene in Aguas Calientes was a little chaotic having the serendipity to arrive on the town anniversary, but we soon got settled.

The next morning we were in line and on the second bus from town up to the ruins. After a little hustle and bustle at the gate, we were in. We did a quick look around and then headed the the Waynapichu line (the peak over Machu Picchu). The hike up Waynapichu was less than an hour but meant jibing for placement between the tour groups and occasional pulling yourself up over steep slipper rocks. The views from the top were definitely worth the dance we did in Cuzco to get tickets.

Conclusion after a day in Machu Picchu? I’m glad I saw it, but it’s probably the biggest tourist trap we visited on the entire trip. I won’t be back, but would love to hike in to some of the lesser known ruins close by.

The road to Cuzco Peru

Mile-by-mile as we move toward another considerable milestone, I feel a heavy foreboding. The task of planning out the details inevitably overshadows the early excitement for me. Such was the case as we moved toward Cuzco Peru and the journey to Machu Pichu.

The drive from the coast east into Cuzco was memorable in itself, passing through small villages and a Vicuña reserve. It took us two long days of driving to reach Cuzco, but the days were not without some hijinks.

Because we couldn’t be sure on when we would arrive in Cuzco, nothing was booked. It took us an afternoon to do a little dance of securing tickets to Machu Pichu and Huanapichu (a peak overlooking Machu Pichu) and decide on the route (drive to Santa Teresa through the Sacred Valley and hike to Aguas Calientes). Details settled, I could finally enjoy the city.

Looking past Cuzco’s overabundance of aggressive touts and high-priced alpaca products sold from trendy shops, you find yourself in a city with a fascinating history. Cuzco rises from the historic center. During the day, the streets are punctuated with colorful traditional prints while at night the hills surrounding the city are peppered in light.

The ruins of Sacsayhuaman sit atop the city and offer panoramic views of the city albeit for a very steep entrance fee. To be honest, i’d probably skip this in the future.

In a Cuzco campground, we exposed the innards of Vida and took the opportunity to finish some projects at long last. It was an organized sort of chaos.

Bye Ecuador, hello Peru!

We left Ecuador in a hurry accomplishing one of the longest drive days on our trip (550 miles / about 900 km). After a forced two weeks wait for our tent parts to clear customs we had itchy feet. We din’t like much the human version of ping-pong between Fedex and Ecuador customs. The game is called “Overnight delivery (from the US) and over month customs wait”.

Finally here! For years I have heard legends for the amazing waves and kiting in Northern Peru. I was stocked!

We wanted to hit a few kiting destinations (Mancora, Lobitos, Pacasmayo), try surfing in Chicamas (this place claims the longest left wave in the world) and last but not least go hiking in the Cordillera Blanca. All this in the eleven days before a friend was coming to visit in Lima. The plan looked good. We just forgot one detail – the one thousand miles of driving from Mancora to Lima…

We started with two days in Mancora. Aaron and Linda, two of our overland friends, had arrived to Mancora the day before so we joined them. The first thing we did that day was work on fixing the tent. Man, was I worried if the parts were going to fit this time around… A month earlier we had received spare parts in Colombia only to find out they did not fit. Luckily this time with help from Aaron we managed to fix the tent! Hurray, Taj Mahal is working again!

Mancora turned to be a disappointment. It was crowded and a bit touristy. There was no wind and the waves were nowhere to be found either. On top of it all we had a mugging encounter which made us all feel uneasy about Mancora. We decided to move quickly to the next spot – Lobitos.

Lobitos delivered. It is a small village on the coast about an hour south of Mancora. Lobitos was created by the British as a booming oil town in the beginning of 20th century. After the oil dried up Lobitos turned into a ghost town. Now the only people who still live in Lobitos are a few fishermen and a hardcore group of surfers and kiters. A few hotels have started to slowly pop up here and there however you can still enjoy the place basically to yourself. Needless to say Aaron and I spent enough time in the water.

By this point five out of our eleven days have gone by and we still had a thousand miles to drive and so much more to see. We had to hurry. On the third day in Lobitos we parted ways with Aaron and Linda and headed south. The next destinations were Pacasmayo and Chicamas. Unfortunately there was no wind in Pacasmayo so we quickly moved to Chicamas. The day after we did not have time to fool around in the water so we just drove to the famous surfing spot and took a few pictures. The only sport I managed to do in the short hours we spent in Chicamas was oddly volleyball. I played for an hour with the local kids after dinner.

At this point we were super concerned about time and making it to Lima. We had to change plans. Teresa sacrificed (not for the first, and not the last time) some of what she wanted to do – Cordillera Blanca. We decided that it was too much of a risk to try to spend 3 days back to back driving to the mountains to hike for a day and drive another two days to Lima. We headed straight south.

Northern Peru looked very interesting. Sadly we had to rush through and could not spend more time. However I know that we will be back (at least I will kiting).