As the saying goes, today is a new day and the travelling day to be forgotten is all behind us leaving us to get out and see yet another place on this journey. What to say about Cafayate? Well to be honest we don’t really know, this journey north is more unplanned than usual and we have only the merest information from guidebooks to go by which means we really know next to nothing. Salta is the big city in this part of Argentina and that’s a few hours north, Cafayate is a small town and is surrounded by vineyards sporting a few grape varieties particular to this area. So into the wilderness we go, eyes wide open to see what puts this town on the map.
Being a small town we can walk everywhere so it’s to the plaza we go, often a great place to see and feel a town. And as is not uncommon it’s picturesque, bustling with energy and completely central to communal life it seems. Sitting at the base of the Andes which rise up like Godzilla to tower over the town this picturesque setting absolutely needs wine and thankfully we have a map to find it. This time it’s just a regular cellar door visit at a quaint little bodega. There’s some new grapes we haven’t tried outside of Argentina which is always fun so we soak up some of the flavours that make this area what it is. It also seems that our alcoholic binge since being here isn’t entirely out of character, Argentinians love a drink and it’s genuinely a little hard to avoid. Cest la vie. Throw in the obligatory coffee and Cafayate is proving to be a beautiful wind down, slow paced, pretty, clean and small; one could do a whole lot worse.
With a short time here though we have to have a little jaunt into the nearby Quebrada de Cafayate (basically a valley), which is meant to be worth a look. So we jump into a car with a dude from the hostel and we’re off to continue being sponges soaking up this fleeting dash into the north. It’s really nice when expectations are exceeded; this place is a visual museum into geological history. The magnitude and power of this place can’t be understated with layers of rock rolled over like pancakes and shards of the earth sitting in ways it simply seems that it shouldn’t be able to. Along the ride we are played a heap of local music, some of which was recorded or made about this valley adding a succinct cultural context to all that we see. We’d noticed a little thus far but it’s becoming more clear that the north has pretty strong cultural roots. Sharing a genetic lineage more with Bolivia and Peru than the more central and southern Europeans, the north seems to be a cultural bubble of music, dance (tango) and history. On first impressions it’s more raw, passionate and lathered with Latino spark than any place we’ve been so far.
To this most perfect of soundtracks we venture into this culturally important valley taking in its wonders at every turn. This area also acts as a particularly acute example of where the two continental plates come crashing together, the advancing western capping above the crumbling eastern. Massive continental forces coalesce to a point here, in one view it’s easy to see upward of eight distinct colours of the mountains and hills. This really is a place for appreciation, to think that all of these different makeups are from vastly differing periods in history and indeed distant places all smashed together is a real head trip. Add to that the stunning shapes and layers, we are left continually gawking. Throw in a few side jaunts to all flavours of weird and wonderful and a desert heat that is nothing short of punishing and we’re cooked. This place is a true education, a wow factor to compliment the laid back tranquility of Cafayate town. Bueno!
All this excitement does come at a cost though, we’re absolutely stuffed and it’s time to finally get into that Argentinian siesta thing. I can barely remember my head hitting the pillow as we might possibly be starting to get into this odd routine. Still barely awake we stumble into town to wake up the way the locals do it, sit in the plaza. It’s buzzing at nearly 8pm with toddlers up to grannies as we’re politely shunted aside from our prime spot by a few guys with guitars. In no time at all an impromptu concert erupts with a swarming crowd filling in around the band. Busking is not allowed so this quintet of guys are just playing and doing some light promotion of their band and they absolutely nail it. The small crowd is enthralled, people dance, people sing along sipping the local tea Mate and we all clap in time, these guys are all understated casual showmen straight out of a Latin textbook. The mini concert develops into more of a fiesta as a whole section of the plaza lifts to a breezy summer party mode. Now this is how to snap yourself out of a siesta hangover.
By this stage we’re positively floating and previous thoughts of a detox day are swept aside in a wave of Latin fiesta, Vino por favor. Of course, with wine we need meat, this ritual is far from becoming boring so parrilla it is. As if we weren’t saturated with local style culture already the parrilla restaurant has a tango duo to fire up the crowd as the parrilla fires up the meat. Every pore of this place is fire and passion with no letup from these dancers. The suave looking dude in cowboy outfit is all energy and macho flair while his partner is shy reserved confidence to play out a Latino pantomime of gender roles in full flight. The dance has shades of Cuban flamenco as it bursts with fire and bravado rolled in romance. So we have wine, meat, music and dance: we are truly in northern Argentina.
So this journey into a relative unknown has been a thoroughly saturating experience. We’re soaked in local culture, local style, local food and of course local wine. Still very much a first impression we are surrounded by a heady mix of influences and we get the feeling that none of it gives the faintest care to what happens elsewhere. We’re in Salta provence now and Salta knows exactly what it is. It’s the good life in many ways we saw in Mendoza but it’s distinct in so many ways as well. Food, wine, dance and music are fairly common human expressions yet it seems that Cafayate not only does it its own way, it positively drowns in it. So we soak up the purest example of Latin flair we’ve seen so far and like the wine, we discover the best way to drown.