Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Further updates from Rosario

Good afternoon from a hot and sticky Rosario,

The weather is still rather thundery and unpredictable, and it is deemed by Vanesa too early to head into the centre (only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the 4:30pm sun, it would seem... but I'm one of those, so I wouldn't really mind... still, it gives me the opportunity for another blog update, so the number of days outstanding will soon be down to single figures). Yay, a manageable amount of typing is on the horizon! Right, back to business:

Friday 14th January 2011

The number of people passing through the hostel was staggering. Most people only seemed to stay one night (max 2) and then move on. It's the north-west Argentina tourist circuit - tick places off a list and then sally forth! They also seem to leave at the crack of dawn - buggers! Indeed, there was one couple who came back at about 2am and then got up at 4 am to leave. Odd antics, it must be said: what is the point of paying for a hostel for the night if you are only going to sleep there for 2 hours? Hmm... puzzling.

So, it was a reasonably early breakfast (why am I always tempted to try dulce de leche "just one more time"?... It's not suddenly going to become any less sweet, is it?). After breakfast I had a nice chat with Ellie and Rem, sat in the hostel's lovely courtyard (another hot/sunny day, so happy to just relax in the shade for a while). We decided to take in a couple of wineries before lunch, but were thwarted at each attempt. The first couple were closed, the next one was so busy that we couldn't get anywhere near the tasting room (3 tour buses in at the same time - that's what you call good planning!) and at the fourth one we had just missed the last tour before lunch. So we gave up and turned our attention towards food instead (a recurring theme of this blog, it must be said). We assembled a nice salady lunch back at the hostel (one of the advantages of people continually moving on [at the crack of dawn] is that the hostel remains blissfully quiet during the day) and after lunch we had a nice little siesta (to avoid the blistering heat of the middle of the day and make up for the lost sleep from the noisy hordes coming and going during the night).

Post-siesta we resumed our wine-tasting. First we returned to Vasija Secreta (scene of the morning's tour-bus scrum) because Rem had lost his locker key and thought that was where it might be. We couldn't find the key, but had a tour and tasting (free! So therefore bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - another recurring theme). After wine had been consumed I plucked up the courage to ask about the key. And lo! They had found it - it was waiting for us behind the tasting bar (as if my magic). We decided against the tour and tasting at El Esteco because they wanted 20 pesos for the privilege (I believe it's owned by Diageo, so big business demands big profits!). We decided to spend that money on a bottle of wine for the evening intead (our own private tasting, if you like). This time, Tannat. We then headed to the southern end of the town/village (the campsite zone - heaving with [slightly crusty] people) and were lucky to catch the last tour at Domingo Hermanos (Sunday brothers). It was free and included cheese (goat's) which was delish. Bought a bottle of Torrontés and some cheese for after dinner. Cafayate was bathed in the usual gorgeous evening light (illuminating the mountains beyond) and the whole place looked (and felt) lovely.

Dinner (shared with Rem and Ellie) consisted of a spicy tuna, pepper and tomato pasta, which was rather good, even if I do say so myself (I was the chef on this occasion), washed down with a lovely fragrant Torrontés. Cheese and Cabernet Sauvignon followed (also damn good). Naturally, an early night was required in order to digest effectively! :-)

Saturday 15th January 2011

I decided to stay in Cafayate a bit longer than orginally planned because it was just so lovely there. The hostel was great - even the music was good (which is a rarity in hostels - you get the usual hippy dross: Bob Marley, acoustic-surfy-crap, that kind of thing). Modest Mouse was playing on the stereo as I wrote my diary and all was good with the world. It was also good to spend some time with some like-minded (English-speaking people). All in all, it felt a bit like a holiday from travelling, which would recharge my batteries and set me up for the next stage of the adventure.

Continuing very much in the holiday spirit (and because it was getting hotting and hotter with each passing day), we decided to go to the local outdoor swimming pool. It was 7 pesos to get in and surrounded by shady grassed areas. It was also absolutely huge and while not crystal clear, it was a damn-sight cleaner than most of the (small, hostel-based) pools that I had experienced up to that point. And it was just lovely to have a refreshing dip, when it got too hot out of the water!

After a good session in and around the pool we had a late lunch back at the hostel (great empanadas + tomato salad [with expensive Argentinian olive oil {which I am trying to eek out}but which I could eat every day] + pretty decent bread), and an even later siesta. It was the hottest day in Cafayate so far (sweating even in the shade!).

We took in two of the wineries which I had already visited (they were just around the corner from the hostel - how convenient! - and Ellie and Rem hadn't been before). I even managed to get a second tasting in El Tránsito and bought a bottle in each. We then toddled off to purchase the ingredients for our steak dinner (having steak twice in a week is something I would only ever dream of doing here in Argentina!)...

Another nice Torrentés was quaffed as an apperitif (while playing a few games of Shit Head [a card game loved by travellers around the world for those not in the know]) and then drank a Tannat with the steak (accompanied by mash, green beans and caramelised onions). Yum Cabernet Sauvignon and more goat's cheese followed. Totally stuffed (and a little bit squiffy) as a result. Wandered slowly around town for a while (to help shake things down a bit and thus speed up the digestion process). The main square is a lovely place to loiter, with good people watching to be had (boys dressed in weird baggy trousers and cowboy boots and hats - dancers of some kind?, people drinking mate [everywhere you look in Argentina], folk singers, empanada sellers and, of course, groups and groups of young Argentinians, spending their summer holidays travelling together).

Sunday 16th January 2011

I woke up to another scorching hot day (I'm getting tired of writing it's the hottest yet, but it was, I swear!). The hostel was again very quiet with everyone having left early, so I had a leisurely breakfast and spent a while updating my diary (you don't realise the hard work that goes into the blog! Hand-written notes later transcribed and embellished on the computer, all for your reading pleasure)! ;-)

I booked my hostel in Tafí del Valle for the following night and then went to get my bus ticket. And how lucky was I? I got the very last seat on the 2pm bus... otherwise I would have had to get the bus at 6am in the morning (or wait another day - hmm... which one do you think I would have chosen?). Anyway, I didn't need to face that dilemma - lady luck was dancing by my side. We (me and Ellie and Rem) then went to get some bits and pieces for dinner (in case the shops closed on a Sunday afternoon) and assemble the ingredients for a picnic lunch beside the pool.

Armed with food and sun cream and playing cards, we went to the pool and had another lovely day lounging in the shade (simply to hot to spend more than about 5 minutes in the sun)! In the afternoon a strange (Torremolinos-style) cloud came over (and circled around) the sun, but as it was in the high 30s it provided welcome relief, rather than turning Michelle blue (as happened in the south of Spain that time, all those years ago)! The pool was really busy (I guess all the locals were making the most of their day off work), but no-one seemed to be actually swimming, so the deep area in the middle was always quiet. The business also made for good people watching (I was surprised by the number of very young-looking parents - or maybe it was old brothers and sisters, I wasn't entirely sure).

In the evening we made a chicken salad (marinated in garlic, chili and oregano and fried in small strips on a griddle pan - people in the hostel commented about how often we cooked "proper" food - hopefully in the process dismissing a few stereotypes about British food!), drank Torrontés (when in Cafayate...) and then I accompanied Ellie and Rem on their first tentative steps into the wonderful world of Fernet. After the initial shock, they soon got used to it and maybe even enjoyed it come the end (of the bottle)! We played more Shit-head (Rem losing a whopping 19 times [over the course of 2 or 3 days] before his mammoth losing streak finally came to and end the following day. Ellie and I limited our defeats to 4 and 5 respectively, thus demonstrating that the UK still dominates the world in the field of international Shit-head).

Well, that was almost it for Cafayate. Our time had come to an end. I was really going to miss the town and Ellie and Rem's company and the hostel... I had had a great time: lovely place, nice people, gorgeous scenery, wonderful wine and brilliant weather. What more could I ask for?

Monday 17th January 2011

It was a leisurely start to the day after the Fernet of the night before! We didn't drink that much but maybe it was the effects of the altitude again (!). We used the remainder of the chicken to make some mighty fine sandwiches for an early lunch and then headed off to catch our respective buses.

The bus journey again was gorgeous (running out of appropriate adjectives and/or superlatives), with more sand-dunes, rocky escarpments and barren mountain backdrops, but I had an aisle seat (boo) and the smoked-glass windows gave everything a gloomy look, despite the sunshine. It became even more gloomy as we headed up to the pass (over 3000m above sea level), which would take us over to Tafí del Valle. We were in the clouds by that stage, although that gave everything an atmospheric, Wuthering Heights, misty-moorland feel. Indeed, it could have been the North Yorkshire Moors, were it not for the occasional llama/alpaca (not sure I can tell the difference - are the latter hairier?) silhouetted against the murk...

As we descended into Tafí del Valle, the clouds parted and the landscape became more Alpine in character. The town sprawled rather (no European-style planning controls here!) but if you looked beyond (ignoring the foreground mess), up into the mountains, it was beautiful.

Less beautiful was the hostel (Nomade). It was grotty and hippified and rough around the edges, to say the least. Maybe I had been spoiled in Cafayate, but my first impressions were not good. For a start it was difficult to make out who worked there and who was a guest (I later guessed that it was two lesbians and their coterie of adopted children [all female] who worked there, but of course, it could just be my imagination working overtime). Anyway, I didn't like the hippy-comune-style atmosphere and, frankly, the bathroom was disgusting! All in all I was glad to be only staying one night.

Thankfully, things improved when I went out for a wander around the town in the evening sunshine (enjoying the views, which were framed by the mountains everywhere you looked). It was noticably fresher than Cafayate, although still pleasant in the sun.

When I got back to the hostel I discovered that the young Argentinian couple from Cafayate (who I knew were also coming to Tafí) were in the bunk next to me! We comiserated with each other about the state of the hostel (it was the only one in town, as far as we were aware) and then proceeded to spend the evening together (sharing the cheap wine I had bought [nothing special but not too bad] and the hostel's [very meagre] homemade pasta - which I am blaming for the runs which were to come on a day or so later: hygiene certainly wasn't one of the hostel's strong-points). Actually, at least by this stage there was a nice atmosphere in the hostel. Most of the guests were eating and drinking together and it made for a friendly and sociable evening. Which was just as well, as it was getting really cold (inside and out), which I suppose is what happens when you are perched on the side of a mountain! I spoke to the only other non-Argentinian in the hostel (a French guy from Paris - lots of Frenchies about in this part of the world), but mainly enjoyed the company of Lucas and Victoria for the duration of the evening...

Well, I think it's now probably cooled sufficiently to poke our noses outside the door, so we're off to an art gallery for a spot of culture, before going to a birthday party of one of Vanesa's friends later on. Therefore, I'll get this up and posted now, because it will be tomorrow at the earliest before I get the chance to write any more.

Have a good evening everyone (or whatever time period your own personal time-zone dictates)...

Best wishes,
James xx

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