Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rosario and a computer at last!

Hola chicos,

My last attempt at an update was thwarted by the computer crashing, and me subsequently taking my ass in my hands and storming off in a strop (well, that's a typcial Wood-style exaggeration, but I decided not to continue writing it at that point, at any rate). And then, you know what happens... the hostel floods, the power goes out for hours at a time, you spend time drinking Fernet and chatting and lounging by the pool and scratching your ass (once said hands have been removed), and before you know it nearly a week has passed and there are now almost two weeks of updates to write (which necessitates a great deal of procrastination, obviously). So, I will leave in the bit that the computer did manage to save before crashing, and continue from there. By the way, I am now staying at Vanesa's house (still in Rosario) so at least I don't have to worry about other people waiting to use the computer (unless Vanesa herself needs to use it, of course, in which case I might have to abandon and come back later!). But, anyway, here goes...

"Good afternoon,

I have finally arrived at a hostel (in Rosario) with a computer (that works) and a bit of time to update the blog, so without any waffle (a first!) let's get the show on the road. Oh, apart from the fact that I've got the shits for the first time since I arrived, which is another excuse to take it easy and update this instead of hitting the town to explore in the heat of the day.

Wednesday 12th January 2011

I was quite sad to be leaving Salta. The people at the hostel had made me feel really welcome, it was cheap (!), the breakfast was good and I liked the atmosphere. Thumbs up to Hostel San Jorge in Salta, if you should ever be heading that way.

Before leaving I had a good Skype with Mum and Dad and made the most of what I assumed would be the last good internet connection for a while (I was right!). I took a taxi to the bus station (a rare extravagance) because there was a clear blue sky, a blazing sun and it was probably the hottest day in Salta so far.

It was an absolutely stunning bus ride to Cafayate. It started off lush and tropical, drying out as we got up into the mountains. I initally thought that I had shat out with my seat. I was next to the window but on what I thought was the wrong side of the bus - most of the good views seemed to be on the opposite side. Grrr... But, as we got further up the valley/canyon, the bus crossed over the river and the views from my side of the bus were absolutely spectacular (and far to superior to the other side of the bus! Ha! Suckers!!!). There were amazing rock formations and sand dunes and cacti and a winding river and in the evening sun the rocks were all illuminated various shades of copper, orange, vermillion, red, gold, yellow... and  all set against a deep blue sky."

Well, that was as far as I got before the computer crashed, so I'm now updating in real-time (my blog-time-line is so confusing, even the most avid Doctor Who fan would have trouble keeping up!). So we will get back to the bus ride and take it from there...

As the bus headed into Cafayate, the vineyards for which the town is famous came into view and the landscape changed once again: rows of green vines, with an occasional bodega painted white - acting as a beacon against the desert landscape and blue sky (well, a beacon to me, certainly - wine was my main reason for coming to Cafayate).

Wow! I have to say my first impressions of Cafayate were great. A small town/large village, with neatly kept streets, a lovely main square, a golden evening light and a balmy air. What more could I ask for (well, the sea, obviously - but you can't have it all). Anyway, I was forced to explore earlier than anticipated because I couldn't find the bloody hostel (the first time that's happened on my entire trip - and in what is probably the smallest place so far)! I later realised that the map I had been looking at earlier in the day wasn't orientated north-south (eejits), and because Cafayate was so small I didn't create my usual hand-drawn map to lead me to my destination. In the end I was forced to ask (and as with most men, this is not something that comes easily when it concerns directions!). I plucked up the courage to approach a group of young lads (who initially thought that I was looking for a room), and they pointed me in the right direction...

...and what a lovely little hostel was waiting for me. Hostel Ruta 40 was lush! A gorgeous little courtyard, nice dorm, en-suite, firm matress (yes!) and it was all very clean and well equipped.

But I didn't have time to hang around enjoying the atmosphere - there was wine to be drunk! ;-) So, I dumped my stuff and hit the wineries straight away (it was already 6pm and nearly closing time!). I tried two, both of which included the usual tour (I think I could probably do it myself now [even in Spanish] because they all say the same thing [perhaps they are issued with a script by the ministry of tourism!] and [usually] have the same "this is so boring, I've said it 500 times before" tone). I could happily skip the tour and just go straight to the tasting (I don't wish to sound conceited [it just comes naturally], but I probably know more than most of the tour guides, anyway). The first, Nanni, cost 5 pesos for tasting and there I met two guys I had been staying with in Tilcara, earlier on my trip (small world, yada, yada!). We then went to El Tránsito, which was free, and therefore better (I'm not sure if the wine itself tasted superior, but the pschological effects of it being free clearly outweigh any taste difference - note to any bodega managers reading this: people are more likely to like and therefore buy your wine if you offer free tastings!). Ooh, I'm in a patronising mood today! ;-)

During the tastings I sampled some nice wines (Tannat, Malbec [enough already], Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrentés [the local speciality, both sweet and dry]). I was most impressed with the Cabernet Sauvignon, although the dry Torrentés was pleasingly light and floral (and very dry), with a whiff of elderflower cordial.

As a little aside, wandering around the town, it struck me how every girl in Argentina between the age of approximately 16 and 24 has (very) long hair. Without exception (yes, another slight exaggeration). It would seem to be the current fashion, and to go against the grain would be deemed such a shocking action that you would immediately become a social pariah and sent on your way to Coventry with a big arrow above your head, marked "lesbian". Come on girls - when you've got such pretty faces (which is also without exception), a neat gamine crop would look lovely. Not only that, but it would also set you apart from the crowd (in a good way), and it would stop you from all blurring into one large mass of "groups of 5 or 6 Argentinian girls, all travelling during their summer holidays, all giggling and swishing their long hair, waiting until 2am to go out, just because it's the done thing". There, I've said it.

Anyway, back at the hostel, I met Agathe and Caroline from Paris. And they were very Parisienne indeed! If it wasn't for the lack of small dog dressed in a Chanel doggy-coat, they appeared that they could have been elegantly sashaying down the Champs-Elysées every time they set foot outside the dormitory. Despite the physical appearance though, they certainly didn't fit the stereotype of being aloof and English-hating. They were lovely! We decided to buy and cook steak together, which was yummy, and it was a thoroughly pleasant evening, sat in the courtyard of the hostel, wallowing in the balmy, scented air of Cafayate. We later met Josh(ua) from Melbourne, who was a great guy, and a rather more annoying group of Argentinian girls (who almost seemed too young to be travelling alone - I guess they were 18 or 19, but acted like they were 12). Oh, and yes, I think they all had long hair!

Jeez... one day down, 13 to go! Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhh....

Thursday 13th January 2011

I'm still amazed at how little Argentinians actually sleep (I have a sneaking suspicion that they all sleep during the day - an 8 hour siesta in the park, perhaps). So, I was roused from my slumber several times before eventually giving in to the call of breakfast and hauling my ass out of bed at 9:30am. It was a good breakfast at the hostel (although Frosties with over-sweetened drinking yoghurt [which I mistakenly thought was milk] was a bit too sweet [maybe even for an Argentinian - it made Dulce de Leche seem like chicory in comparison]). I quite liked the orange juice though (although that too is probably sweetened to render it palatable to Argentinian taste-buds). So, the bread with dulce de leche on top of that was just too much. It tipped me over the edge (not, I didn't vomit, I just mean I realised I'd had enough). I'm sorry Argentina, but I'm sick of Dulce de Leche now. I just want a nice big jar of marmite and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps (the latter not for breakfast, obviously).

I was umming and aahing about what to do. I had various options: La Quebrada de las Conchas (is that rude?) with the French girls, wine tasting by myself or walking to a waterfall with Josh. I plumped for the latter, as I fancied a good trek. I hadn't done much proper exercise for a while and felt the need to work up a good sweat (which wasn't going to be difficult as it was already about 35 degrees by 10am). So, kitted out with the essentials (water and sun cream being the two most important considering how sunny it was), we set off...

It was a very good 5 or 6 hour day out. It was quite a demanding trek in places (scrambling over rocks like a mountain goat - Dad would have loved it, as did I!), but utterly worth it. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, I had a shorts malfunction at one point - I heard a bit of a ripping sound while stepping up onto a rock, but naturally assumed I was just "letting rip" and thought nothing more of it. I later realised, however, while sat at the table back at the hostel, that I was showing my pants to the world (luckily I was wearing some!). Hahaha... 'twas fixed using a bit of needle and thread, and some handy needlework inherited from Mum.

Anyway, back to the hike. It was really beautiful throughout. The landscape was stunning, with rocky mountain sides and giant cacti all around ( for details), and we had the reward of an icy swim under a waterfall at the end of it (where we also had our lunch and a bit of a rest before heading back). There were quite a lot of groups of (mainly) Argentinians, but there weren't enough people to spoil it. Any, anyway, most of them tended to stick together in clumps (it seems to be the Latin mentality of wanting to spend their time in large groups - so the big Waterfall at the end was surrounded by loads of people, while the smaller cascades slightly downstream were deserted [and several people even asked us if we knew the bigger waterfalls were nearby, obviously wondering why we would want to spend our time alone when we could have surrounded ourselves with screaming kids and noise and chaos instead!]).

We were pretty kackered upon our return to the hostel, but still found the energy for one wine-tasting session (10 pesos, so a bit steep, but we did get some cheese included). I bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon (from El Tránsito - see, free tastings do work) to share with Josh in the evening and we met a nice Anglo-Dutch couple (no, nothing to do with Shell) at the hostel (Ellie and Rem). After dinner we went out for wine-flavoured ice-cream (more like sorbet), which was a bit gross and sat in the plaza to soak up the atmosphere. It was very busy, but still with a laid back and languid feel... everyone relaxing in the balmy evening air. We said goodbye to Josh (who was leaving early the next morning) and were in bed before 12!

Well, I know I've only managed to update 2 days, but it's almost time for lunch and I at least want to publish something before switching off the computer. So, that's all for now, folks.

Hopefully back later with more fun and frolics...

Take care y'all,
Love J xx

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