Friday, 24 January 2014

Salta & stunning surrounds

After Mendoza we dragged our hangovers onto an 18 hour bus to Salta.

Why Salta? Well to try wine in nearby Cafayate of course! We'd also been recommended to visit Humahuaca to the North for stunning scenery.

Salta itself was very different to Mendoza - lush and green gently rolling hills, with a sub tropical climate (Iguazu was a steamy example of a tropical climate). The town is also very pretty with lots of churches, a lovely main square and low level colonial architecture.

After checking into the Salta por Siempre hostel we headed for the cable car up the hill to get some good views of Salta.

A wander around the town and a sampling of a new beer - Salta so we just had to - and we rounded off the day with homemade empanadas at the hostel.

Next morning we were up early for our trip to Humahuaca - to the north of Salta.

As we went further north and climbed in altitude the landscape changed - this was the altiplano with a semi desert climate, we were effectively in the foothills of the Andes. We were following the Humahuaca gorge up and whilst the hills were still green they were now covered in cacti and grass instead of trees and shrubs.

We first stopped at the town of Purmamarca, where the surrounding hills were made of fabulously coloured rock. The rocks were different colours depending on the minerals in them. There was also an old colonial church and a sacred tree that apparently had sheltered the local resistance against the Spanish invaders.

View from the hill in town.

All of the houses in this part of the country are made of adobe bricks and blend in with the colours of the scenery.

Our next stop was the Pukara at Tilcara

Most of ruins of the Pukara have been reconstructed - it was situated on a defensive hill with the river creating one barrier, the high situation also being advantageous.

You can spot where the pukaras were situated from the abundance of cactus on the hillsides around them. The llamas eat the fruit of the cactus and propagate them around the settlements - being domestic animals they don't go far.

Funny cacti!

We made it to Humahuaca for lunch. This town is another typical Quechan one with narrow cobbled streets and adobe houses. 

The large independence monument behind my head was made by a local Tilcara artist.

In Humahuaca we tried tamales - yum! A different take on the meat in carbs than the usual empanada!

I also got to try the traditional drink - mate - bitter herbs with hot water - I could get used to it...

We hung out here for a while and took in the cathedral with its cactus wood doors and surfit of holy water....

Then we went to visit a church that had paintings done in the Cusco style - where local artists were trained in the manner of European painters when the Spanish invaded. The quirk of the paintings in the church was that the local artists were commissioned to paint angels. They didn't know what angels were (the conversion to Christianity was ongoing) and so their Spanish masters told them to paint 'us with wings'. The resulting paintings are very amusing as it's literally conquistadors with wings - and they are still holding their muskets in the pictures! No photos were allowed unfortunately.

We stopped for another view of the colourful hills on the way back to JuJuy and Salta.

This view shows the cemetery on top of the hill by the village. The locals want to bury their dead as close to the sky as possible - this used to be an Incan belief that got usefully adopted by the church and translated to 'heaven'. In this way Christianity stealthy got absorbed into the old beliefs.

We then visited JuJuy - however this city isn't as pretty as Salta as land wasn't as available - so they had to demolish the old colonial buildings and go up in stories.

The only old bits left were around the main square and it's park.

The following day we headed out South of Salta to Cafayate with its wine & rock formations. We also learnt that the area boasts large tobacco production with fields of tobacco and steel drying sheds.

Apparently the combination of the surrounding hills and the reservoir created a more humid microclimate than to the north of Salta. Hence the tobacco and vineyards. We drove through La Vina which has the oldest vines in the area.

The key grape of this area is Torrontes - which makes a white wine. We had to wait until after we'd seen the rock formations to get to the vineyard though!

We headed first to the devils throat - a formation that had been carved by water before the landscape became more arid. Then we stopped at several miradors - or lookouts - across the valley with the red rocks extending in all directions. The castle formation was the last formation we saw before stopping at Vasija Secret to taste the Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

The Torrontes was fairly sweet - perfect for an appetiser which is what we bought some for! The Malbec was its traditional dry and tannic self. The Cabernet more smooth, perfect for the steak dinner we had back at the hostel!

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