November 2008 Part 1
Some days you wake up and know that the day will bring a great ride. The air was cool and crisp outside as we packed the bike in Campo Quijano and entertained an early start, but the plan back-fired as this little village had no petrol station. Carol had planned a shortcut to meet with Ruta 33 and this took us through a town more likely to have fuel. About 10 kms down the road, Rosario de Lerma was having a ‘peak hour moment’ when we arrived and directions were needed through the maize of one way streets to find to the YPF (fuel station). The road out of town had few sign posts and reduced to a gravel track between farms within minutes. Looking lost at a crossroad a local on a small bike waved us south as we yelled “Pulares” through our helmet chin bars. Pulares was at the road junction of Ruta 33 and our little short cut.
The road to Cachi in the early section huggs the cliff
Green and red hills
A good section of ripio
AARRGGHH What a view
The road below and Ken being a kid, he always stands too close to the edge
This is as close to the edge as Carol would go
Some backpackers we had met in Salta advised that the road to Cachi was not a problem although there were several small patches of ripio before the ‘all ripio’ road continued up the mountain valley. Lush forest hugged the paved road which followed Rio Escoipe however small patches of dirt punctuated the easy flow of the gentle climb. Recent rain had caused some small landsides and workmen were clearing the rubble in a few spots. As the road climbed higher the sections of ripio, carved into the cliffs, became longer and narrower however the surface was firm and caused little problem. The number of hairpins increased as we climbed and traffic gave us some dust issues but our pace was slow due to the number of photos taken. We peered back down along the road just ridden from a number of convenient lookouts watching the dust spiraling up from traffic heading in the same direction. The grassy hills were green after recent rain and we also noticed several greenish cliffs of copper ore along with the normal bare red rock. At 3348 mtrs Piedra del Molino was not as high as some previous passes but getting there was certainly more spectacular. An open plain with little vegetation greeted us and a small group of guanacos eyed us suspiciously as we snapped away. The track deteriorated slightly as the gravel increased through a small cutting then opened up onto a large plain dotted with thousands of candelabra cactus. The pavement started again but the tempting smooth, straights could not draw us away from some close encounters with these spiked, hardy trees. A few other tourists had also stopped to take photos.
Piedra del Molina at 3348 mtrs
A group of guanacos kept an eye on us
Los Cardones National Park with huge candelabra cactus
The sheltered valley around Cachi supported a large pre-Inca Indian (Diaguita) population due to the fertile land and abundant water supply from melt and local rivers. Arriving in the heat of the day just after lunch there were few people about, however our routine of touching base with the Tourist Office looking for suitable accommodation brought immediate results and we stayed at Hospedaje y Comedor Neriz which was comfortable but a construction in progress. It was an easy walk to town where the Museo Arqueologico opposite the town square revealed some of the history of the local ancient tribe.
Cachi at night
Church and Museum
Sidewalk cafes in Cachi
Lamb asado and trimmings
We had no cooking facilities at the Hospedaje so we dined out for most meals. The most memorable being the lunch time lamb asado at a very popular sidewalk restaurant with no name!!. Lamb is Carol’s favorite meat and cooked this way…well it does not get much better. After consuming a huge portion of meat and fresh salad the waiter returned enquiring if we would like more!!! We don’t do this every day that’s for sure!!!
We enjoyed two tranquil nights in Cachi and could return for more quite easily. Its popularity however is seeing many new buildings and numerous tour buses frequenting the area. Let’s hope none of its character is lost with this progress.
The fertile valley around Cachi
Up with the clouds
The ride back was just as good
Departing we ventured up a steep climb close to town to sight the cemetery which also gave a nice view over the valley. The return ride was as spectacular as the ride in and the temptation to take even more photos was ever present. Can recommend this area as a must do and see in Argentina.
Returning to Salta we spent a day sorting our route for the next few weeks then departed in the direction of Paraguay.
An easy exit accompanied the early start as we headed along Ruta 9 through undulating hills and farmland towards San Jose de Metan. Just before this town we veered east along Ruta 16 where the agricultural farming became more herd farming with goats, cattle and sheep straying across the road due to the lack of fencing. Our pace was consistent although we stopped for a chat with two Brazilian motorcyclists in the middle of nowhere who had come from the town we were planning to stay at should we make the distance. Judging by the availability of accommodation so far we had better make it!!!
The quality of the road surface plus traffic and of course the roaming livestock dictated our speed and we neared our destination Pampa de los Guanacos quite late in the afternoon but the best or worst was yet to come….road works… with a rough detour or ‘desvio’ for around 20 kms. The volume of trucks using this road had reduced the detour to a rutted dust pit and we eyed the dark sky in the distance thinking this would be a hell hole if it rained. We bounced and ploughed our way through reaching the village wondering where the recommended ‘Los Cedros Residencial’ could be situated. (No tourist office here). We flew past the first turn off into town but picked up the second so we had a slow ride around town before we stumbled across the Residencial…on the first turn off road. 540 kms clicked over for the day as the sun disappeared quickly behind a dark cloud.
Our host was very helpful directing us to a comfortable room and indicating food was available. Parking the bike out the back of the building we locked and chained on the bike cover as the black clouds swirled around us. Half way through dinner the heavens opened up. The wind blew and rain came into the front area (windows) of the residencial where we were eating. The cable TV stopped broadcasting in the middle of a football (soccer) match much to the disgust of the locals, but the owner and staff were frantically mopping up and trying to stop more rain coming in to worry.
Sunset on the Rio Parana
Dinner with Gerardo, Patricia and some of their bike friends
A fresh, fine morning greeting us as we raced to Corrientes. Carol has been busy again contacting the Horizons Unlimited communities and we had the pleasure of meeting Gerardo and Patricia on our arrival to this river city. They escorted us to a budget hotel on the outskirts of town and it was then we noticed how hot the weather had become. We had definitely arrived in the tropical part of Argentina. Corrientes is dominated by the Rio Parana and is crossed by a huge bridge ‘General Belgrano’ linking the two provinces of Chaco and Corrientes. Ships use this river ferrying cargo to Paraguay. The lifestyle of the people appears to be also dominated by the river with trees lining the banks, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and hundreds of people walking, running and cycling. A great place to people watch and take in the cool breeze drifting off the river. The constant flow of people along this esplanade does not diminish even when night falls. Gerardo and Patricio guided us to the city’s tourist office to gather some tips on places to see then ventured down to the water front to soak in the atmosphere. Our first night we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant near the river with a few of Gerardo’s bike riding friends. The following day we were left to do our own thing as Gerardo has a business that is all consuming in summer. Ice making!!! We road the city sight seeing for most of the day then retired to our sidewalk café by the river trying to ease the summer heat with a cold drink. Gerardo and Patricia joined us a little later for dinner.
The General Belgrano bridge across the Rio Parana
Murals at Plaza Italia
A popular walkway in Corrientes
The following day we fitted in a service on the bike at Gerardo’s house and to complete the day enjoyed a great asado in the heat of the afternoon. It was time to head off the next day but before departure we experienced our inaugural corrupt police officers in Argentina. A few hundred metres from our hotel we were stopped by two policemen. This is not unusual in Argentina and is generally a very pleasant experience with a document check and a ‘where are you from, what are you doing and where are you going’ scenario. This one however was a little different with the young officer accusing us of speeding. The speed for ‘motos’ on this road was 40kph he advised and not the indicated 60kph shown on the sign just 100 metres away. Wow…First time we had heard of this. Arguing the point was Carol, who had climbed off the bike and was now chatting with the more senior police officer who backed his partner and wrote on the cardboard at the back of his ticket book US$100!!!!! Carol became very indignant and promptly informed me of his request. A bit of a dilemma here but as we were about to meet up with Gerardo and Patricia to say our goodbyes, I decided to give them a call on the mobile and let them know we would be a little late and could he suggest a remedy for the situation. The solution came rather unexpectedly as no sooner as the phone was produced and dialing commenced our officer declared it would be OK for us to proceed. See you later sir!!!
Saying goodbye to Patricia and Gerardo
Before we departed Gerardo apologized for the errant police officers. The incident was not pleasant but we know it does happen and we will probably experience this in other countries before our journey ends. Many thanks for your help and hospitality, Gerardo and Patricia. Little did we realize then they were to help us again in the not too distant future.
Water buffalo like we have in Australia
Today our destination was Corinda, a town close to the Paraguayan border where we could obtain our Visas. Australians pay US$45 for a single entry visas to Paraguay. An expensive fee for the short time we will be there and advices from many sources say that there is a lot of corruption so beware!!! The road across the Chaco province was interesting with a lush green flatland with plenty of cattle. There were even water buffalo like the ones we have back in Aus. An overnight stay, plus a quick one hour wait the next morning to collect the Visa and we were on our way to Paraguay. This will be only our third country in South America in 14 months.
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