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Cafayate y Quebrada de las Conchas

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 13 February 2018 | Views [188]

Time to drink some vino! I arrived into Cafayate the following afternoon ready to soak up the valley sun and pull the cork on some good vintages; however, I had to wait a couple days to visit some wineries as I wanted to do some activity and sight seeing first. Cafayate is a lesser known wine growing region in northwestern Argentina, which has perfect climate for wine. Over 300 days of sun each year makte for hot, dry days and cool nights, ideal for growing grapes. They also have a reputation of making tasty goat cheese too! The town is the centerpiece of a green valley flanked by red mountains and hills. There are numerous wineries and bodegas with grapes growing with ease in the backyards of homes and hostels. Those bad boys are deliciously sweet with a slightly tough skin to seal in those flavors.

That first afternoon I took a five-hour walk along a trail southwest of town up into the hills. The lookout point supposedly has seven small waterfalls; however, to get to the end of the trail you have to criss cross the river several times. I was able to jump across rocks for the most part, but I turned back when the light began to fade since I didn’t want to have wiat for my shoes dry out over the next day or so.

I woke up early the next day to walk over to a local farm to see what this goat cheese craze was all about. I ended up taking the short tour with an Argentinian family with the whole thing being in Spanish; however, it was pretty basic. Different pens for different aged goats, how much milk is produced daily, the pasteurization process, etc. As my reward for understanding everything mas o menos (and the $2.50 tour cost), we got to taste so many different types of cheese at the end: natural goat cheese, smoked goat cheese, goat cheese with pepper, garlic, basil and cheese made from a blend of goat’s and cow’s milk. Que rico! I’m not a souvenir person, but I couldn’t resist buying a block of natural goat cheese. Made for some great tomato, cucumber, avocado and goat cheese salads during my stay.

That afternoon I did the five hour tour of the Quebrada de Las Conchas, a 60-kilometer stretch of unique and colorful rock formations, green valleys and viewpoints north of Cafayate that has been developed over thousands of years. It’s similar to the Quebrada de Humahuaca north of Salta; however, Las Conchas has a more diverse colorscape as the valley and river adjacent to the highway are lush and green, providing a spectacular contrast to the red, brown, yellow, blue, green and gray of the mountains and rock formations.

Over the course of the tour our minibus stopped at around ten different spots to view and stroll through the amazing and diverse landscape of the Quebrada, which of course have quite an array of names as well as colors. There is the toad, priest, three crosses, ampitheater, castle, locomotive and of course, another garganta del diablo. This had to be at least the third attraction with a garganta del diablo, but the viewpoint of the falls in Iguazu remains the best. Nonetheless, it’s amazing how the wind and sand have carved these unique formations over millennia, especially the one that looked like the perch in The Lion King. I could picture Rafiki and Simba with ease. Seeing much of this as the sun was setting was even more spectacular. The photos I took and posted will make you agree I’m sure.

The next two days were for wine tasting and parrilla. The first day I set off with two guys from my hostel: Thess, a Brazilian, and for the life of me I cannot remember the German guy’s name. I think it was something similar to Paul or Sam. Sorry German guy...Anywho, we grabbed a cab and set out for two bodegas outside of town where we would experience of couple of hiccups. The first place we wanted to go to was closed as the gravel road leading to the entrance was slightly flooded as apparently, the 60 days of rain this year had been uncharacteristically heavy. No biggie, there was another one a half hour walk away until there wasn’t because it was closed on the Lord’s Day. That didn’t make a ton of sense to us given that this is a wine and tourist town and we were there in the high season. What do a few bros have to do to get some wine around here?

At this point the next closest bodega was another hour’s walk away, but thank our lucky stars, there was a family in a pick up truck that was disappointed as well by the second place being closed. We were able to hop in the bed of the truck and ride down the hill to the bodega that was actually open. Huzzah! Once there we finally got to drink the famous Malbec as well as Cabernet and a dry white wine only grown in this region called Torrentes. I usually don’t prefer whites, but this one was quite good. Dry, crisp and with a touch of sweetness. The views were amazing with the mountains and the town serving as the backdrop. After this, we didn’t want to try our luck at any more bodegas on a Sunday so we bought a couple bottles and headed back to the hostel to indulge. Later we picked up some steaks and salad to share for dinner at the hostel. So good!

New day, new wine tasting partner. Lissette from Holland arrived a day earlier and was up for some wine as well. With places now open on Monday, we walked to four different places near town as well as return to the goat cheese shop. Apparently the Dutch have an affinity for good cheese. She bought two blocks even though we were both leaving the next day. The wine tastings were tall, cheap and delicious. Cafayate set the bar high for the Argentine wine scene. That night, five of us at the hostel returned to the parrilla in town that I frequented three times in five days. We gorged on a mixed grill of steak, ribs, chorizo and blood sausage along with fries and salad. We had two plates and since the restaurant was BYOB, the grand total per person was, drum roll please...eight bucks. Absolute insanity. Mendoza, you’ve got quite the challenge ahead of you!

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