Last year this time we where up North along Route 40 Argentina, here are some details on our trip ……
……..so we hit the road in mid January for a wonderful adventure… We decided we were going to stay in traditional and magical hotels, those that are truthfully local with an extra charm. I christened them Cheap hotels, inexpensive but wonderful small inns with the true local feel and way of life, artistic and simple (the key to amazing)…
Buenos Aires- San Juan was our first section, whilst not thru the route 40, for it doesn’t reach the Atlantic coast region; we were on our way towards the Northern section of our Route 40 Adventure.
On January 15 2006, we hit the road. After adjusting last minute issues regarding work and house care we finished loading the car and hit Santa Fe Avenue towards the main highway taking us out of Buenos Aires. Filled with happiness and emotion, we were on our way already!
We knew that this first trip was the longest, so we bought some sodas, candies and a super box of sandwiches for the road. Those are not just any regular sandwich; these are special Argentine ones, made out of a very thin bread loaf, ham, cheese and any extra ingredient of your desire, olives, lettuce, tomato, peppers, salami, palm hearts, tuna… you name it, they have it.
Heading out of Buenos Aires we took the route 8 and went thru the provinces of Santa Fe and Cordoba towards San Luis. We traveled nearly 800 km until Merlo, a sweet small town known for its wonderful mellow climate, fabulous landscapes and great sights. Our initial plans to stay overnight in Merlo were frustrated by the fact that the town was packed. We thought we will visit this sweet town some other time, this trip was all about the route 40… We were filled with positive energy, our wonderful trip was starting, hence we understood this as a “meant to be sign”. We hit the road immediately towards the magical San Juan thru route 20 –home to the Moon Valley and many wonderful natural sights-.
We arrived late in the evening to a small inn in Quines, the owner was lovely. It was late at night but she arranged us a sweet room and a pleasant dinner. Enjoying the stars and the sweet air while eating dinner we met our first road friends two bright Danishes –mother and son- who were traveling thru Argentina on a super motorbike.
A wonderful conversation kept us busy that night. We then rested… The next morning, under a bright blue sky we headed towards far more northern destinations. We arrived at noon to San Jose de Jachal. A charming small town lost in time, just a few couple of blocks and adobe brick antique houses standing by the marvelous landscape welcomed us quiet and empty: it’s siesta time and every soul takes time to rest under the shade of trees or the comfort of their beds. Latter in the afternoon, when the raving sun begins to hide behind the mountains the village dwellers slowly begin to populate the streets once again.
We stayed at another interesting lodge; the cute San Martin hotel was our home for that night.
As the sun goes down and the stars begin to shine brightly in the clear sky we head to a local pub for a cold beer and peanuts –the Argentine equivalent to the Irish popcorn-. It was time for dinner a true northern “asado” was waiting for us; it was good! We invited an American couple to join us for dinner. Our new friends were also traveling to Talampaya in the morning so we shared information, tips and life stories.
Early the next morning we head to the wonderful Talampaya in La Rioja. This fabulous breathtaking location has been declared humanity’s patrimony by the UNESCO… and they are right! It’s wonderful.
The road throughout the mountains until Villa Union is gorgeous. Shallow rivers, rock tunnels and very little vegetation combine creating a spectacular scene.
We arrive to Pircas Negras hotel, were we just take a minute to organize our stuff and head towards the wonderful National Park of Talampaya.
Oh my God, this is a breathtaking place! Immense red stone walls that have been carefully crafted by the millenary wind stand upon us as superb Natural Monuments. We go inside the park with the company of a specialized tour guide and a couple of fellow travelers from around the globe that go as speechless as we do.
The scenery is breathtaking; we’re touched in our souls by this wonderful place.
At night, another fabulous experience would round up a fantastic day… dinner at Los Sauces delights our palate with a simple but delightful “cabrito asado”.
The next stop in our adventure is Tucuman. We drive in 10 hours through 3 provinces. The leftover water mirrors left by the day’s before rain reflect the rich red mountains and earth of La Rioja. Once in Catamarca province, the colors will turn into soft beiges… all throughout Chilecito, Londres, Belen and Santa Maria the main stops along the road we finally arrive to the magical route 40!
A drive along a fabulous scenario will finally lead us to our destination: the Quilmes Indians ruins; the remains of a strong and legendary culture that was the last and toughest conquest for the Spanish conquerors. The place is imponent, their history and culture are outstanding, and we’re astonished by their craftsmanship.
That night we’ll spend it in the sophisticated and charming Quilmes Hotel, just outside the ruins.
A day around the Quilmes ruins area was wonderful. Lunch at a typical local place, sightseeing, talking to the locals and enjoying their way of life was very interesting. In the afternoon, when the sun was shining to its most we headed back to the Quilmes hotel for a refreshing swim in their beautiful-mountain surrounded pool.
Cafayate was a wonderful surprise, the lovely location, the great nearby vineyards and the superb Killia Hospedaje. The owner had turned her lovely traditional house into a nice lodge.
The route takes us higher above the sea level at this point, nearly 2,000 meters, wow! What a rush of adrenaline.
A must when in Cafayate is the town’s own invention: Torrontes wine ice cream. A great surprise to the palate and the senses, that is best enjoyed after a good local meal. At night we enjoyed a pleasant evening with Marie France and Jean, two kind friends we met from Lyon, France. Long conversations in wonderful sights have become a pleasant constant in our journey.
As the sun began to shine illuminating the colorful mountains of this southern Salta town, we hit the route 40 once again, driving from Cafayate to the charming town of Cachi, a lost in time Colonial house place of a great positive energy.
The roads are rough at this point, so we had to go slowly along the rocky pathway. The fact that the scenario surrounding the route is so astonishingly beautiful is a fabulous plus for those long rides. It looks like it has been carefully planed for us adventure riders to have a wonderful experience driving throughout the marvelous route 40. The sights along the road have been christened the Quebrada de las Flechas –Broken of the Arrows- , for the design motives the wind had carved throughout the years in the heavy stone walls.
Passing thru Seclantas and El Colte, two charming locations were hand made weavings and traditional handcrafts are fabulous.
We then accidentally discovered a superlative boutique hotel along the road. Finca Colome is a marvelous place, the only altitude vineyard and winery owned by Mr. Hess, a Swiss man who created sophisticated, luxury and exclusive lodge.
In the days to come, route 40 will keep surprising us with its hidden treasures and natural surrounding beauties.
A few miles north from the altitude winery we discovered yet another great place: Estancia La Paya. Owned by a charming woman who’s a historian and anthropologist, and family run, this place was our place to be in, simple and cool, run by bright and interesting people.
Cachi is outstanding, simple yet wonderful, small in size but big in spiritual and aesthetic terms. It stole our heart. We definitely must come back. But now, the route calls upon our souls and bodies. Climbing up to 3,200 meters ofver the sea level, the last direct path of route 40 runs along a majestic natural scenario towards La Poma. The area’s roughness and bright reds go turning rich and fertile as we get closer to the Bishop’s Slope.
The route 40 was impossible at this point due to a heavy rain that had occurred the day before, so we too route 33 towards Salta the Beautiful –as it’s known the province capital city because of its beauty-. Our final destination was St Anthony of Copper, the final destination of the train of the clouds and an inhospitable town.
The road once again leads us to paradise in earth: the house of Jasmines. This amazing hotel is owned by Robert Duvall and his Argentine wife. Oh my god! The place is gorgeous, it smells like roses and jasmines; the room is terrific, a gorgeous bed and a tulle curtains around it, marvelous huge windows offering a great park view. A superlative swimming pool overlooking the river and nearby mountains… Several living room areas and a marvelous atmosphere of cordiality and great service are the final touches to this heavenly hotel.
Our dinner that night was delightful. The chef had made a warm salad with chicken, greens champignons and avocado; several home made dips and humus to enjoy with warm bred, tenderloin T-bone steak with glazed onions; and a wonderful cold chocolate cake for dessert was the perfect ribbon like finish for our stay. Breakfast was as wonderful as dinner, and a perfect start for our day journey to San Antonio de Los Cobres in the limit between Salta and Jujuy provinces.
St Anthony was interesting, the viaduct and the town were our main day features. The road trip however was as it had been all along the road, amazing. As we kept on climbing towards the clouds, at 4,000 meters over the sea level, the landscape around us kept on surprising us gladly.
This was our last stop along the route 40. Filled with joy and emotion we had accomplished not only the journey but also a rewarding inner feeling of completeness, so rare in these modern days. Following the Inca sun paths the next days will be also impressive and rewarding. The Humahuaca Break was our last destination. We started in Purmamarca, a gorgeous little town nearby route 52. Four blocks conform the town’s center and main plaza, a church and a couple of crafts-stores complete the scenario enriched by the background image of the Seven Color Mountain.
We stayed at the Manatial del Silencio, Silence Springs, enjoyed delightful meals at Los Morteros –The Morters- restaurant, and had fun watching young backpacker travelers dancing at the town’s plaza at the rhythm of local “carnavalito” music.
Then along the road came Tilcara, Humahuaca and Iruya. This last place was also an amazing surprise. This is a town built in the mountain side, uphill are all the houses and the stone paved roads led the visitors to the breathtaking top hill sights.
Once again, our Cheap hotel takes our breath and rewards our bodies and souls. We wake up to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of our bed, the spectacular huge windows of our room face the marvelous carved shapes of the break, its broad walls bathed by the afternoon soft light are the second sunny ritual we’ve begin to religiously pursue in these former Inca towns.
Purmamarca is our final stop –once again- before heading back home. We had so deeply fallen in love with that place that we had to return. We returned to the Morters restaurant, to enjoy Tere’s wonderful cooking and exchange recipes and tips… We now chose La Comarca lodge, another great place we discover, and once again enjoyed lovely afternoons at the plaza’s café.
Bob Frassinetti. Buenos Aires, Argentina