Another spectacular drive.
The wine-way. Through north and central Argentina.
At times it was barren, like driving through the southern part of the Owyhee Desert between Idaho and Utah, but most of it was eye-catching. Fetching. Stunning wineries lazing on meticulously farmed vineyards abutting jagged, clay-red cliffs. Winding through the wine-way felt simultaneously prehistoric — and indeed, many dinosaurs have been discovered here — and modern. Like civilization both started and will end here. You gotta get here before it does….
A serendipitous stop.
As mentioned before, we often don’t know where we’re going. Not exactly at least. Just somewhere. South usually. We often just scan various guidebooks and pick a location a few hours from our last location. Hence how we landed here.
A stage stop. A sage stop. A dusty stop surrounded by many, seemingly, well watered vineyards. As we pulled into town, passing a harmonious yet mishmash of adobe, western, and colonial structures, all snuggled around a verdant and charming plaza, it reminded me of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A less posh version. What I imagine Jackson Hole looked like a few decades ago.
We setup camp at a large, municipal campground a good toss outside of town and within stumbling distance to a couple of the more prominent wineries. Then we toured one of those wineries. Sampled four wines and two cheeses. Felt snooty temporarily. Then reminded ourselves we hadn’t showered in four days. Then we departed for dinner. We were in search of empanadas.
Our Argentinian friends, Martin and Luli, forewarned us that the empanadas in Salta, the state that houses Cafayate, are simplemente la mejor. And they weren’t wrong. They were the best we’ve had on this trip. Perhaps life. And the empanadas have gotten increasingly worse the further South we traveled. It’s an endemic recipe evidentially. You can (and perhaps should) only get it here.
The Nicest Argentinians
The campground was brimming by the time we returned. It was Friday. We figured we were in for a rowdy night. Argentinians, even the recently born ones, stay up late. Much past midnight.
Our (partially) toothless monsters immediately befriended the kids in the neighboring tents. The parents of those kids immediately came to introduce themselves. Asked a slew of questions and offered us a few cervezas. Then they, and the rest of the campground, returned to grilling and socializing.
The next day, after everyone except us weeny Americas had stayed up the night before until dos or tres, we stumbled out of the van around nine. The Argentinians were already up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Then a couple fathers from the previous night approached, fortunately after Andrea had had a cup of coffee — regardless of language, conversations are dangerous, often violent, when Andrea isn’t properly caffeinated. They invited us to dinner that night. We asked if we could bring anything. They said nada. Then we asked the time. They said 10:30pm. Andrea and I collectively stuttered. Then we explained how we lame Americans eat much earlier but that we’d be excited to dine at that time. They departed. A few minutes later, they returned. Said they’d discussed it with everyone else and that they’d be happy to commence dinner at 10:00pm….
The dinner, meat with a side of meat, was amazing. Marinated, seasoned, and grilled to perfection (I believe Argentinians exit the womb knowing how to grill; it’s science). The families were incredibly gracious and friendly (I also believe Argentinians have affability spliced into their DNA; it’s also science). We ate and drank and socialized until the wee hours of the morning. The latest we’ve stayed up on this trip. Took us three days to recover.
We spent a couple hours roaming the streets of Mendoza. Then we spent a couple nights at a fancy-ish hotel outside of the city. It wasn’t that Mendoza isn’t nice. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s just we’d had, as we’ve had a few times on this trip, enough of the van. We needed out. We needed big beds, scolding showers, and working wifi.
However, based on our, somewhat, cursory inspection, I’d certainly put Mendoza on your must-visit list, especially if you’re a wino. Wineries and boutique resorts flank the outside. Tree-lined boulevards and plazas crisscross the inside. It’s one of the nicest, most well laid out cities we’ve ventured through (most of it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1861; they built it back right). You could easily live here. We thought about it briefly. Then we tried some subpar empanadas.