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Day Two: Tupiza to Quetena Chico

After looking into our options, we organised our trip with Tupiza Tours. We left early in the morning in a convoy of four jeeps, each loaded with food, water and fuel. We had to be self-sufficient as our accommodation was very basic. So, in our car we had our guide (Alberto) as well as a cook (Veronica) and we were joined by Claire from Ireland and Tyler from Canada.

The crew. Pic taken near Palala Village.

We started out by covering the same ground as the previous day's mountainbike ride to El Sillar. This time we visited the top of the ridge, which gave us a great view on either side.

Looking down to the Rio San Juan del Oro.

At roughly 11:30 am we passed near San Vincente, the alleged site of the killing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was and still is mining country and Butch was in the neighbourhood staging robberies… but that's a whole story on it is own so we will try and get back to it later.
We stopped for lunch in Cerillos, the largest in a cluster of hamlets that largely exist because of the mining industry. Although this was the largest hamlet, it was not much more than a tiny shop and a few mud brick houses. We took some notes on this hamlet out of curiosity, which is covered in the next post (we won't make a habit of it though).
The day was long, dusty, and due to the altitude, cold. Several people in other cars were suffering pretty badly from altitude sickness. We were ok but hadn't realised how important it was to acclimatise first. Fortunately the scenery was dramatic and kept changing at every corner, so it wasn't taking away from the trip.
About midway into the afternoon we came across a truck that was bogged in an icy river. For some reason that did not inspire caution with our drivers and one of our jeeps was bogged too. Our guide stopped so we could get out and lighten the weight of the jeep, then he got across and tried to help his mate. Then another jeep from the same company came up behind us and also got stuck…shambles. Eventualy we all got out…
Shortly after this we passed a small convoy of trucks loaded with cars. We thought they were crazy to be trying to cross through this country while the rivers were freezing over but our guide informed us that they were using these backroads to avoid the police…those cars were stolen and this was basically a smugglers route.
The scenery was stunning the entire day. We were constantly in awe as the landscapes changed every few hours. We ended the day watching the sun set on Uturuncu Volcano (6,008 metres).
Later in the evening we arrived at the first nights accomodation at Quetana Chico. We know its winter, but there is nothing that could prepare us for how unbelievably cold it was, and without any internal insulation or heating, it was difficult to get warm. The lady in the office at Tupiza told us that it would get down to around negative 30 degrees celcius overnight, and around negative 15 degrees inside. We managed to distract ourselves with card games, music and wine but went to bed fairly early to keep warm and get some sleep before the next day of adventures!

That was a long night and it was the coldest on the tour.




Cafayate and Cachi

While we were in Salta, we spent a couple of days doing day trips to explore the surrounding landscapes and towns. We had heard that both Cafayate and Cachi were nice, but didn't really know what we would find. Both trips exceeded our expectations!


Driving out of Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate towards the town of Cafayate, we were struck by the amazing red desert, canyons and rock formations, which looked like they were straight from the set of an American country and western film.

We stopped at several places along the way, to take in the amazing views and look down over the canyon. The Garganta del Diablo (Devils's throat) was a large crack between the rocks that stretched back several kilometres.

El Anfiteatro (Ampitheater) was probably the most impressive, as it was literally a path that lead to a naturally hollowed out circle in the rock, which used to be a waterfall.

The rocks provided amazing acoustics, and apparently many musicians have recorded albums here. We were lucky to see a local band performing although we didn't stay long as it was freezing!

There were other rock formations along the way such as El Sapo (the toad) and El Fraile (the friar), however they were not as impressive and only looked very loosely like what the tourist guide claimed them to be.

The Devil's Throat

Quebrada de Cafayate

The Ampitheatre

We arrived in Cafayate in time for lunch and were surprised to find a quaint little town with a cute colonial plaza. We ate in the sun, tried some local craft beers and ice cream before heading off to a nearby vineyard for a tour and some wine tasting. Having spent so long in Mendoza, we were not particularly excited by yet another wine tour, however, the local specialty is a white torrontes and that was worth the trip! It was so good that we bought several bottles of torrontes over the next few days to make sure we did it justice. The Argentinean malbec is the pick of the bunch for red wines and the torrontes is definitely the best white wine. Highly recommend it!
Driving to Cachi we saw completely different scenery from the drive to Cafayate, but it was equally as impressive. We drove through a valley and then steadily climbed up winding roads until we were literally above the clouds.
The area is well known for its geological formations and the colours that can be found in the rocks as a result of different layers of sediment. The scenery was stunning, and along with mountains and rocks, we also saw huge cactus trees, some of which are hundreds of years old!
We arrived in Cachi for lunch,and like Cafayate, it had a beautiful colonial plaza surrounded by a church and white washed buildings. Mark was very excited to find an asado restauarant that was cooking up fresh llama, which he tried for the first time. We wandered around town, bought some more local wine and enjoyed the sunshine. The drive back to Salta was just as beautiful, and wellworth the effort!


Atuel Canyon

While we were in San Rafael we wanted to see the Atuel Canyon, which we had heard was amazing. We spent one day at Valle Grande, which was easy enough to get to by catching a bus from town to the dam wall. However, we didn't realise that none of the activities would be running, it was too far to walk to the top of the dam, and that the bus only had one return time – 7pm, when it was dark and cold, and all the cafés were shut!

After our first failed attempt, we decided to hire a car for the day so that we could have the freedom to explore in our own time. This proved to be the best option! We took a wrong turn coming out of San Rafael, and ended up driving a different route to El Nihuil, which turned out to be a spectacular drive across desert plains with mountain peaks in the far distance.

Eventually, we turned off the main road and headed towards the village of El Nihuil. There is not much to this dusty little town, but we did find one restaurant that was open, so we had lunch and then continued on our way. The canyon starts here and provided hours of epic scenery.
There are several huge dams used for hydroelectric power. The last is at Valle Grande, where there are also a lot of activities that you can do (mostly in Summer) such as kayaking, rafting, trout fishing etc. However, there was pretty much no water in the river as it hardly ever rains, and the dam holds the main flow.
The dramatic landscapes and colours in the rock were incredible. Add a dash of Autumn, and it was just beautiful. We had a great day and would highly recommend anyone around the area to check out the Canyon!

El Nihuil

Dam wall at Valle Grande



In order to get from Brazil to Argentina, we decided to go the slightly more adventurous way, through Paraguay. We caught a bus from Bonito to Ponta Pora, where we stayed overnight in a dingy hostel near the bus station. The next morning, we tackled the bureaucracy, getting exit stamps on our passports from the Brazilian Police and entrance stamps from Paraguayan Immigration. We thought we needed a visa, so we checked with the Paraguayan Consulate who assured us that we didn't, and said that we could easily cross the border with just a stamp from Immigration.

We then caught a taxi to the Paraguayan bus terminal in Juan Pedro Caballero, the same town as Ponta Pora, but just across the border. Within an hour we were on a bus headed for Concepción! The whole process was far easier than we expected. Perhaps a little too easy…

Beautiful countryside in Paraguay

After spending around 6 hours on a bus, we arrived in Concepción slightly tired and hungry. We were greeted at the bus terminal by an excited man with a horse whip, who wanted to give us a lift to our hostel on his horse and cart. It was cheaper than a taxi, and far more fun! The look on the driver's face was priceless as he carried two gringos on his cart through town, waving to everyone he knew!

Horse and cart is a standard form of transport in Paraguay

The whole place is very relaxed. We only stayed for a couple of days, but were able to have a good look around town, which is quite run down, but there are some lovely buildings from the early 20th Century.

The statue of Mary is an icon of Concepción

We found the local market and bought some much needed fruit. The food here has been pretty ordinary…its all just carbs and protein! One of the worst meals to date was our first night in Concepción when Mark ordered a 'Milanesa Cubano', which consisted of steak crumbed and deep fried; a slab of cheese crumbed and deep fried; a slab of ham crumbed and deep fried; chips deep fried; mashed potato; bread; and for that Cuban effect, a banana – crumbed and deep fried. South American food is all about quantity, not quality!

Market, Concepción

If we had more time I would have liked to go exploring more and find the Australian Colony. “New Australia” was established in 1893 by 220 Australian immigrants with the aim of creating a socialist utopian commune. It failed miserably, but apparently descendents of some of those immigrants still live there. I heard about this last year for the first time on the news, and thought that was such a random part of Australian history that we should have been taught about it at school!

Bus in Concepción, Paraguay

We had planned to catch a bus to Ciudad del Este, cross the border to see Iguazu Falls, then cross back in to Paraguay and make our way to Encarnación down south, which is supposed to be a lovely city. The bus trip to Ciudad del Este was uneventful, and again we arrived late and stayed at another dingy hostel by the bus terminal. The next day we went to Immigration to get our exit stamps, and then we we were told we did in fact need a visa to enter the country and they were not going to let us leave without one. This left us in a difficult situation, as you can only apply for a visa from outside Paraguay. I explained the whole story, how we had actually gone to the consulate to get a visa etc. and we were told by two separate people that we didn't need one. After much discussion in broken Spanish, they realised that there wasn't anything we could do about it and they let us go. Unfortunately that meant that we could not cross back in to Paraguay, so instead we headed to Iguazu Falls and made plans to go back to Argentina.


Road Trips