Salta – Dique Cabra Corral – Alemania – Quebrada de Las Conches – Cafayate — 215.2km
This is an entry on a fairly short distance of road and I hade originally intented to include this section in the whole write-up for the ride to Mendoza. We had intended to make a mad dash to Mendoza for the holidays but then we were seduced by the lush grapes, chill atmosphere and amazing people at the hostel in Cafayate (see the entry on Christmas in Cafayate). So the ride from Cafayate to Mendoza will be another blog entry as this one will be entirely about the 200km ride from Salta to Cafayate, which is great because it was an amazing ride.
The journey started with a little in the busy highways of Salta then became idllyic riding through the long fertile Lerma Valley. The Lerma Valley is a fairly flat green valley with lots of green trees, farms and lush vineyards. There are friendly little towns around old churches where people genuinely greeted us with smiles and hellos, with children waving enthusiastically while they walked with their mom or grandmother on their way to local dispensa corner store. As we arrive in the quaint town of La Vina around lunch, many people were walking to the dispensa store carrying huge basket bags that they will fill with all sorts of fresh goodies as the little town corner store was better stocked than many of the supermarkets we found in Bolivia and sold everything from veggies to freshly sliced deli meats and cheese to canned foods, fresh bread and flours. There is definately a culture of fresh foods here and people close up their shops to return home for homecooked meals and the essential siesta. The whole area with vineyards and olive orchards and cozy little towns where everyone greets each other and family seems very important feels very southern European like we are in riding through the Tuscany countryside though it is destinctly Argentinean with a bit of a wild west feel as a man on a horse gallops by and spikey cactuses grow in dry ravines. To make it even more unique, giant flocks of parrots squack nosily from the trees. One group took flight was we rode by and there must have been over a hundred of them in the sky circling over us until they finally settled back into their tree again.
We had been travelling with a group of other cyclists for the last couple days to Salta and we all left the city at different times this morning with plans on meeting back up at a campsite by a lake 70km ride away. Some wanted to leave early when hopefully the roads leaving Salta would be less busy and others wanted to check out a museum first. On our end, we didn’t want to miss the amazing espresso coffee served with the breakfast at the hostel, Salta Por Siempre. Dique Cabra Corral is a very scenic lake made in the 1960s as a resevior for a hydroelectric dam. People flock here on the weekends to camp, chill out in the numerous houseboats, sail and even bungee jump. In the middle of the week when we were there, it was quiet except for the peacocks trumpeting their calls which sound like a cross between a brass horn and a cat in heat. We didn’t end up finding the others but we did find a campsite (Punta de Mahr) with peacocks wandering around and covered campsites with electricity and water right at each site and panoramic views of the lake. It is always amazing to go for a nice swim after a ride!
On our next day of riding, we stopped at the historic train station at Alemania which looked more like a scene frozen in time out of the Old West rather than Germany (Alemania is Spanish for Germany), and then started riding in the Nature Reserve of the Quebrada de las Conches. The gorge is geologically quite “modern”, caused by shifts in tectonic plates in the last two million years. It reveals the stratigraphy, or layers of rock from different periods of the world’s history, from as far back as Mesozoic era 60-90 million years ago. We are riding through a landscape that was around when dinosaurs roamed. The exoposed rocks are shaped by the wind, sand and periodic flash flooding in the long narrow gorge to form spectacular geological formations that are painted brilliant colours of reds from the oxiditation of iron minerals.
There is the the Garganta de Diablo winding canyon in the rocks made even more psychedelic with twisting stratigraphic lines curving with the earth moving processes that made the formation.
The Amphitheater is a larger bowl carved into the cliffside that we could ride right into.
There are other formations such as the toad like shaped boulder called El Sapo, a mountainside that I found interesting because of the incredible stratigraphy but apparently you can also see the figure of a Franciscan monk, a monolith called the Obelesk, stone cylinders that looked they were made from red wax and melting in the sun into the river called the Castles and many others.
We spent the first night camped by the river and had an amazing campfire then headed to the town of Cafayate surrounded by vineyards.