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Published: December 14th 2007
We picked up our spanking clean Chevrolet Corsa and headed out of Salta down Ruta 68 for about 170K to Cafayate. Paved road all the way with spectacular quebrada/canyon scenery part of the way. Picked up a local hitching with two small boys - who fell asleep for the whole ride so the driving must have been OK. Spent a couple of nights in Cafayate. Walked up one of the small hills outside town - great view of the mountains, desert and vineyards. Also went up to one of the bodegas and Andrew went in search of some alleged painted caves at the Cueva del Suri. Involved wandering up and down the hillside in the company of a man possessed from Buenos Aires to eventually find one painted llama and a squiggle. Mmn.
From Cafayate we joined Ruta 40 and headed to Santa Maria passing by the ruins at Quilmes - currently being picketed by indigenous peoples in a dispute about land rights (and money). Santa Maria is a sleepy spot and the guidebooks would have you believe that it is where the road stops being tarmac. Our next destination being Belen, about 180 km south west, we were prepared
Gargantua del Diablo
in the Quebrada de Conchas
for the worst....so imagine our surprise when we drive out of town onto pristine newish tarmac. The tarmac only ran out near Hualfin and after 40Km of ripio road it started again. We only had to ford a couple of smallish rivers - I imagine they would be very difficult in the wet season. The mountain scenery along the road is fabulous.
Belen turned out to be a friendly oasis town and we stayed a couple of nights. On the first evening we met Neil and Ann, a couple who were cycling from La Paz to Mendoza - good company even though clearly bonkers for cycling across semi desert. They had a day off the bikes and came with us to the ruins of El Shinkal near Londres. The ruins are of an Inca town and whilst not Cuzco or Macchu Pichu they are worth a visit.
Leaving Belen we hit the road to Chilecito. For the first 100km there was nothing but desert scrub then at the turn off into Famatina valley there is a village, San Blas, then virtually nothing again for over a 100km until Chilecito. We overtook the intrepid cyclists about 25km from Belen.
Hope they had a good day.
We arrived in Chilecito early afternoon and it was deserted and very very hot. After finding our hostal, a bargain at 45AP per night we had a quick orientation walk and then agreed with the locals that a siesta was very much in order. When the heat dropped to merely very hot we had a longer walk out in search of the first station of the cable car. Really helpful tourist information at the bus station.
We managed to find a cafe on the main plaza which serves middle eastern food - hummus and tabouleh made a nice change.
Historical note: Chilecito lies at the foot of some very big mountains and there is/were metal ores including gold. In c1903 a cable car system was set up to transfer men and materials to/from Chilecito. The distance from the town to the mine is 35km and the height difference 3,500 metres. As far as I can tell the system closed in 1935. Some parts and some of the nine stations have been restored. Unfortunately some children were killed by falling from one of the cars some time ago so the cars are
not running at this time.
I think we made the most of the town and its surroundings in the day and a half we had here, sad that the Che statue has lost its legs.
Next stop Villa Union.
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