My next day was spent exploring South of Salta, driving to a village called Cachi, lost in the Andean foothills. The road followed a now familiar pattern. First lush, flat green fields with horses and other four-legged road hazards………
…then a pretty, winding river valley…..
….next a steep climb up dry mountains along a rough track with many hairpin bends.
Near the top of the track, I stopped to buy sausage and cheese from some local people. I had now entered the Parque Nacional de los Cardones – (translated literally as the “Cactus National Park”.), and I stopped to enjoy a short walk amidst the wild, empty hills and to eat my lunch.
The road continued and reached flat, wild plateau where the reason for the park’s name became evident – the plain was dotted with huge cacti.
In the flat landscape I could see for miles, and the open stretched away into the distance. However the park authorities imposed impossibly low speed limits on this empty road – on average 60km/h but dropping to 30km/h at the (very rare) junctions and even 20km/h on one stretch. There were also signs warning of the danger of hitting wild animals and more signs warning that removing road signs was a criminal offence (it was easy to imagine why – if a sign were to somehow disappear it would considerably reduce the driving times for the few local drivers).
At first, I found progress frustratingly slow. But after a while I got to enjoy the slow progress, as the vastness and emptiness of my surroundings soaked into my brain.
My route left the park and joined the Route National 40 – a famous road that runs the entire length of Argentina. I had joined it 4,500km from where it starts in Tierra del Fuego.
I finally arrived in Cachi five hours after I had left Salta – for a trip that Google said should have taken me three. Perhaps Google agreed with the occasional local drivers who had sped past me in the desert, ignoring the ridiculous speed limits. Cachi is by far the biggest place in the area, but turned out to be more of a village than a town. It was comprised of low rise buildings made from mud brick (“adobe”) and painted white against the sun set around a pretty central plaza. Like most of the places I had visited in Argentina so far, the Andean foothills loomed impressively in the distance.
There was not much to do. I soaked in the slow, small-town atmosphere in the central square before going to visit a local wine producer on the outskirts of town. They had a beautiful garden for wine tastings, with views over the mountains.
I enjoyed a refreshing glass of their Torrentes (white) before trying some of their signature Malbec wine. The first wine was good, the second was sublime – a huge, velvety red. I abandoned my plan to visit a restaurant, bought a bottle of the red, and enjoyed it with the rest of my sausage and cheese. Wakefulness turned to sleep in a pleasant alcoholic haze.