Day 9 (Sunday February 5, 2012) According to the legend, two Guanche goatherds—Guanches are the aboriginal Berber inhabitants of the Canary Islands—were walking on the beach when they found a statue of a black woman holding a baby on one hand and a green candle on the other. One of the shepherds stabbed himself as he tried to hurt the statue with a knife.  The other Guanche was a bit luckier, his arm got paralyzed as he attempted to throw a stone to the figure. The Guanches thought that the appearance represented the goddess Chaxiraxi—the mother of the gods—but the Christian conquerors explained to them that it was instead the appearance of the Virgin Mary. The cult of the Virgin of Candelaria took hold in the Canary Islands—the virgin became the patroness of the islands in 1559. The many canaries who came to the Caribbean and the rest of America brought with them their virgin, which is now widely venerated in the continent and is the patroness of several major cities like Oruro (Bolivia) and Medellin (Colombia).   Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria is also the patroness of the town of Molinos (Salta). The celebration to honor the virgin in Molinos took place today with the presence of the Governor of the province of Salta.  We were lucky to ride into Molinos as the celebration was in full swing and the image of the virgin was being carried on foot from the central square to the church—built in the 18th century.  Gauchos carrying flags and banners followed the virgin and later performed a flag waving (batida de banderas) to honor the virgin.

In the Calchaquí Valley route 40 follows the west bank of the Calchaquí river and goes through several towns, some large some small —we visited Cachi, Seclantás, Molinos and Angastaco. South of Cachi the pavement is replaced by gravel and patches of sand are common. Hitting a sand patch at any speed on a motorcycle is a very uncomfortable experience.  We survived every encounter we had with sand today but there were moments when we thought we were falling. Peppered along the road we passed interesting looking houses with heavy cylindrical columns holding the roof over a porch.  South of the little village of Angastaco the road enters the Quebrada de Las Flechas, a large area of beautiful sedimentary rock formations pointing, like arrows (flechas), towards the sky.  The dusty road meanders through the yellowish eroded sandstone—an ideal landscape for an imaginary dry planet inhabited by nocturnal beings with big eyes.

We reached the city of Cafayate—the center of the most renown wine country region in Northwestern Argentina—covered with dust and exhausted. My favorite white wine, Torrontes, comes from Cafayate. Torrontes grapes produced a very pleasant wine to drink very cold with fruit and cheese (my opinion).  Recent DNA profiling indicates that the Torrontes grape is related to the Muscat of Alexandria, the ancient strain that produced the wine of Samos that was allegedly drunk by Cleopatra.

Tomorrow is our rest day. I am so looking forward to a nice siesta!