Day 15 (February 22, 214) Today we left Purmamarca in the direction of Cafayate. A few kilometers south of Purmamarca we visited the charming little town of Tumbaya. From there we dropped into the city of San Salvador de Jujuy, the province capital. From the sun of the Quebrada we rode into the clouds and the rain of the Jujuy valley below. From Jujuy to Salta we took—like we did two years ago—a section of the old Pan American route (Ruta 9) known as La Cornisa, the cornice. This narrow road through the cloud forest is truly special. The beauty of the lush forest was enhanced by the intermittent rain. We stop frequently to take pictures, listen to the birds, and marvel at the tall trees covered with epiphytes and hanging mosses.
From Salta we took route route 68 to La Viña and Cafayate. Approximately 100 kilometers from Salta, the old train station at Alemania offers a sad reminder of the destruction—by corrupt civilian and military governments—of the once very extensive railroad system of Argentina. Alemania was the last station of a line that provided access to the valley of the Calchaquí River (Valles Calchaquíes). Today, the buildings of the station are used for a snack bar, a gomería, and a auto repair shop. In Alemania we met Reginaldo, a Brazilian cyclist who had ridden his bike all the way from San Pedro the Atacama. We did the same road in our motorcycles and find it amazing that Reginaldo was able to ride his bike at those altitudes (most of the road stays between 3,000 and 4,900 meters). It took Reginaldo several days to cross from Chile to Argentina so he had to carry extra water and had to camp up there several cold nights. Amazing! Reginaldo told us that Cafayate was a zoo and that we were going to have a hard time finding a hotel there.
South of Alemania, route 68 goes through one of the most colorful quebradas (valleys) in Argentina, Quebrada de las Conchas. I will let the pictures do the description for me. The reds, ochers, yellows of the mountains on both sides of the rive—Río de las Conchas—are unforgettable.
Reginaldo was right. There was a festival in Cafayate so the normally charming town—located in one of the major wine-making areas of Argentina—was jam-packed with of people. It was hard to move through the town let alone find a hotel so we decided to continue south in search for lodging. We were very lucky to find Hostal Río de Arena at El Bañado de Los Quilmes, located only 3 kilometers from the entrance to the Quilmes Ruins. Staying at the hostel was Craig—a Canadian motorcyclist on a 2007 KLR650—who joined us for dinner. We had empanadas and humita with Río de Arena wine—produced by the owner of the hostel.