The trip from Salta to Cafayate — the nucleus of the local wine industry — was about 120 miles. It took just under four hours. It might have gone faster, but the bus wasn't just the bus. It was the paperboy, too.
If you lived in any of towns along the dry mountain highway, you could flag the bus down and the driver would sell you a newspaper.
These were very small towns.
In most of them, we would stop at the first building in town and you could clearly see where the town ended up the road a piece. (Still, we'd stop three times to make pick-ups and drop-offs.)
By the time we got to Cafayate, even a town of 11,000 people seemed big.
I paid five bucks to rent a bike just off the expansive main plaza and then pedaled around to the wineries, most of which were a few miles out of town.
The area is desert. It was dry and hot, and it's only November. The heat in January must be unbearable.
Now, you may know that I am sort of a half-assed vegetarian. Increasingly, half-assed I'd say. I eat fish. I had a steak for my birthday this year. And when I was in Chicago, I ate duck at an event put on by Slow Food and the farm.
To that list, we can add the steak I ate in Cafayate.
My dining options were somewhat limited.
I picked a restaurant, leaned my bike against the lamppost and plopped myself down at a table. The waitress handed me a menu.
"We don't have everything on the menu," she said.
"That's fine," I said.
She went down the menu and named about ten things they didn't have before I stopped her.
I had seen signs for lomo a la frontera all over town. I asked for that.
It was steak and eggs over fried potatoes, with some onions and bell peppers thrown in.
Such a contrast to the steak I had six months ago for my birthday. At Bar Uriarte in Buenos Aires, the atmosphere is studied and refined, urban and sophisticated, with a carefully designed menu.
Here, it was plain and rural. Without pretense. Also, apparently, without a menu.
I finished my meal and biked off onto a dirt road into the hills.
Of course, who should I run into?
I hoped I hadn't eaten someone they knew. Well, someone they liked.
Aside from the wine and the scenery, the best thing about Cafayate is that the people aren't sick of tourists. They are definitely placing a heavy emphasis on developing the tourism industry there, but you can tell it hasn't gotten old. Yet.
Mendoza is the Argentine region that everyone associates with "wine country," but I think Cafayate is going to be the next big thing — as a travel destination and as an appellation.
I got back to Salta about 11pm and collapsed into my bed.
The next day, I flew back to Buenos Aires.
Yes, I had planned to take buses on this trip. But I had already taken a 10-hour bus to Córdoba. A 12-hour bus to Salta. And then a 7-hour round-trip to Cafayate and back.
Honestly, there wasn't enough wine in all of Cafayate to make 22 more hours on a bus OK.