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  • Total days on the road: 586
  • Currently in: USA
  • Miles Driven: 36821
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The Ruta 40

Written by Jessica on December 4, 2012

Grape vines at a winery near Cafayate, Argentina.

Start: November 6, Salta, Argentina 
Finish: November 12, Tafi de Valle, Argentina
Cute puppys almost adopted: 1
Wines tasted: I don't remember
Argentinian tents setup 20 feet from ours: 12
Flat tires repaired: 1

From our northern hideaway in the hills we head south to the city of Salta. Ready to stock up on supplies. After all it has been nearly three weeks since we'd seen a supermarket. We set out to find a decent-sized propane tank for our stove, since we haven't been able to buy the one pound tanks since Ecuador. A task that seemed easy, and yet took two days to complete.

Fueled up and stocked up we hit the famous Ruta 40 and enjoy some nice dirt roads for a change. The meat situation is a amazing, and camping incredible. Argentina knows what's up! Better yet, we soon hit wine country and spend several intoxicated afternoons pretending to be much more sophisticated than we actually are (Jared stayed at the campground).

The campground in Salta was less than amazing. It did have huge grills and 24 hour hot showers. But we were told we had to camp close to the buildings or we'd be robbed. Awesome.

Our campground in Salta.

The most appealing part about this place was the ginormous pool. We heard that it takes an entire week to fill. It's so big I actually mistook the blue blob on the GPS for a lake. Unfortunately it was empty and serious summertime preparations were under way during our visit. An entire crew of painters came in about 6pm every night, worked until mid morning and then shut off the flood lights and went home. 

The gigantic pool at Salta's campground.

A cathedral in Salta.

In between driving around trying to sort out our propane problem, we did find time to visit downtown Salta. Not a terrible place, but certainly nothing amazing. I guess we've seen one to many colonial cities lately. We did stumble upon this beautiful church, San Francisco.

The main church was built in 1625 and the tower completed nearly 50 years later. But like most colonial churches, it was destroyed by several different fires and was rebuilt in 1870 to more or less how it looks today.

Sightseeing aside, we did finally purchase a new six-pound propane tank and fittings for our stove. Two days later propane started to leak out of the valve. And so, like a circus crew, we returned to the bottle shop, the adaptor shop and the filling station to replace our defective tank.

From Salta we went west to the famous Ruta 40. A road that stretches the entire length of Argentina, 3,107 miles long and crossing 27 mountain passes through the Andes. Our first stop was Cachi, a cute little town at the start of a beautiful dirt road south.

Red rock mountains along Ruta 40 south of Salta.

We find the municipal campground and as we sat around debating where the fluffiest piece of grass was, we met quite possibly the cutest stray dog in the world. Maybe I say that because he looks just like my cat, but still. We named him Pepinillo which means little pickle.


Jared lights up the charcoal and we grill some delicious chicken legs. Our first non-beef meal in a week. And of course, Pepinillo hangs around for the scraps.  

Our campground and camp doggie named Pickle in Cachi.

Early the next day we bid goodbye to Pepinillo who faithful slept on our tent doorsteps. A dog that cute won't be homeless much longer. (We later met up with other overlander friends who camped here and also gave all their scraps to this cute puppy.)

Leaving Cachi we are confronted with Argentina's Ruta de Vino marketing campaign at every road juncture. Just so you know how many miles it is until you can get some more vino.

A Ruta del Vino sign along Ruta 40 in the province of Salta.

The nicely graded dirt road even has kilometer markers. Only 4496Km more to Ushuaia. Good to know.

A mile marker reading 4495km on Ruta 40.

The road is spectacular. Canyons carved from what look like long dried up rivers and fantastic rock formations appear out of nowhere. We would have pitched our tents out here in the wild, but the Ruta del Vino beckoned. Must get to the vineyards.

Strange rock formations along Ruta 40.

Shockingly, this desert landscape is home to more than just spiders and scorpions. We stopped by the roadside to gawk like proper tourists at an entire tree full of parrots. What, in the desert you say? Yes, the not-so-rare Argentian desert parrot, just as noisy as the regular parrot.

Blue/green parrots along the road on the way to Cafayate.

In Cafayate we caught up with our friends FromAtoB again. Thankfully they'd already been in town for a few days and had the wine tasting scene scoped out. "This one is the best, don't go there and that one has bad wine but it's free." Friends are awesome. We intend to stay exactly three days behind them for the rest of our trip.

Our campground in Cafayate.

More importantly, they knew the hours of the local supermarket, which is a bit of a mystery in Argentina. The one in Cafayate is closed everyday between 1 and 6pm. You know, the normal time to go buy food for dinner. We still managed to find some delicious chorizo. Half we ate for dinner and the other half we used to make some chorizo and cheese empanadas for lunch the next day. Yummers.

Chorizos on the grill.

While Jared is busy cooking, Kobus and I sneak out for a late afternoon wine tasting session. Afterall, this is serious wine country.

Cafayate road sign

Just down the road is Bodega Domingo Hermanos. It a big industrial place that sends 60% of it's wine out in 5 liter demijohns (or demijuans in Spansih) to restaurants around Argentina. That's a lot of wine.


We get a sneak peak at the bottling and labeling process. All just to kill some time before they give us some to taste. The wine here is average, but they also make goats cheese, which is incredible!

botteling plant

The next day we head out to a few other vineyards around the area. The highlight of the day was Bodega Etchart. Huge oak barrels, a beautiful tasting room, four wines to sample and a tour, all for free. My favorite price.

Cafayate wine tasing room

We learned quite a bit here about the way to compare different wines. Although Argentina is known for it's red Malbecs, this is white wine country. The most popular grape here is the Torrontes. It makes a sweet white wine with a very strong aroma. Delicious served chilled on a hot afternoon. But dangerous, very dangerous. We all know white wine hangovers are the worst.

Looking at the color od the Malbec

Kobus and I aren't big white wine fans, but we take it all in stride. Free terrible wine is better than expensive terrible wine anyway. The tasting lasts nearly an hour and by the end we've sobered up enough to realize the cost for a decent bottle of Reserva is out of our budget. Despite our best efforts we couldn't get a single bodega in Cafayate to let us try a wine older than 2011, even when we offered to pay!

Yup, smells like wine

The morning after the wine tasting extravaganza, we woke up to a flat tire. A slow leak. Who knows what happened. Being our first flat tire for the trip, it's hard to complain. At 8am Kobus wastes no time plugging up the hole and running the air compressor at full blast to reinflate the tire. Take that noisy I-play-my-music-all-night tent neighbors. 

Kobus repairs a flat tire.

Stocked up on enough wine for a night or two we head south again on the Ruta 40 and decide to take a detour for the night to check out the town of Tafi de Valle. The road through the mountains is windy, but the views are outstanding.

The patched asphalt road on the way to Tafi de Valle.

Unfotunately, the view from the otherside of the pass is less than spectacular. The fog sets in and the rain pours down. We manage to sneek in a delicious grilled dinner between rain showers, but call it an early night. The next morning the weather hadn't improved so we decided to move on.

A foggy viewpoint on the way to Tafi de Valle.

Much to Jared's dismay, we get back on the Ruta 40 and the desert scenery continues. Driving breaks revolve around the presence of shade trees and ice for evening drinks is now mandatory.

A rest stop on the Ruta 40.

Up next: We head to a foodie paradise, Medoza! Olive oil, chocolates, and of course, wine. It's here that the idea for the great Thanksgiving pig roast is formed.

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