We had time to sleep in for once this morning. Typical of us we are trying to cram a few months worth of trip into a single month. This is the view out our window this morning.
Today was definitely one of the weirder things we have done on vacation! Caravana de Llamas is a company that lets you trek with their llamas. Along with two guys from France, we did a half-day hike leading our own llama through town then up to a beautiful viewpoint above the town of Tilcara. We made quite the spectacle winding up the small streets of town leading four llamas behind us. Everyone was taking photos of our procession. We felt a bit like celebrities hounded by paparazzi!
For 5000 years, the Andean people have used llamas as pack animals. The llamas only carried our stuff, we were not allowed to ride them! The llama is the domesticated South American cousin of the camel. The two wild species are the guanaco and vicuña. There are no alpaca in Argentina (other than a few cross-breeds).
We made our way slowly along the road, then very steeply up a large hill and then a bit more up to a circle of stones that helped protect us from the crazy wind. The elevation made the uphill trek quite difficult for us who are much more comfortable at sea level! No one minded a few stops to catch our breath.
Our guides, Santos and Ivan then set up an amazing picnic lunch at Abra de Pata Pampa. The spread included empanadas, charcuterie (pork sausage not llama, as Santos is hesitant to eat members of his ‘family’), the first tiny tomatoes of the season, strawberries and local wine. Literally local wine – we can see the bodega from the top of the hill. We were asked to spill the first few drops of the wine on the ground as an offering to the goddess Pachamama (sure, as long as she doesn’t take too much). It was a very nice Malbec/Syrah/Cab Sauv blend, despite the slightly dusty glasses.
After lunch we took an even steeper trail back down the hill and repeated the parada through town.
After we returned the llamas we visited the Pucara of Tilcara, a partially restored pre-Colombian fort which was home to the Omaguaca people. Many of the inhabitants were artisans and shipped their creations to other parts of the pre-Incan empire. We probably saw some of their work at Machu Pichu in Peru when we were there.
In the botanical garden at the bottom of the Pucara is an iron-containing stone called the Piedra de Campaña – it makes the sound of a bell when struck
The Paleta del Pintor (Painter’s Palette) is another fantastic coloured rock formation in the town of Maimara. Once again the photos really don’t do it justice.
After the yummy wine at lunch, we decided to visit the winery down the hill. The owners of the DuPont winery are distant relatives of the founders of the chemical company. The Bodega is on the other side of the river from the town of Maimara and we literally drove part way up a river bed as the roads are “out”. Dave thinks this is the fourth or fifth time he’s taken a rental car up a river or creek.
According to their website, the winery offers hourly tours with tastings until 1800. So after bouncing up the river in the rental we were told (by a not so friendly guy) that the store was closed, no tastings today and no sales. Umm you could have said that 3km ago. Several things here have been quite casual so far.
One of the local specialties in this valley is homemade goat cheese – there are various tiny stalls on the sides of the highway. Because we like to support the local economy we stopped for a large wheel – not cheap, but so far nothing in Argentina has been! Sadly, the cheese was really salty and we aren’t enjoying it as much as we had hoped.
After showering off all the dust, we headed to dinner. Lentil and llama stew, locro (corn and squash soup) and a nice bottle of wine fit the bill nicely. Portions here are huge!
Tomorrow we head further north to Humahuaca to see more pretty rocks.