San Salvador de Jujuy to Cafayte. 13,573 miles . 27th November
The local TV Company found us. Somebody told them we were in town. David was interviewed in Spanish about the trip and managed to answer most of the questions in pidgin Spanish as he can say quite a bit in Spanish but cannot understand the Spanish spoken to him especially in Argentina. Apparently it gets worse in Chile! We are now famous in town and have been asked for our autographs. By the way, Jujuy is pronounced "Hoohoowee".
After the now usual trip around town trying to find our way out we settled down to cycling 86 miles to Salta along good tarmac roads. The last 30 miles were along nearly deserted motorway where cyclists were prohibited. It was slowly uphill all the way and nobody, not even the police at a roadblock, questioned our presence. At Salta, a large town, we found and camped in our first official campsite. The guidebook said it had a very large swimming pool, and Joan being very pessimistic said it would probably be empty. It was! Still, the showers were hot and we chatted to an Argentine couple who were also camping there.
A trip around the supermarket showed some interesting prices. Beef is about a dollar per kg, tinned vegetables were cheaper than in Bolivia, and wine was cheaper than water. A bottle of water is 85 centavos (cents) and wine starts at 50 centavos. We do not need to buy bottled water, as all the water in Argentina is drinkable. We now fill up our bottles at garages.
Another campsite. This time for two dollars on the shores of a large lake on a small private site. The tourist information offices seem quite useful here as they give us local maps showing hotels and campsites with distances between. If this carries on we should have no problems finding accommodation.
The scenery is changing to a more barren rocky valley as the road leads south. We are surprised that flocks of parrots are still very common as we usually associate parrots with forested areas. Giant toads about six inches across keep us awake at night and are commonly seen on the road. A three-foot reddish coloured Iguana rushed across the road in front of us, and tarantulas are often seen although these are not as big as the red-kneed Mexican ones.
Wild guinea pigs also scamper along the edges of the road.
We wild camped by a shallow river and the only creatures that bothered us were the biting flies. These seem to be around wherever there is water. The locals tell us that there are many puma and rattlesnakes around here, but we haven't seen any. After cycling through some very impressive natural formations made by erosion of the rocks we finally arrived in Cafayate and settled in to a Hostel at 16 pesos a night.
We only intended to stay here one night and then continue camping, but we found we had a problem. Nowhere could we find the small bag containing our passports and travellers cheques. We turned everything out over and over again but it had gone. The last time we saw it was in Salta three days previously when we used the passport to check in to a campsite. Since then, as it had not been needed, it was not missed. Either we had left it in the office at the campsite, or it had been stolen - we did not know. The bag contained both passports, 350 USD in travellers cheques, 60 USD cash, a Visa card, drivers licence and a few other bits. The most important were the passports.
As we needed to report the matter to the police and our Spanish was not very good, we asked around if anyone spoke English. A taxi driver took us to a local schoolteacher, Sergio Ernesto Guerra, who also happened to be a cyclist. He was extremely helpful and friendly, and with his help we obtained a police report. They said they would enquire at the Salta campsite.
Luckily, we are insured with the British Mountaineering Council and we made several necessary phone calls to report the loss. Although all the phone numbers we used were supposed to be free numbers, they were not recognised in Argentina and we soon ran up a sizeable phone bill. Amex told us that if we kept the phone receipt we would be reimbursed when we collected our new cheques.
There were now many decisions to make. A phone call to the British Embassy in Buenos Aires confirmed that they could replace our passports for 80 dollars each and if we had an address and phone number could do this by post. The costs involved in travelling 1000km to B.A and staying there would be very high, and as we had time, we elected to use the postal system and stay in a cheap local hostel as required by the local police and the Embassy. We gave the Embassy our address and phone number and awaited the necessary forms.
Sergio invited us to lunch where we met his family and many friends. We were really lucky to meet him as he made us feel very welcome.
The next day we cycled with him to a local village where they had the Argentine equivalent of a village fete and show. His family and friends welcomed us with a barbecue of delicious Argentine beef. Can anybody tell us why Argentine beef is tastier and more tender than British Beef? There were cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens being judged and awarded prizes. Local people showed off their handicrafts and produce and gauchos on horseback demonstrated their riding ability. They were judged and given prizes. The horses are taught to trot in the Spanish style where the rider is able to sit quite still and not bounce up and down.
We must now sit around and wait for our passports. But, we have chosen a very nice place and have made many friends already.
Saturday, five days after we gave the Embassy our address, we still do not have the forms. A few more phone calls to ask them to fax the forms, but no result. We are beginning to think that we should have gone to Buenos Aires. Furthermore, when we enquired with the local police whether there was any news, they disappeared with our copy of the police report and it took two days to recover it. The local post office knows we are waiting for the letter and will keep it separately for us to collect.
Another local village celebration in a village 20 miles away called San Carlos. Sergio, who helped us with the police report and who has been so helpful and hospitable ever since, put on his gaucho outfit of white embroidered shirt and trousers, leather accessories and black wide-brimmed hat. He looked splendid along with about a hundred other gauchos parading the streets on horseback. We took several photos of him and will send copies when we return to England.
One week after asking the Embassy to send the forms and a day after they said they would send them again, the forms arrived. The forms were completed, a 151 pesos money order and several more pesos for stamps, "rapid delivery!" and registration were posted to the embassy. Fortunately, at the post office, we met Sergio who helped us with the paperwork. At this rate we will be in Cafayate for a few weeks. Perhaps we should have gone to Buenos Aires after all, but this would have cost us much more in fares and hotels. We must now wait patiently for our passports to arrive.
There is a little girl called Estefania (Stephanie) who is the daughter of the hostel owners. On the 7th November, we were invited to her 7th birthday party.
Joan has had a kidney infection diagnosed by a tourist couple who were both doctors. 33 dollars worth of antibiotics has cured it.
One very important thing that we have not yet mentioned is that Cafayate is one of the best wine producing areas in Argentina. There are at least ten major wine producers, or Bodegas, in town. We visted the Bodega of Michel Torino and sampled some of their excellent wine. (Gary and Gill should try some of their "Torrontes" - it costs about 5 pesos a bottle here - probably much more in England. Of course, we are drinking the 6o centavos wine!
David is keeping busy cleaning maintaining the bikes. Also, the Hostel rents out bikes and many of these are in a bad state of repair. David is enjoying himself repairing these.
A week after posting four applications Joan was optimistic about receiving a reply. All there was at the post office was the second set of application forms we had requested a week earlier when the first set had not arrived.
The post office was closed on Saturday 17th November, as it was national census day. In the afternoon we were questioned by a census officer and included on the Argentine census. This is the third national census to include us this year. England in June, when we temporarily went home for our son Adam's wedding, Bolivia in September, and Argentina in November. If Chile has its census in December, we will be counted in four countries at once in the same year. This will mean that the world population figure will be too high by six. If everyone travelled around during census years the world population estimate would be way too high!
We are now awarded resident status at our hostel and have eaten evening meals with the family several times. A whole goat roasted in a brick oven is very tasty. The only minor hitch is that evening meals, as in Spain, do not start until about 10.30p.m. Fiestas and evening celebrations can start after midnight and carry on to the early hours. Every afternoon is like the Marie Celeste when everyone takes a siesta. Shops open and activity starts again around 6p.m.
It is now Monday 19th, more than three weeks after reporting the loss of our passports, and another visit to the Post Office to enquire if we have some post. Not yet, try mañana.
Dave and Joan