World Tour: The Art of Getting Lost…Road Trips, Police, Dog Attacks & Very Long Salty Dirt Roads to the Pueblos of Salta (road trippin’ video)

Written by Chelsea Dinsmore March 10, 2015

Memorable Moment(s): The look on Chelsea’s face when she got into the driver’s seat of our tiny rental car in downtown Salta and realized it was a stick shift – and she’d be navigating 10+ hours of dirt roads over the next week. Scott would have been driving if his ID weren’t floating around in a boat between Uruguay and Buenos Aires – indefinitely. Hope’s been given up on that one.

Oh, and Scott getting nearly eaten by a pack of 7 dogs on a rural dirt road in Cachí – he sprinted until they lost interest. He now runs with a stick in one hand and stone in the other – like that would help.

Oh yeah, and Scott getting pulled over at a regular police check point, a few minutes after deciding to do a little bit of the driving. The cop wanted to see his driver’s license. Perhaps a passport would do…

Days on Road: 59

Washing Machines Used: 2

More odd-ball trip stats here.

WHERE WE ARE… NOW: Panama City • LAST: Quimbaya, Colombia • NEXT: Los Angeles

(if you have local things we MUST do or happen to be in town, send us an email!)

Where in the world we are!

The Art of Getting Lost (A Lot)…

It’s 10:00am the morning after our impromptu dinner party. Scott’s 30 min interview is going on 1+ hours and our Airbnb host knocks on our door to collect the keys. After a scramble to finish the interview, pack up and an all-too-quick farewell, we were on our way to the car rental agency.

Chelsea needed a few deep breaths as making people wait is not her strong suit… After all the paperwork had been completed we want to reconfirm that we both can drive (because he already said we could) he asks for Scott’s ID. When we tell him the story of the lost ID he says “Oh, well if you are caught driving without a license they will take your car….”

Ok, so I guess we can’t both drive. Not a big deal. Until Chelsea gets in the driver’s seat and realizes it’s a stick – and Chelsea hasn’t driven one since high school (AKA a kinda long time)… That plus the already deep breaths she was taking could have sent her into a tailspin but luckily she adapts fairly well – a rather important skill for the next few days.

We headed out of Salta, navigating the 4-way intersections with no stop lights or signs (see video below), with our sights set on Cafayate – a small high-altitude wine region a few hours south of Salta. However, we got word of a Feria de Empanadas, so obviously had to make a small detour (we’ve consumed 121 to date).

Feria de Empanadas

The drive there was like a movie – absolutely stunning landscapes that seemed to change every time you blinked. It was definitely worth the trip. And it led us to wine country (which led to happiest face Chelsea’s probably had all trip – again, see video below)…

Chelsea happy stick shifting

Chelsea happily stick shifting

Happy Chelsea in Wine Country

And to a beautiful hotel, Patios de Cafayate, that was suggested by friends of ours.

Patios de Cafayate

We even met some new friends right upon checking in…

Llamas at Patios de Cafayate

 

Sunrise from Cafayate

Sunrise in El Cafayate

Our time in Cafayate was spent enjoying our hotel and pool, tasting wines (they are known for Torrontes, a white varietal) and visiting the cute and surprisingly lively little town square. Chelsea had dreams of biking in the vines but because of the previous bike ride, her doctor instructed not to do so. It was probably better off considering we tried to order two glasses of Rosé at lunch (prior to a tour and tasting) and our waiter told us that it costs more than a bottle – so obviously we had to make the most cost effective decision.

Cafayette Lunch - Piatelli

From there we toured and tasted at two more wineries– so yeah, it was probably better off that we took a taxi.

We really enjoyed the central square of Cafayate where we had dinner, listened to live music and watched a live performance at La Pena y Parilla de la Plaza. We also tried the famous helado de vino (wine ice cream) but it was a little underwhelming…

The Road to Cachí

We went on this route based off recs from friends who had done the same route last year (thanks Justin and Lucia). They warned us the roads were bad, but having driven on nearly undrive-able roads in both Greece and Costa Rica, we thought we had seen the worst of it. Once again, we were proven very wrong.

Watch our little road trip compilation video for proof – you will not believe some of these scenes…

Don’t see a video? Click here.

5 hours on dirt, gravel, twists and turns, covering landscapes that spanned lush green valleys to what looked like the surface of Mars, we arrived to the sleepy little town of Cachí – where we arrived dusty, sunburned, hot (oh did we mention the AC in our car was broken…?) and incredibly hungry because not a single thing was available to eat along the drive. Even the major ‘town’ was completely closed down. We saw 2 people on the street.

Welcome to Mars

Welcome to Mars

Upon arrival, we pretty much ordered a couple empanadas and walked straight into the pool – 5pm lunch.

La Merced del Alto

And caught a hell of a sunset…

Finally arriving in Cachi -hotel sunset

It was definitely the smallest little town we’d see on this adventure, but our hotel had a nice view and amazingly fast Internet.

And since the town took about five minutes to explore, we took advantage of the fast speeds and spent most of our time uploading things – I admit, we were kind of like addicts, but it was the perfect place as it was cold & rainy during our only full day there. Thankfully, since Scott had been waiting for weeks to launch Live Your Legend RAW, LYL’s latest product – but had been held up by the snail speeds.

We did go into town for dinner one night and enjoyed a great happy hour on the town square and visited, Virochacha, a cute little restaurant with delicious wine (they only had one local type) and the best atmosphere we had seen to date (with veggie quinoa empanadas – add two to the counter!). Every place really does have something worth experiencing…

The sleepy streets of Cachi

Tilcara here we come!

We thought the worst of the driving was behind us but must I say it again – we were wrong. See, we really were learning to go with the flow. The next day put us on a 7-hour adventure to Tilcara – our home base for exploring the Salt Flats and Los Cerros de Siete Colores (7 colored mountains). While more of the roads were paved, there was a point where we literally were driving on a road the size of a bike lane (and it was for two lanes!).

We had downloaded the Serial podcast prior to the drive so we exchanged an Internet addiction for a Serial marathon. We passed a little more greenery, a lot more of Mars and once again, nowhere to stop for lunch.

The Road to Tilcara
views from the road

While we really liked the area of Cafayate the most, Tilcara was our favorite actual town of the route. It was bustling with lots of delicious restaurants and cute shops and kiosks. However, there was no time to waste as we only had one full day there – and a day of exploring it was. We allowed ourselves a more relaxed morning and planned to hit the road around noon to grab lunch, see the seven colored mountains and then drive an hour over to the Salt Flats – all with enough time to return home to make a few phone calls before heading to dinner…

7 color mountains!

The Siete Colores was very cool but we were most excited about seeing the Salt Flats! So we hit the maze of a road, climbing up only to descend down into the middle of nowhere – again. It definitely was much longer than the hour we’d planned, and as soon as we finally arrived we noticed a storm brewing behind us – like a really really big storm (see video above). The flats were definitely one of the most unique places we’ve ever been. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere and the optical illusion that the salt creates is mind boggling.

Crazy salt flats

Salinas Grandes, Argentina

Salinas Grandes

It’s incredibly windy there and that storm I mentioned, wasted no time, so soon enough we were back in the car (with minimal amounts of petrol) going head first into a massive lightning shower (we caught a bit of the light show on video). While we thought it took a while to get to the flats, we had no idea how long it could take when behind a huge semi truck going 10 km/hour… Yup, another drive taking 3x the expected time. We didn’t exactly make it home in time to make those phone calls!

Early the next morning it was back on the road to return our car and fly from Salta to Mendoza. Thankfully, we gave ourselves a serious buffer because our hotel told us it would take 2 hours to get to the airport. Either these people have never driven these roads or we just suck at driving because 3.5 hours later we found ourselves in the parking lot of the Salta Airport.

But not before the Policía pulled Scott over…

Part of the delay probably had to do with Scott having a little run-in with the local armed forces. Yes, he decided to finally do a few hours of driving. No, he still didn’t have his license. We’d seen dozens of routine police checkpoints all over the country and this was like any other, except when we got to the cop, he stuck his palm out and politely asked for Scott’s driver’s license.

Gulp. Stay calm.

So Scott casually pulled out a tattered paper copy of his passport from his wallet and handed it over. The cop glanced at it and asked for his license again (slightly less politely this time – and all in Spanish, of course). So Scott digs into his bag and pulls out his real passport and hands it over.

The cop looks at it, stone faced, and tells us to pull over to the shoulder. Chelsea starts to get nervous. So does Scott. Cop comes over, looks at us and says “In Argentina we drive with our lights on during the day. Please turn yours on. Have a nice day.” And we were on our way…

It wasn’t until then that we realized he probably had no idea what a California Driver’s License looked like. Good to know.

Then we got kinda lost at the airport…

We had paid 15 extra bucks to return the car at the airport to avoid having to battle back into the city center and take a taxi (which likely would have cost more than $15.00), only to discover that the airport has no Budget rental car window. There appeared to be every other brand but ours.

A couple of inquiries to airport personnel and a few phone calls later, we decide we simply need to return our keys to another company in order to avoid missing our flight. The moment we are locking up our car to head inside (mind you, we literally parked the car in the general airport parking lot with no way to direct anyone to its actual location), a car pulls up behind us and out walks the dude we rented it from six days earlier.

Don’t ask.

This left us just enough time to buy 5 Euro worth of empanadas and board our flight to Mendoza. Yes, we said Euro… We used up all our USD trying to get a good exchange rate and the last 3 ATM’s we tried were out of cash – apparently very normal at the end of the week, but Scott happened to have a few Euro in his passport holder. #litelunch

It was a hell of a marathon five days and not exactly a sustainable pace – but had plenty of time to slow down and catch up during our next week in Mendoza – and capsize a river raft in the middle of a class 4 rapid. But more on that next time…

Lessons learned:

Go with the flow – it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong!

Everything takes longer than planned – so don’t plan.

Roads in Argentina are the worst we’ve ever driven.

Don’t assume a foreign police officer knows what a California drivers license looks like.

Run with sticks and stones to fend off endless stray dogs.

Rental cars in foreign countries are SO damn fun!

Highlights of the Trip:

Cafayate – both the hotel we stayed and the wine tasting experience.

Cachí – our hotel, Virochacha and Miraluna wine.

Tilcara – the cute little town, the unique experience at the Salt Flats and Serial podcast for keeping us entertained through skipped lunches, slow busses and lightning storms!

Onward to wine country,

– Chelsea and Scott

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