Leaving Bolivia behind we began the final leg of our journey, heading back to Argentina felt a bit like a home coming, suddenly we were stopping at service stations with well stocked snack shops, the pace slowed down from the frantic world of Bolivia where everyone is a businessman to the laid back lifestyle of the Argentines, where shops shut for 5 hours in the middle of the day for a BBQ break. But the scenery was no less stunning as we headed South through the wild-west like canyons and multi-coloured gorges, we gulped up lungfuls of thick oxygenated air as we descended from altitude and all began to feel rather more human!
|Back in Argentina|
Our first stop was the city of Salta which gave everyone a chance to relax and partake of some of Argentinas favourite pass-times of sitting in the plaza drinking coffee, or sitting in the plaza drinking wine (we were happily back in wine-land again!) Soon we were on the road again and heading down through another stunning valley to the wine region of Cafeyate, set in the beautiful Calchaquies Valley. We stopped off in town to do some wine tasting, half the group (mostly the male half) seemed more excited about the bottling machine than the wine itself, which says more about them than it does the excellent wine we were offered, but they managed to force some down nonetheless!
|On the wine tour at Finca Quara|
|Oh the excitement!|
|Very tasty Torrontes|
|Emma tries to translate 'the bouquet has an astringent quality' and realises she doesn't know what it means in English, let alone Spanish|
|This dog adopted us in Cafeyate and proceeded to follow us around, stopping for regular rests in the supermarket. We are all going to miss the dogs of South America very much|
We were to make the area home for 3 nights up in a village called San Carlos, our base was the beautiful Vaca Tranquila Ranch, a working dairy farm owned by a Belgian couple who, alongside making their own cheese and yoghurt also ran a very successful brewery, and in traditional Belgian style the weakest of them was around 6% alcohol, and they were excellent! Add to that the wine we had stocked up on in Cafeyate and the wood fired lamb they baked for us we ate and drank rather well during our time there!
Most people also headed off on some of the ranch's stunning horses for a few hours to explore the beautiful scenery in the area.
|Beautiful evening scenery|
|Evening light and another adopted dog|
|Simon makes sausages|
|Lee's dramatic potato mashing|
|Cooking by head torch, a common overlanding activity|
But sadly soon it was time to drag ourselves away and begin our trip back down to Buenos Aires, but we did manage to stop off at some ruins in Quilmes and have a rather exciting lunch stop complete with llamas, which everyone enjoyed immensely.
|The Quilmes ruins of the town that managed to hold off the Spanish for 130 years|
|Simon, Emma & Gen|
|Friendly lunch neighbours|
|Recycling our organic waste|
The end was approaching faster and faster and there were mixed feeling for everyone, excitement at the prospect of putting toilet paper in the toilet again (what decadence) the prospect of there being toilet paper available in the first place! Of drinking tap water, of carpets, of putting your clothes in a wardrobe, it's amazing what long-term travel will make you appreciate! But there was sadness too, 6 months have flown by and the idea of not waking up in a tent listening to the birds around you, of not crawling out of your tent to see a desert, a mountain range, a jungle and the friendly faces of your travelling companions was a hard thing to adjust to. Going back to a world of rules and order, of health and safety, of polite indifference, well, it wasn't sounding too appealing! But it came to an end, as all good things must, and we approached Buenos Aires and headed off for our final group meal and spent the night reminiscing about the trip and all that South America has given to us/thrown at us!
South America is an amazing continent, unique in its size and isolation from the rest of the world, in being one of the few places in the world where English is barely spoken (not a bad thing in the slightest, most of the group has made an impressive effort to learn Spanish over our 6 months here.) There are many things I could say about South America but I think I'll pick my favourite, and that is the complete and total insanity, passion and warmth of the place. South Americans generally wear their hearts on their sleeves and aren't scared to tell you what they think. Its reputation of being an unstable place where military coups are the only way to get things done may not be as true as it once was, but the same passion that gives them the strength of belief to overthrow their government also makes it a continent that will never EVER bore you. We have been at both sides of it, getting stuck at a roadblock in Peru on one hand, and laughing at the groups of men in Colombia who would explode in to a mess of excited waving and shouting upon seeing us in our truck on the other. You know exactly where you stand with South Americans, which can be scary if they decide they don't like you, but thoroughly heart-warming when they do. And can you blame them for being like this? In the last 50 years this continent has dealt with major natural disasters, major political upheaval, drugs lords, terrorism, border skirmishes, political kidnappings and disappearances, you name it, they've survived it. It is a continent that is changing, modernising and, dare I say it, stabilising, but the people here remember the past and have come out of it with a great sense of the importance of living for the moment, of grabbing every opportunity, of celebrating anything good, however small, of proudly holding some of the best parties in the world. It makes it an amazing place to visit, warm-hearted, passionate and, above all, fun, and I like to think we can say we've taken a leaf out of their books and made the most of our time, no matter how exciting or tumultuous, we've come out of it stronger and happier and with a great sense of living for the moment.