We finally woke up early, took hot shower at the fire station, and headed out due south for Cafayate. We went five blocks and I was hungry already so we stopped for one last salami and bread in Salta. We only had 250km to go and it was early in the day so I wasn’t too concerned about the time. At one of our stops, there was an all familiar shrine built for someone who had died in a car accident. In most of South America, when people die on the road, their families build a little shrine for them on that spot. Depending on wealth of the family, shrines differ from a simple cement box to elaborate granite covered cabins. All year long, people leave water, candle and flowers in them, and in some I have even seen food. (Just in case they come back from the death and are hungry I suppose.)
This particular shrine had something I had never seen before. Apparently the deceased was a smoker, so people had been lighting up cigarettes for him instead of candles, and leaving a few unlit ones just in case he came back to life. That was a touching gesture and I liked it so much that I left him a few cigarettes too. So this is my will: when I die, leave me cigarettes too and don’t forget the lighter either. If you’re feeling generous that day, a few liters of fuel would be nice too since I always run out gas.
The road started nice and turned gorgeous. We entered a landscape so extraordinary that the 100 degrees heat had no effect anymore. This was a land of massive sand stones, tall cliffs, blue sky, and a sun the size of a football field. I have spent a lot of time in Moab and Zion in Utah, but the enormity of this place makes Moab look like a dirt parking lot. The road with its class A asphalt twisted through cliffs after cliffs, and we rode from tropic to desert up and down with each ascend. What we could see from the road was a drop in the ocean of what was beyond, as the real beauty was always a mile off the road but it was mesmerizing nevertheless.
I don’t think I ever used the 4th or 5th gear as we stopped constantly just for another picture. The 250km trip which should have taken three hours at most took us nine hours to complete, and we arrived at the wine producing town of Cafayate at sundown. Cafayate is a beautiful little town surrounded by vineyards and most if not all of its income comes from the barrels. Cafayate is a touristy town and being poor means that you don’t get to enjoy it the way the others do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop there.
We needed a place to crash for the night. We started by looking for the Police Station, but they were no good, and the tourism office was less than helpful. The hotel prices were arm and a leg so we went straight for the fire station again to see if we could find a place to sleep there, but the station was so small that it barely had room for their own fire-engine. As always, somehow things worked out. A guy at the station called around, and found us a place to camp at his friend’s yard. When we got to the place, I saw no yard. The house was a colonial style mansion with an open area in the middle and the only way to get inside was to ride the 1000lb street motorcycle up 6 stairs with no ramp. I looked at the stairs and shivered but there was no other way as I wasn’t going to leave the bike on the street. My first try almost ended disastrous as the bike simply wouldn’t go up – it stalled in mid-air and started to roll back down. On second try, I gave it hell and she climbed all the way up the stairs and we settled down for the night; munching on salami, cheese, olives and bread yet another night.
I grew up not eating pork due to ridiculous religious taboos, but as soon as I reached the age of reason, I took revenge by indulging in this wonderfully delicious animal whenever possible. Now don’t get Vegan on me, pigs are not cute, they are not funny, and they are not smart either. They are just what the good lord had intended them to be – stupid and delicious. In Argentina, pigs fulfill their destiny by voluntarily going into casings with white pepper corns, garlic and salt, and they get reincarnated into some of the best Salami in the world. The word Salamé comes from Italian and Salami is its plural form used in English to describe this product. Salami is produced in much of Europe and Americas, and it’s an assumption that the Italians are the masters of this craft, but I beg to differ. In my opinion, Argentine salami is the best salami in the world, with Hungarians taking the second place, and then Italy. On average, it takes 30 to 40 weeks for salami to be ready for consumption, and to clarify something, I’m not talking about the garbage you find in supermarkets in United States sold as hard salami or Genoa salami. Genoese salami is a fantastic salami which comes from Genoa, but it has nothing to do with the crap they sell in US by the same name. It’s interesting to know that salami was originally made by peasants as an alternative to fresh meat as they could keep it for years. Now days, it’s not uncommon that a good salami (once a peasant food) to be priced as much as three times of best cut of fresh meat.
Argentina is heavily influenced by Italian and Spanish cultures, and they created bests of both worlds out of this merger when it comes to food. On my trip to Uruguay, I discovered a very small village on the border of Argentina that was like heaven on earth. On both sides of the street, there were shacks with signs that read cheese and salami. Once you enter one of these huts, you can get high on the smell alone, and it doesn’t help much that pretty farm girls shove samples into your mouth. I left that town almost broke as quickly as possible, as it was a sure way to get me to settle down.
I wanted to write a travel blog but somehow I ended up writing a whole page on salami and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Now that I wrote about salami, I kind of want to write about hams too (again not the kind of ham you see on your thanksgiving table, that’s not ham, that’s an abomination to Spanish Jamón.) I’ll cut this post short here so stay tuned for the rest of the story, but I can’t promise that it won’t have any salami in it.