Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Day 7: Salta to Colome through Cachi and back to Cachi

Day 7:  Salta to Colome through Cachi and back to Cachi
With the museum guide, a soft-spoken local

Weather: Raining when we leave Salta, very pleasant to perfect the rest of the day

Quote of the Day: And, the winner is...the envelope please...The Colome' Winery and the James Turrell Museum

One of the two large tobacco companies in Argentina

The crop

Drying/Toasting rooms

Breakfast es lo mismo: cereal y yogurt, decaf café con leche, pan, por los dos de nuestro. Well, if you can’t read espanol, no problema, because THB can’t really write espanol either.

Potentially new bridge (work progresses in fits and starts) 

People cheering as each car successfully gets across old bridge

This is an unsettling day: there’s been heavy rain in places we’re going, and the question is whether a) we can get to Colome and the James Turrell Museum and b) is the Museum going to be open if we can get there; the entire trip was planned around going to the Museum! Even before THB had weak thighs and things got shuffled.

The cardon cactus (cardones in plural) are plentiful here

mid-way up the Escoipe is a rest stop

Andres picks us up promptly at 8:30am, and it is raining, making THB even more unsettled (destabilized by Prez DJT?). Along the way, we pass tobacco farms, including one of the two largest, Alliance (a French firm). Andres confirms that the chaw in his cheek is coca, leaves that are slightly medicinal, help keep him alert, and is nothing like chewing tobacco, coca cola, or cocaine. The rain stops as we are leaving Salta.

We're in the cloud near the summit

We are traversing the Bishop’s Slope (Escoipe), named after the bishops that took the same trek connecting Salta and the next valley over. It is an adventure! Lots of loose rocks on the road, one area overcome by a landslide forcing traffic on to a  very short detour, some one-way traffic (not too often), a narrow bridge that must be an accident waiting to happen, and a bit of fog at the high point of the pass (around 10k feet).

Young cardon, they grow a few centimeters per year, some are 500 years old

In the National Park

There are tons of the local cacti growing here, cardon, which looks a bit like saguaro. In the national park (no visitor center and thus no stamps for THB), they are out there by the thousands. Very slow growers, they add a few inches each year at most.

Route 40 running from bottom to top of Argentina,  not always paved!

And, at the non-visitor center spot (photo ops and a short walk into the wide open park), the turnoff for the short cut to Colome is deemed too risky to try by a park ranger conveniently parked just past the cutoff. So, we are going the long way  round to Colome. In Cachi, the last big city (and where we’re staying tonight), Andres calls the Colome Winery/Turrell Museum and they are open….HURRAY!

We’re on Route 40, the road that stretches the full length of Argentina (which is quite a length!). Lots of large puddles to small ponds, some narrow spots, wild donkeys, horses grazing on the verge, and a few small villages on the way to the turnoff for the winery near Molinos.

Now on side road to Colome' fording small streams

After about 40 minutes, around 1:30, we have reached an oasis of vineyards, a winery with a small café, and the Turrell Museum. The winery is owned by Donald and Ursula Hess; they also own a winery in Napa complete with a terrific art collection and just sold the winery in Stellenbosch, S. Africa, that DB and THB visited around 22 months ago (the local café/winery manager thinks that art collection may be moving to Napa).

White wine vines are pruned up high to keep the grapes from to much heat from below 

Red wine vines are "standard" shape

The winery

The museum in a separate building (former warehouse)

Photographs from the collection in the stalls (talk about running out of display space)

The cardon can be transplanted if done with care, these are pristine

Before our Museum tour, scheduled for 3pm, we get a short informative tour of the winery (while sipping on a rose’): one of the vineyards is over planted at over 10k feet with Malbec vines now over 100 years old and for the most part made organically without aging in barrels (a bit may be used for blending); they also make a four vineyard blend of Malbec every year; there’s another Malbec that is made of high (just not as high) vineyard grapes; and some wine from other vineyards now owned by Hess.

Lunch is over and the dogs are back in their reserved seats

After the tour, THB, DB and Andres have lunch on the deck, and how lovely is this: a great view, perfect temperatures, and a café manager that isn’t afraid to pour us some of the not-usually-tasted wines in larger than usual quantities. The wine is very good and very reasonable; we’re hoping to find some at the Napa location (per the manager, they should have bottles on hand). We’ve ordered the cheese and meat plate (lots of versions of goat cheese with a small amount of tasty chutney, nuts, and cherry tomatoes), two nice beef empanadas, and a terrific small chocolate “muffin” (no flour, extra dark chocolate inside the muffin) and a scoop of almost-vanilla ice cream. Awesome, dude!

Served alongside lunch: more than ample “tastes” of two wines, Torrentes and Malbec from the vineyards around the winery, and almost full glasses of Malbec Autentico (2nd highest vineyard, and no time in oak barrels) and 2011 Malbec Gran Reserva (2500’). All excellent, and the Gran Reserva tremendous!

Note: No pics are allowed inside the Museum, they confiscate phones, cameras, backpacks, purses, etc.

Naturally, the Turrell Museum is all Turrell. The Hess’ started buying the copyright for pieces in the mid-70s and in around 2005-7 finally had Turrell install them. As Turrell said in the accompanying tour video: if he had to suffer to make the art, the attendees should suffer a little in coming to the only museum dedicated to his work.

THB and DB have seen many of the pieces. No matter, we are again duly impressed! There are 13 of us on the tour and 9 installations. Some we saw in Japan, some in LA, some where we can’t remember (we’ve seen a lot!). One looked like a cross between Fred Sandback and Turrell, both supported by Dia Foundation.

They also have a skyscape piece that only works at sunrise and sunset, and we won’t be hanging around for sunset because:
a)     it’s broken
b)    since the hotel on the property closed two years ago, you can no longer stay at the winery and thus have to spend the night in Molinos (one star motel?), and since a) is true, b) ain’t happening

We’ve done great, as good as we could possibly do…THB and DB are thrilled!!

Back to Cachi and La Merced del Alto Hotel. Room is very nice (no suite) and we sit outside at the back patio to enjoy the access to wifi (nothing of note for THB to look at and very slow) and the vista (plenty to look at) and the fine weather. Here’s what is missing from our room: wifi, a rainbird shower head, TV, a/c, an easy-to-use safe, washclothes.

Wild donkeys abound, the locals would like to cull them more aggressively to keep  down competition to sheep, goats, wild vicuna and guanoco

More rain not that far away

The view from the hotel

Escapees grazing roadside

Cacti planted atop the adobe walls drives roots through the mud

En ingles, por favor

A sanctuary in the hotel; the hotel is of relatively recent construction, so nobody is quite sure why there is a chapel

We’re well out of town so we’re dining at the hotel tonight. Steak and goat main courses accompanied by a Colome 2014 Estate Malbec (nice, it’s no Gran Reserva, which THB has already told you was an exceptionally good wine). Our waiter understood our English, and we understood his (mas rapido) Espanol. His hija (daughter) is teaches English and he’s been learning from her. $66 and we bring back 1/3 of the Estate Malbec.