This is what I am talking about! As soon as we left behind the smoke of S. Miguel de Tucuman, the scenery got more mountainous and the roads got very twisty. A welcome change after 1400km of straight roads!
Our destination was Cafayate, the village of wineries and painted rocks, which we would reach via Tafi del Valle. The road up to Tafi was very unique and different from the mountain landscapes that I am used to. The road was surrounded by a very thick tropical forest which extended to the peaks in sight. We stopped at Tafi for an enpanada lunch and after that the scenery changed drastically. The mountains got really dry with hardly any vegetation. The road to the pass from Tafi was simply amazing! Long fast turns alternated with chicanes and tighter corners with perfect tarmac. The pass was guarded by a great big Llama, which was the first of many we would see. From there we entered cactus land, yet another new sight. The mountain side by the road was covered by 5meters high cactuses! The sheer size of them was simply impressive.
The road continued down the other side of the mountain and onto the flat, leading to Cafayate. The straight road started cutting through dunes of sand and around 20km before Cafayate the first vineyards started appearing. I had never seen vines growing on fine white sand, the whole environment seemed way to dry and unforgiving for any grapes to grow. We later discovered that even though the region has very little rainfall (250mm per year) water flows under the sand and feeds the vines that also benefit from long exposures to the sun. The result is a strong grape that gives some great wine. We tried some local Tannat that night, which in a way reminded us of a good strong San Giovese.
The small town of Cafayate welcomed us with a very laid back colonial atmosphere. Straight away we knew that we would love this place!