Three experiences epitomised our time in Tafi Del Valle (pronounced ta-fee de va-shee apparently); and they all came about by the guidance of some friendly locals.
Upon arrival in Tafi Del Valle, you are greeted by a little well-to-do village wedged between two mountain ranges. A local told us about "The Cross": standing approximately 2 metres tall atop one of the hills closest to the town, it can be seen from miles around and affords those to take the pilgrimage to the top some spectacular views (apparently!). Having nothing planned for the afternoon, we set out for a walk to find cross. Along the way - as usual - we got lost and wandered around the outskirts of town until we found Scruffy aka Dog Marley. This pooch wasn't going to win any beauty pageants - with his uneven colouring, obvious limp and hair so matted it had actually formed into dreadlocks - but he took it upon himself to guide / accompany us to the top of the hill and see the cross. Where he walked, we followed. When we stopped, he would perch himself on a rock a couple of metres ahead and wait for us to follow; maybe pee on a bush or lick his wounded paw in the meantime. Long story short, we finally made it to the top of the hill and saw the cross, but by the time we had arrived the clouds had descended on us and our views were limited to the eerie fog 5 metres around us. Oh well!
The next day we decided to sample some local produce from the Valley. Wine, provincial cheese, salami, bread and capsicum all went into the day pack as we strolled amongst the local artesans and found our lunch. A short stroll south along the creek and I had spied the perfect rocky outcrop. We climbed it and got the best views both back up into the village and down towards the lake. A small trail allowed horses and some other adventurers to wander along the creek, and the clouds rolling down from the mountains onto the lake surface was our entertainment for the afternoon. There we whiled away the afternoon, drinking malbec and talking about the big issues in life. Setting off back towards the village late in the afternoon; we realised we were both monstrously sunburnt (less atmosphere at these high altitudes affords less protection for our pasty Caucasian complexions) and so we arrived back at the hostel red faced and cheerful. And a little abashed. Oh well!
Easily the most culturally educational and exciting experience in Tafi for us was our lessons in mate (pronounced mah-tayy). We made friends with some local lads and they wanted to share with and educate us on the traditions of mate. Argentineans are seen drinking and sharing these literally everywhere and at any time of day, so we were really interested in trying it and understanding its place in the local culture more. It's a social experience, used for sharing, bonding and making new friends. The mate itself is a cup (often carved of timber or aluminium) and into it a type of tea is poured (yerba - pronounced sh-urr-ba). Then the drinker sucks the flavoured hot (not boiling!) water out through a fancy straw called a bombilla (bomb-bi-sha). One leader has the mate (we nicknamed him the Mate Master) and he drinks before sharing the mate to one other in the group. They give the mate back to leader, and then the leader shares it to someone else. It must always returned to leader, otherwise the receiver should kiss the bottom of the mate for good luck. You only say thank you (gracias!) when you're finished, as an indication that you want no more. You also get roused on if you use the bombilla to stir the mate, as the fine filter can be broken on the woody mate tea. We didn't know that in advance. Oh well!
We loved Tafi Del Valle. It's small, quiet and quaint; and a really beautiful setting to spend a few days unwinding, strolling the countryside and getting to know more about Northern Argentina.