Day 1 of the tour – a Monday – was mainly about shuttling up to Tilcara and meeting up with the folks we’d all spend the next week or so with. Tilcara is way up in the far northwest of Argentina and by the time you get there you’ve gotten into the mountains. At 2500 meters, our stop for the night was around 8000 feet above sea level. I didn’t notice a problem with the altitude though apparently it’s the sort of thing that can creep up on you.
We left Salta a little after 2pm and it was easily a 3+ hour van ride up to Tilcara. The terrain in Tilcara is much different than down in the valley in Salta. Mountainous, dry and populated with cactus. Tilcara is a dusty little town – like many of the small towns in this area. Dusty in the sense that most of the roads in the town are dirt and gravel and there was a bit of a breeze by the time we got into town. Seemed a little like something right out of a spaghetti western. Rooster’s crowing. Stray dogs everywhere.
We arrived at Hotel Viento Norte with just enough late day sunshine to catch some good photo opportunities of the hillsides surrounding Tilcara and a few in town. A couple of us wandered further into the town and found the main square. (A few blocks.) Across from the square was an old church. We snagged a few photos and then needed to make our way back for the first group meeting. Time to meet and greet and have some snacks, wine & cheese before dinner. Most of us of course had already had some time on the 3 hour ride up to get acquainted, so intros were pretty brief.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, everyone on the tour had done more than one tour like this before. The fewest I think was 3 tours like this. The oldest guy was 76 years old! followed closely by another that was 75 and then the rest of us are somewhere maybe near or north of 50.
Dinner the first night was right there at Viento Norte. Really enjoyed it! It started out with a vegetable soup that was delicious. Not sure how it was prepared exactly but it was less broth than vegetable soups often are and more pureed vegetables. Enjoying the soup might have been helped by the fact it cools off pretty quickly in the evening at that altitude. There was also a green salad with tomatoes, local corn (which has a very big kernel and is lighter in color and certainly a lot less sweet that we would typically see) some cheese (not sure what kind) served over a bed of quinoa. Quinoa is big up there.
That was followed by tamales and humitas. The tamales had pork in them along with their corn filling. The humitas we were told included cheese though I’m not sure what kind. Both really tasty. Wine along with dinner was a Malbec from Elementos (Bodega Esteco and one we’d at least bike by later in the tour). Also very good. For dessert, we had something I’d never had before: a green squash that was sweet but not too sweet – how it was sweetened I don’t know – topped with some nuts. I don’t know the name of this one but I thought it too was very good. I could only eat so much of it though. Very sweet.
We were up bright and early the next morning for breakfast and then bike fitting/setup. I brought pedals and seat as had most people. At least most people brought pedals. Not everyone brought a seat. I can’t imagine switching to a different seat for days worth of riding.