Tarija, Valle de la concepcion – A week at Valle D’ Vino, June/July 2010.

¿Si no vino a tomar vino porque vino? “If you didn’t come to drink wine, why did you come?” Of course we loose the words play with the translation!

The trip from Santa Cruz lasted 20 hours, 4 hours more than scheduled. We first got some mechanical problems ad then got delayed for 2 hours at Entre Rios, a small village in the middle of nowhere, due to road construction.

The road from Santa Cruz to Villamontes was really good, the best road in Bolivia they say, but then, it was a complete mess. A dirt road, red soil in the mountains, zigzagging for miles and miles in a cloud of dust.

I slept a lot, which is quite unusual for me, so I arrived at Tarija quite rested but starving. My diet of fried potatoes and peanuts during 2 days was just not enough. We arrived at Tarija a bit before 14h00. It was very hot and dry. I got a taxi for 5 bolivianos from the bus station to the center of the city where I got a mini van – a combi – for another 5 bolivianos to take me to the Valle de la Concepcion, between Tarija and the border with Argentina.

I arrived at the small village before 15h00. It was very hot, windy and very dusty. The place looked clean and nice but nothing special. My host owns the only hostel in town. He was not there but his employees knew of my arrival. I left my bag in the dormitory – I was the only one using it – and went to explore. The village seemed to be under reconstruction. They were working on fixing pavements and arranging the main square with new plants and flowers. I was dying to get a cold beer but the few restaurants that I could find were all closed. I only found a small shop next to the main square. I got in and met Rene, a 70 years-old man who talked to me about the place, the national politics and the culture of the grape. According to him, everything changed about 20 to 30 years ago. New diseases, fungus and parasites started to invade the area and by then the only way to fight it was by using chemical products.

The first night was cold and humid, and so was the rest of the week. It looked very cloudy the second day, like rain, but it did not. My host was still not here when I woke up and I spent the day freezing on a chair on the veranda facing the 1.5 hectare of organic grape. I was feeling a bit stomach sick and tired after that long trip. Everyone on the property was quite reserved, maybe a bit shy! They all had a friendly smile on their face but did not say much. I just had to relax and wait for my host to see the type of work I’ll be doing and the living arrangements.. After all, here in this area, people take things easy. I bought some vegetables on my first day and cooked some fried rice and a huge salad. Since the weekend was coming, I was not sure if I would have to get more food. The lady who seemed to be the manager of the hostel, or the manager’s wife, didn’t offer to cook for me, so I was left on my own.

On the second day, I met the owner for a few minutes and then the manager. The latest invited me to a ¨walk¨ on the main square after watching a game of the soccer world cup. But instead of walking around, we went straight into the police station where one of his friends was drinking horrible wine in large plastic soda bottles with the policemen. They were all drunk and the manager of the hostel got a buzz very fast drinking a mix of bad wine and soft drink, like one drinks cold water. I didn’t like the wine and my stomach was fragile, so I didn’t drink much of it and watched them all in their delirium.

I had told the manager that I wanted to do some work and on the following day he started to give me some tasks like cleaning the branches of a large tree that they cut down and that fell on the neighbor’s land. I got to soften the soil around many roses that they planted all over the property and also to plant some flowers. The place should look very nice and colorful in the summer! I worked for less than 4 hours a day, cooked my breakfast and lunch and occasionally bought a few things for my meal to complement what they were giving me to cook.

I stayed a full week and we all drunk lots of wine produced in the farm, a much better wine than the one I had with the policemen! The temperature was very low, close to freezing during the night and early morning. I even went to buy a poncho in Tarija because I couldn’t stand the cold! After a week, I got really fed up of the cold and got also worried about so much wine drinking. Argentina was playing in quarter final of the world cup and the border was just 3 1/2 hours from us, so I decided to visit the Gauchos wand watch the game there. I was really touched when they all told me that I should stay: “You just go there, watch the game and then come back right away” said the manager, “no need to call, just come!”

I must say that people in this area have been all very nice and friendly and I recommend this place to anyone. But the best time to come is from September to March or April when all is green. People are very lay back here and I could see that they were impressed with my work and dedication.

I left early in the morning and arrived at the border by noon after crossing a very beautiful mountainous zone.

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