Who knows who organises the bus time tables but whomever it is needs a serious lesson in planning. For some stupid reason the bus from Tupiza to Tarija leaves at 9pm with an arrival time around 5am. Well you can kinda deal with this though a better option would be to leave at 11pm, and arrive at 7am…a mere two hours later.
With the only company, Jimenez C, plying this route the trip went great until an hour in and we’re on a dirty track in the pitch dark winding along a sheer cliff drop, awesome. Combined with a lead foot driver that gets us in to Tarija at the smashing hour of 3am, we’re tired and proper pissed off. Bartering a taxi into town and the plushest hostel in our guide book, we arrive at Hostel Carmen. The nightwatchman lets us in and we negotiate the price for the next couple of nights, with the early morning check in not costing us extra (or does it…).
Hostel Carmen at 300 Bolivianos (USd$40) is our most lavish spending on accommodation in Latin America thus far. Blowing the budget is rationalised, we think, by the shitty train, hostel and bus rides since the Uyuni Slat Flats. Waking up for breakfast a little concerned we’d ballsed it up with the overspend, the buffet laid out dispels all worries as its relatively akin to a five start hotel for us stinking lot. Gorging on a feast of fresh breads, juices, cheeses, meats, fruits, muesli and tea and coffee, it’s a slow climb up the stairs to our room. Grasping the moment to enjoy the comfortable bed adorned with fluffy pillows, the Wi-Fi that works and cable TV, it’s deep into the afternoon before we dare venture away from our little slice of cosy paradise.
Felling like the best way to cover the ground of Tarija, along with a winery or two, would be to hire bikes, we head down the road to rental shop Sur Bikes. The only rental shop in town where their only source of income is bike hire, we were a little baffled to find they had no bikes in stock. Not that they were all rented out, they virtually had none! Nonplussed we strolled around town, first to the market which was closed as they were developing a multistorey building to redevelop a modern version, then to the temporary one a few blocks away, also a let down. Finishing here the decision was made to book a tour of the wineries for the following day with Viva Tours, as it was obvious it was difficult to do this on your own. Needing caffeine stat we wandered into Gattopardo on Plaza Principal. Hearing about the gastronomic delights that this establishment produces we sat for coffee in the timber dominated interior.
Even ruffians like us can afford to dine here
we declare as we view the more than reasonably priced menu. Checking that reservations weren’t needed for that evening, we move on to our next epicurean destination. Social Club Tarija’s minimalist style, attended by Italian style appointed waitresses and with a set menu of three courses and a desert has become a favourite with well to do locals and tourists alike.
Located on the edge of Plaza Principal its bay windows wrap the corner with half round tables along the wall. It’s the perfect people ogling place. Shown to our table it’s instantly obvious that this place sets out be a cut above the ‘menu del dia’ rest noted by the amount of cutlery present.
Scurrying for recollection on correct table manners and order of forks, we’re presented first with a sliced boiled potato entrée traditional to this region. The following soup makes a tasty prelude to the main. For Sarah a creamy Alfredo pasta, Matt of course orders the Filet Mignon (rare) in a divine red wine sauce. Thoroughly enjoying our meal and not ones to take on the desert, a rice puddling completes the meal and we’re left licking the bowl.
Walking off the food we head back to the hotel via the small Paleontology Museum to check out the giant armadillo and massive sloth skeletons just before closing. Arriving back we take some time to enjoy the rooftop tiled patio overlooking part of town.
With just enough time to don our finest travelling evening ware (Matt’s now carrying six pairs of footwear) we put on the glitz and head back to Gattopardo. Realising as soon as we walk in that we’re the most dressed up couple dining that evening (Sarah even wore lipstick), we think screw it and take the most conspicuous seats. With its lofty front room lined with booths, those in need of a less public affair can chose the cavernous and more secluded area to the back, decorated with vintage guns and other paraphernalia.
Both ordering the Filet Mignon which, comes bathed in a lush mushroom sauce, we compliment it with a generous side of fries and papas graton, and pair it with a Bolivian Tennant vino tinto, a perfect companion. In our opinion, a restaurant highly recommended for a meal or coffee that won’t leave you dissatisfied.
Tightening the purse strings we move from the posh environs of Hostal Carmen, downgrading to Hotel Zabellos in a far more central location. Friendly staff, shaded courtyard and a sun terrace make the stay pleasant for the (much cheaper) price. With no time to waste the minivan for the vineyard tours arrives at 10 am sharp.
First stop is the Campos de Solana, where the blanket of vines turning yellow, red and orange greets us as the car enters the driveway leading us to the tasting rooms. A producer of quality wines on an industrial scale, we are taken through the tats, casks and finally the most important part, the tasting. A little disappointed that we could only choose one of the varieties to sample, we settle for a bottle of the rose as the weather is hot, and sit down to share it with the two French guys who’d joined us on the tour. Sitting around the table with a platter of local meats and cheese, the tasting (bottle) is finished in no time (sorry you wine aficionados we’re not gonna crap on about earth tones, palette nonsense, we know all that jargon but we just like to drink).
Next is the Casa Real. A producer of Singali, Bolivia’s national drink, with exclusive rights to exportation it’s also refined from the humble white Muscat grape into this unique liquor. Associated with Campos de Solana vineyard, it makes this combination the biggest alcohol manufacturer in Bolivia. The only way to drink it is with Canada Dry and slice of lime. The new Pimms cocktail perhaps?
Next it’s a journey to a local artisanal maker. Attempting to stop at our first chosen family run bodega, we find out they hadn’t been paying their taxes causing a temporary government shutdown. A shame really as the restaurant overlooks the vines and has a stunning view.
Moving down the road we end up at Hosteria Valle D’vino, a rustic family owned affair. With rooms, camping, disco, restaurant and let’s not forget Karaoke, it’s a culmination made for drunken fulfillment. A pleasant courtyard with Bolivian style Euro trash music blaring, our guide cracks open a label-less sweet wine for us to discuss. Absolutely nothing is mentioned about the wine except that it’s an easy drinker…so we order a second and get stuck in.
On the way back we stop at a gorge for a mind boggling illusion which makes the flow of the river downstream river seem to go upstream. Far out man. Back at Hotel Zabellos we continue with a couple of bottles of Kohlberg out in the courtyard, ensuring a solid nights rest and some lasting memories of our last night in Bolivia.
TIPS FOR TARJA
- Hostal Carmen is Plush for 300 Bs, Rosario across the road was 170 Bs for a less than decent room for the price and finally Hotel Zeballos had three bed on the ground floor a pleasant courtyard, friendly staff all for 60 Bs a shared super-hot shower and the same quality as Hostal Rosario.
- Book a wine tour, it’s the easiest way to get to see all wineries and Singali makers. For 100 Bs each with samples it’s the better option.
- Do go out for a plush meal, there are some fantastic restaurants in town for a fraction of the cost of European, North American or Australian equivalents. Social Club is better value on the lunch menu at 35 Bs.