Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hunhuamaca, Jujuy, Salta, Cordoba and Rosario, Argentina

Jujuy, Feb 2, 2008

Two hours north of Salta along the road to Bolivia is the small town of San Salvador de Jujuy. The book rated it as a place to visit. It isn’t! We met a very nice couple from Alaska and traveled with them on the bus to Jujuy where we found room in the Chung King (yes, you read that right) Hotel.

The basilica church was built in 1546 and a few other old buildings date around that time. Today a small pedestrian street lined with shops offers goods for sale. A small park with the church and the old city hall are the only two old colonial buildings that are worth seeing.

Our plan was to visit Jujuy, then Huamahuaca in the north, returning south to visit Tilcara and finally return to Salta. Plans do change. The bus north was to Huamahuaca; however it stopped in Tilcara where it emptied all the passengers out.A bus to Humahuaca will be here in 20 minutes. After 2 hours it finally arrived not at the terminal where we were all waiting but a bit out of the way. We dragged our luggage (no taxis in town) down dirt and rock roads and boarded the bus which was full so we were forced to stand (another word for being thrown about) for the rest of the trip to Huamahuaca. Finally arriving during the biggest weekend of the year for tourists (“Carnival”) and almost dark, Ted set off to book hotel rooms. None available in town! Kids with backpacks wandered up and down looking for a room. There is a tent camping site which was full. Finally a friendly woman sent Ted a bit out of town, about half a mile or so, where a new hotel is under construction. They had rooms but the bathrooms aren’t finished. Shared bathrooms outside. Being high in the mountains, 9000 feet above sea level, it was quite cold. Going outside in the middle of the night to find a bathroom in freezing cold was not in my original plan, but plans do change.

After we dropped our luggage off, we strolled back to town to find food. Canned snow is the big seller during “Carnival”. Kids run through the streets squirting each other and sometimes the unwary tourist. The streets were littered with empty cans and every shop and vendor had stacks of cans to sell. The town square, with a very picturesque stone church, was filled with visitors. Next to the square are steps leading up to the Monument of Heros of Independence with many people sitting on the steps waiting for some fun to start. Several jugglers were practicing while kids ran and played. A small alcove with local crafts offered “Lama sweaters”, pots, Mate cups and other items.

On the little streets leading from the square, shops catering to tourists or restaurants sit between homes. Many of the houses have been painted and cleaned up but as with all small poor towns, many are in need of repair. We hung around for awhile, but nothing much was happening and it was getting colder and colder, so we went back to the hotel.

From Huamahuaca we took the bus back to Jujuy (had a flat tire on the way) and then another to Salta. The area around Salta lies in the foothills which are just east of the Andes. The area is high desert with canyons of incredible beauty. Rocks are pushed up, bent and fractured. Millions of years of water and wind have carved the rock into wonderful shapes. Layers of iron rich rock, sulfur, copper and other chemicals have created a painted panorama of red, brown, green, white and yellow. The landscape is very much like the Painted Desert of Arizona.

Back in Salta we took a day trip to Cachi through another set of canyons. Since it had been raining for two weeks, large streams crossed the road and in several places, washed part of the road away. This in itself isn’t bad except we were on a very winding road with deep gorges on the sides. Quite often, we were forced to stop while bulldozers, which operate 24 hours a day, cleared debris from the road in order to make it passable. The road switched back and forth, climbing up and up. At the highest point on the road we were at 12,000 feet. For some 45 miles, the road is dirt and gravel. Known as the Cuesta de la Obispo, the Bishop’s Trail, this road has got to be one of the most beautiful and exciting roller coaster rides on the planet. Once at the top, we found ourselves on a high plateau, flat for miles and miles around; high desert full of saguaros. Here the road was again paved and we drove for about an hour until we descended into the valley in which the town of Cachi lies. On the other side and looming above the town are the first mountains of the Andes, with the snow covered peaks of Nevado del Cachi rising to almost 21,000 ft. Very impressive!

We spent 4 hours wandering about Cachi, taking in the scenery and eating lunch at an outdoor café, until our return bus arrived. Then we returned back through the gorgeous scenery getting a slightly different view of the mountains covered in lush green vegetation and the Calchiques river, a silvery ribbon in the valley far below.

The next day we went by bus to Cafayate and after checking into the hostel, took a tour in a landrover through yet more canyons, bumping up into dry river beds strewn with green copper rocks, more layered rocks, dry waterfalls and more cactus. A trying day but not to be missed. Parts of this valley of the Calchiques River are very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Monument Valley, and, again, The Painted Desert; all on a much smaller scale, though grand enough for anyone.

From Cafayate we took a bus to San Miguel de Tucuman which climbed up through the desert into the clouds at 10,000 feet. Then down through thick jungle where the trees were covered with vines, bromeliads and orchids. It was more jungly than even Costa Rica. Finally the bus drove through miles of pasture land, the start of the Argentine Pampas, where the weather was warmer. In three days we had traveled from Arizona, to Costa Rica, and now we were in Kansas.

Tucuman is a very big city but didn’t offer much besides a lovely central square with some fine old colonial buildings.

From Tucuman we traveled to Cordoba which again didn’t offer anything new or interesting. On to Rosario, a very pleasant city about 4 hours from Buenos Aires. We arrived on Sunday and spent several hours walking along the pedestrian street where all the shops were closed. The city is an important port on the Parana River for shipping produce from the many farms and factories. Along the river a park stretches almost as long as the city itself. At one place they have erected a large modern monument with Greek-like statues and an eternal flame to honor the first raising of the Argentina flag. Rosario is in many ways a smaller, quieter version of Buenos Aires with its parks, its monuments and the old colonial buildings. Finally we finished by walking the pedestrian street when the shops were open and dined at the exclusive restaurant “Mc Donald’s” after enjoying Rosario.

The area north of Rosario was once home to the Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas. At the end of the 19th century, hundreds of Jews from Russia and Poland, escaping pogroms, managed to find themselves in Central Argentina. With the help of Baron de Hirsch, a Jewish Philanthropist, they received enough money to start their own farms and ranches. Just imagine it, a bunch of Chassidic “Christ Killers” plopped down in the midst of the Catholic Indio Pampas. After a somewhat difficult start, the 2 communities actually got along quite well, with the Jews learning Spanish, and the natives speaking Yiddish. Today, all their descendants are doctors and lawyers in Buenos Aires and Rosario and all that remains are a few old decrepit synagogues overgrown with weeds. There was nothing left for us to go visit.

The whole area from Cafayate to Buenos Aires is in the “Pampas”, the agricultural center of Argentina. About as large as the center of the U.S; cows, sheep and horses share land with corn, soy beans, haystacks, silos, small towns, farm equipment and factories. Surprisingly, we saw no wheat growing. As we drove through, for 3 days, we thought that we could be driving through Kansas, Iowa, or Nebraska; just as flat and just as big.

Finally, after almost a month of traveling, we returned to Buenos Aires and the Alkimista Hostel, where the vast bulk of our luggage was waiting for us. We expect to remain here for a week or so, catching our breath, and then on to Chile.

No comments: