Published: March 9th 2007March 3rd 2007
WEEK 13 - LA RIOJA & TUCUMAN
After visiting Chilecito it was only after viewing my photographs on the computer that I realised that the llama which had spit at me while I was taking its photgraph - had aimed perfectly at my camera lense and almost a week's photographs are rather spotty! So apologies for the rather poor quality of some of the pictures!
La Rioja bus station was very run down but the locals were friendly and helpful and their cafe con leche and papas fritas were irresistible! A plate of chips is an ideal way to start a long journey!
We selected a bus to Tucuman which began its journey at La Rioja and left on time! It was on its way to Juy Juy, a 14 hours journey but we just joined it for the first 6 hours. I had a front seat away from the sun - so wonderful views and no need to close the curtains.
The first 2 hours were through shrubby desert but once we started to climb we passed through denser bushy vegetation with a grassy ground cover and some taller trees. From the summit
Colonial building dwarfed by ugly tower block and Coca Cola sign
of the pass we looked down over a large plain with a lake which was surrounded by a huge green blotch. Once on the plain we found ourselves in the middle of a monoculture crop of GM soya stretching for miles and miles and miles. Soya is now Argentina's main export for food and fuel. It is rapidly replacing other crops and cattle grazing as new GM varieties become adapted to harsher and drier conditions. There were also fields of tobacco and gradually we passed through the sugar cane belt and into Tucuman.
In contrast to La Rioja, Tucuman's bus terminal was new with 60 platforms - and most of them were had buses waiting to leave for various destinations.
Although always very careful - or so we thought - we discovered after arriving at our hostel by taxi that the zips on our back packs were open. Missing from my pack was my dictionary and 2 AA batteries for the camera. Fe fortunately had not lost anything. I really was very lucky and this experience was perhaps a wake up call to be even more alert. Later we remembered in the bus station that a group of
women coming towards us, one with a small baby, hesitated as they approached and we had to stop while they decided which way to go. In the meantime one of their group approached us from behind while we were stationary and had a go at our rucksacks. They then sauntered off quite normally and we didn't give it a second thought at the time. It all works for them on the theory of distraction, which is particularly effective in bus stations when you arrive feeling tired and not sure exactly where you are going.- So from now on I will keep the loo paper and tissues in the front pocket, put a wire twist on the the two zip tags to prevent the zip being opened easily and carry my backpack on my front in busy places!
Tucuman was founded in 1564 and it orientated itself towards Salta and Bolivia during the colonial period. It was in Tucuman that Argentina declared independence in 1816 after which it became very nationalistic. It retains a greater indigenous element and there are more colonial buildings than other cities we have visited - even though new ugly buildings have been constructed along side
them and huge inappropriate Coco Cola signs always seem to be prominent in town plazas. Unfortunately due to the humid climate in the summer many buildings were covered with black mould at the top and look dowdy.
Lying at only 420m Tucuman was hot and humid on our last day - perfect for mosquitoes. We were happy to board a bus for Tafi de Valle, a hill station at 2100m.
Amazingly in only 2 hours we passed through the sugar cane belt and climbed through the narrow gorge of the Rio de los Susas with dense subtropical forest disappearing into the mist and then into a misty valley below the snowy peaks of the Sierra del Aconquija. Tafi de Valle was a breath of fresh air. A large dam dominated the valley. (Tucuman's water supply.) and provided water for irrigation to support maize and vegetable crops.
We enjoyed a tour in a safari truck into the grassy mountains which were almost alpine in character with fincas growing vegetables and grazing dairy cattle for cheese making. (An art introduced by the Jesuits in the early 19 century before their expulsion from the area.) The wild flowers were wonderful
and it was so nice to see grass after 1000´s of kilometers of desert scrub. We visited a finca making cheese which was also a research station for the elimination of TB and brucellosis - which are still a problem in local herds. There was also a hotel and restaurant - and unfortunately - a mouldy chocolate and strawberry cake - but an excellent example of diversification and eco tourism. It was Saturday and from our open truck we could smell BBQ's cooking asados (mixed grills) as we passed through tiny villages.
A short siesta and I woke with a knee like a cricket ball - no idea why - but it was rather painful and I spent 2 days reading and relaxing in a lovely hostel with views of the mountains. It was fascinating watching the swirling clouds forming and disappearing as the air masses cooled and heated as they ascended and descended the surrounding mountains. We also experienced 2 electric storms at night where the mountain ranges were magically silhouetted against the sky.
While I rested my knee Fe took a tour to an archaeological site at Quilmes, the home of the local indigenous population
Huge mosaic bird mural on the wall and little me!
decimated by the Spanish - and the name of Argentina's national beer! She was so taken with the site being an archaeologist in the past that she decide to go back and take photographs and treat herself to a night in the posh hotel. Posh hotels are not my scene and I decided to stay in the nearby village of Amaicha with an interesting museum which she had visited on her tour. We have a very flexible travelling arrangement which works well- some times we travel together - sometimes we do our own thing and then meet up again. In the meantime Carole, now back in Edinburgh keeps in touch with both of us on a daily basis by email!
It only rains on 5 days a year in Amaicha and although it was the only place with no grass in the Plaza there were lots of trees and it was nice to be in a non touristy local village. Sadly I just missed the local festival of Pachamama - which they had celebrated a few days before - giving thanks to mother earth for the wonderful resources and praying for the success of their cultivations.
was super for less than 3 pounds per night with breakfast!. My room had a balcony over looking the plaza and there was a lovely kitchen where I cooked myself a juicy steak!.
The Pachamama museum was incredible. There was a geological section interpreting the fascinating local landscape and a huge section relating to the current and potential mineral wealth of the area. I really wished my friends Alister and Zoe who I have travelled with looking at the mineral wealth and mineral processing plants in Canada, Scandinavia and Australia could have been with me.
The rock samples were impressive, especially the mineral samples and there was a simulated underground mine. It reminded me of my trip down the Dome goldmine in northern Ontario when I slipped into a deep puddle of contaminated water.The first aid man had never had to attend to a female casualty before and he insisted on washing my feet and legs! (I was considerably younger in those days!)
Once through the mine shaft the museum was incredible. A local artist Hector Cruz has exhibited his life's work being stimulated and influenced by local ethnic and indigenous cultures, paintings and drawings. The whole
site is a maze of mosaic patterns using local stone forming huge murals and floor designs. I was totally awestruck by the size and intricacy of the mosaics and the incredible landscaping of the site with cacti gardens and ponds.
I entered a door and there were fantastic woven pictures with similar designs and figures followed by a gallery of paintings, sculptures and carvings - and when I thought that was it - there was a wonderful exhibition interpreting the local indigenous culture with reconstructed houses, pots and original paintings and drawings. It really was magic!
However I did wonder just how much capital had been provided to create the site by large international mining companies who are keen to re open the old mines and look at the potential for the extraction of new gold and silver reserves. Can't help but be cynical!
TEXT TO COME
There are more photos below