El viaje al norte

6 11 2010

We are back to La Plata, sunburnt and happy! Here’s a not-so-quick recap of our trip up north:

The trip started with the 24-hour train ride that I mentioned in the last post. I think Tim and I would both agree that if we ever have to travel that long again, train is the way to go. It was so cheap, we were able to wander around, absorb the views from the dining car and retreat to our private room to sleep through the night. All in all, not a terrible travel experience.

On the main plaza in Tucuman

We arrived in the city of Tucuman on Saturday and spent most of the afternoon wandering around the city center. Tucuman has a very urban vibe, with lots of retail and restaurants. Tim even said that it felt like they had “injected a little bit of BA” into the city. The only sign of the great historical significance was the handful of museums around. Unfortunately, they were all closed when we were there; so we spent our time sampling new foods instead. Our first meal was in the mercado: two tamales and two Cokes, all for around three dollars. Delicious! As we ate, we were surrounded by sacks and sacks of chilies. You definitely don’t see that in La Plata. And although it wasn’t super spicy by our standards, it was still one of the only meals we had tried until then that had even a little spice. Needless to say, it was a much welcomed change. The other notable meal we had in Tucuman was a street food called a panchuque, a hot dog (pancho) wrapped in a pancake (panqueque). It tasted a lot like a corn dog– not a meal I’d want very often, but it was a nice snack on a warm summer day.

We only spent one day in Tucuman before heading to Salta, about four hours further north. Salta is a beautiful city that sits in a valley. Cable car gondolas run from a park in the city up to the top of Cerro Belgrano for a stunning view. Salta seems to be one of the cities that everybody falls in love with but, for whatever reason, we were a little underwhelmed. The colonial architecture was beautiful and we certainly appreciated the museums, but it did not live up to the resounding praise we had heard before going. The whole city seems to revolve around tourism, something both of us found a little off-putting. Food and lodging was overpriced and, generally, sub par. It’s one of the only cities in Argentina that either of us have been to where tour companies practically assault you in the street– not nearly as bad as many other countries, but also not the tranquil travel experience we’ve come to expect from Argentina. People generally seemed less friendly and less interested in talking to tourists, as well. That said, we certainly enjoyed our time in Salta. We spent a lot of time people watching in the city, went to the market and visited several museums, including one with a slightly over-sensationalized exhibit featuring perfectly preserved mummies of children that had been sacrificed by the Incas. In Salta, Tim also had an interview with a social service agency in Pittsburgh for a mental health counselor position that would start when we get back to Pittsburgh in January. (For those of you who haven’t heard, Tim and I have decided to move back to the US in December. We’re planning on spending the holiday season with our families in Michigan and then moving to Pittsburgh for the New Year… more on that some other day.)

Looking down onto Salta

After a couple of days in Salta, we continued north to the city of Jujuy. Of the three cities we visited, Jujuy was our clear favorite. Despite the fact that it was not as bustling as Tucuman or as photogenic as Salta, Jujuy had an energy that we both fell in love with. Immediately after getting off the bus, it reminded both of us of Nicaragua. Reggeaton was playing in the streets, palm trees decorated the parks and plazas and the city just had a much more lively feel. Everyone was much friendlier, prices were more reasonable and the food was great!! Although there were still lots of shops, it wasn’t the high-end European style stuff that dominates in cities like BA, La Plata and Tucuman. There was something about Jujuy, that we haven’t been able to clearly articulate, that just made it stand out to us. During our three days there, we stumbled upon a great little bakery with delicious breads and cookies. We visited a fantastic art gallery/cafe with a truly excellent exhibit and the best iced tea I’ve ever had. We spent a lot of time in and around the market, went to a couple of small but impressive museums, wandered in and out of bookstores and hung out on top of a hill with a beautiful view of the city below.

From Jujuy, we continued north to Purmamarca, a small but touristy village along the Quebrada de Humahuaca. By the time we arrived, we were ready to finally get to the desert. The dry heat, surreal rock formations and tranquility were perfect. From Purmamarca, we did a short hike that was rewarded with unbelievable views of the Quebrada. We also took a short bus ride to the salt flats, the Salinas. It was great to get out of the city and see some of the amazing scenery Argentina has to offer. By this point in our trip, it became hard to believe we were in the same country as La Plata. People don’t realize how big Argentina is, but it’s the eighth biggest country in the world. That means that, like the US, when you travel from the middle of the country to the north– for example–the people, the language, the food, and the culture are all different. In Northern Argentina, there is a much stronger indigenous influence and, therefore, a much smaller European and US influence. There are pockets of people who speak Quecha fluently, and many Quecha words have simply been incorporated into the Spanish language. People tend to be more community-focused, as well. The food is based heavily around corn, with tamales and humitas being particularly popular. Instead of beef, llama meat is king in this region. It was neat to get to experience all of these new things, especially being surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of the region.

Tim playing at the salt flats

From Purmamarca, we went to Humahuaca. We fell in love with the cobblestone streets and quaint church of Humahuaca instantly, but were only able to spend 12 hours there. We got in at night, and only had time to have dinner and explore a bit on foot before bed. When we woke up, the electricity had been cut off for the entire northern region and Tim had a second interview for the counselor position, so we headed south to Jujuy that morning.

After Tim’s interview, we headed further south to Cafayate, one of the wine-producing regions of the country. Cafayate is known primarily for producing Torrontes, a dry white wine. Like in the more popular Mendoza region, tourists can rent bikes and visit the bodegas around the city for wine tastings. Tim and I did this, visiting five or six of the nearby vineyards. It was a fun experience even though many of the wines were not particularly impressive. What was delicious though was the wine flavored ice cream sold in the city. Who knew that Cabernet flavored ice cream would be good? While in Cafayate, we also took a hiking tour of a nearby gorge, the Quebrada de Cafayate (or the Quebrada de las Conchas). Like the quebrada around Purmamarca, it was stunning. The different colors and shapes of the rock formations were incredible. Our time in Cafayate was the perfect combination of relaxing and active. It was a great last stop for us before we took the train back home from Tucuman.

Just outside of Cafayate

So now we’re back in La Plata. We’re working on getting everything in place to return to Pittsburgh next month, and once again, we’re becoming slaves to Craigslist. Tim accepted the mental health counselor position, so all we need now is to find an apartment and me a job. Things are coming together and it will be great to see our families for Christmas and our Pittsburgh friends shortly after.

Pictures:

The cities of the north: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=95108&id=1355022833&l=c2e62887f7

The Quebrada of Humahuaca: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=95114&id=1355022833&l=4268299672

Wine country: Cafayate: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=95119&id=1355022833&l=3d4b1c9187

Katie

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2 responses

6 11 2010
Barbara Muller

Beautiful pictures! Tim can even have fun in the salt flats!! The best part is that you both could experience everything together. We are looking forward to seeing you at Christmas!

8 11 2010
Susannah

I’m not at all surprised that you both enjoyed the least touristy town the best. That’s so awesome that you were able to experience more of Argentine culture before you left…. what fun that it IS regional, as you said!

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