Z = a Sandwich de Yanquis? Nah! That’s too obvious! One little hint: Gerardo is the new Saint of all young north american female travelers…
A few weeks into my three months of Livin’ La Vida Loca-Latin Dream in Buenos Aires, my inbox was blessed with the presence of a confirmation email from Alison that she would be spending her April break from teaching to visit me in Argentina. I have traveled and studied in places with friends from home before, and I have met friends in new international destinations, like when my NU girls met me in Barcelona when I was in studying in Sevilla for six months, but I have never been able to be a off-duty tour guide for my closest friends and family, trying to share and transmit every ounce of expertise possible to explain an entire country, culture, and the life and rhythm as a foreigner in another location. I always wanted show my parents my Andalucian life in Spain, and feel what it was like to have your own parents dependent on you for all communication, or for friends or family to visit when I lived in Jackson Hole last summer, but having Alison here for 10 days was the perfect way to round out my last weeks living in la Capital Federal! Before enjoying the photo journal below, and discovering the answer to my bizarre algebraic equation, for the record, while Alison was here we super-humanly changed the amount of hours in a day from 24 to 30 (I don’t have the scientific formula to prove this miracle).
After the best airport meet and greet, I whisked Alison away to have lunch at my apartment and plan our first full day in the city. A history buff, Alison chose to take advantage of seeing the weekly “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo” marching at 3:30 in the main square.
What else did Alison do on her first day in a major South American metropolis, in the warm weather, away from her stressful teaching life? She made a PowerPoint with me about what it’s like to go to college in the United States! That’s right, for two hours we put together a presentation that we presented on Friday morning to Maria, the language director of the bilingual program at the private school I visited in February in San Isidro. Yes, that means on the 2nd day of Alison’s teaching vacation, I took her to a school. All jokes aside, we had a blast presenting photos, talking about Northeastern, talking about the $$$$ it costs, but the opportunities we have during and after university years.
Phew. Alison could really be on vacation now, which included racing from the train stop in San Isidro, to make it downtown for my afternoon bike tour. This time I was working, and Alison joined in for the fun with 7 other passengers, 2 from Norway! She did such a good job with the most urban of all urban bike tours, that she was rewarded with her first dulce de leche ice cream:
And then we had cultural experiences in the wide-spread supermarket chain, Coto:
After all that power-point presenting, 4 hour bike touring, dulce de leche ice cream, saran-wrapped pig hunting, we were tuckered out! But I rsvp’d both of us to a swanky little celebratory party at a bar downtown for my soccer friend Becky who had a role in a big screen movie here….this was one of those days we fit 30 hours into 24. Becky rented the bar out for nearly 80 of us from midnight to 6 am. Alison wanted to know how this sort of life functions here. Close your eyes at 9 pm and nap until about 11 pm! And start your engines, because the energy and nightlife on the streets and in the bars and boliches (clubs) doesn’t allow one to feel sleepy.
You guessed it. Of course we put those hard, metal shades down in my room so we could sleep until about 1 or 2 pm the next day. Before packing our bags to leave for our flight to the North Western corner of Argentina, Luisina, another soccer buddy, had Alison and I over her house in Belgrano, where I used to live with Javier, to teach us how to make empanadas! Kari has already found a place in East Boston at one of the local Latin markets that sells the dough I need to replicate these petite, gourmet, variety of hot pockets of deliciousness!
Coming home from Lou and Charlie’s house at about 2 am, we excitedly packed our bags, as well as two exhausted zombies with fried brains from the weekends activities, could do. A two-hour flight towards the Chilean and Bolivian border, surrounded by mountains and about every type of terrain possible from jungle cloud forests to cactus deserts, we arrived in “Salta, La Linda” or Salta: The beautiful. Using Salta as our base, we made a big southern loop and then a northern loop for 6 days, in our little VW golf. This was when my tour guiding really kicked in because I had done this trip, more or less, with Eugenio in 2006. I put that car in 5th gear and Alison and I were off to the wine region of Cafayate, via route 68 through the Quebrada (gorge/range) de las Conchas, a widespread land of brightly colored geological rock formations.
First Activity? A Bike to Hike! The wine comes later!
We met a family with two kids (pictured) who hiked with us in steep and slippery conditions in flip-flops, carrying a 2 liter of Sprite. Love you Argentina.
Cafayate is known for its torrontes, a sweeter but very smooth white wine. Cafayate also happens to be the perfect conditions for harvesting the best grapes in the world: altitude, solar intensity, dry and pure air, and a cool temperature at night!
We zig zaggedly returned (luckily downhill) from the vineyard to the itty bitty center of town and weren’t sure if we were imagining this llama house?
We polished off our evening with a dinner with a fabulous couple who we met at the vineyard, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Is it that time to drive on unpaved roads for hours again? To Route 40 we go–
passing the entire “Ruta del vinos” dozens of vineyards until Cachi, to capture the infamous shot of all the red peppers drying to make paprika. We were supposed to leave early for a long drive back to Salta, with Paprika land being our mid-day rest stop, but in small town Cafayate, we had to wait for the local gas station to fill its tanks down below for an hour…Argentina, I love you.
Besides Paprika, I will always remember Cachi for the gift we were given at Cafe Oliver on the little main square. We learned the hard way, not to rely on an “auxiliary cord” connection to plug-in iPods to play music in rental cars in Argentina. We were left with spotty radio and a cd player, and no cd’s. I asked our waitress if we might be able to find some cd’s somewhere (preferably not of the high-pitched local wind-pipe-bamboo-reed-flute music which is nice in outdoor plazas, not in cars) and she returned with an mp3 cd from the cafe that her boss said we could have. First 10 songs? Aretha Franklin. First song? Chain of fools. We were GOLDEN.
But we didn’t know we’d soon crack the code to this mysterious algebraic equation.
We bombed down the one lane flat roads with the most expansive, massive land surrounding us, with not a single other car on the road. We were playing chase with sundown, and comfortably cruising in 5th gear. Brakes. 1st Gear. Process the view in front of us. What. Is. That? “Did we just drive straight into heaven?” I asked Alison. We stopped, took photos, sat in awe at how I’ve been in plenty of cloud forests before, but never one like this. I wanted to kayak on top of them, scoop the clouds up and make ice cream cones for the entire continent, and mostly just take in deep breaths to acknowledge the beauty that we drove straight into.
Unfortunately and fortunately, we have no photos of what happened for the next 4 hours. That little fun game of chase with sun wasn’t fun anymore. Mother nature always wins. In first and 2nd gear, I began to descend the most curvy, steepest route–the kind meant for two cars to pass each other in the width of one car lane–with my head completely outside my window, defrost on, and no windshield wiper fluid. Neither of us spoke. We both knew we were a little scared in our heads, and a lot scared in our intestines (perhaps I’m speaking for myself), as dusk turned to complete darkness, and pavement turned to loose dirt, with not a single other car on the road for over an hour of us continuing to round each and every corner.
Palms sweaty, we hear something. A waterfall? But from where? Alison gets out of the car and says, “Nope. We’re not doing this anymore.” Water crashes down from the mountain, is gushing over the road and falling off the cliff at a velocity high enough to generate some energy to Cachi “Paprika” land, two and a half hours away. Dios Mio–we are literally supposed to cross a waterfall that we could hear before we even saw it.
A 16 point turn later between mountain and an abyss, we turned around, deciding that we’d have to change our next day and return to Cachi instead of make it to Salta. I was frustrated, tired, stressed, and mad that we tried doing all of our driving in the day time and the one time we failed, we failed miserably. X, 2 yanquis see lights, the first sign of a car descending…I signaled for them to stop and I couldn’t decide whether I should warn them not to go on, or ask for help. Enter Y: Gerardo (+ a little travel karma). I happened to stop a little truck filled with passengers that was a taxi service from Cachi to Salta every day. The driver assured me that I’d be okay to cross the waters if I did it slow and to just follow him signaling with his blinker, every curve we had to maneuver. Another 16 point turn to now return down the valley. We crossed the first waterfall. Cloud forest fog turned to drizzling rain. I couldn’t see a thing outside my windshield. The driver jumps out, sees the new wrinkles I’ve acquired in my face in the past two hours and tells me that one of his passengers is going to drive my car the rest of the way. Gerardo, a 5o something year old man chatted our ears off for the rest of the ride, easing both our nerves, crossing even deeper water holes and waterfalls, and explaining that the entire route is closed in January and February because the rain destroys the route, making it impossible to pass. Apparently Route 33 is one of the most beautiful roads to experience driving on in Argentina, and we were a few hours off. So what is Z? 2 ridiculous yanquis + an angel sent to us in a moment of fear and stress = surviving what felt like a near death experience. Tomorrow is a new day!
Sleep a few hours in Salta and hit Route 9 to the north to start our adventure in the opposite direction! First stop Humahuaca, a fun town to say out loud (remembering that “h’s” are silent), and your quintessential northern adobe hut town filled with artisan crafts and Andean culture. I was still a little jittery from our previous day’s adventure, so I relaxed by jump roping with some girls in the town square:
We didn’t leave Humahuaca without buying some more cd’s! Best of the Beatles, Beyonce, and a random mix of Boliche and Cumbia music. New music, Alison serving up Yerba Mate, and cruising (IN THE DAY TIME) through the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley, watching the sun change the valley at every possible angle.
On our way to Purmamarca we had to stop in Tilcara for gas, which was kind of out of the way. We stumbled upon 3 hitchhikers from France that have hitch-hiked over a year in South America (as noted in the state of their luggage, shoes, clothes, and hair). They stuffed accordions, and about three guitars and their personal luggage in our little VW and we dropped them in Tilcara where they were spending the night. I am talking, serious modern day gipsy kind of stuff!
A sigh of relief. We made it to my favorite town in all of Argentina: Purmamarca. Picturesque. Perfect. Built into the mountains and valley called, “Quebrada de los 7 colores” or “7 colors” It’s certainly no misnomer!
A delicious meal with traditional tamales, empanadas from the north, and a bottle of reserve wine from the vineyard we had been at days before, for $30 I may add, we slept like babies for our Route 52 early wake up call to the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats!
Rise and shine! I’ve been waiting since 2006 to return to my favorite adult playground: The Salt Flats that spread for kilometers and kilometers that still aren’t even as big as Uyuni Flats in Bolivia. Word of advice: Be sure to have sun glasses (and a camera with automatic timer!). I couldn’t wait to bring Alison there. Out of probably 100 shots, here’s some of my favorites:
Leaving the salt flats behind and heading three more hours back to Salta to explore, only to find everything was closed for Semana Santa except for the churches, meant that we could rest up for our 2 hour Friday night flight home. Resting meant that we were definitely going to end Alison’s Argentine vacation the same way we started it. Arrive back to Buenos Aires 11pm. Shower, get ready, and meet friends out at a bar known amongst the ex-pat community at 1 am. We entered and Alison’s face dropped because there were her babies on the tv screen: The Red Sox. After such a beautiful trip with incredible bonding time with La Pachamama or “Mother Earth”, I find it fitting to end this entire entry with another photo taken around 4 am, with a final return home at about 7:30 am.
I’m finishing this entry at about 3 am myself and will sleep well remembering my first week as a tour guide for a best friend visiting a place I’ve called home for 85 days. We sat on Alison’s bag to zip it shut as it was busting with alfajores, yerba mate, malbec wine, and empanada recipes. I think it’s safe to say: Mission accomplished!