Chilecito to Tilcara, Argentina

Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
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Trip End Apr 27, 2006


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Monday, December 26, 2005

Our warmest Christmas greetings to you all from Tilcara, Argentina.

As this will be our last entry from Argentina (we´re right up in the far north-west at the time of writing) it seemed a good time to give you a little bit of an insight into our experience of Argentina by mentioning a few aspects of life here that will stick in our minds after we have left.

THE LOCAL CUISINE

Any trip brings the pleasure and pain associated with exploring the local cuisine. The pleasure: discovering new delicious foods....the pain: discovering the effect on your digestive system and experiencing the strong cravings for a simple piece of homemade bread and peanut butter.

Favourite culinary moments - a really good empanada (a small pasty stuffed with meat or cheese, often deliciously flavoured with veg and hot peppers) and to wash it down: one of the excellent local beers.

Argentina is also rightly famous for its beef - wonderful steaks and other meats, best experienced at a family home as part of their weekly "asado" - ie bbq. And the wonderful "humitas", which we only experienced in the north, hot steamed delicious parcels of corn and other veg.

When we got lucky, we got to share "mate", a tea made from a holly-like tree, drunk in enormous quantities by Argentinians all the time. Most commonly it is shared between friends, by passing around the gourd/cup containing the hot mixture and drinking from the silver "straw". No-one goes anywhere without their thermos, which any cafe/hostel will fill up with hot water so you can make your mate.

And of course the wines - many available in the UK - get yourself down to Oddbins and ask for a fine bottle of Malbec from Mendoza, or a Torrentes for those who prefer a crisp white.

ON THE ROAD

As you will have gathered, virtually all of our journeys made within Argentina have been by bus. These journeys have been a brilliant way to see the country and how people live. In addition, some of the more spectacular routes have been a highlight in themselves.

What do you see on the roads of Argentina? Other vehicles for a start - a bewildering variety of ancient trucks and cars (old Fords, Renaults and Peugeots being particularly common) usually belching out black smoke in their wake. Buses straining up hills at many thousands of metres above sea level with their boot doors open to cool the engines. In the towns, scooters with tiny engines making a terrific noise just to get from one end of the street to the other. And then a local gaucho (cattle farmer) on his horse, hooves clattering from on high in that special canter they do, spurs shining in the sun. And in a quieter moment a mule and its colt wander along a main street and settle in the main plaza to graze.

And back out on the open road - little paths by the roadside, outlined by white pebbles, leading to shrines. Many are in honour of the Difunta Correa, a popular Argentinian saint (not recognised by the Catholic church) who died in the desert while trying to make a journey with her baby. Her baby apparently survived on her breast milk and these days she is revered by all travellers, especially long distance lorry drivers, who for some reason leave piles of empty plastic water bottles by the shrines in return for safe journeys.

THE DAILY ROUTINE

Long siestas are alive and well in Argentina. There´s no point in trying to do anything outside the bigger cities between 1 and 6 pm, as everyone is in bed. And don´t think about dinner until after 9pm, as nothing much opens before then. Takes a bit of adjusting but we´re (yawn) getting into the way of it now....

AND THE REST

Street dogs barking at passing guachos, or at the thunder and lightening. Mums carrying their babies and toddlers across their body (prams are rare). Spectacularly cracked windcreens, especially on buses. Partly-constructed houses everywhere, often with piles of adobe (dried mud) bricks stacked up alongside. Schoolchildren cycling home for lunch in their white/brown labcoats (sems to be the uniform over here). And GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!!

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Finally, if you´re still reading and have any appetite for any more of our travel blurb, we´ve added a few photos to this entry which are independent of the text above - under each photo there is a wee summary of what they relate to.

Postscript: we almost got this out in time for Christmas but not quite. Christmas Day for us was spent on a hilltop fort amongst enormous cactus, looking down on the Rio Grande. We hope you all had a special day and had some exra turkey for us. Thanks for all your messages and have a great New Year wherever you are.
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