Finding Summer in Argentina
Part of our work during our stay in Puerto Vallarta, was to make plans for the next big journey. Wishing to avoid the winter chills soon to take over the USA, we focused on places where it was summer - the southern Hemisphere. We remembered that with reversed seasons it was summer in Argentina, and we recalled the lovely days we had spent in Buenos Aires back in 2010, so Argentina was our choice. We also recalled that this very large country has much more to offer to Nomads than big city life, so we planned our journey to explore some of the other provinces, especially those that offer grand geological and ecological places to explore. Our wish is to add another focus to our travels - to make connections with the natural world - since one of the primary reasons for cities to become more people friendly has always been to conserve more space for the rest of the flora and fauna with whom we share our planet!
Our Argentine Journey began on December 26 when we arrived in Buenos Aires. The summer weather was quite a change from wintery Atlanta. After riding the airport bus into the city, we walked to a hostel and checked in. We then ventured out to seek a "chip" (sim card) for the phone and find some lunch. An afternoon nap enabled us to catch up on sleep and a good meal raised our spirits. We also purchased a real ticket to fly to Salta in Argentina's far Northwest for the next afternoon. We offer a map of our travels to the right.
Our first excursion took us north, crossing the tobacco and cane fields of the Valle de Lerma, continuing through the city of Jujuy and from there climbing steadily until we reached the village of Purmamarca for awesome views of the Cerro de Los Siete Colores, a wonder of geology that produced formations of rock of seven colors. From here, the road climbed more steadily through more layers of multicolored rocks, making switch backs and steep grades until we reached the top of the pass at an altitude of 4,170 meters (13,500+ feet). From there, we continued down into the vast Salinas Grandes salt flats, which extend over an area of 12,000 hectares, offering us surreal views of dazzling white salt and reflected blue of the sky.
Another excursion took us south through the Valle de Lerma to the tiny village of Alemania, the entrance into the canyon called Quebrada de Las Conchas. Here, the forces of wind, water and volcanic pressure over millions of years have sculpted the amazing multi-colored rocks into amazing formations, such as the Garganta del Diablo (throat of the devil), Amphitheater, and others of fantastic shapes. Finally emerging from the Quebrada, we arrived in the village of Cafayate, famous for the high altitude vineyards that enable vintners to produce the torrontes vino blanco, a new (for us) special wine that we had already enjoyed with our meals.
Salta also offered museos and a teleferico up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo with great views over the city and to the Andes to the west. We also enjoyed the pleasant cafes around the Plaza 9 de Julio where we watched people and sipped Salta Cerveza. This frontier city offered us insights into life in a midsize Argentine city that is quite far from Buenos Aires, in both style and intensity. We celebrated Ano Nuevo, too!
It was here that we first experienced the warmer than usual summer heat that Argentina is experiencing. The 104F+ (40C) degree heat chases people (including us) indoors in the middle of the day. From our air conditioned hotel room overlooking the main plaza, we noted that at 4pm, the streets were empty and people only reappeared after 6:30 or 7:00.
Mendoza is the self proclaimed 'International Capital of Wine', and therefore a place we especially wanted to visit. After enjoying Argentine wine from this area for many years, it was an essential destination. Therefore, our first excursion was a 'wine tour' that took us to visit two vineyards to learn about how wine is made and experience the much anticipated wine tasting. The contrast of the stops was intriguing; one was a small family place, while the other was a very large 'production' facility, but both produced very enjoyable wines.
Our other essential excursion took us to the 'Alto Montana' (high mountain) up into the cordillera de los Andes. We traveled past fields of grapes near the city and then up through the canyon of the Rio Mendoza. At first, the riverbed was dry but after we passed a large reservoir, the rio ran fast, wide and mocha brown. As the road climbed, the coloring in the canyon walls became more and more dramatic, with reds, yellows, greens and blues indicating the mineral content. We stopped at Puente del Inca, the Inca Bridge, where travertine containing other minerals dissolved in thermal waters have deposited a dramatic multi-colored bridge over the river. Another stop enabled us to capture great views of Aconcaugua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. Just short of the border with Chile, we left the main road to climb a steep switchback track to the Christ the Redeemer statue which stands at the border. The views on to Chile and back to Argentina were incredible.
We found the city of Mendoza to be a very pleasant place to spend some time. An earthquake destroyed the city in 1861 and the new city's shady plazas, wide streets and great street trees create a cooler atmosphere in the torrid summers. People gather each evening in Plaza Independencia, the main plaza, to enjoy the shade of the trees and the cooling effect of the great fountain.. There are cafes and restaurants all over the city, which offer a drink or a snack when needed; all are quite busy about 7:00 PM when Mendocinos stop for a drink and later for dinner. Parque San Martin dominates the west side of the city with many walking paths, a rowing lake, sports fields and a Zoo. . The bus system was quite helpful for trips around the city, once we figured out how to use it. We will definitely return to Mendoza on our next visit to Argentina.
Click here to read more about how Mendoza evolved into the city of today.
The Cenrto Historico plus Cordoba Nuevo covered a small enough area to be easily walkable and offered museums, colonial architecture, and good urban living with plenty of sidewalk cafes, excellent bus service, and the Parque Sarmiento for walks.
During our stay, we ventured into the countryside to both the south and the north. Cordoba sits in the Valle Punilla, in the foothills of the Sierras Chicas, a range of mountains While less towering, these mountains are more verdant than the Andes and offered awesome vistas. Heading south, we traveled past vast fields of maize and soya interspersed with groves of fruit trees. The road continued up into the Calamuchita Mountains, past the Embalce Mollino, a large reservoir, through deep forests to the tiny Swiss-style village of Cumbrecita, settled by immigrants many years ago. After a lunch stop and a walk, we traveled on to General Belgrano, an incredibly kitsch German-style village, then back to Cordoba.
On another trip, this time by public bus, we traveled north through the Punilla Valley, through a series of small towns to Capilla del Monte, a charming town in a dramatic setting at the foot of Cerro Uritorco, the highest peak in the Sierras Chicas.
The most astounding structure was the Monumento a la Bandera. On a rise overlooking the Rio Parana, this complex includes a 70 meter marble tower, approached by walking up a broad stairway to the Gallery of Columns where an eternal flame burned in a giant lamp, and then down to the broad Pasaje Juramento with sculptures on either side. All of this commemorates General Belgrano's creation of the flag of the newly independent country of Argentina, back in 1812. The views from the top of the tower were awesome!
After more than a month of continuous discoveries in new and intriguing places, we found that we were happy to spend some days just hanging out at home, writing, selecting pictures for shows, and making travel plans. Rosario was a perfect place for this!
Lots of Water
We invite you to reread the stories from our 2010 visit:
With a tinge of sadness, we left Buenos Aires and flew to Atlanta and on to Fort Myers, Florida, ending our Argentine Summer. No doubt we'll return!
In case you skipped by them above, following are the links to our Flickr photo albums and the story about Mendoza.
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