Author Archives: Gio&Bert

Mendoza, wine at altitude and fascinating legends

25-28/02/2014

On the eastern side of the Andes, precisely in the northern-central part of Argentina, travellers driving along ruta nacional 7, the main road connecting Buenos Aires and Santiago (Chile), will bump into Mendoza and probably fall in love with it, as happened to us. Pretty tired of several days hitchhiking the Country, we decide to spend here a few days in order to get some rest and to recharge the batteries.

DSC04798 DSC04800 Immediately, we realize that Mendoza has a lot to offer since it seems to be a common stopover for climbers on their way to Aconcagua or adventurers looking for some rafting, horse riding, hiking and many other outdoor activities of this kind. The city is the capital of Mendoza region, worldwide known for its fine wine production (here Nicola Catena Zapata, considered the pioneer of high-altitude growing, planted the first malbec vineyard at about 1500 above sea level) and astonishing sceneries.

We arrive very late and we spend the first night at Hostal Internacional Mendoza, so excited to have reached our destination and looking forward to exploring every hidden corner of it. The next day we change hostel (Hostal Mendoza Backpackers) ‘cause we meet our old dear friends, Phil and Charlotte, who came here last week and never moved again. This place seems to be a magnet for every traveller that stops here just for a few days and stay longer than expected. So, 4 days pass by quickly, resting, having good time with the other guys in the hostel, playing ping pong, enjoying the great breakfast provided by the guesthouse and wandering around the city. We visit the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno that hosts an interesting exposition of Picasso’s graphic artworks and the many squares Mendoza is full of, we walk around to admire the lively street art decorating buildings and walls, we taste good red wine and go to the cinema where we see “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, not that good, pretty poor in narrative in fact but definitely inspiring for its breathtaking photography of Iceland beautiful and rugged landscapes.

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We definitely have a great time here, Mendoza is a place so familiar and cosy that makes you feel at home. But everything has to come to an end, we feel like moving. So we take our backpacks and leave to feel the asphalt under our shoes once again. Next stop? Chilean border.

Our recommendations:
Hostal Mendoza Backpackers is really nice with WIFI, shared kitchen, private and shared rooms/bathroom, a huge common room and a sunny terrace, great continental breakfast and a very nice staff (70 ARS per day/person breakfast included).

The first hostel is more expensive, around 110 ARS per person/day, so not really for backpackers.

• Don’t miss Argentinean legends. On our way to Mendoza, after hitchhiking for several hours from San Juan region and surviving the inundation of a river DSC04814 (we find the road interrupted by 2 meters of water and all the people living in the neighbourhoods busy in finding a way to cross it. We eventually manage to do it, jumping in a track taking us on the other side of the stream save and sound), we meet a nice couple who drives us till our destination and makes a little detour just to inform us about one of the most popular myths of the Country: la Difunta Correa. According to what people say, she was a woman whose husband was recruited during the Argentine civil wars, became sick and then abandoned by the Montoneras (partisans). In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda Correa followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province with her baby child. But when her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later with the baby still alive, feeding himself from the deceased woman’s ever-full breast. She was buried in Vallecito, in the Caucete Department of San Juan, where her grave has become a sanctuary visited by thousands of people asking for a miracle.

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Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A page of a hitchhiker’s diary: RN40 the new Route 66

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Crossing the border and leaving Bolivia behind us we enter in a different world with different dimensions.  At La Quiaca, the first village on Argentinean soil, there are signs indicating the distances to diverse Argentinian emblematic cities, the republic’s capital and to Ushuaia, the remotest south point of the country.  Argentina is an enormous country to visit and more than one traveller has spent nights awake figuring out which way to follow.  Well… 5121km is the highest bid on a sign post pointing straight southwards to ‘Tierra del Fuego and  40 is the magic number that will guide you on your quest to get there.  This number contains Scarlet red sunsets reflecting on the surface of small rippling streams, midnight skies spattered with stars and Tyrian purple sunrises over snow topped mountain peaks.  It delivers breath-taking views on glacial lakes at high altitude, endless plane wetlands and deserted dry areas where cactus becomes your religion and every drop of water is a goddess.  40 fusions ancestral, old, modern and futuristic.  40 alternate monumental silence that accompanies a wild barren emptiness with undying machine-driven noise that escorts a steaming metropolis in a sublime way.  Over 5000km of highways, roads and dust tracks are pulled together to connect both outmost ends of Argentina and makes of Ruta Nacional 40 the longest (and if not one of the longest roads) of the world (along with the 3945km U.S. Route 66 and the 2834km long Stuard Highway in Australia).  And the best of all… it is highly hitchhike-able!!!

RN 40

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Partly to make it more attractive for tourists, the road’s itinerary, that runs a staggering 5224km, has been changed over the years.  Till the date RN40 is offering you 14 National parks, 26 National Reserves and Provincial Parks.  The road runs through more than 200 cities and villages in 11 different provinces and transits 5 areas declared world heritage by UNESCO.  It combines 236 bridges helping you over 24 major rivers and an infinite of streamlets and bourns to get to more than 23 salt flats and lakes.  RN40 has connection with 41 international mountain passes to Chile.  Although starting at sea level, the thoroughfare truly breaks records at the lightheaded Abra de Acay, at 4895MASL, as it is the highest point on a national road anywhere in the world!

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While route 66 is a phenomenon and for this became almost a mass tourism destination, this long stretch is still virgin.  It provides infinite range of culture that goes from Inca at the Bolivian border over Diaguita Calchaqui, Kolla, Huarpe-Mapuche and Guarani till even the native Selk’Nam in the remotest north, all of them adapted to the endless variety of Argentina’s climate and landscapes.  RN40 arranges for the explorer an immeasurable fauna and flora of endemic species and they are waiting to be spotted.  The road guides you through the high Andean mountains ranges and low outstretched Patagonian plains both with views that will petrify more than one.  There are bottles of wine anxious to be uncorked and grills with red glowing charcoal waiting at your choice for meat.  And the best of all… there are the Argentineans to be met on the way, conversations ready to be had and experiences to be shared.

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(One of the bizzarest places only findable by hitchhiking: if a car gives you a lift just till the half off the distance and you end up at the godforsaken backcountry …  An empty, taken good care off, pool in the middle of nowhere might be awaiting you.)

Our Recommendations:

  • Plenty of towns and cities to spend the night, as well as plenty campgrounds and open spaces to camp. Organize well the trip as sometimes between two minor settlements might be too much distance to walk (in case you run out of hitchhike-luck). Plenty of food and water and an appetite for adventure are essential.  Large areas of the RN40 have no roadside assistance and no mobile network.
  • Take a public bus to get out of the centre and suburbs of big cities and hitchhike from there on.
  • There are a number of international important sites along this route. Here are some of them: Cueva de los Manos, which contains cave art dating back some 13.000years.  Perito Moreno Glacier at the Los Glaciares National Park.  Take a step back in time and explore the wonderful millennial forest in the Parque Nacional Los Alceres. The Calchaquí Valleys and the multi-coloured Quebrada de Humahuaca in the north.  Wine tasting in wine houses with international fame.
  • The ideal time commitment for most travellers is one to two months. And the best time of the year is from December to March.

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Amaicha Del Valle celebrates Pachamama

22/02/2014

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Remarkable are the moments when you look back in the past and realize you were there in the right place at the right time but even more extraordinary is when you realize it at the very moment.  A quivering of excitement runs through your veins, a strange tickle runs through your spine and ultimately every hair on your skin rises by the overwhelming feeling.  Amaicha Del Valle  is for us this place at that very moment.  We are lucky and arrive at this small indigenous Calchaquí community the day before the locals celebrate and honour Mother Earth.  Pachamama is a concept we have seen along our travel since the north of Colombia getting closer to the border, also in Ecuador, Peru and undoubtedly in Bolivia.

Pachamama is a goddess honoured by the indigenous people of the Andes.  She is also recognised as the earth/time mother and as nature itself.  She is an ever present and independent divinity who has her own liberating and creative power to sustain life on this earth.  She is basically the core of a belief system of eco-social action among the different Andes tribes.

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At the central park San Martìn a pile of stones (Apacheta) that represents Pachamama is attracting more people as the morning grows old and the sun gets higher in the sky.  Primitive rhythms of drums and ancestral chants are gathering the crowd while locals and especially the folklore dressed women make their offerings to Pachamama.  All listen very carefully to the outing of gratitude of what Mother Nature has given them and the wishes they have for the future of mother earth.  Their closeness to the heart discourse is as old as the mountains surrounding us but in between the lines filled with modern, up-to-date ‘climate-change-problems’ and harvest difficulties.  We witness a dialogue between an agrarian community and their land they work so hard on.  Pachamama listens to their orations while she receives the offerings such as flowers, grapes, corn, water, wine and liquors.

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Stands offering local self-made food, homemade drinks and handmade arts are filling the streets around the central square together with music that comes a bit from everywhere.  The famous Argentinean empanadas are made on location and got our attention as we notice that it is the perfect food!  Self-made with natural bio products, a big diversity with chicken, meat, ham and cheese, vegetarian, spicy,… all of them are freshly cooked and last but not least, they are cheap.  Other options are the plenty big barbeques with all kinds of meat, the open grills with tortitas filled with ham/bacon and cheese, salchipapa (fries with sausice) or even the less traditional hamburgers.  Or we can get a full dish at the improvised food court on the local football field with views on a stage where Copleras  give the best of them singing Coplas, popular songs famous for this kind of celebrations.

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Amaicha Del valle might be a snoozing town the rest of the year but now it feels like the centre of the world.  Not only for locals but we notice a respectful attentiveness and participation from other travellers from all over the world.  This hamlet build around a pile of stones covered with offerings is at this very exceptional moment the place to be.

 

Recommendations:

  • Hostal Pacha Kuti  is one of the best we tried during our whole journey. A fine young open minded spirit.  No complications, basic with everything you might need for just 100 pesos per night/person.  Breakfast (with daily fresh home-made baked bread) and dinner included which are just delicious. Sitting all together at the table while eating brings the traveller in contact with others.

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  • There is a museum about Pachamama which gives the visitor a view on a wide spread Andes culture.
  • A bit outside the village (18km) you can find the Quilmes ruins. Archaeologically interesting and naturally beautiful setting.
  • If possible, go when the Fiesta de Pachamama is happening. Be respectful and enjoy every bit of it.

 

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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