Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tafi to Tucuman

An amazing hike up in the mts above Tafi Del Valle..I'd thought it would be a short morning constitutional, but I just kept going...the clouds were beautiful, but it was very cold and froze later that night. 
Winter is weird here...often days are warm and nights freezing. There's rarely precipitation as most of the rain patterns in Argentina are more monsoon-like, ie rain during the warm seasons. Which makes it a great place to travel in winter. You can pretty much do everything, and up north here it's really very nice as you can see......


Below is Hector, and he owns a restaurant in town....things are pretty slow here now that it's winter so there's like one or two people in each restaurant. This allowed me to meet a lot of mozos (waiters). Hector was very cool, very smart and we talked about all sorts of stuff, from the economy of Argentina, which he knew a lot about, to the sinking of the Graf Spee...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_pocket_battleship_Admiral_Graf_Spee..(what it doesnt mention is that many of the crew stayed and settled in Argentina and there's a whole German town near Cordoba with a big Octoberfest that is full of German architecture and names and is apparently the product of this story, but Hector says it's a myth for tourists). Hector has a daughter in Holland. He met a Dutch traveler here and actually moved to Holland for awhile, but now they've split up.

We drank the below artesanal beer...almost as good as Sierra Nevada!

I had $ probs here...not only did Paypal block my account because I messed up the password (Paypal is great for sending deposits for renting apts, which I'm doing again in BsAs and Cordoba, and it's a way to have US$s which are hard and expensive to come by--I resolved it fortunately with a sob story email), but Tafi also only had one atm and it wouldn't accept my card... luckily the estancia relented and let me use a credit card. I don't know why it's so hard to use credit cards here. It was easy in Chile, pretty much like US, but Argentina is tough...they just want cash which means you're constantly having to go to the bank (and they often offer cash discounts when they do provide cc option, which at least makes it worth the trip to the bank). And the money here is a mess...falling apart bills and there are very few coins so people horde them and there is even a black market for coins as people need them desperately for public transportation (They still don't have swipable cards for buses, subways etc as is the norm everywhere else, including Chile, which incidentally has beautiful money (almost plastic-like, its tough and lasts forever). It can also be hard to change big bills, but since Argentines are so nice, they will take them if it's all you have, even if they have to go down the street to get change. Below is a common seen-better-days $2 peso Argentine bill:
Money is an issue when traveling for long periods, but even for short trips. The best thing I did was switch from Wells Fargo to Citibank, which has branches here. Wells charges $5 for each ATM withdrawl as do all non-intl. banks and I heard this lamentable fact over and over again from other travelers. I learned it last trip and made sure to find an intl. bank this time around. Citibank charges me 0 for atms and no transaction fee for cc purchases (the norm is 3%). So keep this in mind if you're traveling overseas. A little research has saved me over $1,000. The other bank you could use is HSBC but they require a huge balance in the acct and they also shot a customer in BsAs during the run on the banks in 2001, which is hardly encouraging customer service. Having said all that I was trying to buy US$ today and Citi won't sell them to me. That after an hour and half in line, which includes walled-off counter and a guard to keep things under control. No cell phones are allowed in the line....all this to keep order in a pretty disorganized country (there's a big to-do right now with new healthcare ID cards and it's a total mess with no one getting what they need and waiting in lines...Cristina declared her candidacy today and she'll get elected and none of this will change (maybe it's beyond her or anyone to fix). It's a huge prob for people here--my friend Eze had hell trying to get his passport renewed because the govt uses bad plastic coating which eventually erases yr name). Anyway, long lines for anything bureaucratic or money-related is the norm and I've been lucky in avoiding both. Thank god for atms, they work fine.  (I needed $s for an apt deposit, but I can just use pesos and pay more...I'll happily pay $20 to avoid these lines). And thank god the Argentines smile when they tell you no, it makes it all easier and it clarifies that we're all sort of in this together. One must shrug and have a good cup of good coffee.

Sugar cane on the road to Tucuman.....

Arrived today in San Miguel de Tucuman, an important city historically, where independence was declared and the constitution written and signed. It was also the site of a big battle led and won by General Belgrano (the only big battles against the Spanish  in what is now Argentina all happened in this area and north....Tucuman, Salta, Jujuy and it was apparently rough on the people. Salta's flag is red to commemorate the bloodshed and the gauchos all wear red ponchos.
Tucuman is also the world's largest producer of lemons (the things you squirt on empanadas :), and is called the garden of Argentina. Two of Ezekiel's roommates de la familia Belgrano are Tucumanos

City Hall above with many protests across the street (clean water, more healthcare...there system is very strained.. jobs, education, etc.)

the site of the declaration of independence above


Belgrano! Looking very fey, and with his favorite chair

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