We ran from ATM to ATM, each one with a line longer than the last, until finally we gave in and decided to wait like everyone else. Soon enough though, we realized why the lines were so long. The machines were about to be closed for siesta. Not just the bank, but the ATMs themselves were to be closed between 2 and 4. This is traditional Argentina. This is Córdoba.
It only exists for tourism. It’s cold, expensive and far far away from the nearest town. You’ll pay extra for your hostel, and splurge if you decide to eat out. But like the lamb ravioli I savored there, El Chaltén is worth the cost. Its isolation is precisely what makes it so special. The pristine Patagonian countryside provides stunning views of spiky and sheer Cerro Fitzroy, strangled looking half-dead trees and the valley of the town itself. Despite the priciness of everything in town, there are countless hours of free trekking opportunities. The spooky layering of clouds over the mountains at dusk, that hypnotized us from the bus window as we drove away, was also free.
North of Salta, Argentina lies Quebrada de las Conchas. “Quebrada” from “quebrar” (to break) refers to a gorge, in this case mounds of rust-colored rock, broken at sharp angles by millions of years of erosion. “Conchas” are the shells, or marine fossils, left on the ocean floor before the gorge was elevated, along with the rest of the Andean range, by the friction of tectonic plates.
It only rains in the gorge about five days a year, including the day we visited. I don’t know how it would have looked if it hadn’t, but I was happy not to have the lines of exotic rock columns and sky blurred by sunlight. The sprinkling rain darkened the scattered shrubs, making the whole place look positively fertile.
We thought we had inadvertently planned our trip so that we missed carnaval in every city. We were pleasantly surprised then by this minor madness outside our hostel in Boedo, a not-so-touristy neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
Unlike most of the world’s glaciers, Perito Moreno is stable, advancing at the same rate it’s receding. And it recedes in dramatic fashion. The glacier is so hypnotic that you can stare at it for minutes without noticing the passing of time. Then a deep, thunderous crack resounds, and you scan the tremendous length of the ice shelf. If you’re lucky you see the cascading of chunks larger than pianos smashing against the tranquil blue water, leaving scattered white blocks like spilled Legos.
The driver fiddled with the radio dial in the early morning drive before finally settling on silence. This was the best choice for traveling through the dreamy, pre-dawn Patagonian steppe. I felt unexpectedly anxious as we got closer and closer to Cueva de las Manos, an outcrop of painted rock art going back some 13,000 years. I had only been introduced to its existence a few days earlier by a postcard in a kiosk in Bariloche, and was struck by the outlines of hands, boldly proclaiming “WE WERE HERE.” Though the original inhabitants of the site were long dead, and I don’t believe in ghosts, I felt as if I were about to invade someone’s home.
The hand stencils were created by blowing paint (pulverized minerals) through bone onto the hands. Nearly all of the 800 or so handprints are of the left hand, which suggests the people who created them were right-handed as they would have used their right hand to hold the bone. There is one six-fingered hand, a result of low genetic diversity. There are even “false hands” created by pranksters much more recently, the reason for the current fence in front of the rock face.
Other than the hands, the most frequent image is that of the guanaco, a crucial part of these nomadic people’s diet. The cueva is really more like a cliff with small recesses overlooking a large valley and faraway mountains, from which these hunter-gatherers could spot the migrations of their favorite prey. Due to their tremendous importance, the guanacos are larger and more elegantly realized than the cruder images of people, amardillos, pumas and mythical demon-like creatures.
After climbing down the cliff, we strolled through the bucolic valley, a ranch of some 600 cows. Rosie turned to me and said, “This is the best thing on the trip so far, even better than Iguazu!” Though she had studied archaeology, I was still surprised that she would put this ahead of mighty Iguazu. But I was more surprised that I agreed with her.
Hotel Belgrano offers tours from Perito Moreno. Tours can also be organized through Chaltén Travel.
I was trying to photograph one of these birds from afar, as it briefly touched down on a branch before flying off just as I had it in focus. But within five minutes there were more than enough, squawking and sticking their tail feathers in the air.
Córdoba is the university town of Argentina. Of the roughly 1.3 million residents, about 200,000 are students. That means there’s a lot of youth and a lot of life on the streets. We heard this quartet from the end of the street, and as we approached, we couldn’t believe they weren’t using mics. Enjoy!