Monday, October 31, 2005

Northern Argentina IV: Cordoba, City of young

Arriving at Cordoba afternoon, I was greeted by light rain and grey clouds hanging heavily over this modern high-rising built city. As the weather didn't improve too much in the passing days here, I have done little excursions outside of town, and most of the time spent in the Internet point, waiting for the upcoming experience of my life...

Grey clouds hanging over
The ride to Cordoba was not one of my longest (only a mere of 8 hours) but still, I felt the time slowly passing, and the grey weather hanging all the time from an hour after departure till I finally reached Cordoba around 2 PM. Light rain landed on my face as I retrieved my pack and shouldering it, I headed into the station’s terminal, looking for the information office. After some wandering around, I found it at last, and asking for the Patagonia hostel I have got a flier of the hostel with the center of the city outlined. A no problem walk, I thought. Well, I should have re-thought things.
So, I have started walking through the city, the rain stops and continues from time to time, and the immense red-bricked buildings hang over me like towers of a Babylon, when only the clouds can out master them when height is concerned...At first, navigation was smooth and easy, but once I passed one big square, I have lost my direction as for some unknown reason, I could not find any sign post with the name of the street. So, I wandered around with a 25 kg backpack on my back, looking for a single piece of direction, and could not find one, and only I asked someone where is the specific hostel street, did I got my bearings straight. God damn mayor, what he thinks, everyone is from Cordoba!? I cursed him quite a bit under my breath when I crossed here and there, till I finally reached the hostel. A very clean and tidy hostel, I got a lower bunk in this empty hostel, and quickly went venturing into the grey city, looking for food.
I got directions to a nearby mall, very fancy, big (similar to the Ramat Aviv mall) and of course, with a food court. After eating I strolled a bit in the city, done some arrangements and finally, went back to the hostel.

Che, Che, Che-Che!!

Well, most days here past quite the same – Internet, lunch, Internet, dinner, some coffee and go to sleep! Yep, when almost all week I was alone in the hostel (!) and the weather was shit (grey clouds, rain all night and sometime all day) the Internet served a great place to look for shelter!
Well, once I had a nice day I took advantage of it and went to the bus station in order to travel to Alta Gracia, a small town south of Cordoba. I read in the LP that there are nice colony architecture and a house that the Guevara`s family was living when Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a small boy.
The ride was a short one, some one hour, and finally I got to town and got off at the main terminal, which served also as the municipality place and after receiving a map of the little town, I started to move around. However, navigating in this town is not as easy as one can imagine, and the twisting streets made me wana kill the guy that designed that map. I was like going in circles or going in the other direction and it made me VERY frustrated! At one time, instead of walking straight to the center of town, I walked to the Gruta Virgen de Loudes, a chruch build out of the rock at 1916 which was surrounded by a forested mansion. It was nice, but damn, it took me some time till I realized where the hell I was and what street should I take in order to get to the center of town.
At the center of town I found the Tajamar, the water reservoir, that was built around 1659 with lime, sand and stone (some 80 meters long!). A very beautiful and attractive place. Over this tranquil little lake stands tall and dominating the clock tower. I took some photos and continued on to a nice restaurant on the other side of the town, and after finishing my business there, I returned to the lake for tranquility and some photo-ops.
The biggest attractions in this town, aside from the beautiful colonial buildings is the Guevara house on Avellaneda street, where young Ernesto “Che” Guevara was living in his early part of his life due to his Asthma problems. In his small wood house I got a glimpse of the way they lived back then, his closest friends and general information about his personal life as a man more than as a leader of a revolution. I had a small FADIHA there, while I was on my way out.
It all started with the fact that when I first got into the place, and I understand from the Museum representative that couple of Israelis are just in the Museum, but apparently were not that eager to communicate to much (aside from saying hello). So, while I was scribbling my remarks and comments in the Museum guest book, an Israeli couple got into the Museum. Now, as I was finishing my comment I gripped that the lady gonna ask them where they are from (like she asked me before) and they will say they are from Israel, and then she will point at me and say I am from Israel too. Now, I don't know why, but I didn't felt like being there, so I quickly made a move to open the door and get the hell out of there before she is gonna ask them. Only, as happens at such situations, the god damn door didn't open and I had to struggle with it till it opened, but it was a bit too late. Once they answered they are from Israel there was a long silence, which was more or less when I finally managed to open the door. Then, as I moved through the door, hastily I must admit, I heard her say: “Well, he is also an Israeli” and when I passed and turned to close the door, I could see their surprised faces stare at me, not knowing what to think of my runaway act, and I could only squeeze a shameful smile and close the door. I felt a bit like shit, not confronting the whole situation more respectfully, but then again, I made a mistake that sometimes happens.
I returned to the terminal, passing through the beautifully built houses on Avellaneda street and walking all the way back. Twenty minutes later the bus moved back to Cordoba.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Northern Argentina III: The valleys of red and green

Solo I boarded the bus to Cafayate, a little town south of Salta, which is known for its vineyards and also for the amazing country side. After a scenic ride through the famous Quebrada de Cafayate (Valley of Cafayate) I went with a tour to a couple vineyards for explanation on wine production and tasting. The next day I was already on my way to Tucuman, the capital of it`s region. On the way I was surprised to pass through the lush subtropical valley of Sosa (Quebrada de Los Sosas), a beautiful and scenic curving valley. I knew immidiately that I will return for a revisit.

Red ride through nowhere to Cafayate
Sitting down in my seat in the simple bus, I was gripping that, again, I am traveling solo, with freedom and lonesome as my companions. I was a bit sad so I put on some tunes in my CD player and wished the bus will move, so my thoughts will move also with the rhythm of the music. Only, when the bus started to reverse and depart from it`s docking line, the radio crackled and the lady on the other line asked something about two vacant seats. The driver stopped backing up and after consulting with the conductor, he answered that no, there is no room. The lady insisted he should wait till they check it up and he returned to the start of the lane. Damn, I wanted to go! I was agitated, wanted to leave and move! The conversation kept on, and then finally the bus back up again, only again the driver was stopped and requested to wait. URRR...whats going on here?! LETS VAMOS!!! I raged inside and the lava kept on boiling inside like a volcano about to explode. I was SO agitated, only god knows why...
At the end, I saw a girl coming from the left and immediately I recognised her as an Israeli. Great, I should have thought about that... She was calling her friend, another girl, and together they boarded the bus and finally, and indeed finally, the bus left the docking area and we were on the move. THANK GOD!!!!
The first part was not that quite interesting, just getting out of the city, but quite quickly we entered the vast valley of Cafayate, full of rich red color on both sides and nothing more. Not a single house for kilometers away, nothing! Every five minutes the bus will stop and pick a passenger that came out of nowhere, and dropped off at another point in this nowhere. And all of this in such a wild an beautiful place with amazing colors and rock shapes. I was lucky enough to have the front seat on the right side, and thus most of the time I had the valley side and also could shoot straight through the front window of the bus (hopefully it will get out good). As this area is so remote, people stop the bus to buy newspaper (!), a thing that amazed me. At one time, a young mother (maybe 20 years old not more) went up with her down-syndromed child, which laughed and giggled in a total naive manner with everyone who went up or down the bus, no matter how people saw her (including me). It gripped me sadly, that this child`s naivety was like a curtain that screened the stares of the people, each one with his own thoughts. This naivety certainly helped her be happy and giggle with other kids, which interacted with her similarly to other kids, not truly aware of the difference between them and this child of joy.

Vineyard tour - can I have another , glass, please?
Reaching Cafayate, it was not hard to find a hostel as a girl approached me and offered a room. Well, I didn't plan on staying too much in Cafayate so I said, what the hell. And they threw inside a vine tour. Cool, where do I sign??
The girl showed the way in little Cafayate and after 5 minutes my gear was thrown majestically over the lower bank of the dormitories. While I was arranging my self, a guy came in and introduced him self as Frank, a dutch guy. We talked quite a lot and then he said he is going to the vine tour. Ha, nice I will join you too! I commented and together we went down to the reception. And there, who I found making questions about this and that? Of course, the two Israeli girls! I chit-chat with them for five minutes and got the picture more or less, and then went to the tour with frank. With us on the tour were also one German guy that i didn't captured his name, another Spanish guy and two girls.
The tour was nice and started at one of the close vineyards. A very fast spanish speaking guide started mumbling about the factory capacity to produce this and that liters of vine each day, and somewhere in the middle of his speech I already drifted with my camera in hand, looking for attractive angles and shots...Who cares how much or when, I want a good shot!! Not that the tour was that long, just 10 minutes before we returned to the factory shop to taste some wine, and maybe, just maybe, buy some Cabernet Sauvignon year 1985 maybe?? Phh, yeah right!
We hopped on the truck for another small vineyard, again looking around and then taste a bit more wine (good wines, but as I am not a specialist in the field, every wine tastes for me the same...) and then move on to another one. At that last one, the car driver (which is also the owner of the hostel) showed us around the process of bottling of the wine, and it was to see a big fella that was recycling 5 liter bottles. To do so, he washed huge amounts of bottles under the hot sun with water and soap...simple and effective! We also saw how they bottle up the wine and put everything nicely in nylon wrap and taking it to the stores. Nice!
We returned to the hostel only to go back to the center of town, looking for places to eat. Frank was just finishing his Master degree in Economics and was also thinking what to do with himself once his tour is over (couple of months no more). After lunch we split, he went to the tour of the Cafayate valley while I went to the Internet only to overstay till the evening. When I returned to the hostel, I saw frank talking with the German guy, who I forgot his name. A nice guy at that, who likes outdoor activity and told us about a kayaking tour he did once. Was interesting and when we finished our business we went to have some dinner (all the time eating, I am telling ya, they wont let on the plane!!). The German guy met a Swiss guy in the little restaurant on the plaza and they kept yabbing in deutch so me and frank talked some and after the meal I felt myself SO tired I told frank that I am hitting the sack. Said goodbye and went to the hostel for a goodnight sleep as the next day I had to catch a bus to Tucuman at 6 am...

Surprising findings around the curve
Well, waking up at 5 am the Friday morning was not that easy as I thought but after howling all my stuff out of the room (no need for the others to suffer as I do, right?) I quickly arranged all my stuff and around 5:30 am I was sitting alone and in the dark street of Cafayate (they didn't heard about changing the clock, do they?? The time was suppose to be 4:30 for god`s sake!). Almost no one was on the streets and the office was, of course, closed. I started to get a bit worried that I might have not understand the girl in the hostel reception when I heard footsteps behind me and the noise of rattling keys and knew I heard her perfectly good! I bought a ticket to Tucuman (driving in Argentina IS expensive, damn it!) and waited no more than 5 minuted till the bus arrived and the guy took my backpack and put in the luggage compartment. I boarded the bus, with few people already sitting in it, and took my seat at the right side (as the hostel owner advised me).
I was pretty tired but hold on my tiredness as the bus pulled out of the curve and I started, yet, another ride into Argentina`s wilderness.
The light came slowly on the east side (I was sitting on the west as the bus travelled south) and slowly I could see the vastness of the valleys south-east of Cafayate with the little snow capped mountains illuminated first by the rising sun, and the moon hanging from above, shining also. What a picture it could have been if only the bus would stop! But, heck, it only went faster, riding from time to time on gravel and dirt parts, shaking all passengers really good and eliminating any thought or act by my side to take my camera out and check the light metering system. Later, when there was light (but nothing interesting to shoot...) I fell asleep, as I was starting to get tired of waking up all the time at 5 am or similar.Shit, am I on vacation or what that I am doing this thing to my poor tired soul?? (well, I have to whine somewhere, better I do it here where no one sees, right? OK, OK, you see it, but you wont tell anyone, right? RIGHT?? Good!)
So, finally I woke up just in time to see the crucifix of poor old Jesus hang in the northern entrance to Tafi del Valle, a nice little town on the mid way to Tucuman that lots of folks come to relax and enjoy the fresh air after absorbing a lot of pollution in the big and dirty city. We did a stop in the bus station and I had a nice coffee and two Media Lunes (called Half Moons for their form), which are Argentinean-style Croissants (filled with nothing but compensated with a layer of sugar-sweet on top...very yami, and of course, good for the fat cells to grow more...). Talking of which, it is kind of a customary thing here to serve those lunes with the coffee, and if you politely deny the sweet, people look at you surprised and press a bit • “Are you sure?” Yes, Damn it, I am sure I don't want to be 5 kg fatter than I am already, so stop shoving me those calorie killers!
So, after some good coffee (and they have here some gourmet coffee and for third the price in Israel at it!) we returned to the bus to continue the other half of the ride, only this time I wasn't ready for what I saw. At first we passed La Angostura Dique (dam), an artificial lake and at that, the highest in Argentina) and almost immediately after passing it we abruptly entered the Quebrada de Los Sasos, a subtropical lush valley which the Rio Los Sasos pass through it and the road passes closely by. I of course didn't know anything about what I am telling ya, I learned all this when I reached Tucuman, but as a dedicated photographer, I took out my camera and pathetically tried to capture this amazing place. Well, as I was so dedicated, I quickly realized that it is hopeless to shoot through a window of a fast driving bus when curves and turns makes sharp picture taking an impossible mission (unless you are equipped with a gyroscope, which of course I don't have in my possession...), so I pondered what is the chance I can come back here and how. As the bus continue to drive through this beautiful valley, I measured the different options and the chances that I will do it in a one day excursion. Of all the options (walking, biking, taxing and renting a car) the last one was the best of them all: it enabled me both freedom (I decide when to go and when to stop) and speed, as this road is almost 50 km long. Taking a taxi was out of the question as I had a person that I was not truly free to do what I want. Taking a bike was also out of the question as biking 50 km demand some serious shape. And walking...well, don't make me laugh OK? Like, shit, I had enough in the Railyway walk to Aquas Calientes...
So, it was settled! Renting a car! Just hoped I wont be ripped off...

We finally reached the bus station and I decided, as I was so smart, to walk the whole way to the center instead of taking a taxi. Real slick, Chen, just walk some 10 blocks with 30 kg backs on the back and on the front. And how much did I saved?? Maybe 2.5 pesos, which I, of course, invested on a bottle of water after walking so much under the vicious sun...Did I say I am a smart guy??
Well, I reached the Hostel Petit, a not too-small hostel if you ask me, but you know, everything is relative (maybe in comparison to the Pyramids it is small...). In any case, the owner, a guy named Enrique (!), introduced himself and when he heard I am an Israeli he went joyfully to his desk and popped up an old diary which served as the hostel guess book. Well, he cleared a place for me to write my opinion only when I was suppose to write it (before leaving) I was so pressed, I didn't give about his book • I had a bus to catch! But, I will return to this event later on...
So, after dropping my stuff in the room (19 pesos a night, the LP writes it is 5 USD not 6 USD!) I went to consult with Enrique about car rental. Very nice and helping, Enrique picked up the phone and after couple of minutes handed me one of the car rental agency owner. Yes, you we have a small car for rent, it costs 100 peso per day for 200 km, he said with his broken English. 100 pesos?? Did I hear right? That's good, I though it is gonna be around 150! Marvelous! So we fixed 5 PM as the time to meet (way after Siesta time) and I finished the call. Sweet ass, everything is going smoothly!
I then went straight to find some food for my already demanding stomach, and after consulting with Enrique, I went to a nice restaurant on one of the main streets. Now, people, I was entering the joint, and what can I tell ya, everyone there were wearing god damn suits (in this heat, are you people outa your mind?!) and the whole atmosphere was crying Luxury!! As I was sitting, with already one eye on the door for a quick run from the demanding menu, the waiter came with the menu, and surprisingly, the prices were not THAT high...well, maybe in comparison to a fast eatery it is as twice as expensive, but hey! This is a good Italian restaurant! So, after looking for a reasonable dish with the lowest number on the price list, I took some kind of an Italian dish I don't remember what was its name (and it is not that important in any case...). And then I realized for the first time, that Argentina is best not only for their meat, but also for their Italian food, or PIPs: Pastas, Ice creams and Pizzas. Yes, of course, not for those of you who try to keep a strict diet. An almost impossible mission (and even didn't start to mention the many bakeries with Alfajores and other sweeties...). Even an anorectic man or woman would inflate themselves like a high rising balloon!
So, the Pasta was indeed a good choice, very tasty and filling (and if not, the generous bread serving would for sure do the job quite as effectively...).
So, I still had time till I was suppose to meet with this guy so I went to the Internet (not surprising, I know) and then to the hostel to take a shower, because Tucuman was like an oven! It reminded me of Israel at the mid of summer: hot and humid. UUFFF! Good thing that the showers are so good here, it was a splurge to get into that shower after such heat...
Around 5 PM I went to the address he gave me and it took me sometime to find the agency and the man standing in the heat of the day, eating Ice cream. Surprisingly, he apologized several times for eating in front of me and showed me the car (a relatively new little Suzuki with a Chevrolet engine instead of a Japanese one...don't know whats the difference, but I didn't care also, as long as it can hawl ass). When we returned to the agency, he asked for the driver license and I suddenly realized it is in the room. Shit, need to go back in that heat. Damn it! Well, when I returned he already filled the blanks in the rental form, and then finished the others. As an insurance, he “vouchered” my Visa card, so if I will think about driving all the way back to Israel or knock a side mirror, he will have some shopping on my account...). Well, it was pretty intimidating, I had only one credit card now, and if something fucks up, I am in SERIOUS DEEP- DEEP SHIT! At the end (as for now, at least, all worked out well...).
So, after finishing the bureaucracy things, we went to take the car. The tank was quarter full so I had to do a refill. We assessed that I would use more than the 200 Km allocated for me (110 km to Tafi del Valle) so I will need also to fill quite a lot of fuel. After showing me the basic operating features of the car, I got inside and started to drive out of the parking lot. Well, immediately I realized two major things: One, this car has a VERY VERY long clutch. Second, the stirring wheel is mechanical and not hydraulic, which is quite depressing (even after 7 months I still remember how smooth a hydraulic wheel can stir like butter). So, after cursing under my breath and jumping a bit with the car (which made the guy look at me for assurance that the car will indeed return in one piece...) I managed to get into the streets of Tucuman.
Now, I think I already mentioned that the Argentinean are not sane once they are behind the wheel. Well, I could not say I was not terrified of getting into that hot street (literally!). I thought of maybe going to do a refill, but after I saw the mess and the fact that I didn't actually found any gas station on the way, i decided to postpone it to the next day. As I planned on leaving around 7 am, I knew almost no car will drive (and if it was, it was full of drunk and after-party guys..). So, instead of going and looking for a gas station, I just drove straight to the hostel parking lot. Only, the combination of narrow gate entrance, a high sidewalk curve and not being used to the clutch turned the parking thing into a situation that extracted most of my patience and control. From a certain point I had to push both the breaks and the clutch simultaneous so on the one hand I wont slip back into the busy street and on the other hand I wont knock the car into the gate`s door. Yeah, it sounds complicated coz it was! That was the first time for me to use both legs at the same time in order to get into a parking lot...Sometime it is funny what you learn when you are abroad...
In any case, once the car was at a safe location (i.e. the hostel parking lot) I felt much more safer and afterwards went to eat something and to go buy some food for the next day`s ride (you can figure out by yourself: Canned Tuna fish, Mustard and bread...). I was excited to return to the valley, to the scene and to the fact that I am gonna do something never done before by me: driving a car in a foreign country, and more than that, after 7 months away from the wheel.

Double the fun: shooting a lot, driving to the limits!
The next morning I was already awake before the clock had the chance to ring, and by the time it was 6:30, I was already reversing out of the parking lot into the indeed empty streets. First thing first, I need to refuel! So after doing some turning I came to the street that I knew a gas station is active. Only I suddenly realized that I am driving against the traffic. A policeman whistled for me to stop right next to the Gas station and while he looked at me with puzzlement, I explained him that this is my first time driving in Argentina and I don't know if a street is one or two directions. The policeman pointed his finger toward the street name posts and then I saw that there are arrows that point to the traffic direction. Great, could they tell this BEFORE I hit the the road in the first place?! Well, I was at the gas station so I filled the tank (2 peso per liter, shit that was quite expensive!) and head back to the street. Lucky for me, traffic was not heavy and I had a brochure of Tucuman that detailed how to get to the valley, so relatively I found the way easy. One time, I was looking for the expressway but only when I crossed it over a bridge did I noticed that what should I have done. Roadsigns? Heck, they are in difficult economical difficulties, so the tourists could find their way with a bit of luck...god dam it.
Once on the expressway things were easy and more straightforward and I enjoyed the ride with the window full open and the chilly wind caressing my hair. Flat as a ruler, the road bend here and there, but generally it was easy to ride it and I immediately noticed that the Suzuki was going to work hard as I was in fifth gear and car bearly scratched the 90 kmh notch. I was in no hurry but later...oh, later I did kick the shit out of that poor engine (as I thought I would not do, but I surprise myself alot in this trip).
I knew that I have around 50 km on route number 38 (the expressway) till there is a split in the road near a little town that I missed twice (!) till I found it. From here onward it was simple as this road lead back to Cafayate through the valle. I took my time as it was very early in the morning, the light was just getting a bit stronger and the sun low, and I knew I would have some problems shooting in the valley once inside as the sun would light only the top parts of the valley (which indeed was the problem). This was the fun part, as I stopped almost every 100 meters, got off the car (motor running, sometime smak in the middle of the empty road), snapping a shot and then continuing driving to the next shooting point. Hell, last time I did something that came near this was in Israel, and it was not that close! So, slowly I drove up the road toward the start of the valley, with the lush vegetation, high and old trees that some kind of parasitic plant was covering them all and giving the whole scene an old appearance. As the sun was still low in the sky (it was around 8:30 am), I decided to stop for a breakfast near a curve in the road where I found a little niche to park the car. I switched on the four VINKERS, took the groceries and sat on a cement rail looking down some 10 meters on the flowing Rio Los Sasos, with all this green all around it. It was a marvelous place to stop and I enjoyed every minute of it! From time to time a car zoomed past me, but other than that, nothing disturbed me or the peacefullness of this place after eating the last crumbs I wrapped all and continue on driving, stopping here and there for another shot (yes, I shot a lot, around 2 rolls of films) and continuing on. The road started to go up and more steeply, and as I drove more I returned to my old and bad habbit that some of you alreayd know: driving fast around curves. And this was the beauty of it all: I was renting this car alone, so I didnt had any responsibility but for my self and could take such a chance. If I were to drive with other people in the vehicle I would have not done such a driving (and frankly, dont think other people would have approved such driving in any case!). So, taking the car into avenues it didnt saw thus far by me, I wrneched the poor thing way above 4000 rpm and started to have some serious fun, riding sometime on in the middle of the road as the view passed past quickly, and stopping aburptly when I saw a nice vista, only to jump snap a shot and then return to my seat, so eager to continue. Shit, I dont remember when I enjoyed driving so much, even not in Israel. The adrenaline was running as fast as I was driving and even though it sounds like I drove like a maniac, I was quite catious and most of the time elaborated a fast but relatively safe driving. So, evntually I found my self at the opening of the valley, a beautiful scene of a small stream flowing under a small brick bridge with sheep grazing the green fields with small hills sorrounds and border it all around. I snapped a lot photos there and eventually I came to the La Angostura dam, beautiful with its still blue waters and the mountains around it reflected in it. Amazing!
On the km scale I was already riding some 105 km this I will over ride the car by a bit already, so I pondered whether to continue and see the mysterious stone statues at the Parque de Los Menhires in the little town of El Mollar or to head back to Tucuman. I also wanted to take more pictures of the valley when facing the other direction, but at the end I decided that a bit more km wont be that expensive (0.5 peso per additional one km) so I said, what the heck, lets see the stones! So I drove some ten minutes more and entred El Mollar, a nice little town, at that time deserted of almost any foreign tourist that I could have seen, and after paying the 2 peso entrance fee, I looked around.
Well, no wonder there are not too many tourists - yeah, it is nice. But yeah, thats all to it, nothing more. Just standing one, one and half meter stones, some with nice carvings of faces while some just looks like a plane long and narrow stones taken from the field outside of town. I read a bit about the stones, and it seems that a pre-hispanic culture errected and carved those stones, that were found in the vicinty in numerous numbers and even today nobody knows alot about this culture. I snapped several shots, and head back to the vehicle.
Riding back was even more fun then before, as I rode all the way down like I went up, really nice curves! Everyone who likes driving the curves would have so much fun there!
Getting back to Tucuman center was easier than going out, of course, and after being stuck in heavy traffic in the mid of Saturday, I parked the car in the hostel`s parking lot. Doing some 220 km in total I was satisfied that I would need to pay only 10 pesos extra. Fuel, however, was filled to waste (so I thought), as I filled a quarter tank more than needed...I went to eat something and then returned to the hostel for a quick shower • the city was an inferno! Not to mention the huge sand wall that covered the whole city with blizzard sand grains, making people rub their eyes and lower their heads against the grainy warm wind...It was like being locked in a sand clock and a kid shaking the damn thing and laughing at the misserable tiny people that suffer from the sand...
At 6 PM the guy came with all the documents and gave me the vaucher, that I tore to pieces after he left. He actuallt didnt check the vehicle too much, and after seeing that I filled too much, without any comment from my side, he told me I dont need to pay extra as I filled the tank extra. A fair guy! (Dont know how it is in Israel, but I think that im not that sure that the agent would have offered this without any mention from the customer...).

Cordoba, here I come!!
The rest of the day I passed in the interent (what else) and in purchasing a ticket to Cordoba. I realized that I could have taken a night bus and save on the night in the hostel, but on the other hand, I was happy I would sleep good and also have a good shower after such a long day...I bought the ticket to one of the better busses that was leaving Tucuman around 6:10 am (oh shit, again to wake up early??) and after having a nice pizza I hit the sack...
I was so tired, I almost missed the bus! Yeah, I woke up on time, but was so slow that suddenly I realized that half of the bag is on the floor and it was already 5:20! I wrapped things fast and went to the reception to ask for a taxi (I paid a day before, thank god for that). No, no taxi..WHAT?? What do you mean no taxi? What kind of a city is this?? SO, when I really needed a taxi, I had to fuckn walk VERY fast 10 blocks with my 30 kgs stuff..Shit, that was a 15 minutes hard haul, and my legs muscles was stiffed already after 5 minutes. On the street I didnt find even ONE free taxi. Nada! Murphy, Murphy, you SOB!!!!Well, at the end I was five minutes before departure time, and as I entred the bus station I saw already the bus being loaded with the few passengers boarding this bus from Tucumna. I gave my big backpack and went up to find my seat. Only, when I was getting intot he second floor, I saw two Argentinean women yabbing and babbing their things in an uncomprehndible Spanish, one of them was sitting in my seat. Hmm, excuse me, this is my seat, I said as patiently as I could. Ha, you can sit in my sit, it is the same, she replied ( and I thought, no, it is not the same, thats exactly why you sit in my sit, isnt it right?). Well, I want my sit if you dont mind, I replied (more or less, i wished my Spanish to be that good...). She agreed and moved to her seat, across the passage but near her friend. I sad on the seat, starting to arrange my stuff so I would be comfortable (hey, it is an 8 hours ride...long enough to make your back ache if not seated comfortably!). Well, as I was trying to push my back under my seat I realized that only under my seat a heating unit was situated, taking the space that I usually use to shove my day pack. Shit. Of all the things in the world, of all the seats in the god damn bus, why I should ride with my pack on my lap!? WHY ME??? But, then, as the bus backed and started its move south, toward Cordoba, I started bursting with a bitter laughter, cursing Murphy, that damn Irish spirit that makes people misserable all around the world. Murphy, Murphy you SOB!!!!!! I sang in my hearth as the bus thrusted south through the dark highway toward young an lively Cordoba...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Northern Argentina II: About colors and partings...

After returning from the ranch, we left the next day to Quebrada de Humahuaca and to the little village of Purmamarca, where the famous Cerro de los Siete Colores is situated. After passing noon time in the village, we were offered a ride to nearby town of Tilcara with spectacular and colorful view of the Quebrada de Humahuaca mountain range and a visit to a hilltop ruins of Tilcara. We then returned to Salta in a different way then we expected, and before parting once again, me and Lee relaxed two days more in Sayta ranch

Mountain of colors: The seven-colored mountain & Purmamarca
The following day of our return to Salta we went to evaluate what can we do to see the attractions in the valle of Humahuaca with public transportation. We found several buses a day heading north toward the border with Bolivia, and we picked the most suitable one, i.e., not too early (but still early, 7:30 am). We planned to first visit the little village of Purmamarca, where the famous 7 colored mountain was residing and then, if we will have time or energy, hop to the nearby town of Tilcara. The thing is, the bus dont go all the way to Purmamarca but stops at the junction of roads that leads to Purmamarca (and afterwards, to Paso de Jama, the border cross with Chile, where we have been before). Thus, we had to walk a 3 km to the village. Lee was suffering from muscle stiffness after galloping so much, but she said it wont be any problem.
The bus ride was nice, if a bit long (almost three hours) and already nearing the junction we noticed the beautiful colors of the mountain range. We dropped at the junction and after seeing nature for pressure relieve we started walking westward toward the village. As we were walking in parralel to the river, we could see the mountain from a far, with many layers of color.
Purmamarca itself is a little-bitsy place that even a kid can not get lost there...with several little dirt alleys, adobe houses and one lazzy-looking plaza, there is not too much to do there beside looking at the amazing colors nature (or god if you want) created so majestically. We first strolled around in the plaza, both looking about the artesinary that was displayed to tourists and with appropriate price tags (that kept us away from buying such things), but as I passed one shop I saw a steak-looking wood cutting board, and thought it was very beautiful and original. Now, if I had a house of my own (which I dont have becuase I am spending all the money in this trip), i would have bought this cutting board. And this exactly what I said to Lee (more or less)..Needless to say, she agreed and I urged her to buy one for her kitchen (and does of you who are familiar with Lee, know that you really dont have to work to hard to convince her to buy something nice for the house). “Chen, this is heavy, how am I gonna carry it?” so I answered natuarally, “why, you can send it to Israel with all the other stuff you wana get rid off..” She laughed at that and took out her wallet...
After we finished our little shopping circuit, we ascended a hill that overlooks the colored mountain, and after sitting down and talking for a while we got hungry and went to look for a minimarket to but food. What do you think we had (a quiz for those of you WHO do keep reading the blog)? Well, it is not that hard: canned Tuna fish, Mustard with a twist of lemon and bred...Yes, the heavenly combination was a success also this time, when we sat down near the plaza and prepared the modest meal. While we were preparing the food, Lee have noticed that she lost her handband and we decided that after the lunch we gonna look for it. While we were eating, people passing by (mostly tourists) were surprised to see us, while some also greeted us with a warm “Bon Provecho” (Bon Apetit). As we were talking and eating, I saw an eldery couple walking near us and I said “Hola”, only god knows why. Well, as sometime it happens, I didnt got any reply, and I got a bit pissed off about this. As the couple started walking away from us I blurted out that I hate people who ignores a polite hello. It was an isultance! I urged to Lee, who said that this is the main reason why she usually dont say hello to strangers, unless they approach her from the first place. I agreed there is something to it, and as I kept on digging through the leftovers of the Tuna, the man approached us and said in an acsented Hebrew: “Sorry, I didnt heard you saying hello”. Me and Lee looked at each other, dont know if to laugh or to cry...we finished our lunch and started looking for the headband, not holding too much hope to see it again...It was a headband her mother gave her before leaving Israel and Lee had sentimental feeling toward the piece of garment (and the curious of it all, is that her mother bought it in England and only when Lee got it she realized the headband was manufactured in can be Ironic sometime). After searching almost all of the town, we gave up on finding it, even though Lee was keeping looking at the woman, to see if someone is wearing it. As we wondered around, we went up a path leading up and quickly we found ourselves in the village cemetery. Lee commented that she just “love” cemeterys but I urged her to just peek and not more. And, while we walked inside, trying not to step on a grave or something similar (no borders here fellas, nothing actually), we noticed a huge grave section devoted for a whole family. This grave was actually a house, with two sections and a white grand staircase with two massive rails on both sides. It was an amazing grave area, and we were just looking at it and also looking for a good angle to capture it on film or digital. We then decided it is time to leave Purmamarca and return to the junction.

Perfect cuts, “perfected” ruins and a weird cemetery
While we were walking, a car stopped by and an eldery couple (not the same as we encountered before) asked us in Hebrew (!) if we want a ride. WHAT THE HELL?! Is the whole area swarming with undercover Israelis, looking for us to make our FADIHOT!? The couple had an accent and fact is, they are living for many years in Israel but are originaly from Argentina. Well, they were just heading for Tilcara, and after telling us what we can see there, we both agreed to go and join them to Tilcara, and afterwards to return to Salta.
Well, I didnt asked for thier name, forgot, but it was nice talking with this couple. Such nice people! The only thing I know is that the woman is an artist (using photography, so I had a subject to talk about more passiontly) and that was also the reason for them to stop every five minutes for photo taking (which was fine by me!). On the way we saw the painter`s pallete mountain side, a beautiful symmetrical huge cuts in the rock which exposed great colors and were spread for a several km across the mountain slope. Amazing thing to see! Also, we crossed at a certain point the Tropic of Capricon, at 23.5 degrees south of the Equator. Continuing driving north, we passed by the Maimará cemetery, which is build on top of a small hill and his a local attraction here...When you will see the pictures you will understand what I am talking about...
We continued on going north and reached little Tilcara. We headed straight to the fort at the top of a hill, several km out of Tilcara. Strolling in the site, it is hard not to try and compare it to the Inca ruins in Peru. And actually, it is impossible to do that. Part of the ruins were reconstructed almost perfectly (even too perfectly) and the other ruins are in a demolished state. The perfect reconstruction was intended to give an idea of the original houses but it is to briliant, too perfect. Even so, the scenery from the top of the hill was amazing and the numerous Cacti growing on the site really gives the place a wild atmosphere...Being Israelis, we listened to a local guide explaining about this site to a school kids coming for a visit, and afterwards we came down back to town.
As the couple continued to move northward, we departed from them, thanking them for their kind ride.

Going back to Salta - not what we expected
The couple dropped us at the bus terminal as a bus for Jujuy just entered the place. As I was locked on taking the bus back to Salta and to stop or to ride to Salta I didnt think about taking this bus. As I asked in the local office about the next bus to Salta (and got the answer that it will be in three hours more) Lee approached me and asked me why we dont board the bus to Salta. I looked at her and heard the “cling” of the coin in my head thud. You`re right! As I lifted my head, I saw the bus already departing and starting moving out of the terminal. Shit! I hesitated, should I persuit it and might stop it?? Thinking, too much thinking and too much hesitation, and so the bus slipped out of the terminal and was gone. SHIT! We bought sat aside, amazed at our incompetence. Lee was saying “As I saw the bus to Jujuy I thought why not take the bus, but I didnt thought of saying to you...” and I replied: “You`re stupid?? And what should I say that I even didnt thought about the idea till you came and slammed it straight in my face?! I AM the stupid one here!!” and we both laughed at that, as we didnt know what to do next. So, I went to the office to ask about the next bus to Jujuy, and to my amazment the lady behind the counter told me that anothe one is passing through in five minutes. FIVE MINUTES?! Just perfect! I signaled Lee to approach and bought two tickets. Well, at least there is another bus, we took comfort, only we didnt know what expected us later.
The bus came into the terminal, and not like the tourist class, this one was a run-down bus, one which is common in Bolivia and Peru, but not expected to see in Argentina. We boarded the bus and moved out of the terminal heading south. I dozed off at a certain point and when I woke up I was surprised to hear Lee saying that we are standing put for the passed hour, only god know why. Well, a minute later the bus moved and stopped in front of a military checkpoint and all the people went down and we joined them as well. At a barren place, in front of a cliffy mountain, all passengers were inspected under cold and whipping wind. The Argentinean officer who checked me asked me tons of questions, nice questions at that, as she was probably curious as to where, what and how I travel here in South America. Finally, she left me be and I joined Lee in the line back to the bus and we waited like this for an additional half an hour till the inspecting soldier finished turning the whole bus up-side-down, like it was highly probable that drugs are stashed on the bus (maybe it was, who knows...). For me it reminded of all the ispection I have done in my service, where suspicious was the number one rule...
After we boarded the bus, we continued driving south till we finally reached Jujuy bus terminal. We went down and looked for bused going to Salta. We came to the first office we saw and after waiting in line (it was sunday evening and it was heavily busy!) I understanded that there are no tickets till tommorow morning...Fuck...I asked if there is another company going to Salta, and the man directed to another one. BUT, same drill: waited in line, asked for two tickets and got the same answer: Mañana, Mañana! God damn mañana, what we are suppose to do till Mañana?? Is there any other company? I asked him and he replied a simple NO! Damn! It is god damn Jujuy, who want to spend time in fuck`n Jujuy anyway?!
Even though we felt a bit depressed, we kept our spirits up and tried to figure out ways to get out of Jujuy. We have to options as I see it, I said to Lee, either we sleep the night here or take a taxi. But it is a two hour ride, Chen, a taxi will be a rip-off Lee replied and I could not agree more. Well, there is another option and that is hitchhiking, but it would be almost impossible to grab something like that I offered, or we could ride in the bus standing. After talking with a bus driver going to Salta (the bus is there, we just have to hop on it!!!) we gripped that there is no way in hell that we will ride any bus standing...Hey, this is Argentina, man, where the hell do you think you are? In Peru!?
Well, Lee suddenly got a DUDA (“crush”) for an empanada (never had one, would you belive that?) and I already thought how bad it could be to spend an evening and night in jujuy, when Lee put aside her DUDA and suggested that we might ask a tourist we saw on the bus to share with us a taxi, so it would be cheaper...So, we started looking for him in the crowd that passed in and out of the terminal in the fading light of the setting sun and while we passed near a taxi waiting for passengers, I suggested we ask how much it costs to take a taxi, just to have a knowledge and a bargaining point if we find the guy. Asking the taxi driver how much for Salta, I was surprised to hear 90 Pesos. 90?! I was sure it would sky rocket to 200 or even more..Damn, thats not that bad, isnt it? Lee agreed also and I tried to lower him by a bit asking for 80. Yes, lets go! He answered, and I was happy. I have to have an empanada, Lee urged and I was hungry too (but wanted to have something more serious, with all due respect to empanadas) so we split: i went to order a Lomito (A thin slice of fried meat tucked in a sandwich with sliced tomato and Letace) while Lee looked for an empanada stand. Well, in the time they prepared for me the sandwhich, Lee already turned up side down the whole station and no empanada stand. None! I cant belive it, she said, when suddenly I have a DUDA for empanada, no empanadas! Never mind, I told her, we can find enough in Salta. Yeah, but I want it now! She replied dissapointed. Yeah, I could undetstand her...
She climbed the taxi and I joined her five minutes with my big Lomito. I would have offered some of it to her, but Lee is a Veggy so I just passed even the courtesy of offering.
Well, I dont remember if the last entry I talked about the Argentinean driver, but let me put like this in any case: THEY ARE CRAZY! Yep, they dont obey the traffic laws, nor the traffic lights. They drive fast, passing from one lane to another without even blinking right or left. And we took a night taxi for 2 hours. Crazy! And, well, our driver was no exception: he went fast, crossed lanes as he wished and personally, I could already see the headlines in Yedioth Ahronot about the two of us invovlved in a car crash (HAS VESHALOM!!! ). On the way a policeman stopped the cab for an inspection, and after 10 minutes inspection and talk outside, the driver returned and when he recieved his driving license he gave the officer something in his hand. Did I saw it or I imagined? Was THAT a bribe?! I could not make it for sure so I didnt say anything to Lee untill couple of seconds after the driver continue driving that he spoke in his rapid and almost uncomprehndable spanish about bribery. Lee found it hard to belive (for me also), but it coincided well with what I saw. Well, I reminded myself, dont forget that you are still in South America, and it is a custom in some places... Well, the only good thing about this ride was that we came to Salta after only one hour and a half of driving instead of two hours and even two and half. We thougt that he talked about the bribery to ask for more cash but he didnt (which makes it even more logical that he indeed bribed the officer to let him go). We went back to the room, organized and went back to the city to look for an empanada stand or retuarant. Well, the restuarant I had my last empanada ran out of the empanadas so we looked for another one. And, well, it was a very respected restuarant and as we entered we were sure they are gonna rip us off. Well, yes and no...The empanadas were cheap, standard priced, so we decided to sit down and ordered some and also two cokes. Lee certainly enjoyed hers (and I too) and we ordered the bill, I had to blink twice so I could see clearly the number. 15 Pesos?! How come?? I scanned the bill and indeed found the rip off, hidden under “bevredges” - 3.5 pesos for a god damn personal coke?! Are they kidding me? On the streets it costs maximus 1.5 peso, no more...Well, Chen, you are in a god damn expensive resturanant, what REALLY you expected??? I just mumbeled a curse under my breath, paid the bill and we were off the place.

The next day was a pressy one, as we had to do lots of arrangments, ask about the next bus to San Pedro, as Lee wanted to go back there. The next bus was Thursday and Sunday, and it was monday. We planned on visiting a forest in the north for one day but if we will go there we will have only one day in the farm and we wanted to saty there two nights (or Lee could ride to San Pedro sunday morning, which was too much for her to stay in Salta). So, after we checked in the net about this park, we figured out it is not THAT an attraction and it would not be worth passing 3 days more in Salta. She bought the ticket, 7 am Thursday and I went to check for a bus to Cafayate, and amazingly, I found a bus that leaves at the same time, so I bought it also. The rest of the day passed somehow fast, and we didnt managed to do other stuff, and we prepared our stuff for the next day.
Tuseday morning we took our stuff and waited for someone from the farm to come and pick us up. Turns out that it was Oscar, grinning with his teethless smile, and saying hoola amigos all the time. We took our stuff and when got to the vehicle we were surprised to see that in the car were sitting already two women. Where are we gonna stuff all the packs and things? (we planned to go straight from the ranch to the bus station and board the buses) Well, after he tried to shove both our muchilas into his Bagage compartment (without any success, of course), he told us to put my big muchila across our knees. At first it didnt compell to us too much, but after doing it it was not that bad. In the car where a 20 something year old british woman and in front a 40 something swiss woman. Turns out, that the swiss lady has a ranch and a vineyard of her own in the area north of Cafayate and she comes to visit no and again, to check that everything is working properly. She and Enrique know each other for a long time so she came to a visit.
Coming to the ranch, Enrique came ot greet us and we hugged warmly. An overcasted skied greeted us, badly timed with the alreayd full swimming pool...well, maybe tommorow. We had a nice breakfast with the two woman and other tourist came for an afternoon ride, one of them was Alone, 24 years old. We talked a bit with him and then we all joined for another of Enriques famous Asados. This time I drank too much wine and was quickly looled...I went to do something and decided to go to sleep..turns out that Lee was also finished from the wine and went also to sleep, while I snorred my tiresome head away. Waking up around 6:30 PM I went to the Internet and even after two hours Lee was still asleep...As I wrote my diary, Negra came to look for us and was surprised to find there in the porch writing. we hugged warmly and she asked if we want to joi everyone for dinner. I told her that Lee is asleep and I dont know if she wants to eat, so Negra went inside and after some whispering we understanded that Lee will join us and that she feels a bit better after all the wine drinking...
Rain was keeping on pouring down on top of us as we walked together across the yard that was between our room and the main house, and as she didnt want to get wet, Negra urged me to run with her, but I told her slowly, no hurry, just water no more than that. So we gonna be wet a bit, nothing serious right?! It was dark and the ground was soaken wet with water and lots of horse shit piles that were strewn all around the place, so I tried to see where I am walking without sliping. We got to the house, were Enrique, Tono and Oscar were already drinking wine (it seems they never stop drinking..) and invited me for a one. I rejected politely, as I remembered my looling head from the afternoon. Well, as I sat there in the warm kitchen and talked with the everyone, I heard voices from outside and assumed it was Lee. Well, it was Lee alright, coming inside with her spread a bit in a mess and her eyes are swollen from deep sleep, and you could only see two slits of sparkling eyes. She was looking at me at a mixed stare, and as she neared the table I was sitting by she said: “Dont ask what happened...I had a some STEHA now!” and as she said that and also seeing my amused face she started laughing out loud and I quickly joined her. For all of you that are not familiar with the Israeli slang, a STEHA is an expression describing a glitch, a serious glitch at that, which usually is harmless but very hilarious. I saw that her pants were a bit dirty and her flip-flop sandals were soaking with mud. What a MASTULA (stoned, another slang that describes someone who dont think too much before something)! Walking through the muddy yard in the middle of the rain with sandals! Well, we kept laughing for something like 20 minutes, as she tried to describe between one giggle to another how she fell. It was something like this: “I was walking, all tired and almost didnt see anything but the lights of the house, when suddenly I found my face in the dirt and my legs went apart. It took me couple of seconds to understand what happened, and when it did, I could not stop laughing at it...”. Enrique and the fellas could not understand why we were laughing so much, but how can you explain them our humor and our imagination of how Lee glitched and flew in the air only to land on the muddy earth (if not on a pile of horse shit...we prefered not to check that issue, as you can imagine..)
Shit, I am laughing out loud right now (!) here in the internet center, just from remembering Lee`s expression and the whole situation...People, THAT was a serious laugh!!!
Well, after we could talk and not laugh every couple of seconds, we joined the other fellas at the table and had a nice dinner, talking also with Naco, a good friend of Enrique (30 years friendship). At a certain point Naco explained that if you have only one women you somke a lot but if you have several then you are less nervous and smoke less...well, I was not agreeing with his world view, but I was amused from the fact that Enrique kept on making funny hand gestures behind Naco`s back in regard to Naco`s mental health, while Naco was totally serious explaining his ideas...Very funny, indeed. Enrique suggested at one point that becuase the next day was our last at the ranch, we might prepare some Israeli food, and the famed Shakshuka was suggested as a good candidate. Well, I offered to prepare it, but Naco insisted that if he stays till lunch he wants Lee to cook, becuase women add a flavor for the dishes...Well, he is certainly not a big feminist, as you can understand...I guess that before becoming a Gaucho he was a Sheikh or something of the kind...Lee agreed, as she didnt feel she has any other choice. By mistake, she offered to prepare her Matbuha sauce, and did not comprehend what she has done.
The next day passed lightly for us and around mid day Naco came into the house with a box full with vegetables as I explained him what I needed to prepare the Shakshuka. When I took the box to the kitchen, he motioned toward Lee and asked if she is not gonna prepare it. Now, Lee wanted to relax beside the pool, as the sun shone nicely after a day of rain and clouds and did not plan actually to cook (and I could manage it alone). This child of sun, Una Chica de Sol, as Enrique called it in Spanish, was so into san bathing that just the thought of leaving it in favor of a dark kitchen was not imaginable! But, after seeing the dissapointed face on Naco`s face, she quickly joined me and helped me prepare the dish. I must admit, that I could have used the help, as it was a HUGE amount of Shakshuka to prepare (5 peoples in total, some 14 eggs!) as this was the sole dish. I had to take one of the biggest pots in the house, and slowly we worked together and prepared some best Shakshuka! Good team work! Enrique and the fellas loved and savored the taste, but even as I was full, Enrique warmed up some slices of the last day Asado`s so I can have some meat, in any case (which was great, by the way!).
As she wont be celebrating with me my 28th birthday, she wrote me a small note and asked me to open it only on my birthday (and she knew what I am gonna do on my birthday...). We then went to the house, for dinner. Enrique forgot about the Matbuha sauce and he was preparing a chicken stew (“Meat is much better, but Lee dont like meat..” he mocked fondly on behalf of Lee. The stew was great and tasty and I had quite a lot, even though it was already 11:30 PM! The next day we had to wake up early to catch the buses at 7 am. We planned on wakening around 5 am, light breakfast at 5:30 and then at 6 am to leave to Salta. Except for Negra, all the people was going to awake early so we parted from Negra warmly, hoping that we might meet again...
Wakening at 5 am was never easy, not to mention after such a meal! We organize the little stuff that was left for packing and after having a little coffee we embraced with Enrique and Tono warmly and it was quite hard to leave! We rode back to Salta in silence as the sun started to send week ray of lights across the dark skies. When we arrived to the bus station we parted from Oscar and hurried to the terminal to find the exact boarding lane our buses use. First we found Lee`s bus, which just came in and people started loading their baggage. I went to look for my bus and found it also in advance departure status. I hurried back to Lee, and with all my stuff on me we parted hastly.“Forget about the past and future, just stick to the present and have fun!” I told her as I moved away from her and she said she would. I turned and walked back to my bus, loading my stuff, and getting ready for a yet new period of traveling in northern Argentina.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Northern Argentina: European atmosphere in Gaucho-land

Lee and Me stopping for pictures while touring the Sayta ranch area


After a lengthy bus ride to the northern city of Salta Lee and me found ourselves wandering around in the streets of Salta, feeling in Europe but with price tags similar to those of Peru. Having difficulties finding partners for a trip in the nearby area, we decided to hopped to Sayta farm where we received such a warm hospitality that it was hard for us to say goodbye, even after several days of relaxation…

Crossing into Argentina - not what you thought!

Well, after almost 7 months in South America, I have never thought I would find my self waiting for the MASHIAH on the exit border checkpoint of Chile. But, it indeed happened, I have Lee as a witness, so you might as well believe me. TWO FUCKN HOURS!!!! And, of course, only god knows why…
Me and Lee were just making our seats more comfortable, when the bus stopped heavily in front of the Chilean border checkpoint. OK, we knew the drill, and went down with our stuff and went toward the already forming line of passengers. The line moved slowly and while we were waiting for our turn, two elderly Peruvian women addressed us with numerous questions with their rusty English and hard to comprehend Spanish speech. As I had a bit more vocabulary than Lee had, I found myself talking with these two women, fumbling for words and getting annoyed and at the same time, bored as hell.
Well, the line got shorter and shorter, but then one of the custom officers announced something in rapid Spanish and suddenly the line stop short and people coming with vehicles kept on passing us by, checked and moved on while we waited for only god knows what. Finally, the office was reopened and happily we got back to the bus, thinking that finally we gonna be on our way to Argentina. Only, we talked and talked when suddenly I noticed that we were not moving for the past one hour. After we both got agitated, we climbed down the bus only to find out that the Chilean custom people took the time and only now was releasing the bus. Damn, that took so much time! While we were happy to see that the bus going to move, I have noticed that the two ladies we talked with before were seating across the passageway. Just great, I thought, hope they wont bother us too much…Well, I didn't know what's coming…
So, OK. We were on our way, speeding up on the asphalt eastward, passing the desert plane covered with snow, an amazing phenomenon with the Licancubar volcano rising in the background, partially snowed and looking very impressive.
Long bus rides are usually a bore, and this one was no exception apart from two hilarious incidents.
Two hours into the ride, I have noticed that people were talking and looking toward the aft of the bus. At first I didn't take too much of a notice, as sometime people are bored and gossip or whatever. Only, when I saw that people were moving all around the bus, and Lee also told me about this, I took a look back and saw that three people were standing right next to the bathroom (if you can call a half by half meter wide cell a bathroom…), calling the person inside, not getting a reply. At that instance, the whole bus was interested and five minutes after not receiving any response, the bus stopped and the driver went toward the bathroom to check it out (like, what can he exactly do that they didn't try already??). The cell was locked from inside, and after couple of minutes more the cell was opened and apparently the friend of this locked guy talked with him, smiling and grinning at the attention this incident drawn. Once the door was opened, the bus driver returned to his seat and we continued on his journey, thinking what the hell that was, only speculating (maybe the guy passed out of the intense stench in the cell…you never know for sure).
The second incident happened after crossing the Argentinean border (Paso de Jama, where we met two Israelis, a father and a daughter, traveling for one month in a Jeep). While driving down the Argentinean unpaved road, One passenger went to the driver`s cabin to put on some tunes and after five minutes, suddenly, louder than possible to imagine, a Spanish rock band rocked the bus interior, sending one of the ladies jumping in her seat, and in the mid of doing this, babbling in fast Spanish that it is an act of inconsideration. It was SO funny, that me and Lee could not stop ourselves from bursting in loud laughter, which we fast tried to conceal but to no use. Instinctively, Lee took the Dictionary she was reading while all this happened and shoved in front of her face to conceal her laughter (not that you could not hear her laughter behind it, but she had to do something…). Seeing her, holding the Dictionary, all shaking from laughter, I was even more ripped with waves of laughter, and all this happens when the two ladies on the other side see and understand. Lee kept on saying "it is not nice, EIZE FADIHA, it is really not nice" between one giggle and another, and kept on laughing like they was no connection between her common sense and the urge to burst out laughing at this hilarious moment. I was not better, as I was not able to stop laughing and giggling and I was right there, smack right next to those women, without a damn Dictionary to conceal my enjoyment of this lady's fright. Even when we came to Salta we kept on laughing, remembering those moments…what a ride, what a ride…By the way, an hour after this happened one lady noticed my look over her shoulder and took the advantage or eye contact to explain me in rapid Spanish why she jumped and acted as she did. I just said yeah, I understand, that's fine, not mentioning it to Lee, knowing she would burst out in laughter, recalling the incident (which she did when I told her about this in Jujuy…).
The rest of the ride was quite boring, with only the scenery changes, passing through the Argentinean Salar and passing high mountain passes while a spread of clouds concealed the sun and made the whole scenery a bit gloomy. We stopped at San Salvador de Jujuy (or just plain Jujuy), a not attractive town, where the women started to ask question, an of course, went down to business when she asked if we are a romantic couple. No, we are not, I answered bluntly, and she was looking at us, not knowing what to say for a moment, and continued on saying that it is better to travel together than apart, and I, of course, I agreed with her totally. I was happy when this ride was over, coz more questioning like this and I would have started thinking I am interrogated by the god damn secret service!

Salta - Shopping and relaxation
We arrived Salta around 8 PM, tired but happy to be on Argentinean soil. Things looked modern, but the people were not looking so different than the Chilean or even the Peruvian in some cases…We took our backpacks, visited the toilets (after the bathroom incident I didn't even think of going in there…), took out some fresh cash from the nearby ATM, and headed straight for Terra Oculta II hostel, which sits on a main road, San martin Avenue.
After dropping our stuff in the room, we venture into the city, looking for something to eat. We came to the main square, 9 of September, and there we saw a nice restaurant right next to the plaza, selling Pizzas and all kind of other dishes. We were hungry as hell, and the prices seemed reasonable, so we got in. Inside the place was packed full with elegantly dressed people, and at the backside of the restaurant a little stage was lit and it looked like a live show was prepared. While we savored over the great Pizza (one of the best I had in South America thus far) we heard the speakers behind us come into action, and three guys played a mixture of singing and stand-up show for two hours. Even though it was in rapid Spanish, we could enjoy their gestures and the people in the restaurant kept on roaring with loud laughter • wished we could understand them; it looked like a good show! Around 1:30 am we returned to our hostel, dead tired but happy.
The time in Salta passed fast even though we walked almost everyday in the same streets. We also climbed the Cerro San Bernardo twice and enjoyed a great fruit shake with marvelous views over Salta. In our room we also met a German guy that was about to do a PhD on a social issue, and while talking with him me and Lee understand for the first time the difference between the Catholics stream and the Protestant stream (the first control their own destiny, Heaven or Hell, while the later have a pre-determined fate, which they of course, can not control). We met also another Israeli name Snir that came for a three month visit in Brazil and Argentina, and was pressed to do quite a lot of things in the rest of the time he had on his hands. We suggested that he will join us in renting a car and exploring the area north of Salta, but after he told us that he plans to fast on YOM-KIPUR, we understand that it would not be possible to merge our time line with his. We had different ideas for the Yom Kipur day…

Where time stands still - Sayta ranch
Since I met Lee and Adi, both told me about a ranch near Salta that I "must" visit. "Enrique is a such a warm man, it is such a nice place and the food is so good, it is just a heaven!" they kept on repeating in my ears. Well, the time has come to visit the place, and Lee which looked forward for this moment, was even more excited. She was also excited to meet her good friend, Tina, which worked in the ranch and which she had a special connection with. Only, she found out that Tina has already left back to States and she was a bit disappointed to return to the ranch which Tina contributed a good part. We at first decided to spent the holiday in Enrique ranch for two days and then hopefully find other people to go and rent a car.
Wedensday morning a taxi driver came to pick us up and after a half an hour we came to the ranch, called Sayta. Enrique, a very proud, esthetic and well dressed as a Gaucho middle-aged man came into the vast yard in front of his house with wide smile and bright-lit eyes. Tono, his assistant also came to greet us and both gave Lee a very good and warm hug and shook my hand firmly. "Welcome to my home, feel home!" Enrique said in his English, and as he showed us to the already made table with cups, jam and butter, he commented that "my English sucks! It is shit!". We laughed and had some coffee while talking and absorbing the surrounding. Enrique`s ranch spreads over a quarter area of a football field, with trees bordering the whole estate from all sides. Apart from beautiful horses, Enrique also raises three Alpacas, numerous ducks, gooses, rabbits and also twin black beautiful Labradors, cuties as they are spoiled.
After we finished our little breakfast, Enrique showed us our room, one of three connected rooms, all filled with antiques and old photographs. Indeed, the whole atmosphere is like time had stopped moving, as so many antiques were spread all over the ranch. In his study, Lee showed me, Enrique had a formidable collection of weapons of all kinds and from diverse periods: from knives to a 81 m"m mortar, and from 19th century rifles to a WWI airplane`s machine gun.
After we put all our stuff in the room, we went to the yard near the swimming pool to catch some sun. While we sat and talked, Enrique came with two glasses and a bottle of wine and filled two glasses for both of us and one for him. "Salut!" we cried and shook the glasses while staring one into the other`s eyes (if not done correctly, the saying goes, no sex for seven years...). Sex, you will understand shortly, is a motiv that reappears when talking with Enrique...
Enrique quickly left us alone and went to prepare the grill (Parilla in Espanol) for the BBQ, or Asado. Couple of other tourists showed up and after we talked with the over their breakfast, they got prepared for the riding, with Enrique inspecting everything and comment. In parallel, Enrique mastered the grill, and Tono and another young Guacho name Roman took the tourists to ride in the area for a couple of hours. When they got back, the meat was ready and we all took our seats and started eating. The amount of the meat and wine that was served was enormous, and even after I have eaten slowly (and only meat!!) I was stuffed as hell, and the wine lolled my head really good! After such a meal we both needed some time to rest and ease our drunk head and aching stomach.
When we woke up and went to the pool side we noticed a yet another member of the Sayta family. Her name is Marialena, 22, and she work in the ranch as a horse back guide and also helps with serving the different salads. We talked with her and was surprised of not seeing her in the last visit, for which Marialena answered she was visiting Bariloche at that time. We quickly joined another friend of the ranch called Oscar who came to visit and have dinner with us all. Cena was Spaghetti with white sauce (cream and cheese, I guess), something really good, and really-really heavy, especially when it is served around 10 PM! Apart from Enrique, everyone was around the table: Tono, Marialena, Oscar, Lee and me. This evening I also got acquainted with Tono`s beautiful voice and musical capabilities: he played the Charango, the Flute, the classic Guitar, the Andean flute-pipe and so on...a VERY talented guy!
So, after we cleared the table and with a freshly-opened bottle of red wine, the gang pulled out their entire musical arsenal. Lee`s eyes, not surprisingly, were locked on the Bombo, the Argentinean drum. After she heard some tunes, she quickly grabbed the two sticks and started testing with the tool and amazingly quickly she caught the right tempo needed for every kind of tune, and Tono quickly joined her up with the Guitar and his wonderful voice and together they played when Oscar try to meet their accurate synchronization with the other Bombo. It was a wonderful evening, full of music, singing and at a certain point with Samba dancing also, when Marialena showed me how to dance the Samba (easier than I thought) and similarly Tono showed the same thing to Lee. This musical evening could easily continue on and on but Enrique called to alert the people that the day after no less than 10 tourists are expected, and there was quite of preparation. So, around 1:30 am we went back to our room for night sleep.
I had a funny incidence before I got into the sack: I was just starting to brush my teeth and raised my head while doing so when suddenly out of the blue landed a small green frog straight into the sink. Surprised and amused, I went to the room to call Lee to come with the camera. Well, you can imagine it was a bit hard for her to understand my blabbering when I had a mouthful of paste and a brush sticking out of my mouth. Eventually, she came not understanding why I need in the middle night a camera. Till she saw the frog…Well, after that I had to take the camera and shoot it myself, as she was laughing her heart out and couldn't't hold the camera straight without shaking…She started asking me question, and only after I spitted the paste out of my mouth I could answer the expected question: Where the hell she came from?! Well, not that I really knew, but at least I could talk again and also take a fuzzy picture of that small frog, indifferent to the whole commotion. You can imagine the amount of noise we made that Tono came to see what happen, and in the process, took the little frog and threw her somewhere into the bush…

Riding around Sayta
The next day passed in tranquility and while talking with other tourists that came to ride the horses, they asked me why I am not going to ride too. Well, I told them, it is quite expensive, and staying in the ranch was expensive in itself (15 USD a day!). Tono also approached me and asked if I want to ride and I told him it is a bit expensive for me, and after talking with Enrique they agreed to take only half of the price. Great and spontaneously! Lee, that had some riding experience before, agreed to join in too!
After the meal Tono brought out the music instruments and sitting beside Lee with the Bombo, they both played some half an hour in front of the enjoying Tourists. Enrique joined in with his voice in the songs he liked and the whole feeling was of something so special and intimate, a family event. All of us were applauding to Tono and Lee each time they finished a tune, and it was obvious from the looks on Lee`s face that this was new for her, as she told me at the evening before when Tono suggested they will play together in front of visiting tourists. This musical fiesta, however, was ended as me and Lee needed to change clothes and prepare for the tour. As both of us didn't thought about riding horses, we came only with sandals and we needed a closed shoe…After looking around, Marialena (nicknamed La Negra, by the way) found me a pair of boots that fit my feet more or less. I put on my jeans and didn't thought I am gonna regret it later…Lee also needed shoes and she got a soft fabric shoes, which she also regretted to take…
We mounted on top of the horses (my first time, btw) and apart from feeling a sense of pressure on my inner thigh, things looked really cool. I knew I am gonna be in pains when I get back after the tour, but I didn't want to think about it (and good at that!). I caressed Paloma, my beautiful white-grayish horse, with affection.
Aside from me and Lee, another Spanish girl joined this tour (which we actually met already in the hostel in Salta) and we were guided by Roman , who lead the tour and La Negra closed the rear.
At first, we marched through the small town of Chicoana, while a dog joined us and attracted a lot of canine attention, which lucky for him, mostly were harshly barking but not more than that. After some 20 minutes we came to the open fields around the little town, Tobacco field that is…When finally I felt back at nature after so much time in the city, I took out the camera and snapped some pictures while riding the horse (a not easy task done with one hand at that!), which I hope to develope and display when I will find the time...
By the time we came to the first strip where we could do some galloping, my inner thighs and knees where agonizing from the sitting position, and I wished we were going back to the ranch or that some fairy would spill some magic dust and evaporate my ache from my mind. Roman explained and demonstrated the technique how galloping should be done (just hold tight on the reins, lift that tender piece of ass and enjoy the ride!). After he galloped elegantly and without too much of a fuss (like me walking down the street), we started also. Now, these horses are regulary going out for tours, so not only they know where to go (well, most of the time...) they also know when to gallop...In any case, not unlike most horses that need some kicking in the ribs, these fellas need only a sound of MUZI-PUZI-SHMUZI and the start galloping and not stopping...So, I gave it a little kick, just in case, and a bit of the SMUZI thing and the beast started from light trotting to galloping. Well, that was something...I lifted the ass (if you want and if you dont, it gets in to the air) and felt how my whole body was rumbling with the rushing beast, hearing the woofs thundering on the ground beneath and the shaking of the earth as Paloma raced that 200 meters. Such a force! Now I understand why they use the term horse power to describe the engine`s power. Stopping Paloma was not that hard, pulling at the reigns tightly and her lifting her head in disagreement. We galloped this strip twice more (which made all my aches even more agonizing...) while I focused on enjoying the experience. We continued the tour, while Lee encouraged her horse to gallop, and without knowing this, made Paloma follow the galloping. Calling Lee to stop galloping becuase of this horse-bond thing, it only made her laugh more and gallop more..Wonderfull! I pulled the reigns but Paloma had her own will and continue on galloping behind Lee`s horse. This thing was repeating itself, and one time we found ourself at the outskirts of the path becuase her horse stopped only when encountered with a barb fence (good for that...). We then returned and joined the group for another galloping cession in another part of this land, near a little forest. I deicded to rest a bit with the galloping and took advantage to take couple of pictures of Lee galloping across the field. The sun was setting down slowly and it was very-very nice! We then took a break for nature, which was quickly accompanied by shouts. Looking toward the "ladies room" area, i noticed that Lee was stuck in a kneeling position near a fence that devided the fields. She was rippeling with laughter as Roman rushed for her and released her from the bond she made with the fence. OK, wonder what was this all about, I thought as I made my way toward the "mens room" (far better than the womens, as you can realize by yourself). When I asked Lee what happened she answered, giggeling, "My camera strap was caguht in the fence when I tried to pass the fence and I could not move or release it! It was SO funny!" Well, Lee`s "trouble" didnt end there, as you will soon find out by yourself...
We hopped on the horses and continued our tour, passing fields of tobbacos, crossing a section of the forest (so cool!) and riding slowly as the sun went down and down. We had another galloping session while darkness started to take domination and afterwards we continue to ride back to town. On the way, for reasons unknown to no one, Lee`s horse decided to check out a bush of throns...well, undtill Lee understanded where the beast was going, the poor girl was caught deep in the bush, her hair tangled with the thorns and her skin got scratched in numerous places. Roman quickly manouvered his horse and released her from the tangeling bush, and we returned to the riding. The moon rose above us and I already felt tired from the riding, not to mention the pains (shit, you people would think it is a god damn nightmare to ride a horse, but really it is not like this..I am just a spoiled little brat, thats all...). Lee also was feeling tired and started to feel the pains I was feeling almost from the beginning, in addition for agonizing from the soft shoes...Finally, around 8:30 PM we came back to the ranch while Enrique and Tono came to welcome us and ask how was it. I quickly went to change the boots that made me suffer so much and when returning back had some coffee. Erica, a Jewish Argentinean living near Bariloche was talking with Lee and she thought about maybe joining us to rent a car. We both were tired and after one hour went to sleep, poor Lee starting to feel the aches of riding and galloping (aches that didnt left her for three days!).

What`s next?
The next day we woke up and organized our self for returning to Salta as we wanted to rent a car. While I was listening to music and writing my diary, a dutch couple came to sit near the pool and we started talking. Turns out, that this couple was already been to half of the world, and it was interesting to talk with them as they knew so much and could compare so much cultures and behaviors. We also talked about the Nederlands current problems, which was the increasing Muslim fondelmentalism and their affect on the dutch community. They talked about their extreme actions, but more than that, about the future which they saw it in grey shades and were not too optimistic. We also asked them what they did in the area and for our surprise, they already visited the places we wanted to visit ourself! Great! Advising with them, we understanded that it is not necessary to rent a car for the excursions we want to do, and we could as easilt and cheaply just take a bus...OK...We joined them for another meat-rich lunch and after they left for a ride, we packed our little stuff and said goodbye to Enrique and the ranch staff, promising to come back...

Friday, October 14, 2005

San pedro days: Searching, Relaxing, and Running

Lee and Me wishing a good New (Hebrew) Year - in the background is Volcano Licancabur


Arriving at San Pedro after sundown, I looked for Lee, and after some looking and poking I found her at her friend`s hostel. After bridging the gap of our different experiences, we past some tranquil days in little and dusty San pedro, celebrating the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. After almost 10 days, we booked two tickets for Salta.

Looking for Lee

Well, I must say that looking for a person in a little town is a challenge more than I thought of it when I felt the chilling wind of the Atacama Desert whips through my hair. Shouldering my Muchila, I thanked a guy that offered me a hostel for the night, and did my way through the little dusty allies of San Pedro, trying to figure out how the hell you can find an Israeli friend in this touristy town. However, I knew Lee was staying in a hostel that it`s owner was also a drum player (or more accurately, that’s what I remembered from Lee`s description). Without a name, it was even a tougher task, as I realized that drum players were a common thing in San Pedro. Great!
I went through some of the places that resembled Lee`s description, looking for a place with bone fire and drums. Well, bone fires I found a lot, but no drums! After asking a guy in front of the many touristy restaurant about a guy playing the drums and owning a hostel, I finally managed to get a name of a place. “Try La Casona , I think there is a guy there who plays the drums and also have an hostel”. Promising, I went down
Caracoal streettill I found the lighted sign. Peering through the framed windows, I saw indeed a set of drums, a double blue color . Looks promising! But alas, the were unmanned and after fighting my poor espanol with the rapid talking cashier girl, I managed to understand that the band (A BAND?!) was suppose to play around 8:30 PM. Checking out the display, I found that I have an hour to burn. Damn, burn I will, but not with a 20 kg Muchila strapped on my back. Well, I knew of a good place I was staying last time and, as I entered Vilacoyo hostel, I immediately remembered the hostess from my last stay and she lead the way to a single-bed room. The price sounded reasonable and my backpack was quickly set to the floor, making my back sound relief sounds). I had a bit of a time, and I was hungry as hell so after chewing down an empanada I went straight away back to the restaurant. On the way I kept on looking through restaurants openings and at faces of small Chilean women, hoping to “just stumble” into the familiar face of Lee…but, no, it would not be that easy!
Looking through the window of La Casona , I found the drums still lonesome, and with only time on my hand, I just sat there waiting patiently. At least I have a hostel to sleep in till the morning, and if I wont find her tonight, I will definitely going to find her tomorrow morning. As I was planning my options, I saw that the hostess was clearly aware of my patience and waiting, so she made a cellular call and told me that the guy is coming in five minutes. Great! I was waiting for couple of minutes more when suddenly an elder and thin man came in, holding a Churango. The hostess referred to me and I was delighted to see that the guy was talking English, so I could explain him my situation. As I was speaking with him, though, I had the feeling that this is not the guy Lee was talking about. He was too elderly, and also I missed some facial factor that Lee referred in an after mention. As we walked to the entrance, I asked him if he is playing the drums and have a hostel, a funny thing to ask a guy I know. He seemed a bit in loss with my question and I had the feeling that I was missing the target completely. I asked him if in his hostel a young Israeli women is staying and he looked at me with puzzlement. Damn, is it possible that I have mistaken? As I was starting to think what I should do next, he mentioned they are suppose to play now but afterwards will take me to the hostel. As he finished his speech, three Chilean guys came from the dusty street and entered the lighted entrance, passing by while throwing some words in their quick and impossible to understand Spanish. I have noticed that one was carrying a guitar, another one carrying a Peruvian flute and the third came bare handed. Before I could comprehend if the bare handed guy was Lee’s friend, I have noticed that they were arranging themselves around the instruments in the corner of the restaurant, and the guy that carried the guitar sat behind the sets of . Is that Lee’s friend? I asked myself with only a second to ponder over the possibility, as the elder man talked with him and I saw that the guitar guy looked at me intently. Yep, I told my self, that’s the guy! Good, I was happy that I didn’t have to postpone “the search” to the next day’s morning. He left his seat and came toward me, smiling and shaking my hand saying “I am Rafael, Lee’s friend, you must be Chen”. I told him he is correct and asked where is Lee, and he replied that Lee is in the hostel, but they need to play some half an hour and only then they could show me where the house was. OK…So I sat down at the corner of the restaurant dinning room and listened to them play some damn good Peruvian-style music, with the flute, the guitar and Churango. It was good tunes to hear and I enjoyed the environment, while pondering why not just telling me where the house was. Well, I quickly found out why…After playing three melodies, they suddenly put everything aside and Rafael signaled me to wait five minutes more and then we go. Cool!
And indeed, after five minutes I saw Rafael coming back with dark poncho covering his whole body and a bicycle at his side. Bicycle? Why they need bicycle?? Going out of the restaurant, Rafael asked me if I would like to take a bicycle, and as I didn’t cared much how I would move myself, I said why not. So we climbed the bicycles and quickly we were paddling through San Pedro’s unknown and semi-dark alleys, while I grasp that the house was damn far from the center of town. We paddled like five minutes or even ten till we reached the house, where a big Labrador dog jumped all over Rafael with joy and enthusiasm while Rafael laughed and tried to calm down the dog’s overwhelming joy. We entered the asienda, and after knocking on the left door I could hardly hear someone talking from inside and peering into the dark room through the slit in the opening of the door, I could distinguish the contour of not else but Lee, still absorbed in the deep sleep she was in only a minute before. Her surprised-puzzled face with the accompanied “Hey, what are you doing here??” made me grin. After she arranged the room a bit and Rafael left back to the restaurant, we sat down and bridged the gap of time and experiences that accompanied it. It was a good talk over tea, each one telling only a bit about what he was going through in the passing three weeks. After two hours like this, Rafael and the gang came back from the restaurant and I felt the tiring day settle on me almost immediately. Before we parted we talked about meeting tomorrow afternoon for a lunch and maybe to see if we are going to do something. On the way, I asked Rafael if they have a room for me in the hostel and how much it will cost me and he told me there is a room but it will cost me as much as I pay for my room in the hostel Vilacoyo. Getting into the hostel room, I have decided not to move to Rafael`s hostel and to stay in lovely Vilacoyo.

The Fear Factor
The next day I woke up early, as usual, and over a breakfast I got to know a nice Australian couple that by the end of the talk agreed to exchange a book with me. Well, let’s say that I never thought that a book can give so much to think of…But it did, and it served as a time burner in the days of hot San Pedro…
I have met Lee in the plaza around mid day, with Rafael, which didn’t have anything to do in any case, and didn’t mind to join in. After lunch, we strolled outside San pedro in the overall northern direction toward the Pokara de Quitor, a ruin complex 3 km north of San pedro. Reaching the ruins, I have strolled around and saw the great Licancabur volcano in the distance and thought it would be nice to capture it with the stars. Only when I returned with Lee and Rafael back to San pedro did I grasp that that place is a perfect place to capture such a picture: The dry air keeps the sky clear most of the time of clouds, the height keeps you upper in the atmosphere and the remoteness far from any big city keeps the skies clear of any halo of urban lights. It was perfect! I departed from Lee and told her that we might meet later, but at the end I had a different idea • to go to the place at night! Well, after I arranged some warm clothing and my camera equipment, I shouldered my pack and after telling the hostel lady that I am going, I started walking around 8 PM north bound.
After ten minutes I found for the first time that walking in pitch black is not as easy as I thought…I suddenly went into a barn field, seeing the path going deep into the field, feeling I lost it somewhere. I looked around, and finally, I found the main path and continue on walking as the street lights were left behind me and in front of me only blackness as an endless pit. I switched my headlamp and continue on, keeping the pace but also aware of fear gripping me step by step more and more tight. I was VERY tense, very jumpy and every movement, voice and sound me stop and listen. Even with a flash light it was impossible to see anything which was more than 10 meters away, which made even more aware of the sounds that I heard. Rafael told me earlier it is safe to walk at night, but surprises are also common, and I didn’t want to show in the Lonely Planet stories and statistics of robberies…So, walking at a fast pace (KEZEV SHESH, for those of you who were in the IDF), I was always looking around, looking and inspecting and trying to maintain sanity. NOTHING, nothing could be seen, but for the amazing stars that shone millions of light years from me, far from any grasp or reach. All the time I was walking like this I mumbled to myself “keep cool, nothing will happen, just keep fuckn cool and all will be fine, there is no reason to fear”. And it was very hard, very-very hard, believe me, to maintain fear underneath and to ignore it completely. I was not alone, however. Dogs, numerous of them, looked at me from the darkness that surrounded us all, and while fear and ego made them bark, my fear just made me glance at them with my Petzel headlamp (making their eyes glow in the dark like 4-leged daemons…) and lift a stone in my hand, if one of them will even think of getting to closer…). With the passing time, and the fact that I was already getting used to walking in total darkness, the fear loosened it`s grip, only for a short time till I heard something moving in the darkness, then I would stop, glance around, and after I would not hear anymore, I would continue walking. The path, a wide dirt road, was also hard from time to time to identify, as it went parallel to the San pedro river, but sometimes crossing it, making me wander into the dry river bed instead of walking on the more comfortable path. Then I would wander around, with the headlamp at maximum lighting strength, looking for the damn path…Finally, after tensing 30 minutes walk, I came to the nice plaza where I planned to make the picture.
If I thought that the walk was a frightening experience, well, lets say that it was nothing to stand under the great old tree in that deserted plaza, among the reddish hills of the San pedro area. And to make matters worse, I knew there was a cave nearby, and I didn’t have a clue whether someone can live inside and might jump on me from the dark. Yeah, I was paranoid, and totally AFRAID! I didn’t like also the idea that suddenly I have to stay put for 3 hours in total darkness, when somebody can find me and jump on me (without even mentioning the wild animals that stray across the desert grounds, looking for goodies…). I managed to distract myself from all these terrible and freezing thoughts by focusing on the matter at hand • arranging the photo location for the picture taking, while considering several technical issues. I pressed the shutter release button, and then went with my backpack to lie down somewhere. Silence, darkness and my own fear surrounded me immediately, and I could hear my blood rushing frantically through my ears veins running but not hiding. It took me 15 minutes till I calmed down enough to even think about taking out the book and the flash light. Without mentioning the technical problem involved in opening a flash light near a set of long exposure unexposed film absorbing every piece of light coming through the lens, I was afraid that I will expose my self for km`s away. Logically thinking, I knew that there is no reason for nobody to come to this rural place at night, but my fear was in domination no matter how hard I tried to kick it out of the house of my thoughts.
In those 15 minutes I also started to hear a sound of rolling stones (not the band..) from my right side. Looking at the approximate direction, I could not see anything beyond 5 meters from me. The sound stopped, and after couple of seconds it started again. Damn, who is walking down the hill at this time of night?! I didn’t know what to do, as the sound kept on appearing and disappearing. Only when I was accustomed to the darkness fully, I was able to distinquish that it was the low growing palm trees branches and leaves that made the sound when the sof wind hit it and made them brush one with the other…You could not even imagine the degree of my relief I felt when I finally found out what is the reason for this noise.
I found a way to diverge the light only to a thin slit of light, which lighted the printed text of the book, and no sooner than I started to read the lines and paragraphs, I found my self laughing or crying with voice when I was enlighten with some kind of universal truth I didn’t know about or a new perspective coming into my mind. Soon, I also found the place to be bitter cold, and even after wrapping my self with all the garments I had, I still was cold under the treatment of the soft but constant desert wind. Time passed by, and at a certain point I decided to cut short the star trail. After two and a half hours I got up and closed the shutter while wrapping all my other stuff. In five minutes, I was already out of there, walking fast back down the almost unseen path in that dark night. After so much time in total darkness I felt secure and fear was a past experience, an experience of an inexperienced and blind person. While walking past the barking dogs and the dark houses I realized that the darkness was only within me, and that simple experience of the passing time in the darkness enabled me to master the disability of not using the most frequent tool a man can use: his two eyes. Rethinking the whole walk I gripped something which is so fundamental and simple: the only difference between walking in day time in comparison to walking in night time is only the loss of one sense, an important one at that, but still • it is the same location! Indeed, there are places that are not secure only in night time, but this tendency to fear from the surrounding darkness is a survival and education habit, which is most of time not necessary. Some of you will giggle to read my “revelation”, but surprising as it might seem, my fear from darkness has lost some of it`s grip over me. Indeed, in some places I will be very suspicious and cautious, but in places were I know I am safe, I will walk freely similarly to day time.
Well, returning to the San Pedro valley, I was walking fast and fearless, but at the same time I found it very hard to find the path from time to time. I had to search the place to find the real and solid path. One time, I saw a vehicle parked with the engine running at idle and apart from the car`s lights, it was impossible to identify the persons inside the dark car. It was at one of those places which I was not sure were to walk, and wasn’t sure which path lead back to town and which one might lead to other places. After wandering around with my headlamp, and also back and forth the path where the vehicle was parking, I decided to choose the reasonable path. I continued on walking fast and eventually I came back to lighted area of town and by midnight I entered the quiet hostel. Half an hour later I was in deep sleep.

What is it to be an Istaeli?
Time past slowly and relaxing in San Pedro, when around the afternoon I met with Lee and in the time in between I was reading this wonderful book I have exchanged, “The road less traveled” by Scott M. Peck, an excellent philosophical and psychological book which broadened my perspectives about life, love and human relationships.
While I was not into this book, I talked with three German lovely people: Hayo, 34 and Niva, 26, and also with Wolfgang (Wolf for short). Niva`s father is Chilean and her family has a house in colorful Valpraiso. Hayo, which is a boat builder (kind of a specialist carpenter) was living in Greece for the past two years with beautiful Niva and after enough Mediterranean Sun, they decided that it`s time to move on and see other places. Wolf, on the hand, was taking a two months vacation in South America from his work as a German-Italian translator in north .
I have started to talk with the three one evening when I prepared for my self a tea to relief my throat ached (the nocturnal walk was not without any payment, a serious cold). Hayo have noticed me talking Hebrew with other travelers and told me that he traveled several times to and that he like the country very much. I was surprised to find someone who traveled to in the last decade, not to mention that he visited when the real bloodshed was happening. Indeed, as I sensed, Hayo experienced the mentality and reality in a way that most tourists are not familiar with.
Hajo was just visiting his friends in Tel-Aviv for the first time when suddenly a phone rang in the room that evening on that sad-sad Saturday evening of the 4th of November 1995. “As you must know for yourself, bad news travel faster between one friend and another, faster than the media itself”. The shocked Israeli’s friends went straight to Kikar Malchey Israel (Israel’s Kings square) the location where a massive peace protest was taking place until those three deadly bullets ripped the elderly body of Itzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister at that time. It was a time of rage, of insanity and loss of control, times that almost every Israeli would have gladly turned back. The square, as those of you know or were there (as well as Hayo saw it), was filled with crying people, with mourning people but mostly with shocked people, not gripping what have taken place only an hour before. “I was surprised, even shocked, to see so many Israeli’s mourne and even cry in public for the loss of the Prime Minister,” he said bluntly, and to my question of how would Germans react to such an event he answered even more bluntly “well, they will be surprised, but surely not mourn or be in grief as I saw the Israelis that evening.”
Hayo was full of questions, some time even more than I could answer I must admit, and some of them were about the Army. After answering him some of his military questions, he commented that other Israeli that he talked with answered to his question that “he is not allowed to talk about military issues as it is a secret”. Well, I told Hayo, I don’t know what you asked him but if those questions were similar to what you asked me, I think you could find much more on the internet. On one occasion we talked about the increasing involvement of women in the IDF, even combat duties, and I told him the story how Corporal Alice Miller decided she want to enlist to the Israeli Air Force, and nothing, but surely nothing, will stop her from achieving an equal chance as being an Air Force Cadet in the IAF. The fact that she achieved her will to enlist (but not to fly) to the Air Cadet course, made it possible for other women to enlist (and to fly) in the Israeli Air Force. I continued and explained him that being a front line infantry is a pressurized duty, with physical effort that most women can not handle due to physical differences. I also added that it is a difficult mental experience to be an infantry, especially in these times, when bullets are flying and ricocheting around your post all day and all night for weeks without an end. “Listen, I was not down there in Gaza strip, but I am sure that if I were there guarding and fighting, I would have surely lost my nerves. Every sane human being which is under fire at night for several days without an end can loose it, and start shooting at whatever moves in the vicinity, just to stop that damn fuckn war!” Hayo looked at me for a moment, absorbing, and then said: “I never thought about it, I have never known about this point of view. I knew only of the Palestinians side, what the media kept on feeding us all”. Wolf came and joined us from time to time and shared his own thoughts, but mostly I and wolf talked about philosophical issues, as well as astronomy and the EUR situation.

New Year, New Experiences
No, your computer date is fine. The Jewish first day of the year is celebrated according to the Jewish Calendar and thus ever changing according to the Gregorian. This year the eve of Rosh Hashana, New Year was taking place at the 3rd of October, Monday evening and Lee and I decided to celebrate it together. On the same occasion, we decided to write a greeting on a white sheet of paper ( Bristol ). After purchasing the paper, we went to my hostel to write it down. Lee asked me if I have good hand writing and I just giggled for the good joke. So, she started to write the whole thing, which was really nice, but she was not that enthusiastic over it, and asked me that maybe I will try a go. So, I picked up the pencil and started writing it down. Well, lets say that she wont forget my declaration of “I have such a good hand writing I can not read it…” as she said that I was trying to hide my beautiful hand writing (shucks, mom, you should have been there to hear her…)…Actually, almost everyone of you old guys in Israel would have been amazed to hear her saying that (I was too, believe me…). Well, to tell you the truth (and only that, of course…) I made some effort to make my hand writing feasible to a 6 year old reading. Not surprising, as I was not urged to write at a speaking speed, right? So, after we had accomplished the writing mission, it was time for photo mission. Where should we take the picture? With the volcano behind us or the peculiar faces near the ruins? What do you think we did? Of course, we did both, even if it demanded to walk 3 km in the mid of the hottest hours of the day. We love you all, so we are doing the best we can! As it goes with the tradition, there is no such thing as a Jewish holiday without a feast starting or finishing the event (better both we say!). So, it was feast time!
Well, as Lee keeps Kosher, meat was out of the question and out of the menu. So, we decided to go for a winner: Pasta. How original, doesn’t it? Original it might not be, but it was sure a damn good meal! Good ole tomato sauce with generous grated Parmesan sprayed all over.
We decided that only one Chef will be in the house (I almost lost my head back in Cusco when I still didn’t know what Lee can or imply to do with a butcher knife…) and we agreed that Lee will be the one (as long as the tomato were the ones to feel the edge of the knife…). That was fine by me; I just kept on talking and talking while she worked her way through the Spartanian kitchen of the hostel’s kitchen. We bought a good Chilean wine (Expotacion) and after saying the prayers, eating an apple with honey (rare as gold in San Pedro!) we continue on to chow the delicious dish, while continuing talking (another good reason to eat, to shut me up a bit…). It was a great talk, with great mood and good combination of food and wine! Around 11 and a bit Rafael and the gang came in and we offered them the leftovers, even though they already dined in the Restaurant (at the end I gripped that Melissa, the house dog, chewed it to the end…). I was tired from the day and left to the hostel, filled and happy!

The race for Garden of Eve
Some of you folks who actually keep reading my blog won’t understand what the hell I did in San Pedro for a week and a half, and that’s after I have been there already for five days six months ago, when traveling with Stefan. Well, I actually could have managed couple of days in town, but guess what? Yep, Lee had to wait for another (!) package…Well, not that I suffered there, no I didn’t! But it was still funny to hear her say to me one day after I came back to town: “Hey, guess what? I am waiting for another package!”.
So, around Thursday I felt that it was time to go and when I actually planned on maybe leaving Friday morning, Lee came into my hostel with her dictionary. I told her about my plan and she agreed to the date. So, it was settled that on Friday the 7th of October I will finally cross the border into . We wondered around town with Rafael and after a short chow Rafael took us to a location of Dust Devils field (or more appropriately, Sand Devils) rising high around mid afternoon. Lee told me she saw several of those “Devils” and she hopes we might see them again. Well, let’s say that we waited by a low tree and after waiting for 30 minutes we returned a bit disappointed back to town. We had to pack our stuff, and I had to buy the tickets.
Two companies travel from San Pedro to Salta in : Gemini and Pullman . The later is more expensive by 8 USD, and as me and Lee don’t have too much money, even couple of dollars counts. Walking to Gemini office, I was surprised to see that the office was closed and it will only open the next day at 10 am. Shit. The next bus will be on Sunday, and I didn’t plan on staying the weekend in San Pedro, I wanted to see !! So, I went to the other company, and they indeed were also leaving tomorrow morning, 9:30 am (better) and had the last three seats available. Perfect!
Only, the girl on the other side of the counter told me she need the passport numbers…OOPPS….hmm, cant we give it later?? No, you cant she replied and went back to her business…Shieze!!! Lee was packing 20 minutes walk from me, and I didn’t know if the tickets will be availabe in the 40 minutes it will take me to get to her and back…the tickets are also bought in Calama (the origin of the bus) and it was likely to be sold out quite quickly…Can I reserve?? No…
damn! I remembered that Rafael has a cellular, but the number was in my email. I rushed out of the office across the plaza to the internet point and slammed dunk into the seat clicking the keyboard like a maniac. The internet was slower than ever, and when it was uploading my email inbox screen I was ready with a pen and a piece of paper. I scribbled fast the number and dashed to the phones. I asked the representative what should I press before entering the number and in the rush of things I got it wrong and wasted a couple of moments. Finally, I managed to get a line and called Rafael. I don’t know where I caught him and hoped he will be in the hostel (which was exactly where he was…). He gave me Lee and I quickly explained to her what was needed and after a minute she came back to the phone with the number. I scribbled fast the number, said goodbye and rushed outside not before paying the charge for the call and internet usage. I walked fast, hoping the tickets are not sold out, and once there I was glad to see it was indeed the situation. PPHHEEEWWW!
OK, so we started entering Lee`s passport number and name and then, suddenly, the girl asks for her birth date. What the ****?? Hmm, chica, is it possible to skip this? I asked her, seeing more trouble as the seconds pass. No, she replied indifferently, it is necessary for the police check at the border. ****!!!!
I don’t understand, why, why things have to be so god damn complicated?!
Hmm….well, only two hours ago we talked about birthdays and Lee actually told me part of it: the month and year. But the lady here wants it all! I could have guessed with around 1/30 chance of bull`s-eyeing the exact date, but then again, most probable I wont. As I was calculating the chances and what would happen if I miss, I noticed that the office has a telephone. Perfecto! I could give a ring from here! Can I use the phone to call and ask? The girl looked at me with a funny look and before she could speak I told here I will pay for the call, she nodded in agreement. Fantastic! I picked the handle and was about the push the numbers, when I remembered that I might need some kind of cellular access number and enquired about it. “ha, you can not call to cellular phone from this extension…”. SHEIZE!!!!!!
What should I do? Should I risk a minor falsifying? Or should I go and call Rafael again and risk loosing the tickets? In Bolivia I would not even have the dilemma from the first place, but I am messing here with the Chilean-Argentinean border police • they can really check the god damn validity of the passport against the ticket info. Fuck it, I said, I am going to through a wonder number hoping I would be either lucky or either wasting my time because nobody is gonna check it in the first place. I clicked “10-5-79” and hoped for the best. I passed the registration of my own details (thank god for that!) and then the girl asked for the 40K pesos for both tickets (a shit-load of money, 40 USD for a 12 hour ride, a ripoff…). As I was pulling my secret wallet, I found out that I short of 5000 Peso…Oh, god, I forgot I had to switch companies!! I was short of 10 bucks! After all what I have been through?! Is there any chance I can pay with Dollars? I asked hoping for the impossible…No…Shit…Is there is any chance I can pay now 35K pesos and pay the rest in five minutes time? I pressed, almost pleading, and the girl thought for a crucial second and said OK. Sweet ass!! There is a lord up there!! (no there is not, but I was that close to believe in him…). While I heard the printer running down the page, I was out of the office, walking less frantically toward the closest ATM. In whole San Pedro there were two ATMs, surprisingly good for the small size of it, and I went to the one closest to the Plaza. I remembered that it was not functioning and I thought I might be lucky a bit more. Well, no chance, miracles don’t just happen. Damn, I had to cross the width of San Pedro for the next one, and I was not sure I will have money there. What then?? Well, I could always exchange with a crazy rate of 20% commission, but I decided that I will wait till I will loose any other chance to withdraw from the machine. Lucky for me, I managed to pull out a hundred dollar in Pesos (I needed also to pay to the hostel, another big chunk of dollars…). I went back to the office, totally relaxed and handed the rest of the money to the girl. She handed me the tickets to Salta and I was curious to see out details. Well, it took me couple of minutes and some inquiries to grasp that there is no name, no passport number and not a shred of a date birth. Apart from some inner counting number and seat number, nothing was written on the ticket. SO WHY THE HELL YOU MADE ME RUN LIKE A DOG?!?! Well, I knew the question, even when my conscious didn’t want to believe it: a different sheet of paper contained all the details for the border passing (the next day, when we crossed the border, however, I realized that someone copied the details wrong and misspelled my name…)
The next day we parted from Rafael and climbed the bus, finally, to go to !

Hasta Luego, Chile, Bienvenidos Argentina!!