Saturday, August 12, 2023
We were up with the lark to visit Parque Nacional Los Cardones. I think this was my favourite park. As we were beginning to regard as our right, we had the place to ourselves.
There were these incredible spiky rock formations which our local driver went through with great aplomb. I so enjoyed not driving or navigating.
R, our guide spoke eloquently about the flamingos and the salt flats. He told us there were three types of flamingos: the Chilean, the Andean and the James. We all found the contrast between the name of the James and the others exquisitely humorous.
We stopped briefly in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere with adobe walls. I don’t at all see how all this adobe survives the rainy season but it must do. It only rains once a year for about six weeks (in February if memory serves).
Vicuñas are a kind of wild llama (I learnt something about the difference between llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas but I cannot now tell you what it is – although my favourite llama fact is that if one llama in a string of llamas poos, all the others have to stop to poo in the exact same place making a big pile of llama poo that nobody enjoys except maybe the llamas, I suppose). We went to a farm which is trying to domesticate them to have a look. They are only enjoying medium success. Apparently in the wild, hunters kill them for their very soft skin even though, I think, they are protected. R and the other professional guides and walkers are always on the look out for illicit raiders. In the farmyard, Daniel asked whether the tree with pink seeds like peppercorns was a pepper tree. I thought not, but in fact, it was.
We went to this small one-horse town called Molinos for lunch. It had a beautiful church with lots of cactus wood, including a cactus wood roof which I found fascinating – who knew that cactuses are hard on the inside?
Not sure how everyone feels now about this particular local hero commemorated in the church. Mr. Waffle and I went to visit a small museum which was once his house. I think, yet again, he was important in the liberation of Argentina (cast of thousands).
This reminds me that we heard a fair amount about the Jesuits during our trip. They were expelled a number of times by the Spanish which is probably a good sign. Apparently they were, according to R, the least bad, actually believing that the local population had souls whereas for others the jury was out.
Lunch was in a gorgeous courtyard with a large spreading tree in the middle.
We had lovely limonada and a bean antipasto which is really common in Argentina and absolutely delicious. And more empanadas.
Then after lunch it was off to another winery where there is a famous James Turell museum. I was not previously James Turell conscious but I see from my researches that there is a Cork angle. I found the museum mildly interesting and I suppose the location in the middle of nowhere is kind of peculiar. It’s a slightly whimsical project.
To be honest though, I think I enjoyed our time sitting outside looking at the scenery before going in more enjoyable, is this wrong? We were supposed to be wine tasting again but none of us could face it. In some ways we may not have been the ideal crew for this type of holiday.
We ran into a Mexican couple who we had already met at our last hotel; the tourists are perhaps drawn to similar sites which makes it all the more impressive how often we were on our own.
R suggested that we could go to where they make the best ponchos, where they had, in fact, made the Pope’s poncho. I was genuinely tempted but I turned it down. In part because we were exhausted. But partly also I was mindful of R’s own words that you could buy stuff in Argentina and then when you got home, you would find it was not “comme il faut”. I would wager that happens more to French people than to others but I could sense that I was in real danger of buying an Andean poncho and, let’s be realistic, when would I be wearing that in Dublin?
We pushed on to yet another beautiful hotel with a fantastic swimming pool which I was determined to investigate.
Also quite a friendly cat.
Sunday August 13, 2023
We had a late start! It was alas, too cold for the pool despite repeated checks on my part.
I went for a lovely walk in the grounds and listened to the birds with my Merlin app (I had downloaded the South American bird pack).
Honestly, Merlin is the business; improves any walk. It was amazing to see the snow in the Andes while it was so pleasantly warm at ground level. I do not appear to have captured this in photographs so you will have to take my word for it.
The hotel had a lovely little prayer room which seems to be a feature of a lot of these old colonial buildings and which I also appear not to have photographed although, if you asked my children, they would say that I photographed everything.
We had a wander round Cachi which boasted more cactus wood in the church.
It was a pretty town.
Lunch in Cachi was fine but not spectacular. After lunch, at Mr. Waffle’s request we went to have a look at the place where a local had built a UFO landing station. Peculiar but if they’re coming, why not Cachi, I suppose? The truth is out there.
We went for a walk in another ruined city called Las Pailas. It was very atmospheric and, again, we had it to ourselves. We were climbing a bit and were at 3200 altitude which didn’t knock a bar out of Michael who ran around like a mountain goat but poor Dan got a nose bleed.
There was lots of cactus wood (a piece of which I picked up to bring home – it’s so odd with all the holes). There were also lots of cows and bales of hay. Not really something I expect to see with cacti. Not something I appear to have photographed either, I fear.
We didn’t see a soul except three locals on a moped – travelling off road. The father was in front and there was a small child sandwiched between him and his wife who was carrying a rifle casually over her shoulder. Mildly alarming but they waved in a friendly way.
We had a grand old chat with R, our v French mountain guide. As herself never tired of pointing out, I had been angling for days to get him to talk in French so that I could show off but he still hadn’t bitten. He would sometimes ask Mr. Waffle for quite tough bits of vocabulary but never yielded to speaking in French. Though not yet forty, in a previous life he had been a medical student, a physio in Roland Garros, a ski instructor (he grew up between Val d’ Isère and Paris), worked in a vineyard and owned a bar in Buenos Aires. His father was French and his mother Brazilian. He himself was entirely French in every way though a fluent Portuguese speaker which you don’t get so much.
When we got back to the hotel I met a man from Newry (wearing his GAA top: the indispensable identifier of the Irish abroad) in reception. He was living in London and his wife was Argentinian. They, their children, his sister living in Portlaoise, and her husband (from Kerry) and their children had all made the journey on a big family holiday. One of our children had already spotted one of their children in the corridors of the hotel, “I knew straight away he was Irish, big Irish head on him.” In case you are unaware, big Irish head is a national trait.
That evening the restaurant service was exceptionally slow even by Argentinian standards. The big Irish/Argentinian gang threw off the staff and it was an hour and 45 minutes after our arrival at 8.30 that dinner finally arrived. I thought that Michael was going to faint (from hunger/rage, honestly unclear which).
This gave us some time to reflect on the weird arrangement where on the tables in restaurants, there is no sugar or salt. Apparently, this is a public health measure as the authorities believe having to ask has a deterrent effect. Perhaps. The foodstuffs you buy in packets come with these absolutely terrifying labels which I definitely regard as a deterrent but which herself says is a guide to the good stuff.
The others joined the Irish/Argentinian contingent after dinner while I tried to help Michael find his pyjamas which had completely disappeared to his unspeakable rage (I think we must have left them behind in a previous laundry batch, alas). Probably not Michael’s best evening.
This was the day of the primaries and Argentinians had voted electronically for the first time. Indications were that this aspect did not work well with a video of one of the candidates trying and failing to use it doing the rounds.
During the afternoon (after I had carried it around for hours and brought it back to the car), R told me that it was illegal to export cactus wood from Argentina (he suggested I bury it deep in my luggage as he is not as much of a rule follower as me). That evening I tossed the piece of cactus wood I had picked up in the park out the hotel window. It bounced off the anti-mosquito metal mesh and hit me quite sharply on the arm. Cactus wood, full of surprises. Other than that the remainder of the evening was uneventful.
Are we doing this a mere 48 hours per post now? It would appear so. Stay tuned for, many more, future installments.