The Narrow Road To The Deep North

Friday, July 5

The muffler seemed OK and Google Maps was telling us to start out for San Miguel de Tucumán by going north on the same road we’d been on three times (coming from Ischigualasto to San Agustín de Valle Fértil, and then a round trip to Talampaya) so I thought, let’s drive east on Ruta 511, instead, and then north.

The road was good until it stopped being good.  It ran along a straight water channel.  You couldn’t tell at this time of year, but in the desert, a stream can be dry for five years at a time and then one downpour will turn it into a torrent.  At some point in the past, a torrent had washed out the road, and it was replaced by a dirt road running beside the original road, which had been on a now-destroyed levee.  There was some indication how long ago this happened, by the size of the trees growing through the bits of pavement that remained.

So we drove on a dirt road.  One thing I miss about gas station maps of the old days, is that gas station maps were pretty rigorous about distinguishing dirt from gravel from pavement.  Google maps makes no such distinction.  They color big roads yellow and small roads white, but the surface is not regarded as important.

We turned north at San Ramón, and the pavement returned, mostly.  There are a lot of detours on all these roads, but they only require a few minutes before you rejoin the original road. When the road smoothed out, we drove along the highway listening to the Kent State anniversary radio show taped from KFJC’s Month of Mayhem specials, and I wrote the blog entry about the 2019 eclipse.  It was disorienting, being in the 1960’s and three days ago, and in a car now.

We hit route 38 at the town of Patquía, province of Rioja.  We stopped to eat cheese and bread at the plaza of the majorly sleepy town of Chumbicha, which has Floss Silk Trees growing in the yards of the houses.  We drove over a range of mountains with a shrine on top, notable for a pile of mobile phone cases which had been deposited there.  

Coming down the other side, the scenery changed completely, to a subtropical forest, well fitting to the latitude, which by this time corresponded to that of central Florida, and deserved to be warm, even in the winter.

Because we were near the tropics, and it was sugar can harvest season, there were segments with horrible traffic, caused by enormous trucks hauling just-harvested sugar cane.

We got to Tucumán in the late afternoon.

San Miguel de Tucumán is a decent enough town, but if anyone does this trip as fanfiction, I’d suggest going directly as possible to Ruta 40 and driving up on that.  Ruta 38 is discounted for a reason. 

We had a super fancy Apartment Hotel booked at a very low price ($25 per night but I think that included an Expedia discount), which turned out to be a total joke.  I wrote a review for Expedia:

“This hotel is a joke.  Literally.  You will laugh at its multiple failures.  The whole thing is this sleek modern designer fantasy, where every aspect, from the talking elevator (“gracias por su visita!” real Hitchhiker’s Guide robot cheeriness), to the stove has been designed as if there were no standards developed in any culture, and the only thing that mattered was glass and metal and novelty.

There were a couple of folks at the front desk who seemed sort of in charge when we arrived, even though Expedia thinks there is no front desk, and they sure weren’t responsive the first time I walked up to the locked glass door in the major glass facade.  Had to text them.  (Close the front door carefully.  If you just let go of it, it shakes the facade LOUDLY and you’re afraid the whole thing will shatter.)

Their main function seemed to be to convince Dave and me that we didn’t want one king-sized bed.  Well, Argentina is a conservative country.  Inferring matrimony is one more minefield for the hotelier to navigate, along with vegan sheets and which direction is Mecca and who can’t handle scented gluten soap.

Within five minutes of entering my room, 11-B, I was greatly puzzled.  The algorithm governing the faucets in the bathroom is the sort of challenge that Google would give a prospective hire.  The hot and cold knobs were maybe remapped to temperature and volume, with some edge effects — but most remarkably, turning on the faucets in the sink caused

Expedia then asked, “Anything else to share about Tucuman?” Apparently, Expedia allows fewer characters than TripAdvisor, and I got cut off, despite their asking for more “sharing”. Here’s the completion of the last sentence:

Turning on the faucets in the sink caused the faucet in the tub to emit water.

Dinner was at “Mi Nueva Estancia”.  We decided that it was a choice between gizzards (Spanish name mollejas) and young goat (cabrito), and chose goat.  It seemed like a fairly large portion of grilled goat, but it was half bones.  We also had a nice pumpkin ravioli, and they had a salad bar with vegetables.  It doesn’t seem easy to find vegetables in Argentina, and we made every effort.  English is not really common up here, but everyone tries, including us with our Spanish, and everyone in California knows restaurant Mexican.

Saturday, July 6

Tucuman became kind of a Sabbath.  We stayed two nights there, and Dave fixed some bugs during the day, and I wrote some post cards, which I obviously won’t mail until we get to a place that supports mail, which might be California.  In the afternoon we walked around the immense 9 de Julio park, which had several poorly executed statues, and a topiary clock (showing the wrong time, just like a sundial nearby).  9 July is Argentine Independence Day.  There was a monument to Perón.

We went searching for some museums Dave had found in Google search.  

The first one was missing entirely.  The second one was fabulous — the house of an artist named Juan Carlos Iramain, who, in his lifetime, made a couple of giant Jesus statues, and sculptures of the heads of various people he had met, famous and working class.  A lot of them are now on shelves and tables in his house, which was left to the state in 1973.  It is now a museum, and a rehearsal space, and a studio.  We didn’t know if we would be able to enter.  We rang the doorbell.

The third museum was puzzling.  In one gallery, a bunch of people were making hand-held fans.  In another, a woman had posted snapshots illustrating the life of her mother, who died very young when the artist was about six.  The fans were because some Japanese artist had decided that the children of rural Tucumán province should make clay animals and weave fans.  The pictures were just…memory…I do like looking at other people’s photo albums, though, and this one was all up on the walls already, with the internal tragedies of the life recited.

Tucumán has good food, of course.  Dinner consisted of some tamales and humitas and squash from the local food market, heated up in our apartment, after the long process of figuring out the stovetop.  It was accompanied by a bottle of Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino we’d bought in Mendoza, which has a beautiful label that I steamed off over the course of about an hour in a flat pan of simmering water.