Posted by: Jena Davison | November 25, 2009

Mountain Girl

I am back in the city (though still surrounded by mountains) after spending the last two days in the mountains. It was a refreshing and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of city life, but I´m happy to be back in action.

My experience in Tucuman ended up being wonderful. I arrived around 7pm on Saturday night after a grueling twenty-two hour bus ride from Puerto Iguazu. Worst of all, I had to settle for a seat that only reclined halfway because all of the beds were booked for the night. Luckily, though, the seat next to me was unoccupied so I could spread out more and sleep a bit more comfortably.

Tucuman itself is rather dirty and there is nothing too beautiful or surprising about it, but I still managed to really enjoy my time there. I liked how it had a much more relaxed, blue-collar vibe and how the buildings had much more of a Latin feel to them. I spent most of my time in the central plaza, where shady trees hovered over benches, which are scattered along crisscrossed paved paths. This central area is bordered along the perimeter by an ornate congressional building, some cathedrals and some cafes and restaurants. I saw the square both lit up and alive by night and brightly burning under the heat of the scorching sun by day. The nightlife was surprisingly fun there as well.

For me, Tucuman is a place highlighted by the fantastic people I met there. Within an hour of arriving to Tucuman Hostel, where I stayed, I met a sweet, bubbly American girl from North Carolina named Sarah who was studying in Tucuman for a week on her program, which is based in Buenos Aires. Instantly, we hit it off and quickly learned how we knew some mutual people.

That night, Sarah made some pasta for both of us for dinner, then we headed out to get some drinks on the square. Later on, we went to a relatively large two-story club called La Boiche, which had four or five different rooms, some inside and some outside, which each had pumping music of various genres. The hostel had given us a free voucher to go there. We were dancing until the music broke at around 4am and then headed back to the hostel. I really liked the club because there was a good mix of people, and they seemed really down to earth. Many of the guys wore tee-shirts and it didn´t seem as stuck-up or as fancy a scene as clubs often can be.

The next morning, Sarah headed on a tour of some nearby valleys and ruins, and I ventured around Tucuman. There is not a whole lot to do in the city in general, but on Sundays, it is especially dead as most of the shops and restaurants are closed. I spent the majority of the day hanging out in the square, where I met some guitar-strumming, bracelet-braiding, dirty, dreaded hippies from all over Argentina. Later on, I relaxed at the hostel, which had a spacious backyard and a pool, and took a nap. When Sarah came back, Gal, our Israeli roommate, invited us to go to a pool of his friend Tony´s friend named Gaston who lived in the area. We had met him and his friends the night before at the club.

The pool ended up being really nice, and we were instantly greeted by Gaston´s entire family, grandmother and all. We spent a few hours immersed in the pool, which was a nice break from the heat. The pool was surrounded by a beautiful garden and adobe walls, which gave it some privacy. Before we knew it, we were being served plates of hamburgers, buns, and toppings by his family. They were so welcoming and hospitable and I really enjoyed hanging out at their house and with Gal, Gaston, Tony and Sarah. All of them are super genuine, hearty people, and definitely know how to make me laugh.

The next morning I took a 7am bus to Tafi de Valle, a small town about two-and-a-half hours away from Tucuman. The ride itself was unbelievably scenic. I fought to keep my eyes open the whole way, despite being tired, because I didn´t want to miss a moment of it. The bus ascended huge mountains densely covered in rainforest. Brightly green trees and shrubs were tangled into eachother, creating a seemingly inpenetratable later of forest cover. The higher we ascended, the more breathtaking the view. What was most interesting, though, was the rapid, drastic contrast that occurred at the top of the mountain, where rainforest disinegrated into dry, desert-like rock. Wild hogs and cows roamed along as the bus made hair-pin turns downward into the valley. Tafi de Valle is in a valley and is surrounded by these mountains, so the scenery is both beautiful and surreal.

I spent about four hours in Tafi de Valle, just walking around and taking in the surroundings, photographing the mountains from different angles and browsing the many artesenal shops selling everything from jewelery to pottery to rugs to sweaters. I also tried humitas al plato for lunch, which is a typical Incan meal in the region. It is basically a thick corn soup topped with cheese. Humitas al plato is delicious for the first few bites, but it is so rich and creamy that by the time I was halfway through, I was both full and nauseous.

At around 2:30pm, I hopped on a bus to Cafayate, another beautiful town cradled by jagged-topped mountains. The ride was about an additional three-and-a-half hours. On the bus, I ran into a guy named Mike from Wisconsin who was also staying at the same hostel as me in Tucuman. Cafayate is in wine-country so it is surrounded by many vineyards and it is known to produce some of Argentina´s finest wines. It is specifically known for its torrentes, which is a dry white, fruity wine.

Today I went to two bodegas, where I got to taste seven different types of wine. I had a tour of one of the smaller bodegas called Bodega Nanni and learned more about the process of wine-making. I also went to this famous heladeria, where you can try wine-flavored sorbet. I got a scoop of cabernet sauvignon and a scoop of torrentes. It tasted exactly like the wines themselves and were refreshing in the dry heat. Last night, I met up with Mike and we shared a bottle of local Malbec wine at his hostel and then went out for a delicious parilla (BBQ) meal at around 10pm. The place was really authentic; in fact, it didn´t even have a name or sign. We each got some wine, choripan (spicy chorizo on bread) and steak, which were all delicious, and the total bill was 25 pesos each, which is about $6.25. Pretty unbelievable.

At 6:30pm, I hopped on a four-and-a-half hour bus to Salta, Argentina, a large city in northern Argentina, where I am at the moment. The first half of the ride through the mountains was equally stunning. Haven´t had a chance to really do anything here because I got in around 11pm and then took a taxi directly to my hostel, which is called Terra Oculta. I am excited to explore tomorrow, so I am going to head to bed now. Ciao!

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