Monthly Archives: March 2006

National Roadblock Day

March 16, 2006
Day 169

Today I got on a bus with Chris, from Germany, and Andre, from Holland, to go to Humuhuaca, in the far north of Argentina. The bus was a double-decker, and the seats we were given happened to be on the top floor in the front row, with a perfect view of all the action. And what action there was.

When we approached a small town about halfway through our trip, we ran into a roadblock. A bunch of natives brandishing makeshift drum sets and flags featuring Che Guevara stopped all traffic and proceeded to make a lot of noise for about half an hour. It wasn't violent; in fact, one of the protesters was smiling more often than not. He probably realized that while he had all day to raise hell, he was stopping everyone who was in a hurry from passing through his town. Finally, the protesters got tired of playing their makeshift percussion songs and let us through.

As we left town, we ran into another roadblock. It was set up in the same way as the first one was, but this time I think we were a little more lucky because we were allowed to pass through after only a few minutes. After seeing two roadblocks in ten minutes, I began to think that the entire village was involved in stopping traffic.

A few minutes later in our journey, the unthinkable happened: another roadblock! The people running this one didn't do a good job, though. They were all eating lunch, so we got through without any kind of fight.

Finally, when we were almost to Humuhuaca, we hit our fourth roadblock of the day. This time, I wasn't too surprised, though. I figured that the entire northern part of the country must have been protesting something today. This roadblock was the most inefficient of them all. Instead of people banging out their message with an empty soda bottle and a piece of wood, they just sat around and watched us go by. I wonder if the union they were representing realized what a lazy chapter was running their protests.

Back when I was in Bolivia, I heard lots of stories about roadblocks, but I was lucky enough to avoid them completely. My luck ran out in Argentina. Although there was no violence, my bus got to Humahuaca one and a half hours later than is was supposed to. By the time we got situated in a hostel, the day was practically over. Yet another reason why traveling on a rigid schedule in this part of the world is nearly impossible.

Pajarito's Museum

March 15, 2006
Day 168

I planned on leaving Salta tomorrow, so today I decided to check out one of the many museums listed on my map of the city. It was siesta time, however, and not much was open. The only museum listed that was open during the afternoon was Pajarito's, and what a museum it was.

The musuem was in Pajarito's house. His nickname name means "little bird" in Spanish. I don't remember his real name, but that's OK, because everyone called him Pajarito. He earned the nickname at an early age because he was tall, thin, and very clean.

Pajarito was born in the late 1800's to a rich family in Salta. He went to college in Buenos Aires, but he didn't do much studying. When he learned that going to a rich kid's school wasn't his thing, he took up orthodontics. He didn't like that either, so he came back to Salta and got a job as a bank manager.

Nobody knew how he got the job as a bank manager because he didn't work very hard. Instead, he threw big parties every night that ended at dawn. He went to work for a few hours in the morning, and slept from the time he left work until 5:00 PM, when the partying began anew.

Pajarito's uncle bought his house for him because he didn't have any money. He made a good salary from his bank manager job, but he spent all of his money on food, alcohol, and cigars at his parties. He soon became well-known for his generosity.

Before long, every musician and artist from the country was visiting Pajarito's home. Sometimes, they planned on staying for a few days, but didn't leave for several months. The neighbors didn't seem to mind because the music that was played there was so good. In fact, by the 1950's, everyone who was anyone in the music industry of South America visited Pajarito's house at some point.

The people who stayed there often left strange gifts, which today are scattered throughout his home, just like they were fifty years ago. Included in the gifts I saw were spears from a movie set, a guitar-like instrument from Africa, and a device for holding mate and sugar where the containers were made out of a bull's testicles, and the handle was the bull's penis.

People often wrote to Pajarito without writing his actual address. I was shown several envelopes that simply said "Salta" and had a drawing of a bird. One creative author even wrote a poem on the front of an envelope describing where to send the letter. It successfully made it to Pajarito's house, despite the fact that it was sent from Peru.

Pajarito died in the 1960's. He never married or had any kids, so his house was turned into a museum. I was shown a picture of the house from the 1950's, and it looked exactly the same then as it does today. It was one of the most fascinating places I've visited in a long time.

San Bernardo Hill

March 14, 2006
Day 167

Picture of Salta.

The view of gondola and Salta.

Today I went to San Bernardo hill, which overlooks Salta, with Andre, a Dutch guy from my hostel. As it was scorching hot again, we took the lazy man's route to the top. A gondola to the top was constructed by a Swiss company back in 1987, giving everyone, including us, access to the views of the city.

As we rode to the top, I saw the bus station, a soccer stadium, lots of houses, and my entire body getting covered with sweat from the sweltering heat.

The map I received of the area on top of the hill made it seem huge. However, the "gymnasium" turned out to be two sets of gymnastic rings, the "amphitheater" only had three rows and a tiny stage, and the "artisan's area" was just a guy selling some necklaces. I can't make this stuff up. At least the waterfalls were impressive.

Still, the only reason I went to the top was to see the city, and the view was great. Salta is a lot bigger than I had originally thought, but it still retains that "small town" feel. We stayed at the top of the hill for an hour or so and walked back down. It was an easy walk because the path was well-shaded by the numerous trees that covered the hill, but I imagine that walking all the way up would have sucked.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Checking Out Salta

March 13, 2006
Day 166

Picture of church.

The main cathedral in town.

I arrived in Salta today on an overnight bus. My main goal of visiting Salta was to go on the "Train to the Clouds," a train that goes all the way to the nearby mountains with breathtaking views of the region. I walked around town trying to figure out how to get on the train only to find out that it wasn't running. From what I gathered, there was a mudslide awhile back that derailed the train and they were still trying to figure out a way to fix it. I wish I would have known about that beforehand as it was the only reason I came this far north.

I spent the rest of the day checking out the town. It's the smallest place I've stayed in weeks, a nice change of pace from the big cities further south. The town is full of nice churches, restaurants with outside seating, and a big hill overlooking the entire city. It's a lot hotter and more humid here than anywhere I've been in awhile, so it will take some adjusting.

Salta is also near Bolivia, so I've been hearing stories from other travelers who just came from there. It's been nice reminiscing about the "distant past" of four months ago with them. There appears to be much less European influence in the people here. Most people I have met in Argentina could trace their entire ancestry back to Spain and Italy, but almost all of the people here are "mestizo," a mixture of European and native cultures. It will be nice to get a reminder of my traveling past for a few days before heading back south again.

The photo album for this entry is here.

A Slow Weekend

March 11/12, 2006
Day 164,165

Not a whole lot of interesting things happened this weekend. I was out really late on Friday night, so I got a late start on Saturday. I did a lot more walking around the city, but I had run out of things in the area that interested me. It was time for me to head out. On Saturday night, I walked around and asked some locals where some of the good clubs were. They pointed in a general direction, but said that it was too early to go there. It was 2:00 in the morning! I ended up going to bed "early" before the night really picked up.

When I got up at 10:00 on Sunday morning, the club across the street was still going. Finally at around 10:30, the last few stragglers walked out of the club and took off on their motorcycles. There is virtually nothing to do here on Sundays other than sit around at expensive restaurants or drink mate in the parks. Amazed by the emptiness of the streets that had been completely packed all week, all I could find to do was surf the Internet and hang out at my hostel. I took off at 8:00 for a 12-hour bus journey to Salta.

A Day In The Campo

March 9, 2006
Day 161

Today I went with some people from my hostel to Cuesta Blanca, a tiny town in the middle of the campo, or country. We walked to a river with a beach where we relaxed, swam, and played cards all day. It was a really hot day, so it was nice to relax for awhile. It's no fun getting all sweaty walking around town in the 90 degree heat.

Parque Sarmiento

March 9, 2006
Day 161

Picture of goat.

A curious goat.

In the corner of my map of Cordoba is a large patch of green called Parque Sarmiento. I wasn't quite sure what was there, but I decided to walk to it anyway today. When I got there, I noticed that it indeed was large, but there was a strange lack of people in it. Cordoba is a city of over one million inhabitants, yet I only saw a handful of people walking around. Going to the park would have been a bust if it hadn't been for the zoo inside.

Entrance to the zoo was only $1.50, which was worth paying just to poke my head in and check it out. The zoo was big and had all of the usual barnyard animals mixed in with a few different exotic species. One animal they had that I hadn't seen before was the hippopotamus. I walked up to the large pool of water where the hippo supposedly was, but I didn't see anything. Then I saw some nostrils rise to the surface and sink back in. I was about to walk away when a zookeeper entered the scene with some food. Slowly, the hippo walked out of the water and up the stairs. The size of it freaked me out. It was so big, it could barely walk, which I guess explains why it stays under the water so much. When the hippo opened its mouth for food, I was shocked. It's teeth were all jagged, loose, and full of green mucus, which gave it horrible breath. For the next ten minutes, the trainer threw food in, patted its tongue, and hugged it, at which point it returned to the water. It was utterly disgusting.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Che's Place

March 8, 2006
Day 160

Picture of Che's Place.

One of Che Guevara's childhood homes.

I wanted to get out of the city for a bit, so today I took a bus to Alta Gracia, a small town about an hour away. Although it was a nice town with lots of big houses, my main reason for going there was to see one of Che Guevara's childhood homes, which had been converted into a museum in his name. Che's parents moved there when he was very young in hope of controlling his asthma via the dry climate.

The house itself was nothing special, but I did learn a lot about Che's life. He was born to a rich family and studied to be a doctor, but when he traveled around South America, he saw massive amounts of poverty and wanted to make some changes. His life changed when he met Fidel Castro. He was one of the main figures in taking over Cuba, and he spent the rest of his life being a revolutionary in other places. He was killed in Bolivia at a young age, giving him god-like status throughout South America. I don't agree with a lot of the stuff he did, but it has been interesting to see how much he gets worshiped here nonetheless.

That Museum

March 7, 2006
Day 159

Picture of painting.

A painting at the fine arts museum.

I decided to make this a museum day. First, I attempted to find Dr Ara's museum in one of the city's hospitals. Dr Ara uses the same mummification technique as the guy who made Evita Peron and Vladimir Lenon's mummies. Not many people want to go see a bunch of corpses, so it was tough to find the place by asking the locals. It took a LOT of asking around, but eventually I was able to find it.

When I first entered the place, I noticed the strong smell of formaldehyde. All around me were people's picked parts, and the liquid used to preserve them gave off a strong pepperminty odor. Toward the entrance, there were lots of skulls and skeletons, but eventually I saw just about every body part from every walk of life imaginable. Seeing the bones wasn't too creepy, but seeing heads with flesh still attached gave me a bit of the willies. Now I can confirm that I definitely wouldn't want to be a doctor.

After my flesh-and-bones visit, I walked across town to the Anthropology museum. This time it was open. There were a few nice exhibits showing what ancient peoples' caves looked like, but overall it was small and disappointing. There was a ton of dry reading available, but not much to look at.

My last stop of the day was to a fine arts museum. It was really big, free, and featured works by local artists. That combination made for a great visit. After running around town all day today, I'm officially museumed out, but it was good to get all three taken care of in the same day.

The photo albums for this entry is here.

Which Museum?

March 6, 2006
Day 159

I took an overnight bus to Cordoba last night, and arrived at around 7:00 AM. I went to a hostel that someone had recommended to me and tried to get some sleep. As soon as I laid down, I noticed a problem: loud music was blaring from a dance club across the street directly into my window. I later learned that it was an after-hours club that's open from around 5-10 AM. That's music to my ears.

This afternoon, I walked around town and decided to find the Museum of Anthropology. Bad idea. It was shown on a tourist map as a big dot somewhere near an intersection where three major streets cross. No address was given, so I wasn't sure which street it was on. I walked around the block several times and couldn't find it. I tried asking a bunch of locals where it was, but none of them had heard of it. This is true here in general: locals never do touristy things in their own town, so they are useless for asking where such activities are.

Finally, when I was ready to give up, I saw the museum on the other side of the block from where it was listed on the map. The only problem was that it was closed. I rang the doorbell and a few minutes later, a guy answered.

"We're closed," he said.

"But this map says you're open till 8 and it's only 7."

"Let me see that... This map only lists our January hours. We close at 5 the rest of the year."

Great, thanks. Obviously, I didn't get much done today other than several hours of walking around. Still, there are supposed to be a lot of activities to do in the area, so maybe I'll stick around for a few more days to see if the situation improves.