Thursday, December 8, 2016

Making Tracks: 4,000 km in 2 Weeks

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind.  This is partly due to the fact that I lost 2 weeks waiting for a replacement ATM card that never arrived, partly because I felt ready for a change of scene, and partly because I had to move quickly in order to meet up with friends who were on their way.  So, it ended up that in just 2 weeks, I traipsed over 4,000km!   Here is an overview of what you've missed!

Sucre- a lovely Bolivian city, with strong Spanish influences
I really enjoyed walking down the old-timey streets of Sucre, though most of my spare time here was spent in the market and the kitchen, making a huge Thanksgiving feast for my fellow travelers.  The market was great, though, and had a fresh juice section that was almost as good as San Pedro market in Cusco.
The thanksgiving chefs
Our feast for 10
One of the old, Spanish-influenced churches

Another gorgeous antiquity- the union building

In search of avocados for guacamole for thanksgiving, we ended up having an impromptu avocado tasting!
Who knew there were so many types, and that their flavors were just so different!?

Border Crossing-  overland travel from Bolivia to Argentina
Upon realizing that my ATM card was never going to arrive, I decided it was time to move on.  I boarded an overnight train from Uyuni to Villazón, Bolivia, where I then had to cross the border on foot to La Quiaca Argentina, and then look for a connecting bus onward in Argentina.  Everything went relatively smoothly, aside from the train stopping sporadically and violently throughout the night with some strange mechanical glitch, tacking 2 hours delay onto a 7 hour trip.  I saved a bit of money by walking the distance from the bus stop to the border, and the border to the terminal on the other side, whereas most other tourists took taxis.

Loading our baggage on the train from Uyuni to Villazón
Sitting in my luxurious seat, my first train ride in South America, of a much anticipated trip
The inside of my train car.  When we arrived, the heat was on full blast and we were sweating,
but by the middle of the night, the thick wool blankets they provided weren't enough to keep me warm
The line at the border, the short line at the right is waiting to first "stamp out" of Bolivia, and then join my current line to "stamp in" to Argentina.  The border guards laughed when I said I didn't know where I was going to visit in Argentina and that I would "figure it out day by day."  I'm getting used to that reaction.

Tilcara- funky, artsy town high in the hills

In the end, from La Quiaca, I opted to catch a bus going to Tilcara, Argentina.  According to my guidebook, it was a funky art colony nestled in dramatic surrounding hills.  

All along the drive to Tilcara, the bus stops were painted in brilliant colors!  They were beautiful!

The landscape along the drive was beautiful, too, with multicolored hills all around
The most notable sight in Tilcara was Pucará, a monument on a hill with dramatic views of the valley.  I was equally interested in the ruins preserved there as the the enormous cactus surrounding them that happened to be blooming at that moment.

The cactus probably were 8' tall on average

My favorite cactus were the dead, dried, and bleached out ones.  They created this awesome, waffled texture.
Some of the preserved buildings.  They were constructed with stone, roofed with cane that was then covered in clay to keep it cool.

Salta- beautiful, modern, and walkable
After a few days in Tilcara, I hopped another bus, this time going to Salta, one of the larger cities in the north of Argentina.  Walking its streets felt very reminiscent of my time in Spain, with pleasant plazas, beautiful churches, states, and stone-tiled pedestrian ways.

This is the edge of the main plaza
This pedestrian way was part of the main commercial thoroughfare, lines with clothing and shoe shops on both sides.
At the corner of the main plaza, this was one of the many outdoor cafes that have come to typify my time here in Argentina
The main church at the edge of the plaza
Walking a bit out from the center of town, you'll come across this small park, filled with a huge monument to Guëmes, who helped secure Argentina's independence.  Passing it by, walking through the park, you'll come to a small set of stairs.  If you have the wherewithall, and you're not carrying 15kg backpack of camera gear like I was, climb them, and you will be rewarded.  Of course, the other option is to take a cable car up, lol.

Guëmes Monument
This is the hill that I climbed.  It didn't look like much from afar, but then I started climbing the stairs!
Part of the walking path, sprinkled with shade, a much needed respite from the hot, bright sun
Making the hike even more dramatic were these religious murals evenly spaced along the route depicting Jesus carrying his cross and being persecuted.
Upon summiting, I was rewarded with spectacular views of the city from high atop the hill.

After taking in my reward of incredible views, I opted to treat myself to a cable car ride down.
There's no way my knees would have survived going down all those stairs with such a heavy bag.

Traveling in Style
Ok, so a bus ride isn't really that interesting, and would usually not warrant a bullet all of it's own, BUT, check this out!   I have ridden my fare share of buses so far on this trip, and this one takes the cake!  Fully reclining seats, with a foot rest that will rise to meet it and create a completely flat bed-like nest, privacy curtains, comfy blanket and pillow, and even a small glass of champagne when you board!  I guess the Argentinians know how to travel!
my seat, complete with freshly cleaned blanket and pillow
Up here on the 2nd floor (most long distance buses here are double-decker)
Obviously!  What trip doesn't begin with a glass of champagne?!
Of course this is all that we were given, but that's all I needed to feel it a bit!
Pinky out, like a lady

Córdoba- something for everyone
I'm writing to you now from the lovely city of Córdoba where I have spent my last few days.  There are lots of artistic influences here and a strong carryover from the Spanish presence.  I have enjoyed spending lot of time strolling through the various plazas and parks, and I was even so lucky as to be here one day when all museums are free to visit!  There are so many different things to see here, that one could easily spend days wandering and be fully satisfied.

Bicentennial Park- I came upon this park accidentally, but was immediately enamored of it.  To celebreate 200 years of independence, 200 metal circles were erected throughout the park, each marked with a year and an important fact about that year.

Paseo del Buen Pastor
This is a small and rather haphazard gallery housed within a beautiful mansion.  One can easily see both the space and its contents in about 10 minutes, so this was a good one to hit on a day of free admission.
One of the gallery rooms showcasing a mixture of artists and techniques
This is the ceiling inside the building, just to give you an idea
What amazed me the most was that all of the surfaces: walls, floor, ceiling, were hand painted!
There were intricate details and fake-marble motifs.  Overall an impressive amount of labor went into it!

 Museo Ferreyra- Fine Art Museum
Another spectacular building, housing mediocre art.  The best part for me, had nothing to do with either.

Upon walking in, I was "greeted" by this relaxed cat cleaning himself on the walkway.
He tolerated a few well-intended pets, but then clearly preferred to resume his grooming routine.
A spectacular main hall
One of the gallery areas.  I was more interested in the beautiful detail work on
the ceiling and walls and the huge mirror than in the art itself.

Climbing Structure
Another one of my random, surprise finds was this unusually constructed building.  Beneath the upturned lip to the left was the city's historical archives, while the rest externally was simultaneously a huge sculpture as well as an area for fitness!  When I arrived, there were children sprinting up the slope and then sliding down on their bottoms!  There are stairs, slopes and railings all the way around, but it is posted to not use skateboards, rollerblades or bikes.  The tall tower to the right is referred to as el faro (the lighthouse) and was in the process of being turned into a large version of a christmas tree.  You can faintly see the strings of lights hanging around it.

The view looking in from the street
The farthest edge looking back down at the street.
Looking into the building from the lip of the ramp

My first night in Córdoba, as I strolled through the plaza, I saw some lovely ladies dressed up and ready to dance.  At the time, I was starving and on my way to find dinner, but on my way back, my path was obscured by a crowd that had gathered to watch an impromptu parade.  Several different groups comprised of both dancers and drummers took their turn on the "main stage," moving to a familiar rhythm.  It was a nice treat, though most of the dancers appeared bored!

After the procession was finished, I continued strolling along, and happened along what seemed to be a school show.   A large cluster of red-clad toddlers were gathered on the steps of the church, surrounded by their families dressed in white.  They sang along to songs about peace and love, and generally set a warm, but somber, tone to the evening.

The most plentiful sight to behold here are churches.  Catholicism took a very strong hold here.  Though I'm not even slightly religious, I can appreciate the beauty and reverence involved in building and maintaining such a building after all this time.
Iglesia de la Merced
Same church, same spot, at night
The largest and most impressive church is the Cappuchino Church
Very gothic and familiar feeling from my travels through Spain
The blue ceiling really brings it to life

Now all those buildings and parks are well and good, but really, what can compare to a delicious scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day?  This is my first ice cream cone in months, and it was delicious!  Flan and Tiramisu flavors, my 2 favorite desserts!

So that's it!  A summary of 2 weeks, covering great distances and seeing a wide variety of sights.  More soon!  Tonight, I hop a bus to Buenos Aires!