La Rioja is a province in the Middle-Northwest of Argentina, halfway between Salta and Mendoza. We figured it would make for a good stopping point, and a chance to get off the beaten track of Argentina’s tourist route. Little did we know, we beat ourselves pretty far off the beaten track.
This weekend is an extended holiday in Argentina, which we believe may be the reason all the buses quickly, and without warning, sold out, resulting in an unwitting four-day-stay in the capital city, La Rioja.
Currently, we are holed up at the Hotel Gran Embajedor, a fading dame of Peronist-era ritz and class. The picture you see at the top is the key to our room and a bag of lavender I bought from a Mapuche women on the streets of Bariloche. Our experience in Bariloche drove us to explore a non-touristed province, an impulse La Rioja gladly obliged. Save for my companera Alexis, it has been four days since a foreigner has graced my sights. The folks in La Rioja live here and stay here. We’re at least 10 long, hot, dusty hours from any other major city.
How hot is it in La Rioja? In the summer, the daytime highs are between 100-110 F; now, in the autumn, it’s still in the mid-90’s. The light is scorching bright, which has made the picture-taking a bit challenging. It gets hot out here—hot enough that your standard street beetle is over an inch long with a shell forged from the same material as Darth Vader’s helmet. The grasshoppers are a good 4 inches long, and look like they’d be willing to slice you in two if your Spanish sounds Chilean in tone. Fortunately, the people are much nicer, and it has been a taste of frontier Argentina that has redeemed our otherwise accidental stayover.
Our first day here, we ventured out to what was described as a nearby national park, which, in frontier terms, means about 3 hours away. While the scenery was nice, regrettably, the Argentines have opened their national park system to private firms who manage the whole enterprise to their profit. Our choices were twofold: purchase an expensive guided tour or turn back. We bought the tour and set out to witness grand rock formations and pre-colombian writings which, from my New Yorquino perspective, I’d describe as an early form of Scratchitti. The following day, we thought we might set out once more for the olive producing center of Aimogosta, another couple hours out into the desert.
We set out in a micro-combi (mini-van) commandeered by an extremely nice guy who invited us up front for an impromptu tour of the northern canyons and flatlands. We discussed a variety of topics on the drive out, everything except the fact that, contrary to what the tourism folks informed us, there are no visitors permitted in the olive processing facilities during harvest season. Perhaps it is our own fault, for being the only people from North America to express curiosity in industrial-scale olive processing, but our journey proved a fruitless wandering into a scorched and remote desert outpost.
Sin embargo, I did manage to learn a lot about life in Rioja and Argentina during the drive out. For example, every Easter the locals travel out to a stone in the middle of the desert that bears the likeness of an old man’s face, to toss a bit of water on it in hope of good things to come. Out here, good fortune means rain, the predominate hope of people working the land in the dry country.
La Rioja is full of provincial curiosity, including a saint-like figure known as the “Boy Mayor” for whom statuettes are made and sold around town. It’s all a bit strange, and, for us, a bit long to be here, but these are the ups and downs of life on the road.
All the downtime, together with, perhaps, a dram or two of the Riojan Torrentes varietal, has us ready to conclude our wandering time and to begin the working-and-learning time. We’re getting close to Bolivia, and, with it, our time to study Spanish and improve our ability to communicate. I’ve been doing fairly well, but it is frustrating to have to pause conversations when somebody says something I don’t understand. Por ejemplo, “Los fabricadores de aceitunas no se permite visitantes durante la cosecha!” If only we had known.
Are you pinching yourselves every morning??
(Must be beautiful!)
Lex: Thanks for reaching out, feeling better…
Ciao for now.
I can imagine your frustations at arriving to a dead end.
But, as u say, the ride and driver were colorful.
I love that key holder —
Bug description make Florida’s friends seem civilized…..
Keep blogging!!! love reading and being connected.
love mom w.
Such a great blog- I am now catching up.
I think of you both often and know your journey continues on successfully.
Be safe and enjoy!
What no pictures of the bugs?
On a separate note, Lori is recovering nicely in rehab. Still has a ways to go before returning to work.
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