Monday, April 11, 2005

Moving Northwards...

I am pleased to report that the horseback riding expedition was a great success. We (four of us, all women) rode through the "pre-cordillera", or foothills of the Andes. They have a funny kind of soft rounded shape and from a distance they look like someone took a pile of reddish-brown sand and dumped it in a pile, then dragged their fingers down the side of it in a wiggly line kind of pattern. It´s a semi-arid zone, so the plants are deserty and dry and extremely sharp, as one of the girls in our party found out when she ran into a low branch and got two spines in her head! I also had a little adventure, when my saddle came loose (luckily when we were standing and not moving) and it slipped to the side and dumped me off! So, I have a few bruises but nothing a tough girl like me can´t handle. In the evening we arrived at a little house, seeming quite rustic with chickens, geese and donkeys in the little garden, but fully equipped with electricity to power the fridge, computer and stereo system. We rested there after our long day, and soon enough a van pulled up with a handful of young cowboy-types who unloaded to cook us dinner. Excellent! So it wasn´t the real ranch experience I was expecting (feeding the pigs and lassoing the cattle) but was perhaps better: the guys sang traditional gaucho songs and taught us the Grito Cuyano, or "Cuyo Yell" (Named after the region around Mendoza), which accompanies the songs. Basically it goes like this: "Wooooooo-hooo-hooooo!!!"

Funny enough, I actually had the chance to hear the yell in action just a few days later. I went to the small town of San Augustin de la Valle Fertil (or normally called Valle Fertil) to visit two national parks, and discovered that an annual festival was being held there for two days, with live music, traditional dancing, and the pageant to choose Miss Valle Fertil (I was excited that this year´s winner is named Jessica). The festival started both evenings at 11 and continued into the wee hours of the morning, and my hotel was only a block away from party central. This resulted in me being woken up at 4 in the morning by the Grito Cuyano and the traditional music it accompanies, which, let me tell you, is a lot less quaint when it keeps you awake when you really would rather be sleeping. There were even people still stumbling home at 7 when the bus showed up to go to the national parks, Talampaya and Valle de la Luna, both of which were worth a look, containing strange eroded sandstone sculptures in a desert landscape which, according to our guide, gets only 20 minutes of rain per year.

Right now I´m in La Rioja, killing time before a 3:45 AM bus to Tucumán. I´m with a French friend, Thibaut, who I originally met in Chiloé and again in Mendoza, and who is following the same route as I am. It´s been an adventure getting here, as after we saw the national parks we got dropped off at a crossroads in the middle of absolutely nowhere at 5:30 PM to wait for a bus that would arrive at either 7 or 8 PM depending on your source. As we should have known, it arrived at a little after 9 PM, by which time about 15 cars had blazed by refusing our outstretched thumbs. Oh well. I´m enjoying the small towns and being off the beaten path (we have seen only one other non-Argentine tourist in the past three days!) Plus, it´s finally getting hot, and I have stowed my winter coat in the bottom of my bag for the first time in nearly two months. I´m happy to see my summer clothes again, and learning to appreciate the afternoon siesta to take refuge from the heat.