San Juan to Barreal, Argentina
March 25, 2010
We arrived in San Juan late in the night (around 2:30am) from our bus ride from Mendoza. We figured it would be difficult finding a taxi that late at night, but as soon as we stepped out of the terminal, there was one waiting for us. We loaded our baggage and negotiated a 10 peso fare for our 10 minute ride to the hostel. 2 minutes later we arrived! No, the taxi wasn’t crazy fast, there must have been a typo on the website, and hostel wasn’t really that far away! Oh well!
We woke up the next morning to a ghost town. The entire city was empty. For a while, I thought we were in one of those movies where everyone was turned into dust except you… very eerie to walk around and not see a single soul. Turns out there was some unknown holiday, and everyone stayed up until dawn partying, and thus everyone who would normally be out and about was still sleeping. We couldn’t even find a convenience store open! When we finally made it to the bus station, there were a few people milling about.
We hopped the local #23 bus to Zonda to see the Cave winery there we’d heard so much about. Evidently, this company makes champagne in a cave, and the temperature is perfect there for the process. We were afraid they wouldn’t be open, since everything else was closed, but after ringing the bell, some one came and opened the gate for us. He didn’t speak English, but in my broken Spanish we determined that it was ok for us to take a look around. The cave started out pretty cool, leading into the mountain with very to see except stone! Here and there a little side cave was dug out, where they would store various stuff. We made it to the tasting room when someone came and yelled at us, very loudly and pointed back to the entrance of the cave. We had no idea what he said, but from the wild gestures, it seemed like we weren’t supposed to be there. As we walked back, we met up with a tour group and fell into step with them. I’ve no idea where they came from, as there is only one way in, and one way out, and we didn’t pass them! The tour was all in Spanish, and worked its way through the machinery, ending in a quick and small taste of Champagne, which was actually quite good. (I’m not much of a Champagne person myself.) We walked back to the tasting room to find that there was no tasting, but we could buy a few bottles if we desired. No thanks!
We decided to rent a car and drive around to some of the touristy places in the San Juan Province. The area is quite large, and taking a bus everywhere just didn’t seem very feasible. Our first destination was the city/town of Barreal. Getting there was an amazing drive! Once outside of San Juan, the landscape was a barren wasteland. It was arid desert after desert, with mountains of desert in between. We were starting to get thirsty and our map showed a city not far ahead. When we got there, we wondered how it could actually be on the map!
Evidently at one time there was a thriving city of maybe 10 people who lived here on the railroad junction. We guessed that when the railway stopped, the town died. There was one house that was occupied (the rest had no roofs like the one above), and he sold refreshments at an absolute bargain of double the normal price. We continued on, and passed through between two peaks of the mountain, and hit a one lane dirt road. It was quite beautiful in it’s total lack of life. Then all of a sudden, we started following a river, and the contrast was astounding. Tucked in between the desert hills as this beautiful scenery. Such a difference a little water makes!
The water looked so inviting, I wanted to for a swim, but it was impossibly hot out there, and we needed to move fast to get to our destination while they were open for tours. We are headed to the Astronomy complex in El Leoncito National Park. There are two telescopes here, and we were hoping to do a night tour and possibly sleep in the complex and check out the amazing night stars. We hadn’t been able to make a reservation, but had our fingers crossed! When we got there, we found out that one telescope was closed, and thus our lack of getting a lunar visit. However, we did get to take a tour of the other scope!
The complex sits at an elevation of around 2,600 meters, and this area is known to have more than 320 perfectly clear nights per year. It is located in a national park known for wildlife and a little desert oasis. Cool eh?
After touring the complex we took a walk through the national park. We were keeping our eyes out for the Puma who like to roam about and hunt for the guanacos. We found the guanacos, but sadly no puma!
Jenn found a nice place to stop and cool off from the heat. When we were recovered, we headed back to go check out the salt / mud flats at the base of the mountain. They were super cool! It wasn’t salt however… it was all mud! So much mud that you could see a mirage just looking out across it. We had some fun playing in the dirt and taking some interesting photos. As it started to get dark, we headed back into Barreal to find some food and camping. We found both, nothing like Argentine beef and a bottle of beer to finish off an awesome day in the Argentine wilderness!
Jenn: trying to guess how hot it was out here! Whew!
Lucas: Self portrait!
If only I had a guitar in my hands…
Jenn getting some good air!
Close-up view of the scorched earth