Sunday, March 30, 2014

Visiting San Juan, Argentina

There aren’t enough words to describe how awesome the province of San Juan is with its majestic mountains, beautiful scenery, farmland, capital city, history, and so much more.

On Tuesday, March 25th, my folks and I drove from Cordoba to San Juan for a much needed break. The seven hour journey began with a drive through the urbanized city district and then through Carlos Paz. We encountered several police checkpoints along the way, each designed to screw people with hefty fines if they were caught without their seat belts or if they didn’t have their headlights on. Having your headlights on is a huge deal when driving across Argentina.

This was the first time I’d actually driven since I left the States. I avoided driving in Cordoba because everyone here swerves, drives in between lanes, and ignore stop signs, and red lights. My parents had actually bought me a new car before I moved to Argentina and they hoped that I would start to drive it, but I told them, “NO WAY!” One of the reasons I had originally moved from Florida to New York was because I didn’t want to worry about having to drive ever again. Like in New York, I rely on public transportation in Cordoba, but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed getting behind the wheel of a car again.

On the outskirts of Cordoba is the entrance to the province of “La Rioja”. At this stage in the journey, all we saw was a road and a lot of wild country. On occasion, we noticed a few random homes, some seemingly made of clay or red bricks, and not in the best conditions.

The road we traveled on had small and large crevices that made driving a bit more difficult. For the next two and a half hours, we swerved to avoid these crevices to avoid damaging the shock absorbers and wheels.

We stopped at the next town called “Chepes” to refuel and to eat some lunch. We sat at a plaza and had some “milanesa” (breaded steak) sandwiches before heading back on the road.

As we approached the very edges of the province of San Juan, the landscape turned a bit desert-like. The heat was really strong and there was no sign of civilization for several miles. There was however some beautiful scenery along the way. 
Suddenly we were forced to take an alternate route because the original road had collapsed due to erosion caused by flooding. This was breathtaking and in a weird way, very interesting to see.
A couple of hours later, we drove through a small town called “Vallecito”, which many people consider “holy”.
This is where the shrine of the “Difunta Correa” is located. Many people go there to ask the “Difunta Correa” for favors and it is believed that once she honors the worshipper’s request, they must return and pay tribute to her in this shrine.
People pay tribute in different ways. For example, if you’ve had an accident and survived it, you place your vehicle tags on the path leading up to the shrine. Some also place recreated miniature versions of the home or business that they asked the “Difunta Correa” to help turn into a reality or prevent the owner from losing. Others buy a plaque thanking this sacred saint. There’s also a small gift shop in the style of an American flea market for people to buy souvenirs of San Juan and the “Difunta Correa”.

A few hours later, we got close to the end of our journey. The mountains, trees, and shrubs had been replaced by modern day civilization. At first, all we saw were crops full of olives and grapevines. San Juan is after all, known for their wine industry.
By the time we got to the hotel, we were exhausted. The trip from Cordoba to San Juan took about 7 and a half hours. Shortly after we arrived, we had some tea and took a nap. Afterwards we ordered a pizza and then went to bed … again.
The next morning, we drove to see the mountains in Las Tapias (still located in San Juan).  These mountains were beautiful and so was the scenery on the horizon
At times there seemed to be layers of towns and mountains sandwiched together up to the very sky itself! I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life and it was breathtaking.
We also noticed that there were quite a few signs on the mountains that depicted flying saucers and aliens. I learned that a lot of folks come from different provinces to the mountain regions in search of extraterrestrial encounters.
After we were done sightseeing, we started to develop an appetite, so we headed back toward the capital city of San Juan. By capital, I’m referring to the city district of the province, and not the capital of Argentina.

The homes, the sidewalks, and streets are a lot cleaner than in Cordoba and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of graffiti on the wall. People were quite friendly and respectful of others… especially in traffic.

We ate lunch at a restaurant called “La Remolacha”, which literally translates to the name of the vegetable we call beets. My parents ordered an Argentinian asado. I ordered lasagna because I’m not much of a meat eater. While we waited for our food we had some empanadas as appetizers.

Afterwards we started walking around town, the “Centro” or downtown to be exact. It’s quite similar to the downtown district in Cordoba actually.
The only difference besides the clean sidewalks is the fact that San Juan observes the “siesta”, the rest period where everything shuts down, and businesses don’t resume until 5 p.m. Cordoba’s downtown district does not observe the “Siesta”.  
Still, we took the time to take some photos of the nearby plazas before heading back to the hotel. We were so exhausted that we went to sleep early.
The next morning we got up at 6 a.m. and headed back to Cordoba. San Juan was a wonderful experience. The only thing I can complain about it is that things are a lot more expensive than they are in Cordoba, but other than that, it was great.
Below is a video I made of clips I shot during my trip to San Juan. Please enjoy, comment, and share.