Monthly Archives: May 2012

La Falda

(text-only version; photos will come when the internet feels up to it)

We arrived in La Falda on April 11, Day 100 of our trip. For those who don´t know, La Falda is the small town in the central Sierras of Argentina where Leticia´s aunt and uncle Pat and Hector and cousin Felipe live. It is also the town where we spent a year during my sabbatical in 2007-2008. Anna went to preschool for half a year here, and Zeke learned to walk and say helado (ice cream).

We arrived after 13 hours on the night bus from Jujuy and an hour 40 minutes on the bus from Cordoba. As we got closer, Anna was more and more excited, especially as we started to notice familiar landmarks. La Falda feels pretty much the same, though there are notable differences. There is a new road over the mountain now, so the city of Cordoba is closer, and La Falda is busier. There is, as always, construction, either for residences or for summer houses or rentals for people (from Buenos Aires, mostly) who spend some time here each summer. Pat and Hector live in a nice small house (designed by Felipe) on the same property as the old house. Felipe, after years of work, got his degree in civil engineering,  lives in the old house, has an office downtown, and is busy surveying and managing projects. The house we lived in, two houses away, is lived in by Andrea, our former landlord.

When you are playing a game at full speed, you often don´t realize how tired you are until after you stop and the adrenaline wears off. So it was for us our first few days in La Falda. There is a feeling a bit like jet lag that you get from spending a night on the bus, and we felt that, but there was also the accumulated fatigue of these months on the road, still concentrating to speak and understand spanish (and it is harder in Argentina than Peru and Bolivia), dealing with the common problems of finding shelter and food. And so we did not do much. Pat and Hector´s yard is large (by Argentine standards), and Zeke spent hours, with us or alone, playing soccer. We read books and went for walks downtown to visit Pat and Hector at the store.

We enjoyed the luxuries of  a) the attention of family, b) Pat´s care and food, c) having a washing machine, d) drinking water from the sink, e) having a kitchen, f) sleeping in two different rooms,  g) knowing where the stores are, and h) having a cat to pet. After months of anonymity, it feels crazy to walk along the street and have someone get out of a car and say “Paul!”, but in La Falda it happened. We were stopped sometimes by people who remembered seeing us four years ago, who commented on how the kids have grown, on how good their (and our) spanish is, and how nice that we came back to visit. Best of all are Sunday afternoons, when we have Sunday dinner (sometimes asado de Felipe) with Pat, Hector, and Felipe. On other days there were hikes with Hector, mate in the afternoons with Pat, and hanging out with Felipe, including one great day trip to the other side of the mountain, where we came upon sunday-afternoon horse races outside the small town of La Pampa. ¨You will never see more gaucho-y gauchos than these¨, said Felipe, and Anna and Zeke were re-inspired to drink mate and get bombachas (gaucho-esque pants that Pat and Hector soon got them for birthday presents).

There was some work as well, as I visited the university in Cordoba where I visited in 2007-2008. They were very good to me, providing access to any class I was interested in, an office shared with another visiting professor, and contacts at other universities down the road. It is great to return to a place and find that people remember who you are. I gave a talk there in the number theory seminar, my most researchy talk of the trip, and the classes I visited gave me some ideas to take home.

This all is past tense now, as we have taken another night bus to Salta, in northern Argentina. We broke up the time in La Falda with a two week trip to Uruguay and Buenos Aires, meaning we spent about a month in La Falda. It is sad to leave, but we imagine we will be back within four years, and we feel the pull of the rest of the trip, as well as the pull toward home.

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Zeke, Felipe, Hector, Leticia, Patricia, Anna, La Falda, Argentina, May 21

lunch in the middle of the road

trick candles, sold as regular

above La Falda, May 19

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May 17

After a sweet visit with my cousins Daniela and Luis Maria we left BA on an overnight bus 945 Monday night. The seats were more comfortable than our previous overnight bus but the catch 22 with Argentine overnight busses is that if you pay for the good seats you also get meals. Great…except that in this case it meant dinner served at 1045 and breakfast served at 545 complete with a cheerful announcement and lights. Luckily the children, who were awake through dinner though not eating, slept through breakfast. Tuesday was an absolutely beautiful clear warm day which we used to recuperate from the bus. Yesterday (Wednesday) we did some sit down school work and took a nice walk to a playground on the south end of town.

In the evening Paul and I talked about how we want to spend this last little bit of time in La Falda. I mentioned maybe wanting time for a long walk by myself. There is a new paved road over the mountain into the town next to La Falda and an old gravel road that goes up the mountain from La Falda, I thought it would be fun to hike up the old road and down the new one but not really knowing how far it was felt it was too much to try to do with Anna and Zeke. We were also thinking of going up the Banderita again soon. (The Banderita is the other mountain behind La Falda which we climbed a couple weeks ago among clouds. We hope to get up it again this trip on a clearer day.) I checked the weather the forecast for the first time this trip; it looked bleak with each day getting colder and cloudier into next week. Zeke had shown interest in climbing the gravel road up the mountain so we decided to head up it after breakfast with supplies for a day out (classic USA pb and honey sandwiches, mantecol, oranges, crackers, water, journals and raincoats) and see how far up we could happily get.

We headed out the door at 930 with sunshine ahead of us and dark foreboding clouds to our backs. We kept a good pace up to the edge of town with Anna, Zeke, and Paul bellowing out sea chanties as they walked.  We passed behind the Hotel Eden and onto dirt road…. hmm really dirt gravel bedrock road… going up the mountain. Our pace slowed partially because maybe we were tiring a bit and also because the views asked to be taken in. As we went up the mountain the youngest feet in the family slowed but the sky also seemed less keen on us ending our day cold and wet. I stopped us for a break and some food (after many little pauses), and not altogether sure if it was the wisest move challenged the family to walk without stopping for one more hour before a long break for lunch and play. I also mentioned wondering if we could make it to the top of the road in that time. Paul’s watch was set for an hour and my pedometer would tell us if we were staying still. We started out again slowly but much more steadily than we had been walking and enjoyed the views out over the large valley bellow and across to the Banderita nearby. After half an hour there was some grumbling of tiredness but then we rounded a corner and were into the mountains, no longer with the long views. It was different, more protected, calmly quiet. We curved a bit more and reached the top of our road on the back side of the mountain we had come up. I soon saw part of the new paved road and the kids took off running to get a better view at the next bend and then when we caught up asked to run to the next turn sure that the view would be better there. Paul and I had a brief discussion about whether to go down the mountain the way we came or circling down the other side. The temptation of a big loop was great but we decided that the way we came with a road to ourselves and no traffic would likely be more fun.

We had lunch in the middle of our road at a place chosen by Anna and Zeke for its good views of the new road, Anna and I walked a little bit further and then we all headed back the way we came. The trip down the mountain was broken up by the rest of the family running some and a little bit of climbing on rocks. We got home midafternoon having hiked about 8 or 10 miles; the kids were tired but could have handled a longer day.

As usual walking together was a good way to spend time together and to hear a little more about what Anna and Zeke are thinking about. Paul pointed out that today is the three quarter mark of our trip  which made it a good time to talk about what we want most from the part that is left. We are all starting to miss some things about home, but we are also mostly excited to have this chance to have more adventures and exploration. It is fun to be to the point where we are very comfortable arriving late in the day in a town unsure of where we are staying. It feels like this last leg of the trip can have an extra sweetness feeling comfortable with the rhythms of travel and knowing that before long we will be home again.

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Anna has grown

Zeke has too

Buenos Aires

Zeke, Anna, Daniela, Arabian Nights

street scene, Floresta

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We are in Punto…

We are in Punto del Diablo, Uruguay staying at a sweet hostel complete with lots of interesting folks (some of whom give our kids excellent attention), a kitchen, great dinners when we don’t want to cook…or our previous meal plan doesn’t sound nearly as yummy or easy as being cooked for, a very short walk to great beaches (both rocky and sandy!), views of the beach from balconies with hammocks and puppies(who could keep our kids occupied all day luckily the beach gives them good competition). This really is a little family vacation within this trip. (I know rather decadent to take a vacation within a vacation, but vacation it is, spending a little more money and just enjoying relaxing together.) We could easily spend more time here, but will leave contently tomorrow refueled for the return trip to Lima, slowly by land, enjoying the chance to explore new places.

Today we built sand castles, ran in the water, and took a sweet walk along the beach south of town to a lighthouse. I have been being more relaxed about sitdown schoolwork than I was in La Falda and yet feel they are probably learning more with exploring tidal pools, talking about tides and winds and other questions that come up, digging and building, and speaking spanish with other guests.

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Punta del Diablo

near the harbor, Punta del Diablo

along the coast of Uruguay

North of Punta del Diablo

the way home

We left La Falda on Wednesday. Eight days later I would be giving a talk in Buenos Aires and we would spend a few days In Buenos Aires with Daniela (Leticia’s cousin) and Luis Maria (Daniela’s husband). Before that, though, there was time to spare, so we bought a ticket for the overnight bus from Cordoba to Montevideo, Uruguay.

It is a surprise to me how quickly we fall back into the rhythm of travel. Since we are headed back to La Falda in a few weeks, there is not the usual sadness at leaving. We left La Falda at 1pm and were in Cordoba two hours later. We left our luggage at the place you can leave your luggage and wandered Parque Sarmiento and part of Cordoba for the better part of three hours, trying to put miles on the young (and old) legs. At 5:45 the bus left; soon after we broke out the the bread and cheese and snacks. Since we bought tickets late we were separated, Leticia and Zeke three rows ahead of Anna and me.

The pampa is the great flat area through the middle of Argentina. The name conjure up vast grasslands, cattle, gauchos, freedom, etc. But it should be said that the road from Cordoba to Rosario looks a lot like northern Ohio, flat as flat is with fields stretching as far as you can see and even the signs advertising the type of seed or herbicide used in that patch of field. Once in a while you come into a sleepy-seeming town where the gas station and bus station are the (literal) bright spots. Argentines eat supper at about 9pm, and it is the same on the bus. Anna is too tired for supper, but does have a little of mine. The meal has two kinds of meat, which I skip, but I am full anyway. Then come the drinks – a standard policy on the nice busses is to try to knock out the passengers with liquor. My whiskey goes down passingly well with a little 7-Up.  The movie has been one with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, with the sound off but subtitled in Spanish. Talking with Anna, eating, looking at the lights out the window, I drift in and out, but I think I get the gist of it. One never knows the  titles of these movies – they just seem to start. Later, as we drift off, there is a movie with Vikings, and I don’t get the gist of this one, unless it is that Vikings like to fight and say brave things that sound strange when translated into Spanish. (Same with martial arts films, for that matter.)

The border crossing into Uruguay is incredibly easy – the bus personnel have collected our passports, and they don’t even have to wake us up (good, because it is 3:30am). On getting the passports back, though, Leticia notices that Anna’s was never stamped, prompting the bus to head back to the border. All I know of this until the next day is a vague memory of us turning around at a gas station.

The next morning we wake up in Uruguay, passing through similar countryside (we have crossed a river, and the terrain is just a little more rolling. We arrive in Montevideo at about 9:30, and get down to business – 1. bathrooms 2. getting money and 3. buying bus tickets. Even though we have already learned to think in Peruvian soles, bolivianos, and Argentine pesos, there is a a little time necessary to get accustomed to a new currency. The exchange rate for Uruguayan pesos is nearly 20 to 1, and though I can tell myself it is only $200, it still jarring to hold multiple 1000 peso bills in your wallet (and, for that matter, to spend two of them immediately on bus tickets). We could sell our house, move here, and be millionaires, I think.

We spend about three hours walking Montivideo, a big but fairly comfortable city, though it is still jarring to spend 500 pesos on lunch. At 1:30 we get a bus headed for Punta del Diablo, a small town on the eastern coast, about 5 hours away, and only an hour from the Brazilian border. From here the land is rolling and sandy with occasional views of water to the right. It feels, oddly enough, a little like Michigan on the way to Traverse City.

We arrive in Punta del Diablo at about 6:15, and it is almost dark. The center of town is a sandy intersection with a grocery store and wooden signs pointing the way to various hotels. We wander from corner to corner looking for more signs, asking now and again for the way, homing in slowly like confused bats. Punta del Diablo is hopping in the summer, we have read, but now it is rows of closed restaurants, bars, stores, fish markets, and rental houses. It has the slightly shabby (in a very pleasant sense) of some of the towns along the outer banks of North Carolina. After a good bit of wandering and asking, we finally get here, and thankfully, there is a room for us. Leticia makes a simple supper and we get the kids to bed.

Since then, we have done what you do at the beach – get up slowly (even Zeke!), have breakfast, go for a walk along the beach (or do that in the opposite order, with hot chocolate on the beach), wander town, look for shells, climb on the rocks along the shore and explore tide pools, finding crabs and (today) a dead stingray. It has been cloudy and cool, but this afternoon the sun came out and the temperature reached into the 70s. We walked to a calmer beach upshore, and, after some hot mate and running up and down to warm up, played in the water. Once in, it is not so bad – remember it is fall, not spring, here – but there are goosebumps, and eventually we make our way back the slow way, climbing on rocks all the way here. As we take showers and change, there is a great full moon rising over the ocean. It is easy to forget that we are in Uruguay – after all, we are at the beach, and that outweighs all else.

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Two days, two countries, two hikes

Lucero, Daniela, us, Sara (who is not actually angry) at the cross above Tupiza

On the last day of our jeep trip, Jaime and Sara (our driver and cook) invited us to hike with them and their daughters Lucero and Daniela up to the cross above Tupiza the day before Easter. Initially we felt the need to keep moving, but we felt it was worth staying an extra day. So Jaime picked us up at about 5:15am and we were headed up the mountain by 5:45, with the idea of seeing the sun rise from above. We were not alone on the steep path up the mountain, as people were headed both up and down in the black of before dawn. Below was Tupiza, spread out north to south in the valley. Little by little it got lighter, and we could see both the numbers of the stations of the cross and how steep parts of the path we had already traversed were. After about an hour of walking, we made it before dawn to find 20 or 30 people already at the top. In front of the cross were burning candles and offerings of flowers and coca leaves. We were kindly given some coca to chew (and some to give as an offering) and sat down to some morning tea and snack.

At the cross above Tupiza (note Sara smiling)

The sitting down part was important, for about five feet to our right was a sheer dropoff of a few hundred feet. Anna had giddy morning energy and was excited to be around girls her age, and had to be repeatedly asked to SIT DOWN, please, before someone has a heart attack. The moon was almost full, and so was setting behind the mountains to the west as the sun rose, gradually lighting the mountains and eventually the town as well. After a bit we headed down, Anna, Lucero, and Daniela up front, Jaime and Zeke together, veering off path when they found fun detours, Leticia and Sara talking at the back, and Paul bouncing between, taking pictures. Our sadness at leaving good friends was, I think, compounded by our sadness at leaving Bolivia, which we had come to love.

Crossing from Bolivia to Argentina

By eleven in the morning we were on a bus to Villazon, and by two we were walking across the bridge to La Quiaca and waiting in a long line. We walked a bit farther (fully loaded) to a place where the busses to Yavi leave from, and soon were on our way. (Note: when asking directions, it is probably not worth asking the guy with his mouth so full of coca leaves that he can’t pronounce anything but vowels.)
Yavi is a little town that had not much going on outside the easter fair going on at the edge of town. Arriving in Yavi was somewhat bewildering, as everything cost much more than it would in Bolivia. We had arrived with argentine pesos left over from our 2007-8 trip, and we had only a rough idea of what they were worth – about 4.40 pesos is a dollar now, and it was 3.10 four years ago. But we found a reasonable place to stay, and on easter sunday we took a lovely hike out through the canyon of the Rio Yavi. There were rock paintings along the way, cactus, and a good place for A & Z to take a brisk dip. Once in Argentina, though, we felt the urge to get to La Falda, so after two nights in Yavi and one in Humahuaca, we spent a day in Jujuy and got an overnight bus to Cordoba. One more bus and a taxi got us to Hector, Pat, and Felipe’s, where we arrived about midday on April 11. It was day 100 of our trip. We spent the first 99 nights in 21 hotels, 2 busses, and 1 ambulance, and it is good to be settled for a little while.

The main street in Yavi

Easter Sunday hike, Rio Yavi

(I write this the night before we are leaving, for Uruguay and Buenos Aires, and then back to La Falda. The time here has been rejuvenating, and we will write about it soon.)

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