Monthly Archives: January 2014

San Marcos de las Sierras

Back when Leon and Louisa were living in Pennsylvania, Leticia and I would try to take one weekend a year to travel without kids. These were never long trips – Harper’s Ferry was the farthest we ever went, Schuylkill County the closest. Now that Leon and Louisa are in Argentina, Anna-Zeke-grandparent-while-we-go-away weekends are rare, but we got one last weekend. We decided to go to San Marcos de las Sierras, only 50 miles or so away, but a world different from La Falda. The shortcut road is rarely travelled, so we decided to walk it.

Leaving Ruta Nacional 38, just south of Capilla del Monte

Leaving Ruta Nacional 38, just south of Capilla del Monte

In the six hours it took us to go 22 hilly kilometers, we experienced blazing sun and temperatures near 90F, refreshing breezes and a near brush with a storm that brought marble-size hail and crazy rain to La Falda, gentle sprinkles, periods of clouds, and more blazing sun. We were passed by 21 cars during that time on a great old road that goes south of the lake in Capilla, snakes through a long valley, crosses a series of mountains, and descends into San Marcos on a crazy marble-roller of a road.

Dark clouds force us onward

Dark clouds force us onward

Snack break

Snack break

Once there, we felt justified in taking it easy, which fits well with the vibe of San Marcos, which is sort of rural Argentina meets laid back beach town meets parking lot of a Grateful Dead show (or, if you prefer, meets Woodstock). San Marcos has been a hippy refuge since the late sixties, and now the town is a haven for much-scruffier-than-normal young Argentines, who head for the campgrounds along the rivers. A visit to the Hippie Museum gives you a good historical picture, as well as an enjoyable hour plus in the company of Peluca Dominguez, who runs the place and gives the tours. Everything seems a few hours behind in San Marcos – finding coffee before 10am is difficult, lunch seems to end around 3, and the town still hasn’t woken from siesta at 6:30pm. At 10, 11, 12, though, the town is alive, and there is a great variety of music in restaurants with crowds that spill out into the streets. It’s not for everyone, but the vibe is distinct from anywhere we’ve been in Argentina, and we would love to go back with kids, a tent, and some musical instruments.

Looking west toward San Marcos

Looking west toward San Marcos

Shady road in San Marcos

Shady road in San Marcos

With Peluca of the Museo Hippie

With Peluca of the Museo Hippie

Plaza in San Marcos - sleepy during the day, jumpin' at night

Plaza in San Marcos – sleepy during the day, jumpin’ at night

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El fútbol game

We're blurry because we are so fast

We’re blurry because we are so fast

So, how el futbol game started, I was playing futbol with myself and then Facundo (a neighbor) came over and played with me and then Paul started playing with us and then Anna came to play and then Dani, then Ticia, then Scott, and last of all came Susana. The ball went over a wall into somebody’s yard! The game was boys against girls – the boys won!

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Logistics

When we lived here six years ago, I learned Spanish by talking to people. I felt like the village idiot, leaving a trail of doubt and misunderstanding wherever I went. The shopkeepers at the places I frequented learned to speak slowly, use simple words, and not be offended when I responded inappropriately. And I had the reassurance that, since we were staying for a year, I would at some future time be able to converse and understand, and people would see that I was not, in fact, and idiot. So it happened, mostly, and people could congratulate me on how far I had come. 

Worst of all, though, were logistical questions. Whereas in most of life I could get by understanding 50 to 75% of what was happening, logistics left little room for error. Was someone meeting me sometime before 2:30, or sometime after 2:30? I’m not sure, but I’ll just get there early and stay late. Unless, I would think as 2:30 came and went, they really meant that this was going to happen tomorrow. At a store, I could bail out and not buy what I was trying to buy, go ask Patricia for advise, and go back later, but occasionally, this didn’t work. At the immigration office, for instance, when the man asked for something from the efabayee, I could only look at him blankly, until I realized that what he wanted was documentation of my good behavior from the FBI. I knew that the kind of visa I was applying for did NOT require documentation from the FBI, and I wondered later if that was the moment when some people would slip a bribe his way. I did not, and we didn’t get the visa, and we (technically) lived as illegal residents for about 5 months, a crime punished by a fine of about $16 each as we left the country. 

With years more of managing my way in Spanish, conversation is much easier, but logistics – when you need to know exactly (or nearly exactly) what is happening, still trip me up. Take this morning’s trip to the bank.

Leticia and I are planning to spend a few nights in San Marcos de las Sierras, and the only hotel we found with vacancy wants a deposit to secure our reservation. We can’t do this with a credit card, and trying to do it with a bank card (if that is even possible) gives us the much less favorable official exchange rate. So we learn that what we need to do is go to the bank and transfer funds to a certain account, with names and numbers provided by the hotel. We also learn that since the bank that the account lies in doesn’t have a branch here, we need to go to the national bank in town. And so I do.

There is a line of about 20 people outside, but I have learned that this line is just for the ATM, so I pass through that to the interior, past the guard with the big gun to the place where the lines begin. There seem to be about four choices: a single desk to the left, with a person occasionally there, a sign that says “Plazo Fijo”, with tickets to take, and about 20 chairs, currently half filled, and in the middle, two lines (Fila 1 and Fila 2), with a long list of the sort of transactions each line can take care of. “Transferencia” is listed under Fila 2, so I get in that line, though there are also four numbered cubicles to the right, which seem to be attending people. In front of us is a red sign with “caja” and “turno”, and numbers below each. Fila 2 goes to Caja 3 and 4, and I notice that every time a certain tone sounds, the number below “turno” goes up by one, and the person at the head of the line that pertains to the caja indicated heads behind the opaque walls to the teller windows (or cajas). I wonder if I should have taken a ticket – if that connects to the number indicated by “turno”, but it seems that no one else in my line has one, so I stay put. It seems that the number of people coming out is less than the number going in, and I wonder where the excess people end up. I also wonder if I went to a bank in the United States in a drunken stupor if it would feel approximately like this. 

Near the caja/turno sign is a television silently showing up to date news. The pope visiting the Holy Land seems to be the only news of substance, wedged in between soccer stories – 10000 fans showing up to welcome River Plate to the start of the season, the possibility of Beckham coming to play in Argentina – and a sad story of a 23 year old killed in a club (“He went to dance and they killed him” says the subtitle). I can’t let myself get hypnotized by this, though, as the line keeps moving forward. Occasionally, without explanation, people saying “perdon” come right through the line and go behind the opaque wall; this doesn’t seem to bother those in line. People wait with a patience unknown in the United States; I am grateful that I am not in Fila 1, as it seems not to have moved in the 20 minutes I have been waiting, even though it is listed as the line for handicapped people and pregnant women, neither of whom seem to be in attendance. 

I am happy to see that I am not the only one slightly bewildered by the process; near me, an older woman sits down in one of the “plazo fijo” chairs, waits for 15 minutes, and leaves. The older man at the head of our line keeps stepping forward, poking his head around the opaque wall, then returning. At some point, the sign changes for Caja 0, which isn’t mentioned in any of the lists of lines. The man at the head of Fila 1, which still hasn’t moved, looks around, shrugs, and heads behind the wall. He doesn’t come out, so it looks like he did the right thing. As I get closer to the front of the line, I fell the adrenaline surge that used to come with the approach of my turn in college speech class. I also realize that I seriously need to go to the bathroom, and I wonder if it is possible to leave the line and come back, and I wonder how far I would need to go to the nearest bathroom. 

I hold it all together, though, and after about 35 minutes I find myself at the caja. “I need to make a transference”, I say, and push my paper with the information through the slot. The teller asks if I have something that sounds like “cuy”, the word used in Ecuador and Peru for a guinea pig. Of course I don’t have a cuy, though the idea of returning with one is briefly amusing. I feel like I have heard the term before, enough to know that I don’t have one. He asks again how it can be that I don’t have a cuy. “I am not from here,” I say, “I only have  this,” pushing a copy of my passport through the slot. He looks at both pieces of paper, says “Give me a second,” and goes back to talk to an older man who is talking on a telephone. I hear the words for “foreigner” and “passport”, and see the older man sizing me up. I try to look aboveboard. The teller returns, telling me that I need to go to the chica in cubicle 4. “With the ticket and everything?” I ask, and he says, no, just go directly to her. And so I go past all the people sitting in the plazo fijo seats to the seat just outside cubicle 4.

The chica in cubicle 4 is young, pretty, and friendly as she talks to two guys in front of me. Their business seemingly concluded, they chat  pleasantly for a few minutes, before parting with the customary (among friends, at least) kiss on the cheek. “How can I help you?” she asks, and I say “I need to make a transfer, but I don’t have a cuy.” “Oh,” she says, “then you need to go to caja 4.” “I just was at caja 4,” I reply, “and he sent me to you.” At this point I wonder how the 2007 incarnation of me would have handled this. Would I be back in Fila 2, watching the ponderous advance of the caja/turno sign? “OK,” she says, and taking my papers, starts to insert data into the computer.

“Do you have your passport?”

“I have this copy.”

“You don’t have the original document?”

“Yes, at the house, but I always operate this way, with the copy,” I say, with false confidence. It seems to work.

“OK, that’s not important.” 

Soon she is stuck, and calls the woman from the adjacent cubicle over. Together after some explaining and looking at me, they figure things out. For a short time they are looking at Leticia’s passport, which is copied next to mine, until I redirect them. “This is me, over here,” I say, helpfully. At some point they need my address, which I provide, and not much later I have a piece of paper that says “Formulario de Alta de Persona Fisica” – as far as I can tell, this means “document of high of physical person” – but more importantly, it has my name, and also C.U.I.L followed by a number. Never mind that the passport number listed is missing a digit – it seems I now have a CUIL.

“You need to go to the woman who helped you before,” she says. “Really? The guy in Caja 4, with the line and all?” I ask. “No, go directly to Caja 4.” And so I go through the line, wondering if the people in Fila 2 all hate me, but also remembering the earlier indifference to line-jumpers. “I am back,” I say, “and I seem to have a CUIL.” 

The rest is relatively understandable and straightforward. I give him the money for the transfer, plus about $1 worth of fees, and he gives me a long ticket that I ask him to explain. Lastly, he notes that since the account is in a different bank, it will take 24 to 48 hours for the transfer to be processed. As I walk out past the lines, the guy who shruggingly went in for the sign that said caja 0 is back in Fila 1, looking unperturbed. I leave the bank triumphantly, saying farewell to the armed guard, 57 minutes after entering.

Back at home, I email the hotel to tell them the numbers and the news that it will take 24 to 48 hours to process. Only time will tell if all is fine.

 

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Pampa de Olaen

The Sierras Chicas run roughly south to north from Cordoba. Ruta 38 runs west of the sierras through La Falda and most of the towns in the Sierras Chicas. That is, either the ruta was made to go through the towns, or the towns have grown because they are along the ruta. Or, more likely, the ruta runs where a road (and the railroad) would naturally go, along the river and between the mountains to the east and the rolling hills to the west.

From above the cascadas de Olaen

From above the cascadas de Olaen

From below...

From below…

The ruta is also where all the buses go, and so during 2007-2008 we explored many of the towns to the south and the north. On the way back from Mina Clavero we took the bus up the west side of the sierras grandes, through Salsacate and Soto. In between, though, is a large blank spot on the map where there aren’t any paved roads. Just west of La Falda, there is the Pampa de Olaen. Yesterday we finally saw some of those blank spots.

Capilla de Santa Barbara, Pampa de Olaen

Capilla de Santa Barbara, Pampa de Olaen

The six of us hired two taxis (remises, actually, but that’s another story) to take us the 14 miles out to the Cascadas de Olaen, a 50 minute trip on dirt roads that cost about 22 dollars per taxi. There are rolling hills, isolated farms, and long stretches of nothing but fields of corn or grazing animals (we saw horses, cattle, sheep, llamas, donkeys, goats, and chickens).

Obligatory horse photo

Obligatory horse photo

On the pampa de Olaen

On the pampa de Olaen

The cascadas de Olaen are best described by the pictures, and after some exploring there (but not swimming, giving us a reason to return) we started back on foot, passing the Capilla de Santa Barbara, built in 1748. The views were wonderful all the way back, and at the gate where we met the main road, we turned right (and south) toward Cosquin. Ahead of us were the Sierras Chicas and views down to La Falda and the towns south of it.

Dining al fresco

Dining al fresco

The dirt road continued to drop, with almost zero chance to get lost – there were no other roads to take – and only one or two houses near the road until we reached the outskirts of Molinari. So many of our days here have been mercilessly sunny, with temperatures in the upper 90s, but yesterday was cloudy (we were hit by about 8 drops of rain) with a high around 80, a perfect day for walking. As in Paracas, about the time Zeke began to get tired, he found a plastic bottle and kicked it along the road uphill and down for a few miles, until he got overheated and had to take it easy. Anna needed it less, but was also helped along by a plastic bottle, making me think of the Tarahumara of Copper Canyon in Mexico, who run dozens of miles rolling hoops in front of them.

The magic energy of water bottle soccer

The magic energy of water bottle soccer

Reaching the ruta, we walked north for 10 minutes before finding a bus stop, and about 5 minutes later we were on the bus heading home. All told, a trip of 9 or 10 miles in 5 hours, including breaks and lunch along the side of the road, and a blank spot on the map filled in.

Anna and Louisa, heading east and downhill toward the ruta (and the sierras chicas)

Anna and Louisa, heading east and downhill toward the ruta (and the sierras chicas)

(Thanks to Leon for most of the photos.)

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