Sunday, March 18, 2007

San Juan and Barreal

From Mendoza we headed up to San Juan en route to Barreal. We originally wanted to go straight to Barreal from Mendoza but there didn´t seem to be a way without hiring a car, which was too expensive, thankfully in the end San Juan turned out to be cool so it worked out for the best. We arrived some time in the afternoon, which is annoying in Argentina since everything closes between about 1pm and 5 for a siesta! However, we wandered out in search of lunch and ended up at the 'Syrian Lebanese' social club; a real touch of the middle east with mosaic tiled walls, high ceilings supported by arched columns and the best coffee we've had in Argentina! The waiters were decendents of Syrian or Lebanese immigrants, and the clientele looked not unlike the guys you see sitting around in the kebab houses along the Edgware road smoking on Hookers.

After lunch we continued our stroll through the town to a park on the far side, but there wasn't a whole lot to see and the dinosaur museum was closed. That evening we sat and watched 'Snakes on a Plane', which is very silly but kept us ammused none the less.

The following morning we had to get up early to catch the 8am bus to Barreal, which took us on a five hour journey along winding roads into the valleys of the Andes. According to the lonely planet Barreal offered the 'most beautiful town in Argentina'and 'dreamy laziness' as we were to stroll along the backstreets, so we had high hopes. Thankfully it didn't let us down in the slightest, being indeed beautiful and wonderfully relaxed. We had a small cabin all of our own to stay in with pear and apple trees on the front porch, and being a little out of the town it was very peaceful. Now we wished we had a little more time here.
From Barreal

Other than dreamy laziness the other things Barreal is known for is stargazing and land yachting, the latter of which I was very keen to have a go at. To this aim we got in touch with Don Toro and after a second morning of laziness found ourselves in a beaten up old Jeep heading out in search of wind with two land yachts on the trailer behind. He took us to a vast dried up lake of cracked white earth, too poisonous for anything to grow. When we came to a halt about halfway along it´s 12km length there wasn´t a breath of wind, but Don Toro had been doing this for 30 years, and, pointing to some gathering dust in the distance, ensured us that it was indeed going to be windy. No sooner had we taken one of the buggies of the trailer and started to assemble the mast than the wind began to lift, and continued to do so until you had to brace yourself against it to stand firm. By this point we were enjoying the exhilaration of flying over the land with nothing but the wind and the humming of the wheels filling the air. Woo hoooooo.
From Barreal

Upon returning to the Jeep I found Leah talking to a couple from Buenos Aires who who had been to see the nearby observatory and had come down to see what we were up to. There names were Josefina and Guido. We got chatting and, seeing there enthusiasm, offered them a ride with Don Toro on his crazy wind-car! Later, back at the Cabins, we came across them again and it turned out they were to be staying in one also. Furthermore they invited us to dinner with them and we spent the evening outside their cabin eating, you guessed it, a barbecue and drinking local wine which I bought cheaply from the charming and slightly eccentric manager of the cabin complex, Leonor.

That night we had to catch the 4am bus back to San Juan and then the 10:30 bus up to La Rioja. The first bus was hot and smelly, making the five hour journey pretty arduous. We tried to sleep but the windy roads and seemingly never ending stops to pick up passengers (at which point all the lights would come on) made it pretty difficult. I tried to keep the dreamy laziness of Barreal in my head.....After a brief stop in San Juan, in which we consumed the now customary coffee and Croissants, we got on the second bus to La Rioja and at about 5pm alighted stiff, smelly and hungry to the run down bus terminal.

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