Saturday, January 7, 2012

San Juan, Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park, Argentina 22-30 Dec 2011

A bit about San Juan, San Juan was severely damaged by a powerful earthquake in 1944. It killed 10,000 people and left half the town's population homeless. After the disaster of 1944, the city was reconstructed on concentric boulevards, with straight, well-lit, tree-lined avenues and modern housing. It has mostly lost its colonial aspect, but retains an open, sunny Mediterranean look. Today it is a modern city with wide streets and well drawn avenues with wide sidewalks and vegetation of different species of trees irrigated by canals, from which it derives its nickname oasis town.

It has been 6 months that we have last met in Mexico, Juan was travelling in Mexico and Elena and I met him while travelling from San Cristobal to Palenque. We were then stuck together for the rest of our trips. Ohh..We also met Robin the Dutch hunk at Palenque and we spent great time together at Tulum and Cancun. Juan invited us to his house for Christmas, Elena made it eventually but Robin didn’t make it. So the 4 musketeers became 3. I was really looking forward to be in San Juan. I was looking forward for the reunion and to speak to Juan in Spanish. J

We arrived 8 plus in the morning and Juan picked us up. Juan has a beautiful apartment with patio at the back.  It was 10 minutes walk from the terminal and 20 minutes from town. As Juan needs to work the last day of 2011, Elena and I had a quick stroll in town and found out that everything close at 12:30noon. All shops open from 8am to 12:30noon and reopen from 5:30pm to 9:30pm. We went to the tourist information to pick up a map and info about what to do in San Juan then in the afternoon, the town is dead, nothing is open and no one was on the street. It comes alive after 6pm when the shops are reopened. The sun set around 9pm here in summer so people have time to go out. With this hot weather, the best thing to do in the afternoon is stay in the house, have a siesta or soaks in a swimming pool. I thought I could speak Spanish pretty well and understand them until I met Juan, suddenly it seems like I didn’t know anything, I could hardly understand him. :-( I was disappointed and Juan too, so Elena again needs to be our interpreter. It is the way Argentinean speaks with their slang and kind of singing that makes it difficult for me to understand, especially in San Juan they sing more…:-)

On the 23rd Dec, Juan is off work till after New Year. Today, we went wine tasting. J San Juan is surrounded with grape farms of over 116,000 acres, the second largest producer in Argentina and Argentina wine industry is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. We visited 2 vineries (Bodega in Spanish) and a Champaign bodega. They were all free! We were explained the method of how vine is process from harvesting to bottled. We could not see the process because it is not harvesting season yet. The harvesting season is in March and April. We were able to taste the vine each bodega produced. Some were good some was just ok. I especially like the dessert wine which was sweet. End of the day we bought 2 bottle of wine and 2 bottle of Champaign, all for less than $40. They are really cheap as compared to Malaysia and Singapore, price is around $5 for a bottle of wine and $10 for a bottle of Champaign. How can we not drink wine every day? :-)
On the 24th Dec, we went to visit the nearby Ullum Dam located 18km from the city. Since very little rain falls in the region, the San Juan River has been dammed to provide a regular source of water to the city. The resulting reservoir is Quebrada de Ullum Dam. The dam also provides electrical power to the region.
We celebrated Christmas Eve with Juan’s family. Here in Argentina, dinner starts only after 10pm. Sleep not earlier than 1am. It was hard for me to adjust and my body was obviously suffering from this changed of eating habit. Juan’s mother and aunt prepared a lot of food for dinner, we had our Christmas dinner in the garden of their house. The weather was cold at night. Even though there was no snow we were all wearing our jacket. We had empanada, apple and nuts salad, beef, rolls, eggs salad, dulce leche cake, wines and champaign. It was my first time tasting a cake that was made with content of meat, it tasted salty. I find it weird. J At midnight, fireworks light up the sky, after dinner we left for party at a club. There were 2 bands playing that night but both are playing cumbia music.  We lasted till 6am in the morning, I was physically there but mentally asleep by then. :-)

We only slept for 4 hours because we had to leave at 11am for a 3D2N trip to Ischigualasto or Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park. Juan’s friend Natali proposed to drive her car, it was 3 hours drive from San Juan to Valle Fertil, a small town closest to the park with accommodation. I slept a bit on the way but still exhausted, we arrived around 2:30pm, found a place to have lunch and then dive into our bed for a 3 hours siesta. :-) After a good recovery, we finally have energy to enjoy the town. We went to the nearby dam for a short walk and enjoy some Mate by the lake.

Valle Pintado

On the 26th Dec, we visited both Valle de la Luna and Talampaya Park. It was about 1 hour drive from Valle Fertil to Valle de la Luna. At Valle de la Luna, there are magnificent stone formation carved by wind and erosion of water from thousands of years. The park circuit was around 40km, we could drive our car into the circuit, and it took around 3 hours. We have a guide at each stop who gave us explanation of the formation. First stop was The Worm formation, second stop was the Valle Pintado where the valley was formed by layer of rocks and sandy clay in different colors. Next was The Sphinx formation and field of balls. After is the magnificent Submarine formation and finally the giant mushroom.

We went on to Talampaya Park which was another 1.5 hours drive from Valle de la Luna. At Talampaya, we had to take the park transport. It was more expensive as compared to Valle de la Luna but it was way more beautiful and magnificent. We paid for the cheapest transport with the combi. There were just 4 of us so we had the park all for ourselves. At the entrance of the park, there was a Dinosaurs park, this is because dinosaurs lived here millions of years ago, and fossils have been found here. In the park, there were rock formations with walls up to 143 meters high at one point, there was a place which was named The Gothic Cathedral. Really stunning! There were also remains of indigenous peoples' settlements, such as the petro glyphs of the Puerta del Cañón and a beautiful botanical garden. Last stop was the rock formation of the Monk.

We spent one more night at Valle Fertil and drove back on the 27th Dec. Elena left on the 28th Dec. Left just Juan and me, as we could not communicate well in Spanish, he either use Google Translate or bring me to his friends who can speak a bit of English. But Juan is a good actor, I was always surprised by his sudden act from certain scene in a movie. He is the most considerate guy I ever met. :-)

We had to make plans for New Year, first he wanted to bring me to Rodeo, a place with lake and beach but we couldn’t get our transport there, everything was fully booked. Then I suggested going Mendoza, and he found his friend to host us in Mendoza. That was just perfect! On the 30th Dec, we took a bus to Mendoza, it was hard for me to leave but luckily Juan was coming with me.
Juan’s house
Fatme Hostel in Valle Fertil – A165 for quad share room with attached toilet

Petrol for trip to Valle Fertil, Valle de la Luna and Tulampaya – A94
Bus from San Juan to Mendoza – A60
Bus from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile -A190

Valle de la Luna Park - A70
Tulampaya Park Entrance fee – A40
Tulampaya Park Canon  Tour with combi – A95

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