The road was long and winding, over the top of the Andes and then along the valley, we ended up in a village called Chicoana. This had been recommended to us by our hosts in Salta as being a nice pueblo to visit. Our guide book also highly rated a hostel complete with an English speaking host and a great restaurant in-house. It had been a very long drive and we found the (only) hostel listed in the guidebook, but it was closed
We popped into the local farmacia and the very nice pharmacist left his shop and walked us around the square and pointed out another hostel. This was closed and an old boy sitting in the shade opposite said something to us (not sure what) but in our experience, old boys sitting in the shade, have usually had too much of the Chicha - a homebrew alcoholic maize drink. We could not really make out his words except "chica", meaning girl, but it might have been chicha, meaning the drink??....... Deciding to take the initiative, we got closer and tried to tell him that we were only learning Spanish and could he speak slowly. He obliged and we learnt that he was saying that the girl who runs the hostel will be back soon as she had just gone to the shops. Result !
Chicoana is the
Argentine centre for Rodeo competitions. We did pass quite a few Gauchos on our way and the main square all of whom were dressed in the gaucho style of baggy trousers and flowing white or red shirts (think MC Hammer meets Spandau Ballet!). There also seemed to be lots of teenagers on horses around the square just crusing around and meeting up with friends. Makes a nice change from hanging around the shopping malls in so many other places around the world.
We have seen and heard the words "Remember Gauchito Gil" all over the place
. It is a story told by Gauchos, about a gaucho, called Gil, who was a kind of Argentine Robin Hood, and was killed by the army for being a subversive. He told the man that killed him that he was innocent and the man would find his son sick upon his return home. In order to cure him he had to invoke his name, his memory, and his son would be cured. The prediction he made came true. Once the man got home his son was indeed sick, the doctors could do nothing just as Gauchito Gil had predicted, and once he invoked his name he was instantly cured. All of the Gauchos are believers in his story and usually own or carry with them some kind of remembrance of Gauchito Gil. He is honored by the color red, because he wore a red handkerchief and beret (as do many of the gauchos we have seen). Many gauchos have their own stories of "proof" when they became believers. For example, when a foal had became sick, and on deaths door, the gaucho lit a red candle and invoked Gauchito Gil. The next day his foal was recovered and he has been a believer ever since.
All around Chicoana are tobacco fields and huge tin drying cabins. Apparently Golden Virginia grow tobacco here (but call the farm something different entirely).
The hostel was shared bathroom only, but there were only 2 other people staying and we had a private room
. We asked the host were we could eat, and she suggested a restaurant and gave directions (all in Spanish - I am impressing myself now!), which was down a residential road across the square. We decided to do some exploring to make sure we could find it for later (we did!) and popped out at 8.30pm ready rather ravenous after all the driving. We opened the tin door behind the house that had the restaurant sign and found ourselves in a garage-like room on the edge of a courtyard garden. The owner welcomed us profusely, offered us a drink and then phoned the cook to come in. We ended up having a lovely meal with some local wine, on our own in the restaurant, watching Bridget Jones (in English) on the TV. There was no written menu, so we did wonder what the bill might come to, but it was really good value. We finally left a couple of hours later, just as the owner was setting out the tables and chairs outside in readiness for diners to arrive. We might be learning to communicate, but we have yet to learn to go out for dinner at 11pm like the locals!
A couple of the Gaucho photos are 'borrowed' from the web as everytime we saw a gaucho here we did not have the camera with us.
Having made our decision to leave Ruta 40 we now had to find Ruta 52. Difficult as there were no sign posts in the town! Clive got out of the car to ask two police women the way and they directed us to the road immediately behind us. Strangely, in this very dusty windswept town these police women were very glamorous - complete with full make up! Having found the right road we ended up driving all day and following the "Train to the Clouds" route most of the way criss-crossing over the railway lines dozens of times.