Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Tucuman, Argentina?

Sometimes you really feel like you've drifted into a different dimension in transit. So it was with my day in Tucuman. The only reason I went there was to break up the trip from Mendoza to Salta (though it was still 14 disorienting hours overnight on the bus). I knew nothing about it, except that Martin Santillan, who worked in the Albert Hotel in London (he was "loud Martin" as opposed to "tall Martin", who was from Mar del Plata) was from there. Lonely Planet said it was the centre of a big rice and sugar-growing area, and had a hot climate ("visitors in the summer months may find the heat very oppressive"). It was also supposed to be rich in colonial history, peppered with orange trees, and one could still see the occasional horse-drawn cart wending its way through the streets. Sounded quaint.

Imagine my puzzlement, then, when the bus left the highway after 14 hours travel and two hours unexplained delay, to wend its way past faded, peeling buildings through crumbling streets, under deathly leaden skies starting to release big cold drops of rain. The big sign over the bus terminal did say "TUCUMAN", so I was assured I hadn't got on the wrong bus in Mendoza, at least not in this dimension. The largely open-air bus terminal did indeed give indications of a warm climate, but there was none of it in evidence as the skies began to open shortly after I got off the bus.

The streets appeared to conform to the map in my LP, and the recommended hotel even existed. But there was no sign of colonial architecture, orange trees or anything resembling sun in the grey, drab streets. Exhausted from the long trip and a big night out in Mendoza previous to leaving, I crashed in my hotel bed and listened to the rain pelting down onto the incongruous airy balconies.

By later afternoon I was awake and desperately hungry, so I went out looking for something to eat. The town was if abandoned even by ghosts, and the rain was still pouring down in cold waves. It reminded me of nothing more than some of the less attractive parts of Christchurch in winter. I had rediscovered siesta when in Mendoza (in South America, unique to Chile and Argentina outside the capitals) but there were still plenty of things open from 2:00 to 5:00. In Tucuman, however, the streets were completely deserted, and I looked in vain for something to eat. Eventually, near the main square, with its few colonial buildings emerging through the mist, I found what appeared to be a comedor, a few tables and chairs inside a bare cavernous space, with one couple huddled together over a bottle of beer. After some persuasion, the elderly woman there admitted that yes, she had some empanadas, and 15 minutes later I managed to assuage some of my hunger.

Later I found an internet cafe where the pretty girl working at the counter wished me "suerte" as I left. Evening had arrived, shops were opening, and there were some people in the streets. The rain had stopped, and orange trees had appeared in the plaza, but there was still a chilly breeze blowing. I found an Italian restuarant, where I gorged myself on pizza, then went back to the hotel to crash once more. A couple of hours later I felt something biting me. Mosquitos!! They had also been brought over from the steamy, subtropical Tucuman dimension. I smeared myself with repellent and went back to sleep to be plagued by vivid, guilt-wracked dreams for the rest of the night.

The next morning the sky was clear, the sun was bright, and I was off to Salta. "I thought this place was supposed to hot" I said to the taxi driver on the way to the bus station. "It is" he replied. "Then what was yesterday about" I wanted to know. "I don't know" he frowned. "It was strange...unstable, very unstable" he muttered. I don't know whether he meant the weather, or the fabric of the space-time continuum.

As the bus drove out to meet the highway to Salta, we passed plenty of orange trees. Just at the turn-off, there was even a horse-drawn cart.

As a postscript, I note from checking on the internet, that Tucuman has spent most of this afternoon and evening hovering around the 34 degrees Celcius mark.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I once spent 12 hours in Tucuman. Perhaps not quite the armpit of Argentina -- that honor surely belongs to the border 'town' with Bolivia (La Quiaca or is it Villazon?), nevertheless, Tucuman deserves an honorable mention for its drab and depressing streets. I think the Lonely Planet writer was dropping acid when he or she visited there. And I do seem to remember it was cold and raining when I was there too.

-- Cecilia