On Tuesday I felt so ill, cold & aches, but not in the mood to carry my rucksack and catch a 6am bus to Tucuman. I fed my cold with some nice alfajores (cookie sandwich filled with, yes you´ve guessed it, dulce de leche, 16p). Arrived in Tucuman at 2pm and got a taxi to our hostel. Traffic was bad, so we got dropped off very quickly, only to discover that the hostel was now closed!!! We eventually found another hostel called Caminito, 90 pesos, 15 pounds, for a double room with kitchen, cable TV and bathroom. Bit more than we wanted to pay but the city was busy due to Independence Day the following day so we took it. The hostel also came with a very creepy guy called George who lived in the room next to us.
Tucuman is the largest city in northern Argentina. The city sits on the slopes of the Aconquija mountains and has many beautiful buildings surrounding it´s main square (Plaza Independencia).
On July 9, 1816 a congress gathered in Tucuman declared the independence from Spain, which did not officially recognise it until 1862. The meeting place of the congress, the House of Tucuman, has been reconstructed as a national monument. Due to this Independence day celebrations are particularly big in Tucuman and this year they started with fireworks at midnight on Tuesday 8th July. I was in bed feeling very ill, but they sounded good - typical hey!
On Wednesday I dragged myself up and we went out into the street to find lots of school children lining up along the street, waving the Argentinian flag. We discovered that the President of Argentina (Cristina Fernandez, since 10/12/07) was due to arrive soon. We went for a walk through the crowds and somehow managed to get ushered by a friendly policeman through some barriers to a prime position in front of the House of Tucuman, where the President would be coming to. While we were waiting out came the spanish phrase book to practise. This prompted a lovely argentinian lady, called Alejandra and her daughter Lourdes, to come and chat to us. She spoke very good english and told us that some of the crowd had been paid (100 pesos, 17 pounds) to come and support the President and that we should watch our belongings. She also said that not many people like the President because she only thinks about the rich and not the poor. It was great to get a locals point of view and an explanation of what was going on. When the President arrived she walked right past us and we got a good view of her and her plastic surgery! Alejandra was embarrassed because her Mum asked for a hug from the President. When it was time to say goodbye, Alejandra, gave us her contact details and said if we were ever in Tucuman again we could stay with her. Her friend also gave us her details in Buenos Aires.
The rest of the day we soaked up the atmosphere and walked around the centre. We visited Independence Square with the marble monument called La Libertad in the centre, saw Government House lit up and decorated with blue and white flags, saw Cathedral Church, San Francisco Church, La Merced & Santo Domingo Basilica. We also got to look inside the House of Tucuman when the President had gone.
Alejandra had recommended that we go to a restaurant called Una Nueva Estancia (parrilla/grill) but it was unfortunately closed so we went to one called La Leñita which was quite nice but a bit touristy.
On Thursday we caught the bus to Catamarca (San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca) which is surrounded by mountains. The place is not that great, again the hostel we wanted to stay at had closed down so we ended up having to get a cheap hotel room. I stayed in bed while Jem had a look round the town - best bit is the main square which has a nice church! We had quite a nice dinner at Los Troncos, apparently best parrilla in town!
Yesterday we got a very smelly bus to San Juan and stayed at Zonda Hostel. Again, not much going on in this modern city, which has a main square, a new cathedral and that´s about it!´ It´s surrounded by vineyards so we thought there would be more to do with wine but we were mistaken! We had dinner at Club Sirio Cibanes, recommended in the Lonely Planet. I had garlic chicken and Jem had milanesa (thin breaded steak with ham and cheese) with half a cold sprout - both meals were horrible! The only good thing was on the way home we listened to an amazing choir singing to a packed cathedral.
Today we got the bus to Mendoza, located in central Argentina in a region of foothills and high plains, on the eastern side of the Andes. It is also right in the middle of the country´s best vineyards (the region produces 70% of the country´s wine). The city is centred around Independence Square (Plaza Independencia).
We are so much happier here. We have a lovely room at Damajuana Hostel, Aristides Villanueva, which is surrounded by nice bars and restaurants. Earlier we had a great game of ping pong (Jem won) and then went for a beer at the Liverpool Pub which has lots of Beatles photos. Tonight we´re going for a meal to celebrate the end of my cold!!! Take care an lots of love & kisses xxxxx