Just outside of San Juan there is a monument/hill for Difunta Correa. Our first encounter with Difunta Correa had been slightly disturbing. We were driving from BA to Mendoza (our first leg of the gypsy train) and had pulled into a service station. There was a small building with a sign outside baring the words `Difunta Correa' accompanied by a picture of a dead woman with a baby breastfeeding on her. We left feeling slightly disturbed and highly confused.
On this leg of our gypsy train journey we discovered that Difunta Correa was actually a woman who had been walking through the desert to help her sick husband, but had died on the journey after her supplies had run out. She was found dead several days later, but her child was found alive, feeding from her breast (more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Difunta_Correa). We found all this out as a few days into our drive we stopped at the site that she has supposedly come to rest. We were expecting a smallish shrine, possibly surrounded by some plastic bottles filled with water (to quench her thirst during her journey). None of us expected the mountainous shrine we came across, ordained with mini shrines saying `Gracias Difunta Correa`, peoples number plates and random car parts. The hill was stacked with hoards of people who had made the pilgrimage to pay respects and thanks to Correa and stroke her semi-clad, breast feeding statue. I´m not going to lie, the whole thing kinda weirded us out. However, we made sure to buy a `Gracias Difunta Correa para protecta mi moto` ribbon to tie on the bus, just in case.
The next few days of our gypsy train adventures led us to Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (http://www.ischigualasto.org/) a national park in Valle de la Luna (moon valley) - so called because of its hectic moon-like landscape. Some of the oldest dinosaur fossils have been found in this park and were available for display in a tiny museum on the property. Of course with us being in Argentina where doing stuff revolving around exercise is unheard of - refer to rant further down - the only way to view the park was to to a guided driving tour where they stop you at designated picture points along the way and give us lots of information that we don´t understand (due to not speaking spanish). The landscape was very beautiful and is definitely a must see if you´re in the area.
During our time on the gypsy train we have come to two conclusions about people from Argentina.
1) They don´t do outdoors well
and 2) they have a weird obsession with light.
Over the last few weeks we have visited many national parks. The majority of which will have driving tours as their main attraction, or a bus shuttling you to the designated photograph points within the park. To do hiking, you HAVE to have a guide, and it`s highly expensive. We decided not to pay for a tour and go hiking up some mountains by ourselves in Tafi del Valle. We enquired about hiking options at the tourist office - where the bemused man said to us...`But you´ll have to walk quite a lot`... I think somehow they miss the point of hiking.
To further back up point one is pont 2. Argentinians have a weird obsession with lights, especially in regards to camping. When enquiring if it is ok if we camp for the night in a park or other public space we often were told, `Oh, its ok, but there isn´t any lights there, and it will be dark soon`. This is especially funny when we`re looking to camp on the side of the road. It seems trivial but its hilarious how much it happens.
The guy at the tourism office wasn´t lying when he said wd have to walk quite a lot. We`re not sure if we climbed the mountain we`d asked about, as most directions we received seem to be dodgy at best - as if people would rather give us wrong directions rather than none at all. Regardless we found ourselves at the bottom of a sting of mountains, all of which were pretty much straight up, and none had a trail. After surveying the area, we decided which mountain looked the least suicidal and began our ascent. When we got to what we thought was the top, we discovered the peak was at least another 30 minutes hike - or so we thought. This deceptive mountain business continued for the next 2.5 hours, every time we`d reach a goal, a higher peak would come into sight.
All in all our `leisurely` mountain hike took us 4 hours up and 2.5 hours down. On the decent we were racing the clouds, that were rolling in around us. It was very beautiful to watch, but it also made it very hard to remember how to get back to the bus.
At the bottom we all collapsed into the bus while Alex drove us to the camp site. I don`t think any of us have been so happy for a hot shower.