Jujuy (in the Andean northwest)
Jul 13, 2004
|On July 13, we flew to the city of Jujuy (pronounced hoo-hooy) in the northwest of Argentina (the capital of Jujuy province). We chose to spend our time in Argentina in the Andean northwest based on Facundo's recommendation (and also since Patagonia is very snowy this time of year). Facundo also warned us to book ahead because July is when the entire country goes on winter holidays. But we weren't sure what we wanted to do in the northwest, or how we wanted to do it (i.e. rental car or tour), so we put off booking anything until we had returned to Buenos Aires from Uruguay. That meant a lot of time spent on the phone, because most hotels were already fully booked for the entire month. However, we were able to find a room in Jujuy eventually, and we thought we could work the rest out when we got there. We originally thought we'd take the bus to the northwest, but considering that the bus takes 24 hours to Jujuy, and that air travel is not that expensive (about $100 in this case), we decided to fly to Jujuy, travel through to Tucumán and take the bus back to Buenos Aires from there (which would be 16 hours on the bus).
We arrived in Jujuy around 5 or 6pm, and went to our hotel to check-in. Nope, no reservation for Weber, and we are booked solid for the week, they told us. But we called and made a reservation, we insisted, but they had no record of the call, so it was no use. However, the clerk said to wait and he would call to try to get us a room somewhere else. So he did some calling around, and finally found us a room at a motor lodge in the suburbs. He called us a taxi, and off we went. We arrived at the motor lodge to find that the rooms there were very old, dark, dirty, and worst of all, unheated. It was miserable, and they were booked for the next night anyway. We had a heated (pardon the pun) discussion about what to do next - go back to Buenos Aires?? We decided that the next day we would ask the tourist office to help us find accommodation in Jujuy, and if that failed, we would head out to the more remote towns that were less likely to be fully booked.
The next morning we left the motor lodge as early as possible and headed to the tourist office. The staff were very friendly and eager to help, but their advice to us was 'All the hotels in Jujuy are booked now.' So then we asked about tours leaving the city, and they directed us to a travel agency in the center of town. At the travel agency, we asked for help with accommodation. They chastised us for not booking ahead, and we said that we had, but that our reservation had been lost. The travel agent explained that in the high season, you have to pay in advance or else they will not keep your reservation for you. We said that we would have paid in advance if we had known. She replied that we should have known because "it is the same in your country." We asked, "What are you talking about?" and she said "I know that in your country you have to pay in advance for any accommodation." We disputed this statement but she said, "I know it is true, I lived in Los Angeles for 2 years." To which Ted replied, pointing at me, "Well she lived there for 3 years and she knows it is not true!" To calm things down, I said "Well, anyway, we would be happy to pay in advance, but we did not know we were supposed to." So the travel agent got on the phone and found us a room at a bed and breakfast in the suburbs. She then tried to talk us into booking some tours with them, but they were very expensive and we hadn't ruled out renting a car yet, so we didn't.
We took a taxi to the B&B, called Hosteria Pascana, which turned out to be a delightful place run by a very welcoming and friendly woman named Maria. She has one bedroom with bath in the basement (which we occupied) and another guest house in the back which can accommodate a family of 4 or 5 people. Our room was very comfortable - the bed had a large duvet/comforter and about 6 or 7 pillows, and the room had 2 heaters (hooray!). The house also has a very nice view of the mountains, and the price was the same as the crappy motor lodge. Since Maria doesn't speak English, and our Castellano (i.e. South American Spanish, pronounced sort of like cas-teh-jshah-no) is marginal, Maria called her English-speaking neighbor, Raquel, over to translate. Raquel chatted with us a bit, and offered to give us an informal afternoon tour of the area around Jujuy for 50 pesos (US$17). We decided that sounded reasonable and agreed to go with her after lunch. Then we headed off to the neighborhood locotorio (a type of shop full of phone booths where you pay to make local or long-distance calls, without the difficulty of traffic noise) to confirm the other reservations we had made in the province.
One of the places we called was to a hostel in Yavi (pronounced jsha-vee), a small town near the border with Bolivia. We were hoping to spend the night there the next day (July 15). We also wanted to go to Monumento Natural Laguna de los Pozuelos, a lake in the high desert near Bolivia that had been recommended to us by Facundo and Laura, but we weren't sure how to get there as it is somewhat off the beaten path. We checked into renting a car, but we had waited too long and all that was left were 4-wheel drive vehicles costing over 350 pesos per day (US$117). As we confirmed our hostel reservation in Yavi, we asked them if they knew of any tours or guides that went to los Pozuelos. They gave us the phone number for an agency in the small town of Humahuaca (I still can't say this town name right, but Ted's advice is to say 'oo-ma-wa-ca' - but even that is not exactly correct). When we called the agency, they offered to take both of us to los Pozuelos from Humahuaca, dropping us off at the hostel in Yavi afterwards, for 480 pesos (US$160). Still a little pricy, but considering that we would need two days of a rental car (including gas) to do the trip, we decided to take the agency's offer.
Heading back to the B&B, satisfied that at least the next couple of days were planned out, we found Raquel waiting for us with her father. She explained that after telling her father about taking us around Jujuy for the afternoon, that he felt that 50 pesos was far too little money and that she deserved at least 100 pesos. They pressured us to commit to the inflated price, saying "That is not very much for you, considering the exchange rate" (we would hear this excuse several times on our trip). Ted and I talked about it in private for a bit, but remembering that the travel agency in Jujuy had tried to book us on a full-day tour for only 80 pesos, we told Raquel that 100 pesos was too much and so we would not be going on the tour (she didn't offer to negotiate the price any).
Earlier, we had agreed to have Maria prepare lunch and dinner for us for a small additional fee (about US$3 per meal). As we sat down to eat lunch, she asked us what time Raquel would be picking us up. We explained that she had risen the price to 100 pesos, and that it was too expensive for us, so we weren't going (we were also starting to notice that we didn't need Raquel to translate for us!) Maria agreed that 100 pesos was an outrageous price to ask for a half-day tour. She asked us if we would still be interested in going, if she could find us another English-speaking guide for 50 pesos. We said "Claro" ('of course'), so Maria arranged for her friend Monica to show us around instead.
Monica had learned English in Rhode Island as a high-school exchange student, and currently owns a cyber cafe in central Jujuy. She is also a published novelist, although she said it doesn't pay the bills. Her first novel is set in this northwestern area of Argentina (but in the rural parts), and the main character is a girl with an abusive father who can practice magic. Monica said that the father is a bastard to everyone, but that he dies in the end. She currently writing the sequel, and has also published short stories and poetry. Monica drove us to some mountain lakes and hot springs outside of Jujuy, and also showed us around central Jujuy. The most beautiful buildings of Jujuy are clustered around the Plaza Belgrano, including the Cathedral, built in 1763. A large crafts market is located inside the Cathedral courtyard, packed with tourists buying souvenirs. I wondered to myself what Jesus would make of that... When we had been visiting the lakes, Monica mentioned that there had been strong hot and dry winds the day of our arrival in Jujuy. Indeed we had noticed that there was quite a bit of turbulence during our flight, and Maria had been busy sweeping dust off the patio at her Hosteleria. These winds come off of the Andes, in the same way that the hot/dry Santa Ana winds of southern California come out of the Transverse Ranges. Monica, who was born and raised in Jujuy, aslo mentioned that weather patterns are very different now than when she was a child. She said that the rainy season used to be during January to March, but that now the rains start in October, and by January or February it is very dry again. Ted and I both thought that was a shocking difference. Later, Monica took us to a small archeological museum overlooking the city, where we also watched the sunset.
Back at the Hosteria Pascana that evening, we chit-chatted with Maria who was happy to help us improve our Castellano-speaking skills. It was on this day that I suddenly noticed that I was understanding Spanish a lot better - Ted thought it was due to the immersion of being in a Spanish-speaking country. We also made a reservation (paying in advance) to stay at the Hosteria again when we returned from Yavi. As we crawled into bed, we made sure to turn both heaters up to full blast, a semi-conscious effort to make up for the previous night in the cold motor lodge.
-Written by Karen