10 September 2008

Vacation report: First day in Chilecito

We arrived at Chilecito on Saturday, August 30, mid-morning. The trip from Rosario lasts about 14 hours, not the least because it goes out of the straight path to reach Córdoba City and stops in two dozen little towns on the way. Although the punctuality was exceptional and the travel was fortunately uneventful, I'd like to vent my carefully preserved rancour at the General Urquiza bus company, which gave us no on-board dinner and no breakfast — a major crime if you ask me.

You get to Chilecito and the bus leaves you on the road by the new terminal station. It's not far from the city center but unless you're a backpacker you don't want to drag your stuff ten long blocks, so we took a taxi. We found our hostel quickly enough, left our bags there, went for breakfast, then back to the hostel for a bath, and then to the Cablerail Museum.

Cablecarril al cerro

The Famatina range west of Chilecito is full of valuable mineral ores, so back in the early 20th century a German company built a system of aerial cables to transport rocks from the mine up in the mountains (at some 4,600 m ASL) to the processing facilities in Chilecito (at 1,100 m ASL). The rails and the supporting towers are still in place and, according to the guide, it might still work if the parts that have been stolen were replaced (and maybe oiled a bit). The Museum is Station No. 1 of the Cablerail, its terminus, and it harbours a heterogeneous collection of tools, blueprints in German, a payroll, parts of the mineral wagons, and rust.

Junto al cactus We learned that the Famatina is being open for exploitation of its gold ore by the provincial governor, one of whose campaign promises was that he'd never allow exploitation of the Famatina. Gold extraction requires cyanide, and the snow on top of the Famatina is Chilecito's almost single source of water. Environmentalists don't know if the cyanide process is safe and they're up in arms against the government.

After the museum, we took a nap and then went out again, wandering, taking in the ochre-pink of walls, the blossoming lapachos, the stillness of siesta time. Carrying a thermos for mate, we went to see a white statue of a Christ on a hill and took pictures of ourselves beside a couple of tall cacti, exactly as tourist couples are supposed to do.

And those were the morning and the afternoon of the first day.

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