(October 8-9 – written by Dave)
Our windstorm-forced rest in San Juan has been great. It feels even better knowing that we got here early so we are actually not “burning” future rest days just hanging out. The wind was so strong on Monday that the local officials called a “wind day” and closed schools across the entire state. Today is still windy but not as bad. Walking around the city yesterday was an exercise in covering one’s mouth and hoping not too much got in your eyes. It is hard to tell wind direction in a city, with all the buildings, but it seemed like it was coming from the south. We are planning on leaving town tomorrow morning and hope that the wind settles down further as per the forecast. It won’t be still, but a little less roaring will be nice.
We managed to get some chores done and relax a bit. Not having to run around and see every tourist site was actually nice. Yesterday we hit all the bike shops in town, hoping to find replacement brake pads. We think we have enough to get to the bottom but it depends on how much we use the brakes – having a mindset of “limit your brake use” is not really all that great on a bicycle, especially a loaded touring bicycle. The first two shops we checked didn’t have what we need but luck struck at the third one – they had some cheap Chinese knock off pads but they are compatible and will certainly work.
WARNING- Bike geek speak follows. For the record, we have Avid BB7 brakes. These brakes were one of the first cable activated disc brakes developed for mass use and were super popular maybe only 5 years ago. We chose them because of their popularity and low maintenance features. I’m not sure what the shops in South America carried but today, they mostly focus on Shimano brakes. We could have purchased any number of Shimano replacement pads on this trip – in almost any large town. Yet, we’ve been searching since Northern Peru and until today, found no BB7. I wish there was an easy way before we started this trip, or any trip to a strange far off land, to check what the local shops might carry. You can always carry spares but in some cases, you just can’t carry all that you’ll need and local purchases will be required. I’d pick Shimano for our next trip – their latest and most popular model perhaps.
We went food shopping and again found no peanut butter. We haven’t actually found PB since we crossed into Argentina. Instead here they have this sticky, caramel-flavoured substance that they call dulce de leche. It looks and tastes a little like caramel but it has leche (milk) in the name so we’re not sure how it is made. Whatever the recipe, it is really too sweat to be called a PB replacement. All the same, they sell it in many shapes and forms, and in great quantity – even 5kg containers. We’d be happier just finding proper PB – perhaps we’ll be lucky in Mendoza.
Other than chores, there is not much to see in San Juan. So I decided today to write about the roadside shrines that we’ve been seeing. In countries north of Argentina, the shrines are mostly specifically placed for the victims of accidents. We thought it was the same here in Argentina for the first couple days. That is until we started noticing certain sameness to the shrines here. We sort of put them into two buckets – the red flag shrines and the green water bottle shrines.
The red flag shrines are shrines to Gaucho Gil. Although Gaucho Gil is not an official saint in the Catholic church, he is revered throughout the country of Argentina and seems to be a defacto saint. As these stories go, there are many unknowns about Gaucho. We do know however, that his full name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Nuñez and that he is affectionately known as Gauchito Gil, or simply Gaucho. He was born in the 1840’s. He died January 8, 1878.
Gaucho was a deserter of the military who evaded capture for quite some time. During that time, he was a sort of “Robin Hood” figure, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. When he was eventually captured and sentenced to death, he was hung upside down from a tree. As the executioner was preparing to behead him, Gaucho said, “Don’t kill me – my pardon is coming. If you do kill me, your son will be stricken with a deadly illness, and the only way to save him will be to give my body a proper burial.”
As expected, the executioner proceeded with his task but, when he arrived home, he discovered that his son was deathly ill. Not knowing what to do, the executioner returned to the tree and properly buried Gaucho’s body. His son was miraculously cured and a legend was born. We’ve seen hundreds of Gaucho shrines so far – some are really fancy, some are virtual dumps.
The green bottle shrines are for Deolinda Correa. Popular legend holds that Deolinda’s husband was forcibly taken to join the military sometime around 1940. Deolinda, determined to find her husband, set off across the pampas with her infant child in her arms. Walking across the desert is never a great idea and unfortunately, she died not far from her home. As the legend goes, when she lay dying from thirst, she set her son to her breast and somehow miraculously he survived. Two days later, Deolinda’s body was discovered by gauchos driving cattle. They rescued the boy and raised him as their own. Many people believe Deolinda’s breast never dried out, despite her death – as with many legends, not everything makes sense…
Now, Argentineans build small altars along the roadway and leave bottles of water for Deolinda (now referred to as Difunta Correa, or Deceased Correa) in order to “calm her eternal thirst”. Sometimes the shrines have hundreds of bottles of water, all with the tops off so that Deolinda can drink (and generally making the bottles and water in them completely useless to any other travellers who might need a drink).
Pity the poor roadside land owner who doesn’t pick up his yard. It almost seems like Gaucho and Deolina shrines pop up wherever an odd bag of litter was left and once they get started, the piles of stuff seems to keep growing. I don’t stop at every shrine but I’m thinking I may actually get my Argentina license plate from one of them. I’ve found a couple of plates, but only the really old plates that have nothing more than numbers and letters, no mention of Argentina, like the new plates.
So tomorrow we leave San Juan and head towards Mendoza. It will take us two days to get there, unless I stop at too many shrines and dig around for license plates, then it will take longer. The wind is still scheduled to be a headwind, but not nearly as strong as it has been. We’ll just have to put our heads down and plough through it. It seems like a pretty good deal, two days of headwinds in exchange for a few days in Mendoza drinking Argentinean malbec.