Motorbikes and scooters are very popular in Chilecito, and many are driven by women. This seems to bring up a new problem. We saw a woman driving a motorcycle with one hand while holding a sleeping infant in the other. We saw a man driving a motorcycle with a small child behind him, then the mom, who was holding the folded-up baby stroller. Do any of these people wear helmets? No. This is difficult to watch–so dangerous.

1/30 Details: Breakfast was the usual, bread, (good) jam and manjar blanco, coffee with milk, also good, but no fruit. We met Augustina’s mom Vicki, the owner, and she gave us directions to all the sights in Chilecito and Famatina. We left for the bodega de vinos La Riojana, where we found this was the outlet store and no tours were scheduled. We could call in the afternoon and find out whether there would be a 3 pm tour. From there we went south toward Miranda, to check and see whether it was really true that our route to Villa Union was closed. Too true, it is closed. Good news for the region, the road is being paved—it was dirt. Bad news for us. On the way back, we wove through Sañogasta, an old town, and came out by the TauroWasi gift shop, where we bought dried figs and a small basket. Back to Chilecito, we went to the main square where we found a place that could put a new chip in my phone for 15 Ar pesos, and we loaded 40 pesos of time. From here we went to Rancho de Fierrito, restaurant that was recommended to us by Contador Miranda.

When we met Sr. Miranda, we were on the plaza by the Banco de la Nacion looking for an ATM. We asked if he knew where there was a supermarket and he answered, “Senores, you are in Chilecito, province of La Rioja.” (i.e., Where do you think you are?). He then directed us to a mini market and when we asked for a recommendation for dining, he suggested Rancho de Fierrito.

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The place is old timey, groups of men eating lunch, also some families. Jonathan had bife de chorizo, a big piece of meat. I had Puchero de pollo. This turns out to be boiled chicken, potato, squash, tomato (raw), chard (cooked), hard boiled egg and thigh/leg of chicken. If it is cooked in a fragrant broth, none of that arrives on the plate. However, we’d been offered some Roquefort spread that went well on everything, so the lunch was a success.
After lunch we went back to the Posada del Sendero and had a nap. After that, we set out for Famatina, recommended by Vicki. We stopped at an archaeological site Cayapa, dated 1592, 12 km north of the ovalo at the north end of Chilecito. It’s several km off the road, but consists of several adobe ruins, and a lot of slag.

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Apparently this was an early mining site. It was interesting to walk around. We found glass in the slag, and some sherds, though not the quantity you might expect for a living area. Leaving the site, we saw an animal that Jonathan said looked like a rabbit, but I saw a back that looked like German shepherd. Turns out it’s a Patagonian mara.

From the site, we went on to Famatina, where not much was going on. We continued through town until we found the Finca Huayrapuco, where they grow and process walnuts. They make honey and lots of kinds of jam, and have extensive farm lands that you can walk around, go horseback riding, have tea, and even see the setup for cracking and grading walnuts. The woman there claimed all this is done by hand, but I had a hard time believing that hand cracked and graded walnuts could be a business. Walnut shells are used for mulch over the grounds, when you look down, you might notice that everything underfoot is walnut shell.

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It’s a lovely setting, so it was worth the visit. The recreated bedroom had the wildest Art Nouveau iron bedstead I’ve ever seen.

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We headed back to Chilecito, sat in the yard at Posada del Sendero for wine, cheese, salami, bread and olives, then retreated to our room with A/C for the evening.
The work on the highway makes our day tomorrow longer, but makes us drive by Ischigualasto, the Valley of the Moon rock formations.