Over the Moon

Following Nano’s advice, my host in Bariloche, my next stop would be the “Valle de la Luna” – or “Moon Valley – and the Talampaya. Two nature reserves, both classified by the UNESCO as world heritage sites.

So I left Mendoza. Lighter than I had arrived, as I would find out a few days later.

The best place to stay at if you want to visit both the “Valle de la Luna” and the Talampaya is a village called San Agustín del Valle Fertil. According to Fernando, one of the guys who picked me and other guests up at the bus terminal, the village doesn’t know robbery. It’s one of these places where you can still keep the door of the house open and the key of the car can be left inside the vehicle. Just as he was explaining this, I went close to losing all my belongings, as my backpack decided to take a leave from the minibus rooftop. Luckily, someone in the street warned the driver and brought it back.

The “Ischigualasto”, which was the name of my hostel, is run by Fernando and his two brothers, who do not only rent beds but also organise the excursions to the places I wanted to visit. Beside the hotel, they also all have their “regular” jobs. I remember Dario is a doctor. Not sure about the rest of them. Although Fernando is also a musician. Polyvalent people for sure. And very helpful.

“Ischigualasto”, by the way, is also the other name of the “Moon Valley” and means “Lifeless land”. Nothing much grows there but stones. Literally. The “cancha de bochas” is a field filled with stones which are almost perfectly round. No one has a good explanation as to how they were formed.

Cancha de bochas.
Cancha de bochas.

There are, however, two ways to explain why the site is most commonly referred to as “Moon Valley” rather than “Ischigualasto”. The first one is related with how it looks. One could easily believe to be on the Earth’s satellite. Our guide explained that when the U.S.A. managed to get Armstrong on there, a local journalist published a picture of himself at the Ischigualasto claiming “I too went to the Moon”.


"I too went to the Moon."
“I too went to the Moon.”

The second explanation is that, at full moon, the site gets a whole other dimension, leaving it even more magical than it already is at daylight. Night visits are organized five days a month: on full moon, two days before and two days after. Went I got in San Agustín, we were already passed full moon, so I haven’t been able to experience it. But I hope to be able to, one day or another.

Upon my arrival, I sympathized with Martina, a young lawyer from Buenos Aires, also traveling on her own. We went to the local supermarket, bought some food and cooked together. On the next day, we were off with Fernando and a couple of Argentinans from Mar del Plata to the Valle de la Luna.

The atmosphere in the car was very relaxed. We had some mates and talked about a lot of different things. Amongst others about how the indigenes of the region had always resisted the invasions. From the Spaniards centuries ago, which explained that, unlike the rest of Argentina, the locals mostly still had indian looks – they’re also called “pueblos originarios” or “original people”. And from a Canadian mining company today. The abundance of mineral resource in the mountains of the province of San Juan, like in many places in South America, is attracting foreign investments. But the mining activities often destroy the landscape and contaminate the environment. In the case of San Juan, two teachers made it their task to educate their fellow citizens and explain why it was important to oppose the extraction of the minerals. Until now, they have been successful in doing so and the mountains remain untouched.

Fernando was also kind enough to inform us that the entry price to both reserves was more expensive for foreigners than for Argentinians. But if a local would ask for me too, then I would be able to save a few pesos. Martina therefore accepted to be my spokesperson at the ticket office, which I was quite thankful for.

The site, which needs to be visited by car, is absolutely stunning. Apart from the surprising landscape, its value also lays, in the eyes of the UNESCO, in the fact that it is one of the few witnesses of the triasic area, which is the area previous to the jurassic.

In the afternoon, we went for a trekking in a canyon called “El Chiflón”. But we had to do it quickly, because the couple from Mar del Plata had to take a bus at 17.00 and it was already 14.00. So we did in less than 2 hours and 45 minutes a tour that normally takes up to 3 hours 1/2. Climbing rocks and fighting the lack of oygen to take astonishing views of the surroundings. We all felt quite proud of our achievement. Until we heard that our 19 year old guide did this up to three times a day while smoking a pack of cigarettes in the same amount of time. Piece of cake.

“El Chiflón” is where I visited my first “Garganta del Diablo” or “Devil’s throat”. The beginning of a series as it is a popular name for geological formations. Have you noticed how often the devil comes back in my stories? I guess I should discuss this with my shrink…

On the following day, we went to the Talampaya. Also a canyon. But with red soil and less vegetation than the Chiflón. There we could observe some ancient inscriptions in big chuncks of stone that fell off the canyon thousands, if not millions, of years ago.

The whole excursion, which, as for the Valle de la Luna, needed to be motorised, was also very impressive but I think I was still under the impression of what I had seen the day before and I didn’t get the same “wow” effect. You get easily spoiled in South America. Been there, done that.


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