Monday, 13 April 2015

A sad and strange place to be stranded in on a Sunday afternoon

I'm sure I have found myself in stranger places than Chilecito, a small, tired-looking cactus-dotted town in the dusty Argentine desert country of La Rioja. But I simply can't recall one.
I just spent an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon strolling the main square and side streets of Chilecito.
The square was close to deserted apart from a pair of neglected-looking ponies being offered as kids' rides. No takers.
There were a couple of ice creams stalls, one manned by a sad-eyed teenager girl with tattoos and a runny nose, a few cowering dogs and some families emerging after their Sunday siesta. Oh. And a couple of local morons driving around and around with Latino music blaring loudly from their beat-up vehicles.
Chilecito has the look of a film set for a Wild West movie; except for a handful of modern buildings it looks as if it hasn't changed for 50 years.
One of those modern buildings is the M.A.C. Royal Suites Chilecito - a totally out of place modern hotel with its own casino.

Bizarrely, the main door to the Howard Johnson-managed hotel (all mod cons, spa and free wifi) was locked when we arrived. And our group appeared to be the only guests. But perhaps that is no surprise when the asking price for a single room is apparently $US200 a night.
I suspect very few of the locals would earn anywhere near the cost of a room for the night for a month's worth of work.
The only time Chilecito has made the news is when a 12-year-old girl gave birth to twins - and when yet another Dakar Rally competitor ded in an accident outside town. 
So what am I doing here, you may well ask? 
I'm on a famil trip with Wines of Argentina but after a five-hour light plane ride that was hot and bumpy I demurred, rather rudely, I admit, when told the winery that was our evening destination was a three-hour round road trip away.
I hoped a walk through town would ease my headache, but it is still throbbing away. It just seems a depressing place, with signs demanding "justice" for some little girl posted mysteriously on power poles.
My guide book tells me that Chilecito is a town of history, art, culture and historic monuments. There is, apparently, a fascinating museum at an old mine cable car station, and the rocky outcrops overlooking the town are probably perfect for hiking and mountain biking. From my hotel window I can see a giant statue of Jesus Christ. 
I've tried some of the local wines from the La Riojana co-op, too, and they are very good.
Maybe I just hit Chilecito on the wrong day. Maybe I am just immune to its many charms. But either way I can't see myself rushing back.

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