Part 4: Alta Gracia, AR


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The Trip

We drove our newly rented mini-car from Cordoba to Alta Gracia.  We only knew what the guide books told us, but even so we were a tad underwhelmed.  Kathleen worked while we were driving and found an acceptable domicile for the night.  After an interesting dinner of "chivito" (baby goat) we retired to the B&B for the night.  This B&B was really serious about security and they had roll-up steel shutters on all the windows.  Ours was down and as a consequence blocked the sunlight and we grossly overslept the following morning.  After we broke camp, we headed toward Villa General Belgrano, a seasonal, German-themed tourist village in the mountains.

The photos below are what we saw.

Despite being really serious about physical security, the tower is not a gun emplacement, but rather a water tower.  Apparently, the only way to insure your water pressure here is to supply your own.  Water weighs a lot, so the tower is beefy.  This B&B had 4 separate structures with a 5th under construction.  Despite the extensive facilities, Kathleen and I were the only patrons this night.

The place was more than adequate, but we could have benefited from a table and some chairs.  Above, Kathleen crashes after a dip in the pool.

The bathroom was nice with polished stone floors and walls.

We grossly overslept because a) we were tired; b) it was quiet; and c) the anti-theft shutters blocked the sunlight.  At least I had the presence of mind to set an alarm as a safety but was too groggy to do anything but turn it off.  'nuff said.  When we finally got rolling, we headed into the Alta Gracia town square and saw some classic buildings.

The town square was built across from the Jesuit Estancia, one of the oldest in the western hemisphere.  Built in 1588, it is a substantial structure with a cathedral and a walled compound.

The cathedral was interesting, but much smaller than others in the area.  That said, this was the first one built in this area, so that says volumes about the dedication of the builders.

Within the walled compound there was a large open, grassy area.

The courtyard was large and surrounded on 3 sides by a covered walkway that provided access to the mission's rooms.

A lot of brick and stone went into this structure.  The bricks had to be fabricated close to the construction site due to the difficulty of transporting large quantities of heavy materials.  The lower foundations were made from local stone.  And, interestingly, the upper buildings had a water-cooled air conditioning system to prevent melt-down during the hot summers.  The prevailing wind was channeled through ducts that had water and the air was then channeled into the individual rooms.  The estancia's well is in the center of the photo above.

The dome of the chapel was quite large.

In the small museum they had a number of old grinding stones on display.

These stones were a matched set used for grinding wheat and corn into flour for baking.

The spiral patterns were used to distribute the grains around the entire grinding surface for a uniform-sized flour.  These stones were quarried and crafted manually using hammer and chisel.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the estancia is that to provide water for the mission, a dam of cut stone was needed on the local river.  This was the first (known) dam built in the Americas.  The lake across the street is held back by the dam.

The "public clock" tower was across the street from the estancia.  The hand-crafted dam is visible at the right edge of the photo above.

When we finished touring the estancia, we got in the rental car and headed toward Villa General Belgrano in the mountains south of Alta Gracia.  En route, we passed concrete electric towers (presumably to withstand the tropical rains).  The power lines were covered with epiphytes that need only water and air to survive.  Eventually, when the growth of the wet epiphytes gets large enough, the added weight will snap the power lines.

On the highway from Alta Gracia to Belgrano was a large reservoir that had ski boats and house boats.

The highway used the top of the dam to cross the canyon.  The spillways for the dam are visible in the center of the dam.

Across a finger of the lake we spotted this awesome mansion on the water's edge.  Beautifully designed in contemporary style, it had a private pool and dock.

When we arrived in Villa General Belgrano we spotted some nice flowers next to our parking spot.

The flowers came in multiple colors and they were all in full bloom.

Belgrano has lots of Germans that live there so it was only natural that there were German restaurants and bars.  They host a very large Octoberfest each year.  We chose this place for no other reason than it was across the street from our parking spot.

The restaurant hosted live German bands on the weekends.  The statues were the advertisement.  The food was good; I had the trout fillet and it was tasty and correctly cooked.

In the center of the village there was a large clock tower.  The tower shows minimal weathering and therefore was built recently.

On the return trip back to Alta Gracia we got a real view of the dam.  This was a large structure.

On the outskirts of Alta Gracia, we passed this older Mercedes truck parked next to the highway.  This truck is quite old (I am guessing 1960's), but still in service and is quite similar to Thor, our Mercedes 1017A expedition camper: same motor, same frame, same transmission.  Two noteworthy exceptions are the 8 bolt wheels (Thor has 10) and the lack of a front drive axle.

When we left Alta Gracia, we checked out of the B&B expecting to spend the night in Belgrano.  But, when we got there we concluded that there was not that much of interest (other than many, many restaurants and bars) and we have many miles to go to get to our strategic goal which is Mendoza.  So, we decided on the fly to head back to Alta Gracia instead and take a bite out of the mileage.  We chose a different hotel, in this case the Howard Johnson Casino (??!!!)  This facility is large and easily the nicest place in town.  The reason we chose the B&B over the casino the first night was that said they were full, ergo the backup plan.  The second night showed they had openings, so we jumped at it.

Tomorrow, we head into the mountains using an alternate route than Belgrano.  Our objective will be San Luis to the west through the condor reserve.

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