Using a guidebook is a blessing and a curse. It provides tons of information, but somewhere in the back of your mind you have to remind yourself that the guidebook can always be misleading or even (gasp!) wrong. We once flipped through a guidebook on the USA which referred to the Grand Canyon as the best site to see in California. I guess the editors didn’t get to that chapter before publishing. Big mistakes like that are easily caught by a well read traveler, but smaller mistakes or rather assumptions can leave you stranded.
A few weeks ago, on our way to Salta we arranged our transportation schedule so that we’d have a day in Resistencia. Not much to do there besides an incredible park about 50 km away, we assumed that we’d be able to take public transportation to and from the park without much fuss. Once in Resistencia, we found out that while it was possible, we’d missed the first bus and the second one would give us about an hour in the park, great. That left us with an entire day stranded with nothing exciting to do but to wait for our overnight bus. (These days usually involve a movie theater if we can find one.)
Sometimes its not the guidebooks though that get us. We’d been advised by a group of Argentinians that we absolutely must go to Parque Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna), an UNESCO world heritage site boasting the oldest dinosaur fossil anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the park did not live up to our expectations. Instead of finding dinosaur bones and fossils, we found ourselves in the middle of a dust storm in the desert with a couple of cool looking rocks to appreciate…hardly worth the two day’s and $100 worth of effort we put into the endeavor. To add insult to injury, all the fossils (not just some) had been removed to an archaeological museum.
And then there are the times when you make assumptions you shouldn’t. A few days ago we left Salta headed south for Cafayate, the beginning of Argentina’s wine country. While the guidebook says there are buses continuing south from Cafayate, it doesn’t say the times. We assumed that three a day meant, morning, afternoon and night, so when we arrived in Cafayate we expected to be able to take an afternoon bus the next day south to Tucuman giving us the morning to tour some nearby ruins. Wrong again. The three buses to Tucuman were 2am, 6am and 6pm, we had to take the 6am to get to our next stop in time.
But surprises are part of what makes travel, travel. If everything always went right then we’d be without some of our best (and worst) memories. On that very trip to Ischigualasto, we found ourselves in a hostel with no other guests. The owner warned us that there was a party that evening for the staff and that we were welcome to attend if we didn’t mind a bit of noise once we hit the sack. The noise didn’t bother us, neither did the unlimited supply of home-made pizza nor the bottle of wine provided to us that once finished….was replaced!