Saturday, November 28, 2009

San Juan is Juiced!

When most of us travel overseas, we’re in search of world-class sights and experiences such as Argentina’s Iguazú falls and Chile’s Torres del Paine - the icons that make us endure long flights and rough roads. Unfortunately, those icons often make us overlook the “lesser” destinations, sights and experiences that make travel so rewarding.

Take, for instance, the Argentine city of San Juan. Roughly two hours north of Mendoza, about which I wrote recently, the capital of its namesake province is smaller, drier and hotter than its southern neighbor - in summer, temperatures frequently rise above 40° C (more than 100° F). In fact, when I arrived around midday last Monday, the heat was almost suffocating as I emerged from my air-conditioned car.

Fortunately, like Mendoza, the streets of San Juan’s city center enjoy a dense canopy of sycamore trees that leave it, as Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes noted in writing about Mendoza, “protected by a roof of leaves woven together like the fingers of a huge circle of inseparable lovers.” The shade can’t completely offset the heat but, on the corners around the city’s central Plaza 25 de Mayo (pictured above), the traditional carretas that offer gulps of chilled fresh orange juice for one peso (about 25 US cents) make their contributions as well. In fact, they are so noteworthy that the province has declared them to be “of cultural and tourist interest.”

Orange juice may not be enough to justify an overseas trip, but its sheer refreshment is a small experience I always look forward to when I visit San Juan - even though it has its own notable wine district only a short distance outside the city.

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