Tucumán and the million-moth highway.

David wants to see the true Argentinian countryside. I'm not so sure.  Although we have done road trips here before they have been mostly on our way to and from Chile, never in the vastness of the country's interior.

We know very little about the condition of the roads. We do know there are many unpaved roads, even on reasonably well travelled routes. We also know that suicidal over-takes are common and directional signs range from average to very poor. It is not uncommon to arrive at an intersection and find no road signs at all.

We have an old Garmin nuvi (GPS device) from a previous trip which is prone to letting us down when we need it most. It is surprisingly difficult to buy Sth American maps in Australia to load onto our modern more reliable  nuvis. The plan was to purchase a GPS over here but we have discovered that the cost of Garmin nuvis in Argentina is even more outrageous than the cost at home. We will buy paper maps and hope that our old GPS keeps working.

We set out early from Córdoba. Provided nothing goes wrong it is a seven hour drive to our overnight stop at San Miguel de Tucumán. Tucumán has a population of  800,000 people, the fifth largest city in Argentina. I want to find our hotel before dark. The first part of the drive is along National Route 9. It is Sunday and there are fewer trucks than during the week but the journey is still nerve-wracking and perilous. The road is one lane aside. Cars and trucks overtake one another with an alarming fearlessness. There seems to be little respect for the rules of the road. Add a scattering of horse drawn carts and a plague of motor-cycles into the mix and I feel constantly on the knife-edge of disaster. The motor-cycles often carry more than one person - sometimes entire families with Dad on the front, Mum at the back, and children sometimes babies, pressed between the two. Helmets are clearly not obligatory. Many of the motor-cyclists carry them hooked through one arm - protecting their elbow. We guess that in some provinces they must be compulsory otherwise why carry them at all.

There are frequent police check points - the only time the traffic slows down. We have become familiar with these from our previous trips to Argentina. Today the police are pulling over trucks but very few cars. In the past we have seen them target old cars with young male drivers and passengers. We don't know what they are looking for but clearly we are not part of the profile. We have never been stopped.

After an hour we turn onto Route 60. We could travel all the way to Tucuman on Route 9 but we hope that by diverting to a secondary road the traffic will be calmer. It is. We breathe a sigh of relief. There are still suicidal overtakes and motor-cycles and horses and carts and worse - clapped out trucks which go so slowly we have no choice but to pass them. David's normally cautious driving seems to adjust to the conditions. Too much caution will see our seven hour trip double or triple in time. I try to stay calm and, for the most part, fail.

Small towns are scattered infrequently along the route. They do not look prosperous. We resist the urge to turn in and explore. We will investigate them on the return journey when we know the condition of the road the whole way. There is one long section which appears on Google-earth to go through some kind of waste-land. It turns out to be salt-flats - we think. The salt must attract moths. There are thousands of them resting on the bitumen, and circling in living clouds above it. These are giant moths. They make our own Australian Bogong moths look Lilliputian. The windscreen is soon covered with moth detris. When we stop for petrol I ask for the glass to be cleaned and explain the problem of the moths. The attendant smiles. It is clear the giant moths are not unusual. The attendant asks where we live and whether we like Argentina. I tell him it is beautiful; like Australia. He seems deflated and I realise he probably thinks of Australia as one large desert. My Spanish isn't good enough to explain that some areas of Australia are as fertile as Argentina.

About 5 pm we approach the outskirts of Tucumán. The sun doesn't set until 7.30 pm. We approach from the south. The GPS wants to take us around to the east on a ring-road and then cut back west straight through the centre of the city. The map shows a road leading close to our hotel from the south avoiding the ring-road detour. With plenty of daylight to spare we take our chances on the road, navigating the old fashioned way. We have read that Tucumán is sometimes referred to as 'the Ethiopia of Argentina'. A once prosperous city it has suffered more than most from the country's economic decline. As we enter the city we can see where the epithet comes from. The road becomes a pot-holed track. Horses and carts are everywhere - ancient, rickety-looking carts, piled high with what seems to be rubbish, pulled by sad looking horses and driven by men and dirty children. The economic miracle has never touched these people.  Some carts don't even have horses - they are pulled along by wizened old men. There are still cars but they are early '60s vintage - rusting, clapped-out, some missing wheels or engines and chocked up by the side of the road. We are torn between fascination and sadness. We bump along slowly. It is impossible to go fast on such a road.

We emerge from the poor district into a less poor but still run-down area. Bizarrely there is a Hilton Hotel, brand new and very modern in the midst of the poverty. We have been upgraded to a suite. We are too tired to wonder why Hilton has chosen Tucumán for a new hotel. Perhaps prosperity is returning to the city at last.

For my Hotel Review of the Hilton at Tucumán - click here

A common sight

This truck is a typical vintage

Not everything is run-down in Tucumán - the centre is quite lovely.

A church near the central square

Church interior

Notice the blue-tiled dome - they look lovely from close up

The Hilton at Tucumán

Note: - If today's blog seems out of sequence - it is. This road trip occurred before we got to Salta but I have only just finished writing about it.

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  1. Looks like a place where time stood still in the 70's. I guess that was when the first major financial debt crisis hit them...

  2. Hi Ferdy, Thanks for the comment. It is quite frightening how a country with so much promise can have got it so badly wrong politically and economically. Cheers Lyn