Cuculus canorus, Jesuits and Ernesto.

After visiting Ischigualasto and Talampaya parks we drove north to Pagancillo to take a shortcut to Puerto Alegre and the R40, which crosses the Sierra de Sanogasta. A fine dirt road with good views and lots of big cacti. Well worth the detour.

We are now making our way slowly east to Buenos Aires to catch our ship back to the UK (scheduled to leave around the beginning of April 2007). We had resigned ourselves to not seeing any more sights to compare with Machu Picchu, the Salar de Uyuni or the Carretera Austral, but we had reckoned without Villa Carlos Paz!

Our attention was first drawn to the delights of Villa Carlos Paz by the cult classic book "Driving to Heaven" by Derek Stansfield (ISBN 0 9513513 2 X). Derek claimed that in 1981 the the town's cuculus canorus chronometer "gives even Switzerland a run for its money" (page 83). Lonely Planet Argentina called it "monstrous" adding that "foreigners generally find it less than appealing". This could not be missed.

Fortunately it wasn't easy to miss, at seven metres high and right on the main road.

However, taking a photograph of the "action" at 13:00 would require split second timing, or at least it would have done if the clock hadn't actually cuckoo'd twelve times at one o'clock! This must be something of a disappointment for the La Falda clock company of Germany who made it in 1958. For the record I believe that the world's largest cuckoo clock is now at the Eble Clock Park in Austria (just the cuckoo weighs 150kg!).

After the excitement of Villa Carlos Paz, the delightful town of Alta Gracia with its UNESCO World Heritage Jesuit Residence was a welcome relief.

Alta Gracia's other claim to fame is the house where Ernesto (Che) Guevara was raised, (he was very bright, assertive, a great sportsman, suffered from asthma and was liked by everybody: according to the video). The museum boasts a motorcycle not dissimilar to the one Che rode during his "Motorcycle Diary" days, as well as the actual motorized bicycle (moped) that Che rode several years earlier on his less well-known tour of Argentina. The "Moped Diaries" does not have the same ring to it.

Rather surprisingly the house/museum was visited by the 80 year old Fidel Castro last year (2006).

We parked right in the centre of Alta Gracia, about 100 metres from the Jesuit Residence by the lake at S31.656773 W64.434500. A friendly local gentleman told us that all the Germans park there in their big trucks.

Stephen Stewart.

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