The Cosquin area, 60 km north-west of Cordoba, is a good place to get away from the provincial capital in the hot summer months. The Cosquin festival in January, river beaches and boat rides on the Rio Cosquin are the main attractions.
Plaza 25 de Mayo in the city center. The nearby Museo Historico de La Rioja honours the memory of famous caudillos like Facundo Quirioga, Felipe Varela Angel Pañaloza whose power base was here.
Carlos Menem the flamboyant president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, was born in Anillaco not far from La Rioja. He was governor of Rioja province and a good example of an elected politician with a strong tendency towards autocratic rule in the best tradition of provincial caudillos, that is common in Argentina.
During his years in office, he managed to privatise most if not all of the country's state enterprises, he pegged the peso to the US dollar and ruled by decree often without consulting the congress like when he sent Argentine warships to the Persian Gulf in 1991. During that time, the privileged few and corrupt politicians salted away more than 100 billion dollars outside of the country while the middle class was reduced to poverty.
The Casa del Gobierno on La Rioja's Plaza 25 de Mayo was Menem's springboard to greater ambitions from 1983 to 1989.
Menem now lives in exile in Chile with his young wife off the proceeds of his foreign bank accounts of which two are known to hold 10 million US dollars.
Also facing the Plaza, just around the corner from the Casa del Gobierno, is the Byzantine Cathedral of Nicolas de Bari built in 1899.
La Rioja has a number of famous churches and religious establishments. This one, the Convento de Santo Domingo was built in 1623 by Diaguita Indians for Dominican friars. It is the oldest convent in Argentina.
There is no escaping the fact that the catholic church and autocratic rule go hand in hand. It is also troubling to note the high correlation between the autocratic power of church backed oligarchies and the wild unchecked corruption present everywhere the Spanish Absolutist Tradition has strongly influenced the local culture.In the context of that tradition, Menem in Argentina and Marcos in the Philippines, might not have known each other but they certainly had a lot in common (besides enjoying US support while they were in power)..
These strange trees, that I had never seen before, are called "palos borrachos" (drunken trees) for being pot-bellied from having imbibed too much water.
I don't know if the trees drank too much water but I do know that I drank too much beer in this bar next to the bus terminal after meeting there, a couple who loved to discuss politics. Fortunately, the pension where I was staying was just around the corner and I got to bed safely. The following morning I nursed my hangover on the bus to Catamarca.
Catamarca is another 150 000 city in the Northwest hills just like La Rioja. Its bus terminal is however brand new and an attraction by itself with a variety of shops, restaurants and even the Internet.
A room at the Residencial Ambato across avenida Güemes from the terminal cost only 5 US$.
Unemployment is high and times are hard in the Northwest so food prices at sidewalk cafes like this one are very low.
This colourful place just across the bus terminal offers a fine steak or a litre of beer for 1.50 US$ and a variety of other meals for one dollar or less.
The Belgrano train station on Plaza 25 de Agosto is handsome but the trains are not running.
The centre of town is here at the Plaza 25 de Mayo a few blocks north of Plaza 25 de Agosto.
Naturally, the Cabildo faces the main Plaza in the city center.
And the Cathedral is just next door.
Here is the inside of the cathedral that is also known as the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Valle.
The avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen that runs between the two plazas comes to life when the sun sets after being practically deserted in the midday heat.
Here is the road to Tucuman in the plain at 100 metres less altitude than La Rioja and Catamarca. It is also almost four times larger.