Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Northern exposure

Siestas, asados, pelopinchos, empanadas… oh, how I love the laid-back charm of northern Argentina.

Argentina is huge. Thanks in large part to my work, I’ve been to most of the main attractions – I’ve seen the glaciers, the whales, the penguins, the vineyards, the tango salons, the waterfalls, the bird sanctuaries. What I haven’t seen are some of the places a little further off the tourist circuit. So when a recent opportunity arose to visit the northern Argentinian city of Tucumán, I jumped at the chance.

I’m no stranger to the north. But the reason I’ve been to Salta and Humawaca and Jujuy is because they’re relatively popular with foreign visitors. I never thought of planning a trip to Tucumán. Yet it’s the site where the provinces of the Rio de la Plata first declared independence from Spain; today they call the region el jardín de la república (the garden of the republic) because in addition to yielding great quantities of strawberries, beans, corn, soybeans and kiwi, Tucumán is one of the world’s top producers of lemons.

Lemons, beautiful lemons; they’re everywhere in this town. The locals even squeeze them over and into their famous, juicy empanadas, the kind where the juice runs down your hand and arm when you bite into it.

Just one of the many delightful things I discovered on my short trip. I also like the local accent and how warm the people are, how everyone sleeps for two hours in the afternoon when it’s really hot. Everything seems to move slowly. One afternoon I saw a group of people sitting around on lawn chairs, drinking fruit-infused yerba mate and quite literally watching the paint dry as one shirtless guy added a coat of primer to his doorframe. (Ah, simple pleasures.)

Without further adieu, a few other things I liked:

Midweek asados (barbecues) with friends. This particular day we had chorizo laced with garlic and parmesan paired with roasted red peppers and some fantastic Malbec. After lunch, there were three options: a long siesta, a splash in the pool, or a spin down the country road on one of the bicycles.

(What – no one has to get back to work in this town?)

The historic center illuminated at night.

(I enjoyed strolling past the lifelike statue of the late great Argentinian folk singer Mercedes Sosa, a Tucumán native known as the ‘voice of Latin America.’)

The city’s famous superpancho stands where you can load up your own hot dog with a wide range of truly incredible toppings from quinoa salad to chimichurri to sliced avocado.

They’re all the rage here, clearly.

Tafi del Valle, that gorgeous mountain getaway just an hour and half outside the city.

Since Tucumán is really hot pretty much all the time, the locals escape to Tafi on weekends to cool off.

A break from the heat, lush scenery, cozy chalet-style cafes, farm-fresh food, fantastic hiking – what’s not to like?

Oh Argentina, what a country; the boundaries are so far-reaching that even the places I never heard much about turn out to be unforgettable.