Luján is best known for its large neo-gothic Basilica, built in honor of the Virgin of Luján, the patron saint of Argentina. Every year, more than six million people make pilgrimages to the Basilica, many walking there from Buenos Aires. The city is known as La Capital de la Fe (Capital of the Faith). It is popular day-trip for non-believers too, with abundant grill restaurants (like most places in Argentina) and souvenir shops with kitsch religious memorabilia.
But the main reason that I went to Lujan, was that some friends and I had talked about places to go on the train. The trains coming in from the towns around Buenos Aires are pretty shabby, but also extremely cheap, starting at AR$1.10 (around 9 cents of a dollar), which is a third of what the cheapest bus ticket in the city costs… So we thought it would be fun to take advantage of this to see some places in the Province of Buenos Aires. Of course this limited our possible destinations, since there are not trains everywhere, but we figured Lujan was a good choice.
We met up at Once train station and got on the 8 o’clock train to Moreno, where we would change to another train. This particular line, the Sarmiento, is sadly known for the large accident two years ago that killed 55 people, and is very run-down and not very nice, although they were getting new trains just days after our trip. We got on one train, then we had to move to another, and we took off half hour late. This meant that we missed the connection in Moreno, and had to wait another hour there. In total, it took us 3 hours 40 minutes! If it wasn’t for the waiting, it would have been a lot faster of course. The first train was quite the experience; people were smoking a lot of cigarettes, and a lot of pot… That was a surprise! All the windows were open, which was good for the smoke but also made it freezing cold. I felt a lot of compassion for the people who take this trip every day! The second train was more comfortable. Still cold, but no pot. It was also more expensive, a whooping 1.75…
Once in Lujan, things were good: We visited the basilica, had a nice lunch, went to the transport museum, and drank mate along the river. In the summer, there is lots of activity on the river front, but it was very calm now. The transport museum was fantastic, one of those small town museums with a really dedicated guy who took us around and told us all sorts of fascinating anecdotes. Their collection includes things like an old Buenos Aires street car, the “pony express” wagons that was the precursor to the train, the Popemobil from John Paul II’s visit in the 1980s, and two horses that were used to ride to New York in 1925… A very eclectic place.
On the way back we opted for the combi, i.e. nice express bus, but with traffic and whatnot it took us 2 hours 20 minutes, and cost 31 pesos, more than ten times what we paid for the train… All in all, a very fun day and quite different!