Tuesday, May 26, 2009


So, why did you come to Salta? I kept getting this question after explaining how I had been traveling in Bolivia for a couple of weeks, decided to detour to Salta (in the North of Argentina) for a few days and was promptly heading back to Bolvia afterwards. I suppose most people are going in more of a straight line: start up North somewhere (Peru, Colombia, Mexico, etc.) and go all the way South through Bolivia towards Ushuaia, Argentina, or doing it in the opposite direction.

Ushaia is a long way from the Bolivian border, by the way... In reality, most only make it as far as Buenos Aires.

I, however, was drawing more of an ampersant than a straight line with my trip through Bolivia, so detouring to Salta seemed perfectly within reason. So, why did I come to Salta? Well, the number one reason, as I quickly discovered upon arriving in Salta, was that Argentina remains my favorite South American country, and I had missed it in the prior two months of relative wilderness in Peru and Bolivia... More specifically, the buses are nice and comfortable, the hostels have hot showers, and you can go shopping at an actual supermarket. Also, the Argentinians themselves really like to travel, so you don't seem like quite so much of an oddity as a tourist. And then, there's the asados - the big all-the-meat-you-can-eat (and wine you can drink) barbeques that all the hostels regularly put on. The one here in Salta wasn't an exception. So, all in all, I felt there was a lot to like about simply being in Argentina - besides I still have 45 Argentinian Pesos from my last time there, and an Argentinian SIM card (which no longer worked as it turned out). But in spite of all that, I wasn't traveling in anything resembling a straight line, so people generally seemed confused by my having chosen to go to Salta. I was OK with the confusion - I've grown accustomed to having my travel choices appear odd and confusing to others!

As for Salta itself, it's a pretty city.

A nice overview from up high

It's also got a fine collection of churches scattered around the center of the city. Upon seeing them, it immeditately occurred to me that they appeared notably different than their counterparts in Peru and Bolivia. Cuzco is perhaps the most egregious example of this, but the churches there appear to serve one purpose above all else: to remind the locals who won, and who could build bigger and gaudier structures. Usually, right on top of the old Inca palaces and temples... just as an extra little bit of a reminder. Here in Salta, the churches actually seem to have a bit of sophistication and intricacy. They are actually beautifully decorated in addition to just being massive. Maybe it's the Italian influence (which is felt rather strongly in Argentina) or maybe they were just built a little later, but it's certainly hard to miss. To wit:

A pretty, well lit up church in Salta.

Compared to the monolithic Cathedral presiding over Cuzco, Peru.

But much like the rest of Argentina, you don't really come for the cities. Buenos Aires is better anyway if you want to see a city! In Salta, you come for the surrounding countryside, which is jagged, sprawling, other-worldly multi-colored mountains. So, after a day of exploring the town, Anja (a German tourist I met on the bus to Salta while waiting out the strike blocking the road) and I had a tour booked to see nearby San Antonio de los Cobres. The following morning, the tour agency picked us up bright and early shortly after 7 in the morning and we headed off to the mountains. After picking up an Argentinian couple, on a brief visit from Buenos Aires. The five of us, including the driver, were rather cozy, packed into our little pickup, but Laura spoke English, and Anja and I did our best with our Spanish, so we made friends. In fact, after a couple of hours, we were friends enough that they were sharing their mate with us:

Now mate is the ubiquitous beverage consumed by everyone in Argentina (and somehow, even more people seem to drink it in Uruguay).

Judging by simple looks (and the apparent addiction), it's awfully reminiscent of coffee, so I'd stayed away up until now, but now having tried it, I'm glad to report that it does not, in fact, taste anything like coffee! Has some sort of a dried fruit-flavored tea taste, maybe? That's probably a bad representation, but I did kinda like it.

With the mate out of the way, we were off to see the surrounding volcanic scenery:

The afore-mentioned multi-colored landscape

Now the landscape dotted with almost eery-looking cacti

A pair of cute cacti up close

The star attraction of our trip: the 'aqueduct:' a railroad bridge, a massive structure of industrial triumph over nature, at a height of 64m spanning a 224m canyon.

We climbed the 64m to the top, which was a bit of a chore, since we were back up at some 4,000m above sea level. There was, however, a group of about 20 nuns, apparently on a field trip from the convent to see the aqueduct - seeing them climbing the hill certainly spurred me on to reach the top without delay!

And that, was my Southernly detour to Salta, Argentina. That evening, Anja headed off for a bus taking her South to Mendoza, as she was one of the people traveling in a straight line North to South, while I hung around an extra day, and the following morning boarded a bus heading back up North to the Bolivian town of Tarija.

Tarija ened up being notable for two things:
#1: Getting in to Bolivia in a town of Bermejo, technically. You take a boat across the river, which acts as the border. Upon arriving on the Bolivian side, you find a sign that strictly instructs you to get your passport stamped at a Bolivian immigration post, fair enough. Unfortunately, the immigration post is nowhere to be found... So, after having spent 30 minutes in Bolivia (and wondering why the hell I had paid $135 for a visa), taken two cab rides (paid for in Bolivian currency), I finally arrived at an immigration office, that wasn't closed. A few minutes later, I was able to walk out of there with my passport properly stamped.
#2: Apparently, the Bolivians have decided to follow Argentina and Chile into the whole wine growing enterprise. Well, maybe not all of Bolivia, but certainly Tarija, which has a bunch of tiny little wineries scattered all about:

La Casa Vieja Bodega, near Tarija, Bolivia

The wine's not bad either - a little too sweet, but pretty good. The locals, apparently, haven't quite learned how to drink it though, as, I've been told, it's quite common to dilute your wine with Sprite, Coke, and Fanta!
#3 Ok, three things about Tarija - I also spent $20 (USD) for a hotel room in Tarija - the most I've paid for a night since the inflated Carnival prices in Rio. And it was a lot nicer than my hostel in Rio!

1 comment:

dlott said...

Grrr. Still bummed I'll miss Argentina. Also nice work putting badly formed HTML in the title. Confuses the heck out of blogger's naming algorithm and Facebook's importer.