Saturday, July 14, 2007

Salta 'n Pepa

July 9 (this past Monday) was Argentine Independence Day. Feliz 9 de Julio, guys. I had the day off work, as did everyone else in Argentina, and one of my friends from Harvard, Rozanne, and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and go to Salta, in the north. Salta is relatively near Argentina’s borders with Chile and Bolivia, and is characterized by deserts with cacti and brightly colored mountains. There are also rivers and dikes and other bodies of water, so it’s got a little bit of everything going on.

On Friday, we took the 2.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires into the city of Salta, which, in comparison to Buenos, seems very quaint and provincial, but apparently is considered “the big city” in the region. It is a city -- it has ice cream shops, banks, internet cafés and several grand, beautiful churches – but it’s certainly no Buenos Aires. Duh. Not surprisingly, the pace of life is a lot slower and things are a bit more worn down – the cars, the houses, the roads, the buses, the plazas, the restaurants – it made Buenos look shiny and new. Although during the day the plazas and shopping streets are full of people – young parents schlepping babies, teenagers in un-tucked school uniforms, old people out for a stroll – at night the streets are deserted. It’s quite disconcerting, actually – come sunset the streets fall dark and silent and even the cars seem to disappear. Thank God Rozanne had her pepper spray! Always prepared, that one.

We stayed at a hostel called Los Cardones, on one of the main drags in Salta. The hostel was cute, simple and quiet (except for its unfortunate location next to an Anglican Church in which, judging by the hymns that woke me up each day, all of the parishioners were both moved by the Holy Spirit AND tone-deaf). The only problem with the hostel was that to get from one’s room to the communal bathroom, one had to walk outside, down an open-air corridor. This would be fine if the hostel were located, you know, somewhere warm. But Salta is cold as balls (pardon my French) at night and going to the bathroom was torture for a cold-hating girl like yours, truly. Life improved significantly once Rozanne and I scored a space heater for our room, because up to that point, we had basically been camping indoors. Brrrrr. Anyway, it felt good to be back in the hostelling world – I missed it so! I met some dudes from Northern Ireland who ended up banging on our door and window for about 30 minutes at 6 am after they came back borrados from a night out at the bars, but I almost enjoyed it because it reminded me of my life of hostelling with rowdy kids last spring. You take the good with the bad at hostels, you know?

Anyway, our main activities for the weekend consisted of eating la comida salteña, going to the boliches on Balcarce street (the one street with a lively nightlife in Salta), horseback riding in the country, taking a bus to a nearby town, and freezing our butts off. To be fair, Friday and Saturday were lovely and warm, but Sunday and Monday were bitterly cold – it all made sense on Monday when we flew back into Buenos and it was snowing in the city for the first time in 89 years. Um, that’s what we call a cold snap.

Saturday was a great day because we went horseback riding in Chacuana, a pueblo about 45 minutes or so from Salta. Our guide was named Miguel and he was a real gaucho – he had the belt and the boots and everything, but the real reason I knew he was legit was because he chewed tobacco and smoked at the same time. That’s hardcore. The highlight for me was galloping (galopando) like a pro. The lowlight was when a bunch of creepy snarling dogs came out of nowhere and started barking and jumping at my horse. Apparently I have some sort of stray-dog radar that only works in South America, because the perros sin dueño always want to bite me on this continent. Freakin’ perros. After a few hours of riding, we came back to the ranch house and had tea and biscuits and dulce de leche. Nice. Later that night, after a bit of rest, we went to dinner at a restaurant with an Argentine reggae band (surprisingly good -- they got the stamp of approval from Rozanne, a real, live Jamaican, so there ya go) and then out to the boliches (also surprisingly good!).

Sunday was a cold day and we woke up too late to go to Purmamarca, which we had been planning on visiting, because it turns out it’s 4 hours away by bus. It looked a lot closer on the map. Since it was too cold to rent bikes and ride around, we took the bus to San Lorenzo, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Salta that has a little market with arts and crafts, a touristy restaurant overlooking the little river, and a big, fancy hotel that looks like a castle. We ate lunch and then walked around the market, where I bought some alpaca gloves (much needed).

Monday was our last day and it was another cold one. As I mentioned, when we got back to Buenos it was snowing and our plane was redirected to the international airport, Ezeiza, and the night ended up turning into a huge quilombo (chaotic, crazy mess). LONG story short, we landed at 5:30 PM and I didn’t get back to my house until 10:15 because the airport was holding all of our luggage captive in the wrong terminal, they wouldn’t give us clearance to reclaim our bags, it was hard to get a cab because of the snow, the cab got lost, etc., etc., etc. Quilombo, punto. But, hey, I got home, and all's well that ends well, right? Right.

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