We left Iguazu on the 21st and travelled for 23 hours on another bus to Salta, the capital city of Argentina's north west province. Unfortunately there was no really posh buses on the route and the posh seats on the less posh bus were sold out, so life was less comfortable, but still OK. Salta is a nice, quiet and open city, but rather wet at this time of year, though when the sun is out it is very hot. We only really used Salta as a staging post on this occasion, as we are returning after Christmas, but we did get a pleasant feel from the city and I re-acquainted myself with Argentinean dead cow products after spending a few days back in Brazil.
A tip from the top; when you mention to someone where you are going for Christmas and how you intend to get there and are rewarded with a huge grin and the phrase "Good luck…..It will be…..a …..ummm…… adventure!", it may be that when you booked you Christmas hotel some months earlier from the comfort of your Notting Hill sitting-room, you may not have properly understood the complexity of the terrain or the transport system at your destination. We discovered that buses only travelled to a small town about 20kms away from our hotel on three days a week, and the day we needed to travel was not one of them. The good news was that we could leave at 7am the on the required day to another small town, some 50km from our hotel. That's fine, we thought, we can get there then get a local bus or a taxi to the hotel. Mmmm.
The day started badly enough. We booked a cab for 6.15 am to take us to the bus station (a cab is a little extravagant but we felt that we could not go to a hotel in the middle of nowhere without 2 litres of spirits, 3 bottles of wine and a bottle of fizz, even if it was a vineyard, so our bags were rather heavy) We got up at 5.30 am to shower and pack and I then moved our bags through to reception and told the receptionist that we had a cab booked at 6.15. He looked at me rather strangely, looked at my bags, looked back at me, then was silent for sometime, before eventually uttering "Sir you do know it is 5.10 don't you? I think you must be on BA time!" w***.
After a little more time in bed we got to the station and found ourselves to be the only foreigners loading ourselves onto a rather old and beaten up bus. The bus was almost as full as full can be, with people, boxes, letters, newspapers but also a very friendly atmosphere and plenty of courtesy. Both the driver and the 'loadmaster' made sure they knew where we were going and throughout the trip I received many reassuring smiles and pats on the back so that we knew we would get to our destination without a problem. It was a fascinating journey. Not only was the geography amazing, changing from farm land, to dense bush, then to high altitude deserts with incredible rock formations coloured pink, red, green, brown and yellow, but the links between the life of the very poor and rural community and the bus were fascinating. It took us about 6 hours to cover the 150km we travelled, partly because of the dirt road which was full of hairpin bends, landslides, heart stoppingly steep drops and general signs of disrepair, but also due to the fact it stopped so often to take-on or drop-off letters or parcels, allow people to buy newspapers, give people time to buy a snack at very basic 'service stations' and ensure that passengers were dropped off exactly where they needed to be.
When we eventually arrived at the small village that was our stop, it became obvious that getting any further was not going to be easy. I wondered around a very quiet main street and discovered that there were no buses anywhere else, nor was there a taxi service. Eventually I met a women who introduced me to a man who might take us to the hotel for a fee………..but on this occasion would not. The same women then got her dad, who made phone call and told me to return at 2, when a man he knew would come (after his lengthy lunch) in his pick up truck and take us to our hotel….for a fee. By this stage I had worked out that Jodie and I would never manage to get our bags and booze the 50kms on foot so needed no convincing. Anyway, our knight in shining armour ( well more like old sweat pants, grubby tee-shirt and battered baseball cap) appeared at 2.30 complete with chariot (well more like a very old Nissan pick-up with broken windows, no seat belts and old blankets covering the seats) and drove us the hour of rattling roads to the hotel, so covered in dust and dying for a pee is how we arrived at our very exclusive Christmas retreat. The management must have been thrilled. Whilst this sounds like a bit of an epic, J and I both agreed we had had a fantastic and fascinating day.
The hotel is a real oasis in the desert (see photos), and whilst there are many clouds, as we are at 2,800m, when the sun is out it is hot and strong. I managed a run this morning and now we sit by the pool, Jodie drinking G&T and I with a local beer. Life is OK!
To all our friends and family who read the blog, we wish you all a very happy Christmas and hope that Santa is good to you.