Pants. Travelling is so often all about pants. At home, pants are always available thanks to the washer/dryer and a man has to be a real slacker to run out of clean pairs. However, when travelling it all gets a little harder. As the number of clean pants in your bag decreases to critical levels, the need to find a laundrette and stay nearby long enough to use it becomes an increasing obsession. It is due to pants that we find ourselves still in Salta and not in Mendoza. We found a laundry a few days ago and all was looking good. What we forgot to do is take account of Saturday and Sunday opening hours so on Saturday afternoon, after discovering that our clean pants were effectively 'in the clink' for two days we had to devote a few hours to changing bus tickets and getting a place to stay for a couple more nights. Luckily we were able to remain in the guest house in a leafy town outside Salta that we were already in, which is a lovely house with pool, great hosts and nice rooms, all for £25. We now have bus tickets for tomorrow, and I jogged to the laundry this morning so I also have a nice pile of clean pants. Hurrah.
We had an odd NYE in Tilcara. Whilst the posada we stayed in was very nice, they convinced us that we were better off having supper in their restaurant, rather than heading out. We had hoped for a good collection of guests, good food and cheer. What we got was bad food, a miserable waiter and two other couples who said very little. By 11pm one couple was left, and my, were they dull. Both in their late twenties or early thirties and as earnest as only God fearing Americans can be. He was a law student who was not enjoying having a whole month away from his studies and she was an author. She was potentially interesting until we discovered her published book was on the menopause, and her "(annoying laugh) prequel (annoying laugh)" was to be on contraception. She was an English grad, with no medical training, so the books must be great.
Funnily enough, at about 11.30pm we could stand no more, so nicked the ice bucket that the hotel bubbly was in and scampered back to our room to enjoy the bottle we had brought with us. We saw new year in, standing in the garden and watching the firework display the village provided. It was not organised and none of the fireworks must have cost more than £1, but it was noisy and reminded us of Bosnia, circa 1995. A few hours after departing we realised it was not all bad as the hotel forgot to charge us for our NYE meal! We also realised that down town Tilcara may have been fun after all, judging by the fact that the only thing more common than passed out locals lying next to the road were empty bottles. And this was at midday on the 1st.We returned to Salta on 01 Jan and have had a reasonably mellow time since then.
We have had one trip out, to a place called San Antonio Des Cobres, which is a small settlement in the mountains at 4,200m above sea level. Having been much amazed by the scenery and varity of environment in this area often over the past few weeks, this was not so amazing as it might have been, but we did visit a old Inca trading village, and met a very interesting Argentinean lady who was enjoying her first holiday since losing nearly everything in the financial crisis of 2001. It was fascinating to find out what had happened; essentially the A$ was linked to the US$ for some time at a rate of 1:1 and banks did everything in US$. However, with inflation high and all kinds of other problems the government decided to de-link the currencies and devalue the A$. Banks changed the US$ symbol in front of everyone's balance to a A$. Therefore if a man had saved US$1000, he all of a sudden had A$1000, which was now worth about US$ 330. Meanwhile, a loaf of bread that cost US$1 one day cost A$3 the next. Houses and cars continued to be sold in US$. You can see how everyone was screwed (except the banks).
When the Dutch couple who run the guesthouse we are staying in discovered that we were here for two more days, they suggested that we do two things, both of which we have done and enjoyed. The first was go to the castle on the hill (which we would never have found) for Sunday lunch, so yesterday we sat in the garden of a partially renovated old castle, in the sun, eating our little heads off for a little less than £9. And they gave us each a large Amaretto on the house. Marvellous.
The second recommendation was to go to the spa at a small hotel about 20km away (that used to be actor Robert Duvall's home) for a massage. I am now feeling soft and floppy after spending two hours being scrubbed and fondled by a lovely Argentinean lady, in a Spa that was exclusively ours, and whilst a bit extravagant considering our budget, probably still cost less than a receptionists smile at a London Spa. Thank you all for your emails and texts over new year - it is nice to know that we are not yet forgotten!