We stepped off the bus in Salta. 18 hours further north from Mendoza. It was wow. I thought I was back in Cambodia. It was hot; everyone was outside the bus station. Big family groups with all their belongings huddled together and they were all much darker skinned. The south of Argentina had a very European feel but these guys were more indigenous in their appearance.
Off to the taxi rank where a guy calls forward a taxi then puts your bags in the car. Then he demands money for doing something you didn't ask him to do and could easily have done yourself. Some things don't change.
Our hostel is in a large town house a bit like the one we had in Montevideo. It's a big room with shuttered windows and a balcony overlooking a busy street. We soon settle in.
Off to explore the city and its population of over 500,000. It has the usual multitude of plazas named after heroes of the revolution, lined with cafes and palm trees. Also some orange trees. It's quite compact and easy to get around.
We had only planned 3 nights but as we liked it we extended it a few days. Jill rightly pointed out that this was our last stop in Argentina and she wanted to make the most of it. We read our lonely Planet guide and decided to do a couple of day trips. Salta is really the last major stop before the Chilean or Bolivian border as you head north. It's pretty much surrounded by mountains.
We touted round some of the tour offices and settled on two trips through the Quebradas (gorges) in the mountains and a horse riding day/night on a gaucho ranch.
It was now my turn to have a bug. My throat felt like it had glass in it but I was being a hero and soldiered on. To date no monument has been erected!!
Day 1 was through the Quebrada de conches (the gorge of shells). It was a 7am pick up and we knew we would not get back until 7pm. It's a long day. The mini bus collected us at 7am and was a very smart Mercedes and it was only half full. Excellent. The first part of the trip was through the tobacco fields. Interesting but not very scenic. Once we entered the mountains it was quite beautiful. We've seen some great scenery around the world but truly this was amazing. Huge river beds sat between massive coloured mountains. The iron, cobalt, calcium etc in the rock leaves them striped. The Grand Canyon is impressive but I have to say this tops it. The pics I've posted really can't do justice to the landscape.
We stopped first at The Devils throat a sky high channel in the rock face created by years of water erosion. Next the natural amphitheatre. A huge domed cave with brilliant acoustics. Inside was a resident pipe and guitar duo that started to play and sing. Clearly they were playing a well known traditional tune as the Argentineans in our party joined in.
As we drove then stopped then drove through the landscape it was difficult to take it all in. The sheer scale of the place was immense. We visited some of the key towns in the mountains. Our final destination was Cafayate another famous wine region. We had lunch in the town square and enjoyed the sun.
Next day was another early start. This time we were picked up about 7.45am. This didn't bode well as the bus was almost full. The four seats at the back were empty apart from one lady so we opted for there. Bad choice. The last couple to get on were huge and had brought their shopping with them. The lady with us moved and they sat next to Jill and I. An international incident was about to occur. They took up 3 of the 4 seats. In fairness they tried to keep to their seats but no way could they or I sit for 8 hours like this. I called the guide over and explained the problem. He seemed a little reluctant to start with. It's not easy to point out someone's size but needs must.
Common sense prevailed and with some tactical seat changes all was resolved. I'm not sure the chap was comfortable but Jill and I were. No need for Kofi Annan after all.
This trip took us to very high altitude to some of the more remote villages. Our guide warned us that the locals would look different. Very small and very dark. He asked us not to photograph them without asking. Seemed reasonable. Many of them speak Quechan an Inca language. The villages are hundreds of years old and built from mud. The final destination was Humauacha (pronounced Uma Waka) meaning head of an animal. During the trip we were given cocoa leaves to put in our mouths. Small amounts are legal here as they combat the effects of altitude sickness. They taste very bitter and have a calming effect. Our portly chap was stuffing branches of it in his mouth and kept smiling at us so clearly he was happy.
We arrived back in Salta about 8pm. As we left the bus there was large crowd in the main square. A troop of horse backed gauchos were doing a show.
Today was a lazy day, a late get up and a bimble around the city. Just what I needed as my throat was now a cold. Finding a change of diet has been a challenge. Veg is almost nonexistent in restaurants. Tonight we found a restaurant which served tandoori chicken. It was fab. Food with spice and flavour.
As we walked up to the bar/restaurant area we saw a huge crowd outside the only 5 star hotel in town. Flags were waving and drums were banging. It seemed that River Plate FC one of the big teams here was playing San Lorenzo a local side in a cup game. The crowd was outside the team hotel paying homage. Football is a religion here.
Tomorrow we are having a day/night outing to a ranch to go riding with the gauchos. I hope the scenery is as good as we've seen in the last few days. We will come back to Salta for a last night as leave Argentina for the last time to head back to Chile. It will be a short stopover in Chile as head into the Atacama desert and into Bolivia.