Salta has an archaeological museum so we decided to pay a visit. It's not very large but it does give an insight into the history of the area. The northern region of Argentina has uncovered some of the oldest fossils and skeletons on record. In the early 1900's a team of archaeologists had gone on an expedition into the high Andes to look for relics of the Inca civilisation. During that expedition they unearthed the remains of 3 perfectly preserved children's bodies. It appears that the Incas made sacrifices. Usually they would be animals but for special events they would select pretty young girls or boys. The children would be dressed then given an alcoholic drink to put them to sleep before they were buried alive.
Because of the cold and very dry weather in the Andes their remains including their clothes were all perfectly preserved. Two of the bodies are in Buenos Aries but the third, a 7 year old boy is in Salta. The museum runs a video showing the finding and exhumation of the body. It is stored in a glass display case in a cold and dry atmosphere to preserve it. It is really weird to see the body of effectively a murdered child on display. It is so well preserved that it looks asleep. The only clue to its fate is that it has been bound with rope in a sitting position. Macabre but fascinating.
We also paid a visit to the local cathedral to see the architecture. As luck would have it we walked in at the start of the morning service. It was weird. There were lots of sad looking people kissing the feet of very tacky looking figurines. One person entered the cathedral on their knees and proceeded to shuffle the full length of the aisle on their knees. It looked like a surreal version of the Kenny Everett sketch of Toulouse Le Trec. While we were there a beggar came in. A very dishevelled looking chap on crutches. He hobbled across to three separate people with his hand out and not one gave him anything. Nice to see the Christian spirit alive and well.
Today we were off horse riding on a ranch. Pick up was at 10am which turned out to be 10.45. David arrived in his dented Toyota pickup and off we went into the mountains to the ranch. The ranch house owned by his family had once been a nunnery. It still had the chapel. We were to sleep in one of the old nuns bedrooms. For me this was totally surreal. Along the way we had stopped to pick up the housekeeper who was to cook for us. It seemed it was only going to be Jill and I there.
David went off and picked some fresh corn from the field for lunch. He then went out of sight and rounded up our horses. Once in the paddock he lassoed them and saddled them. Soon we were mounted and off riding the range. We had a long chat as we rode the range. David it seemed had played flanker for the Argentine rugby team and had played in France against France. I can't say I was surprised he was a big lad. He asked what I knew about Argentina before I arrived. I said the same as most brits. Maradonna - Ah the hand of god he said and the Falkands stuff. Like Majo the wine lady David was university educated and had a pragmatic view of things. He said he felt the Falklands should belong to Argentina. How would we feel if the Isle of Wight was Argentinean? Fair point. He also said the war was a stupid idea. Sending kids to fight the British army was just dumb and not popular. He also said it would not happen again as the army was now only volunteers and nobody did, so effectively they don't have an army.
Anyway enough politics, the scenery was great and it felt cool to be on horseback. We rode for about an hour and then returned for lunch. It seemed David didn't know we were staying the night and so there was a mild panic about food etc. Anyway lunch was fab. Steak,corn on the cob, salad, potatoes and wine.
After lunch we mooched about for a while before saddling up for a late afternoon ride. This time we headed into the forest and uphill. Again it was fun and the views from on high were great. Back at the ranch for a hot drink. David said he had to return to Salta but the housekeeper and her daughter would be staying to look after us. It was a bit weird and a bit uncomfortable having dinner with a middle aged woman and her 8 year old daughter who couldn't speak English. Oh well never mind. When we went to our room it was bloody freezing. No wonder nuns look so miserable. We had a scout around and found some more blankets and a small electric fire so we swiped them. It was so quiet we slept for about 10 hours.
Next morning we mooched about some more until David returned and drove us back to Salta. Back at the hostel we ended up with a different room. Not ideal. We spent the afternoon wandering in the city and doing a bit of shopping. In the evening Jill was first in the shower. First problem was there was no cold water coming out. The reception chap came in with a screwdriver fiddled about a bit and declared that all was now well. Jill jumped in and after a short while shouted for me in a panicky voice. I went in to find the entire cold tap had now come off the wall and a jet of water was squirting from one side of the bathroom to the other. I tried in vain to put it back but it was having none of it. While Jill covered her modesty I called the reception man again. He had no luck either and was soon soaked. He eventually turned off the water and called the plumber. We used the communal shower. 30 minutes later the plumber was on site and fixing the problem. We had to laugh. Strangely these things don't happen to me. Jill has previously set off a fire alarm with steam from a shower, sat under a clock in France which fell on her head and sat in Little John's chair a 500 year old antique in the Peak District and broke it. It's never a dull moment with my wife.
It's been an early start this morning, up at 5.45 to get the bus back to Chile. I'm writing this on the bus high in the mountains looking down at the road snaking back into Argentina. The scenery is again different but stunning. We have seen some of the salt plains which we hope to cross by jeep. I don't have the words to describe the landscape. All I would say is if you ever get the chance to come here grab it. It is like nothing I've ever seen before.
After 12 hours on the coach with a headache and being a little breathless from the altitude we arrived at the Chilean border. As usual they wanted everything off to be x rayed. As we took our bags back to the coach the driver said no need to get back on, you are here.
Here being a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with mountains in every direction. Ok we said and put our packs on and started walking. San Pedro de Atacarma is a dirt road shanty town. As we got further in it was still dirt roads but there were shops etc. There are 2 ATM's, one takes Mastercard the other Visa. Both are intermittent. Fortunately we got some money. After a circuitous walk we found our hostel. It's in a quiet road. It's a cosy room and the hostel has a quiet curfew at 11pm- excellent. We've just been down to the town for a beer and are now holed up in the room.
Tomorrow we are off to book our 3 day trip across the Atacarma desert salt flats into Bolivia.