Getting High in Northern Argentina
10.02.2014 - 17.02.2014 30 °C
Day 42. Salta Argentina.
Our one bedroom apartment is just perfect, with room to put everything away. Just five blocks from the the main square we are really happy here. Salta is a lovely town. Very clean and everyone is laid back. The main square is surrounded by many restaurants and museums which we shall explore later.
The traffic here is wild however. Even on a green light pedestrians don't seem to have the right of way, you must really be careful when crossing the road.
Our first stop was the tourist info center and then a travel agent to book some tours for our time here.
The people, dress and items for sale are more Bolivian now as we get closer to the border.
While having our lunch in one of the outdoor cafes we and the other patrons are serenaded by different groups either playing guitar and singing or groups of men playing pan pipes and drums. Children are often coming up to patrons selling small items and in some cases begging. Adults too are selling small items such as necklaces, coca leaves, shoe shines and other things. They are not aggressive in the least however, as they leave if you say no. Salta is a lot poorer than other places we have been.
Many young families here, but not sure if they live here or are vacationing. There appears to be a baby boom as we see lots of toddlers, infants and pregnant women. Breastfeeding while walking or sitting in crowded area is quite acceptable here which is great.
some graffiti art near our hotel
In the morning we went to one of the museums in the square, the modern art museum. It did not cost money, which is a good thing because only one small room was open. It had large pieces of paper on the wall with what looked like finger painting by children on it. But with modern art you can never tell.
In the afternoon we were picked up by our arranged mini van and had a tour of the city with 7 other tourists. This time of year is off season for foreign tourists as it is the rainy season. We were the only English speakers on the bus and the guide did her best to narrate in both Spanish and English, but I noticed that the Spanish explanations were much longer.
The city of Salta has just over 600,000 people so when we took the tour we could see how big this city is. In the area we are in it seems so small. We are at 3750 feet in altitude and doing okay with that A drive to the top of San Bernardo hill takes us higher to the top of where you can ascend by cable car. It offers a great view of the city but the day is getting cloudy and starts to rain
Locals walk, run and bike up this steep hill as a form of exercise If you still need more before going back down there are stationary bikes at the top.
The Museum of High Mountain Archeology was another on the square that we visited today. This was a small museum housing Inca treasures, but one of the best that I have seen. There is a very long story here, but the Readers Digest version is that in the early 1990s a team of archeologists found three child mummies on a mountain top in the area. They were from the Incan times and aged 6, 7 and15. The Incas wanted to unite the different regions, even countries, so young children who were of nobility in their area, would be chosen to marry one of another region to unite man with the gods. After the ceremony the children were given a potion that would put them in a coma like sleep and then they would be buried, facing different directions.
Because these children were buried in the mountains and it is so cold they are almost perfectly preserved 500 years later. The boy still has coca leaves in his mouth.
Custom was to also bury them with many items that were also recovered at the site in almost perfect condition.
Only one child is on display at a time, to keep them preserved, and in a climate controlled display.
We watch a film of the excavation as they had a fellow from National Geographic on the dig with them. It was fascinating. Sounds gruesome I know, but it really was amazing.
We were not allowed to take pictures so I copied this from the internet. We saw the boy on the right.
Another tour day in a mini van, this one had 16 Spanish speakers aboard, plus us. Cachi is an area south of Salta and to get there we travelled through many hills and mountains.
Driving through a few small towns on the outskirts of Salta we see many fields of tobacco and corn.
The landscape changes to forests of cactus, hundreds of years old, growing with deciduous trees which I have never seen together before. This area gets a lot of rain in the summer, (now), and everything is very green. The first half of the journey the road is paved, but then turns to gravel. Water coming down from the mountains, over the roads which create a waterfall over the edge. We would slowly drive through these creeks and see that the road is being eroded away by the water. Large rocks are on the side of the road from the mountains above.
A lovely couple from Buenos Aires kind of took us under their wing for the day, he an ex teacher felt we needed help with everything. We probably did.
Lunch was in the small town of Cachi, I had some Quinoa and a salad and Doug tried goat stew. Both were okay but nothing we would want again.
This woman was in the main square banging the drum and chanting and then saying prayers for the tourists who visit.
The elevation is 8300 feet and to try and acclimatize our guide suggests we take coca leaves. We purchased a bag from one of the sellers around the square yesterday and you don't chew it but rather take three leaves, which look like fig leaves to me, and put them in your cheek. You keep them there for a couple of hours and then replace them with more.
They make you very thirsty however and so we went through a lot of water. They also act as a diuretic which can be inconvenient trying to find a place to pee in a desert with only small bushes and cactus.
The trip back had us in thick fog and pouring rain. The roads were one lane switchbacks through the mountains, so adding the fog and rain to that was un nerving. I was glad to be at the back of the van where I could not see anything. I slept most of the way back.
All in all an enjoyable but very long day, we did not get back until 7PM.
Siesta time is in most cities in Argentina. In Salta everything except resteraunts pretty much close up between 1 and 5PM. After re opening they will stay open until 9. Restaurants don't open for dinner until 9PM and stay open until at least midnight.
Off of the main square are pedestrian streets which are like huge open malls. A big police presence, people on the sidewalks selling everything from socks and sunglasses to popcorn and cotton candy. It is like a mosh pit at a rock concert it is so crowded. Seriously, and this is on weekdays as well as weekends. So many people out shopping.
Argentinians are the most patient people on the planet I think. I mentioned the line ups for everything. Well tonight I found a blouse I wanted to buy, there was a huge lineup for the change rooms so I just tried it on over my top and decided to buy it.
There were three checkers at tills and each one had 20 people in line. The fellow who was checking out our line was so slow it was un real. But nobody got impatient or said anything, they all just stood and waited. I could use some of that in my life
I am dreaming in Spanish now. I don't understand anything that anyone is saying.
Day 47. Salinas Grande
At 7AM we were picked up by Lewis our driver in a Ford SUV for our tour north. Rather than come back to Salta we are taking our luggage and will stay in a town that is at the end of the tour. We are joined by two young girls, Kim age 20 from Switzerland and Isabel age 18 from Austria. They are lovely young women and as they speak English our driver gives the tour mostly in English.
Again we are traveling though the mountains and the scenery changes a half dozen times during the day. Unfortunately I think that the lovely meal that I had last night was not so lovely after all. I was sick as a dog all day today and it was not the best day to be spending 12 hours in a truck. Our driver was wonderful however and stopped many times for bathroom breaks where we could.
On the way we saw a lot of cactus again, many llamas, donkeys, horses and guanaco, which are smaller and more delicate looking than llamas
The elevation was up to 14,000 feet and at this point we went for a hike up a hill to see
some ruins of pre inca times. The ruins were fascinating and we even had two condors flying overhead. The elevation however was a bit tough, especially when I was not feeling well anyhow.
We stopped in a small town for lunch where Doug had a quinoa soup and a Llama stew which he said was good. I stuck to water.
We had a flat tire one the way down one of the gravel roads. We were wondering what would happen if we had another, as we only had one spare and we did not pass too many other vehicles out here.
Our final destination of Salinas Grande was fantastic. It looked like a huge lake frozen over with ice. It is however solid salt, meters deep. Walking on it is a bit unnerving, I kept expecting the ice to crack as there is a layer of water on the top.
They extract salt from the lake as well as lithium. Borax is also mined in the area as well.
Purmamarca was over the mountain and 40 minutes away, our home for the next two nights. The hills are called the hills of 7 colors because of the many colors of the rocks. Our little cabin at the foot of the small mountain is just perfect and I was so happy to arrive and flake out in bed.
Doug went into the small town to have dinner but food was not in the cards for me today. I slept for a long time. It gets quite cold at night.
The last one is a copy of a post card because we could not stop the truck to take a picture.
Day 48 Purmamarca
A much better day for me today, thank goodness. I woke thinking I was in the Amazon, it sounded like parrots outside. Yes it was. Flocks of green parrots flying all over town. Strange really.
I just love this town. The population is 2000 and the elevation is now at 7625 feet. After breakfast we walked up into the hills for a hike for a couple of hours. One the many things in my shopping basket full of ailments is mild COPD, or lung disease. I have a hard time breathing when going up hill as it is, so throw in an 8000 ft attitude and it was a challenge to say the least. We stopped every few minutes to catch our breath, Doug felt a bit winded too, but not like me. It felt like I was hyperventilating and my arms and face were tingling. The sun was strong but not too hot. We were so lucky to have an almost cloud free day.
The scenery is gorgeous. After a while we reached the top and then I felt adjusted to the elevation. The trail did a loop and ended up on the other side of the town. The streets and shops are postcard prefect. Everything is in pristine condition and there are so many colorful goods for sale.
The main square is lined with tables of alpaca goods, hats, jewelry and trinkets. A tour bus has just arrived, a day trip from Salta most likely. After they leave the streets are quiet again, not many tourists here.
Tonight we will head back into town for dinner when the restaurants open at 830PM. It is hard to get used to eating so late.
So now it is off to Bolivia tomorrow. Don't Cry For Me Argentina, we had a great time in your country.