We left San Pedro on a 10 hour bus ride to Salta in Argentina. We were promised stunning scenery and high altitude, and we got both: volcanoes, desert landscape, scary drops, colourful gullies, huge cactus, cute llamas, Andean altiplano and pure white salt flats on a road going over the 4500 metres over sea level to descend again to 1200 metres. Half aspirin and lots of water was our way of combating the possible effects of the high altitude. Aside a small headache, a bit of silliness and constantly going to the toilet all went well and we arrived to Salta in one piece.
Our visit to Argentina was totally unplanned. Since we had very little time left (only 2 months to visit Peru and Bolivia) and we don’t like rushing from one place to another, we had discarded visiting the country of the tango. But everybody in Chile recommended us visiting Salta, which is just across the Andes from San Pedro, and its surroundings. So we thought now that we are so close why not rearrange our route and spend a few days in Argentina? That’s the beauty of travelling without plans!
The differences between Chile and Argentina were easy to spot as soon as we got to the first town. Even though Argentina is still ahead of many other South American countries, it isn’t as developed as Chile yet. Towns are a bit more chaotic, not all streets are paved, houses seem to be much more humble, the average age of a car is no less than 20 years… One of the things that disappointed me when we got to Salta was the accent, people didn’t have that sexy Argentinian accent I was hoping to find. I learnt that for that I will have to go to la Pampa Argentina. Of course, even though there was no sign of the accent I so like, there was plenty of the non stop sweet talking that typical of the Argentinians. Once they start talking there is no way to stop them!
Argentina had been under the rule of the Spanish crown for almost 300 years and in Salta there are signs of their legacy everywhere. In all the traditional churches around the city, in the beautiful plaza, in the relaxed way of living and of course in the tasty food can be seen the impact the Spanish settlers had. But before the Spanish got to South America, the Inca’s where dominating much of it. And here in Salta, in the museum of Alta Montaña, is where we had our first contact with the Inca world. In 1999 they found at the top of the Llullaillaco volcano the mummified bodies of three children, and one of them is exposed in the museum. The practice of children sacrifice in mountains was common in celebration of key events in the life of the Inca emperor. The visit to the museum was really interesting, they explain much of Argentina’s Inca past and it was a great introduction to the Inca culture and traditions.
Like what we had seen in Chile, Argentinians love spending outdoors as much time as they can either socializing, shopping or just enjoying the good weather. The city’s Plaza 9 de Julio was a great example of it, always packed with locals. Walking on the streets surrounding the plaza it was like walking on a busy street market, with hundreds of tiny stalls selling from alfajores to empanadas, from t-shirts to socks, from flowers to copied CDs and DVDs… But all the frenzy and all the activities get on hold from 1pm to 5pm. That’s the time when Argentinians take a break for their lunch, when everybody disappears from the streets to hide from the heat. For us, it was the perfect time for a siesta and a great way to recover the energies after the long bus journeys!
We hadn’t arrived to Salta yet and we had already been told by an Argentinian girl on the bus that going to a Peña is one of the things we shouldn’t miss. Once we got to the hostel also Carlos, one of the owners, enthusiastically made the same suggestion. A Peña in Argentina is a restaurant with folklore music, where you pay for the food you eat and also an entry fee to watch the show. Carlos recommended us going to La Casona Del Molino, a bit less touristy Peña in a huge house, where the people who sing are the very same dinners with their own guitars (like an open mike session) and there is no entry fee. So on Friday night, we dressed up with our best clothes and headed to La Casona. We ordered a bottle of a nice Cafayate’s Malbec and a parrillada (different cuts of beef, pork and chicken barbecued) for two. As we were finishing licking our plates the singing started. At each room somebody was singing a different beautiful Argentinian singer-songwriters songs. Although we didn’t know any of the songs we stayed there for hours, captivated by the deep voices of the locals and the intense words of the lyrics while enjoying a bit too much wine.
Food was another highlight of our short visit to Argentina. Argentina is known for its bife de chorizo and juicy parrilladas, but Salta is specially know for its unique Salteñan cuisine. Of course we did our best to try as many Salteñan dishes as we could: delicious meat and charqui empanadas, tasty humitas, yummy tamales and hearty locro just to name a few. Also Argentinians are well known for drinking mate everywhere and at any time of the day. Mate is just a tea and it gets its name from the traditional cup used to drink it. We learnt that there are two types of mates, mate de yerba (made with the mate plant) and the controversial mate de coca (made with coca leaves). Coca leaves are also chewed by the locals and sold everywhere. Of course, we had to try it. We went to a little store and Isma as if he were a delinquent asked for coca. After having the coca leaves in my mouth for five minutes I have to say that it’s not for me, I still prefer the mate de coca. But for Isma it wasn’t that bad and repeated it once more.
We didn’t want to diverge much from our initial plans, so we started making our way to Bolivia after only 3 days in Salta. The logistics of the crossing required that we made one extra stop on the way and we decided to stop at Humahuaca. We spent two nights at this small village located in La Quebrada de Humahuaca (gully of Humahuaca). Humahuaca has a cute centre, all with adobe houses and it is surrounded by colourful hills and giant cactuses. Although during the day it is a very touristy spot with many tour buses arriving and leaving just after a couple of hours, it has still a very authentic and local feel. One of the evenings, after visiting all there was to visit in Humahuaca, and with not much to do, we watched The Motorcycle Diaries. Movie that tells the adventures of a young Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado when they travelled around South America with Ponderosa (their motorbike). It is based on the diary the very same Che wrote during their trip. It was a real adventure, full of intense experiences and probably when Che started to grow his revolutionary ideas.
It has been a really, really short visit to Argentina. We have only been able to get a little taste of what this immense country has to offer and we have been tempted to stay much longer to discover a bit more… but it will have to be in another time.
Visit our flickr gallery to see all the pictures!
Salta, 7 Duendes Twin Hostel – We had a pleasant stay at the 7 Duendes Twin. Although it’s not right in the city centre, it is in a quite and humble neighbourhood just 15 minutes walking to the main plaza. The hostel is quite new and it’s nicely finished. We stayed in a double room with shared bathroom. There was free wifi and a simple breakfast (bread, butter, jam, coffee & tea) was included in the price. The shared facilities are good and clean and the kitchen has all you need if you want to cook. The only bad remark is that our room was near the reception and the kitchen, so it was a bit noisy at night and in the mornings. We would stay again. We paid 110 ARS per night.
Humahuaca, Hostal Humahuaca – This hostal is right in the centre of Humahuaca. We stayed at a double room with private bathroom. While the rooms and bathrooms are ok, the hostal still needs a bit of love and attention. The kitchen, if I can call it a kitchen, was very poorly equipped (e.g. there were no cups or glasses, no spoons…) and there was a scary constant smell of gas coming out from the stove. The hostel has a nice courtyard with a few tables and umbrellas where we spent some time blogging but it also needs a bit of work. The good thing is that there is free wifi and it works quite well keeping in mind that you are in Humahuaca. We paid 100 ARS per night. We could stay again… but not if we had to use the kitchen.
From San Pedro de Atacama to Salta by bus (10h) – We travelled with Andesmar, an Argentinian company, on a semi cama bus. It wasn’t as comfortable and new as the Chilean buses. We watched three type the same movie and weren’t allowed to get off the bus to stretch our legs. There was free water and soft drinks on the bus and we were given a couple of sandwiches. We paid 27.000 CLP per person.
From Salta to Humahuaca by bus (4h 30min) – We travelled with Flecha Bus on a semi cama bus. The bus ride was ok and with no incidents. We paid 71 ARS per person.