Posted by: robinson2000 | August 21, 2013

Sleepless in Salta

Salta – Saturday 10th – Tuesday 13th

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From Tucuman we headed further North to the atmospheric city of Salta, renowned for its colonial buildings, elegant plazas, stirring folklore music and fabulous food. Salta is a fairly small city surrounded by mountains and popular with travellers. It is also an excellent base for exploring the Andean regions nearby, particularly the Salinas Grandes (Salt Flats) and the route of the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), which is apparently one of the great railway journeys of South America. Nicola can verify this as she did this trip in 2002. It was a birthday present from her students for her 19th birthday. For all you railway enthusiasts out there, the line was built between 1921 and 1948 and runs from Salta to Socompa (nearing the border of Chile). It reaches altitudes of 4475 m and includes 21 tunnels, 13 viaducts, 31 bridges, 2 loops and 2 zig-zags. (Sounds thrilling, I know!)

We arrived in Salta on Saturday afternoon after a short (5 hours) coach ride from Tucuman. We found a pleasant, but cold, hostel a few blocks from the main plaza. Nicola wasn’t feeling 100% that day, so whilst she caught a few hours nap I had a wander around the main plaza (Plaza 9 de Julio) with its tall palm trees surrounded by colonial buildings. It had a really nice atmosphere and in one corner of the plaza they had erected a stage for musicians to perform on. Later that evening, after Nicola was back to her normal self, we wandered around looking for a good place to eat and booked our tour for Monday amongst one of many tour operators.

Sunday (11th August) was a gorgeous day, stunning blue sky and scorching sun. We had wanted to take the cable car to the top of a nearby mountain called Cerro San Bernado but being the same day as national elections, annoyingly, everything was closed. We therefore resorted to Plan B and hiked up the 1500m mountain. This was actually far better as it provided us with stunning views over the city and the Andes, much needed exercise and a suntan! Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a Argentinian sunday roast, which is called a parilla. This is where you are given a hot grill of various cuts of meat alongside salad, potatoes etc. Being the day of elections, disappointingly, they couldn’t sell us beer! There was so much meat it defeated us (which in itself is a wonder considering our huge appetites!) so we gave away the remnants to a homeless dog who then followed us for the rest of the afternoon!

The only way we managed to lose the mangy mutt was to run into a bus terminal and hide! Here we also bought our onwards bus tickets for Juyuy on Tuesday. Dog-free, we wandered over to the nearby park, Parque San Martin, which was bustling with people and a busy market. Nicola scoured the market looking for bargains but to her disappointment not one bugger was up for haggling! Their loss! As it was such a nice afternoon and there was a real family atmosphere in the park we hired a row boat and took it in turns to row around the small lake.

On Monday we were picked up nice and early by a guide who drove us, along with another Argentinian couple, into the Andean Mountains to see some of its spectacular sights. We started off by following the route of the Tren a las nubes where we both felt pretty rough due to the altitude (3500m) and the early start! The morning quickly got better as the sun came out and we acclimatised with some mate (traditional Argentinian tea) from the Argentinian couple we were intimately sharing a 4 door car with! After driving through lots of mountain passes and huge cacti we stopped at a small town for a normal (english) cup of tea which made us feel a lot better. We then moved on to an old mining town called San Antonio de los cobres where we had a simple but traditional lunch with the other couple. Several llamas later and we were climbing even higher, up to 4100metres into la puna. Here the landscape is incredibly arid, dusty and we really couldn’t walk too fast without having problems breathing. We were lucky to see close up, a herd of llamas and their smaller, more timid, relatives, the vacunas. In the distance we could see las salinas grandes, vast, white, salt flats which cover the highlands of the Andes (and the provinces of Juyuy and Salta). Here we had ample time to take silly pictures and enjoy the experience. Driving on we made the descent via several hair-pin turns and rapidly dropped 2000metres into the small but quaint town of Purmamarca. The biggest attraction here is la montana de siete colores – the mountain of seven colours. There were a lot of tourists here buying lots of artisan goods. Tempted, but concerned about our ever decreasing budget and lack of space in our backpacks, we left empty handed! 512km later, after a very long drive and a tiring day, we were back in our cold hostel in Salta. Grateful to no longer be pressed up against a very nice but rather large in size Argentinian man, we stretched our legs and walked to an area of Salta famous for traditional bars and restaurants showing pena performances. Sold by the performance but let down by the food, we enjoyed two hours of traditional dance and music of the north in this pena.

Tuesday was unfortunately bitterly cold and grey. We occupied the morning with a stroll around town and a lunch in a nice cafe (with our favourite food after empanadas, milanesa) overlooking the plaza. The highlight of the morning was a visit to the MAAM Museum, which featured three preserved bodies of Inca children who had been discovered buried at the summit of a nearby volcano. The children had apparently been sacrificed 600 years ago as part of an Inca ritual and the due to the freezing temperatures and high altitude, the bodies were in near perfect condition (except for the small 5 year old who had been burned by a lightning bolt). After stocking up on some small supplies in a nearby supermarket (which took me 40 minutes to buy water and fruit!) we headed to the bus terminal to get the bus to San Salvador de Juyuy, a city 2 hrs further north of Salta and closer to Bolivia.

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