Saturday, December 8, 2012

Salta, Argentina

Salta Twilight
We left off our last update at the border between Argentina and Bolivia, yes?  We had the land border crossing thing down by the time we got to the Argentinian border.  Go to a cambio (a money changer) on the Bolivian side to change our Bolivianos for Argentinian pesos, get your “salida” stamp from Bolivia, your “entrada” stamp from Argentina and you’re on your way.  The beauty of this is that you can pay for a cab to take you to the bus station on the other side of the border, rather than having to hoof it for a couple of kilometers with giant, heavy backpacks because you have no currency and nowhere to change some on the Argentinian side at the border.  We met some backpackers from Denver on the bus who hadn’t changed their money.  They also missed their bus, which would be my second bit of hard knowledge—buy the ticket at the bus station, if you know there are many buses going the way you’re headed. Otherwise you better hope they refund your money or re-book your ticket. 

Having said that, while we had enough money for a taxi, we didn’t have enough cash for bus tickets. And as we’ve learned, buying your tickets at the bus station usually requires cash. So you should try to make sure you have the cash for the tickets if you’re following this plan.  We did not.  So Lana sprinted to the nearest ATM (asking where the nearest ATM is is a great way to meet locals!), waited impatiently in line for the one working ATM, and then sprinted back with a fistful of Argentinian pesos.  At any rate, we all got on the bus—the backpackers were re-booked on the bus as well.
The first leg of the bus trip took us from La Quiaca, the border town on the Argentinian side, to Jujuy in Argentina.  Most of the cities to visit and formations to see are along this road, and while we didn’t make time to see all of them before we were to fly out of Salta, we were lucky enough to travel this road in the daylight and see them as we went.  The geology of this area is fascinating—all strange undulations and stripes.
After five hours we made it Jujuy, where we had about an hour (which stretched into an hour and a half) until our next bus.  These hours were not without pain and horror, however, as the movies playing on the bus were: Taken II, Final Destination(s) 1, , all dubbed in Spanish.  That is not to say that there is much to dub, once you leave off all the screaming that happens in those movies.  We didn’t see the end of second Final Destination, but we’re sure they all died in lengthy, horrible, ironic, surprising, and shriek-filled ways.  On top of all of that there was a child, whose mother bought two seats for herself and her three children, that stood in the aisle at David’s shoulder to get a better view of the screen.  He was four, and smelled like he hadn’t been washed since he was three. We were glad to get to Jujuy.
Loaded down with bags, and not having enough time to wander through town for something to eat, we opted for café con leche and medialunas at the coffee shop in the bus station. It was surprisingly yummy, and the coffee a much-needed kick of caffeine.  We also met a gentleman who wanted to practice his rusty english on us, who told us about living in New York after World War II, and how we should be careful in Buenos Aires because everyone would be out to get our money, and not to be out after dark.  There was something about gunshots and richochets and a bruise on his face that we didn’t completely understand, but it was a nice way to pass the time while we waited for our bus to Salta to show up.

The view from the bus before sunset was pretty.

The bus finally came and we were on our way.  This leg was blessedly short, only two hours, and we sat in what Lana likes to call the “crow’s nest” seats, directly above the driver.  This can be exciting if there are overpasses that look short, but we thankfully cleared them all.  The beauty of this seat, is there is no one to recline their seat into your lap. We got to Salta around 11, and unfortunately lost track of the nice couple from Denver, so never got their email address, but we were a little preoccupied, as we’d neglected to write down the address for our hostel in Salta, and had never managed to successfully connect to wifi with her Android to cache the email with the address.  We decided to take a taxi to the main square and try to find a wifi connection.  We ended up buying water at a café to get access to their wifi, and found the address was within easy walking distance. We got to the hostel around midnight, but were so relieved and happy to be out from under the specter of the Bolivian census and the Argentinian general strike that we had a hard time getting to sleep.  The tiny room, and still, warm air with no window didn’t help.

The next morning we knew that there was a general strike, and that everything might be shut down anyway, we slept late, ate breakfast at the hostel that pretty much looked like our dinner from the night before, and moved camp to a different hotel that had a larger room.  After that we wandered around to take in the sights.  The general strike was happening, and we did see a protest parade (we would see a couple of these again later in Buenos Aires), but generally it looked like most people took off work and went shopping.  All the stores were open, and lots of people were walking around, eating ice cream.

Sadly, however, we came to the realization that Lana was getting sick, and that as much as David thought he was feeling better, he was still sick too. The good thing about Salta is that they take their siesta time very seriously, and everything shuts down between 2pm and 5-6pm.   Even the dogs nap.EVERYONE siestas!
So some large amount of time was spent napping in our hotel room and objecting to the fact that we weren’t seeing much of Salta.  It was also during this time that we discovered something very, very sad. Get some tissues ready and take a seat. We accidentally left our bag of foodstuffs, including our very own special hand-made chocolates, on the train in Bolivia.  I know, I know. We’re still in mourning.

Eventually we pulled ourselves together and ventured out for some dinner, trying to adjust our clocks to places that don’t open for dinner until 8pm.  We ended up at a parilla (pronounced Par-ee-sha), which is essentially an Argentinian grill restaurant. While some cuts of meat are cooked directly on a metal grill, the traditional asado method is to suspend an entire leg (or an entire animal, in the case of lamb or baby goat) at an angle over a wood fire for about 4 hours.  The meat is only seasoned with salt.  Our first introduction to how very much Argentinians like their carne (meat).   They don’t stop at grilling their meat, either. One of the best things you can get as an appetizer is provoleta, aged provolone cheese grilled until both crispy and melty. Then they drizzle olive oil over it and deliver it on a plate that’s also been sitting on the grill, ensuring it stays melty for quite a while.
We were sick but we did our best—David had roasted goat, and I had the cheese and some empanadas.  After dinner we wandered down to a local pharmacy to get some more tissues and ibuprofen and we marvelled at how quickly we had gone from a pharmacy where you had to ask for anything, from tissues to vitamin c, to be given to you from behind the counter, to a large, many aisled store with a large over-the-counter section.  The contrasts between Bolivia and Argentina were the starkest for us in the grocery store and the pharmacy, though the bathrooms were also completely different: every single one has  bidet.  More useful, the sinks all have hot water taps, which is a very welcome change.

We got a good night’s sleep in a quiet hotel room, had a decent breakfast this morning at the hotel (more than just bread and jam! how luxurious!), and headed out to the airport to catch our flight to Buenos Aires, where we would spend the next eight (or as it turned out, ten) days.