Geez, I’ve certainly been traveling up a storm recently! When we last left off, I had just returned from the Argentine Patagonia (check my story out HERE), and I barely had time to catch my breath in Buenos Aires before gearing up for my next trip, which was to the city of Salta in the extreme Northwest tip of Argentina. My friends and I scored a sweet deal on the travel and accommodations with the same travel agency that took us to Calafate, and after kissing my host family goodbye (it seems as though I had just said hello to them), I was on a plane to the high-altitude deserts and rugged Andes Mountains of the north.
Before I had left, my host Dad took me aside and advised me that Salta was famous (food-wise) for its empanadas, tamales, and wine; and he urged me to try all three. So, after landing, dropping our stuff off at the hostel (and saying hi to the kitten that lived there), we set off in search of delicious and authentic Salteñan food and drink. Our trusty Lonely Planet app steered us towards a restaurant called Doña Salta, which, while kitschy (the waiters dressed up like Gauchos), had extraordinary food and wine. I sampled the empanadas (which are more like empanaditas; they’re pretty small in the Salteñan style) with delicious dried meat only found in Salta, and enjoyed my first bites in a long time of tamales (yum!). I also had Locro, which is a lamb stew popular in the Northern regions of Argentina. The food was all rich and hearty, which proved to be a theme for all the food that we ate that weekend. It seemed appropriate for chilly and mountainous region in which we found ourselves, and my tummy certainly didn’t mind. We told ourselves we would crash early that night since we had a tour planned at 7 the next morning, but since we are silly college students who were stoked to be in a new city, we naturally didn’t sleep much that night (note: this is a very consistent theme for this trip, and I probably averaged only four hours of sleep a night #restandrelaxation?).
The next morning found us excited if a little exhausted, and we had barely shook the sleep from our groggy eyes before we had hopped onto a combi (a giant van-type vehicle for carrying larger groups of people) and began our photo adventure to Cafayate, which is a wine town tucked into the nape of the Andes. We had a van photo/food/informational tour planned for each day, and each tour that we took had a different mood depending on who our fellow riders were. Today, the mood was ENERGY. We were with a crew of middle-aged women from Mar del Plata (shoutout to the first city that I ever traveled to in BsAs) who liked to have fun! That day was the birthday of one of their members (Ramira), and I lost track of how many times we sang “Cumpleaños Felíz” during that drive. We also saw amazing vistas, drank yummy pink wine, enjoyed some llama empanadas, and I bought an alpaca sweater. The women were wonderful company, they were tickled pink that we were American but spoke comfortable Spanish. We ended that day with quick stroll into a canyon for our last photo stop, and while we were there a ukelele player took full advantage of the acoustics of the canyon with a few tunes, which inspired our new friends to dance wildly and sing along. Then, the ladies from the sea gathered us all into a circle and we prayed for Paz Mundial. #blessed. What an amazing day.
Day two (Saturday), however, was the one we were all waiting for, the (longggg) day trip to the Salt Flats of Jujuy. After staying up way too late the night before (again) with our new friends from the hostel, we crowded into a new van with a new crew and hit the road for the Salt Flats. If yesterday’s theme was energy, then today’s was absolutely adversity. The day started auspiciously enough; we met some cool new friends who were staying in Tucumán and took some enthusiastic photos with us next to the Train to the Sky. However, after one of our first photo stops, our guide couldn’t get the car in gear (basically every vehicle is stick-shift here), and he turned to us and explained that without the ability to shift gears, our car wouldn’t be able to drive. We had no radio, no cell service, and no idea what to do. Our guide, fortunately, happened to be a mechanic, but after taking apart the whole front panel of the The mood of the group rapidly began to sour until another combi trundled along and we were able to flag it down. After about an hour (from when the car broke down to the end of the tinkering), our driver had jury-rigged the gearbox cables together with a piece of wire from the toolkit that the other combi had. And that jury-rigged system lasted the ENTIRE 12 hour day, including some really rough driving. Color me impressed. But broken-down autos aside, that Saturday was also obscenely windy, and the towns that we visited were all out in the open and duuusty. By the time we finally pulled up to the salt flats, most of us were tired and ready for the attraction that we had traveled so long (about a 5.5 hour drive thus far) to reach. However, the flats were absolutely worth it. We braved the wind and took a ton of goofy photos, and afterwards we hopped in the car and passed around some mate. Between the excitement of the salt flat and the mateína, the mood and morale definitely improved. Still, we were a ways away from Salta when we were at the Salinas, and it was a long haul back home. When we finally made it back to our lodgings, darkness had long since fallen, and hostel food had never tasted so good.
Finally, for our last day, our van tour promised us a trip to Cachi, which is another tiny mountain town that is known for both its goat and having spawned a former Argentine president. To get there, we drove up a winding mountain road that offered spectacular views of a cloud-cloaked Salta. The were cacti everywhere, and between the hardy desert plants and the color of the soil, I felt like I was in Tucson, Arizona (a town I know and love). On the drive up, our affable (my personal favorite) guide introduced us to the mountain tradition of coqueando, which means the process of chewing coca leaves. While each leaf contains a minute amount of cocaína (yes, the stuff in cocaine, but it’s more like caffeine than anything else in the leaf form), our guide assured us that people chewed these leaves the “help with the digestion”, before opening his mouth and cramming about 500 leaves into it. Oh well. However, our guide also asked if anyone in the car (which was populated today by a bunch of retired Argentines. We, like every other day in Salta, were the only Americans in the car) if they wanted to perform music with him at the restaurant in Cachi. Someone volunteered me (granted, I would have volunteered myself if given the chance), and before I knew up I was perched in front of a crowd of elderly Argentines singing Creedence Clearwater Revival (I forgot a verse but just made up the words in English and they were none the wiser). I also ate goat for the first time. Fantastic day.
And then, a god-awfully early morning flight later, I was back in Buenos Aires with some fantastic memories (and a lot of homework that needed doing) under my belt. Once again, I felt incredibly lucky to travel, and I had spent the weekend with some of my favorite gringos that I have met during this program. Plus, we were all photogenic and avid photographers, so between the 6 of us we probably took about 1000 photos. I assure you that I made sizable cuts to get to the 88 photos that I’m posted here. What a fantastic weekend.
Now, I’m in Buenos Aires and World Cup fever is in full swing. I’m writing this while watching Colombia beat Greece and doing my best to balance academics with soccer (soccer might be winning). It’s hitting me a little harder each day that I only have 3 weeks left in this fantastic country. Definitely not ready to leave. Not yet. I no doubt will write some overwrought and unnecessarily verbose reflection when I end my days here, but until then, I’ve still got some more adventures. Mendoza this weekend! See you on the other side! Dale, vamos!