Sunday, January 17, 2010

¡Salta, la linda!

Salta, the it is known around these parts. When we first got to the city a couple of days ago, Pete and I were not convinced. Another noisy city with crazy traffic. The city parks could all use a facelift and the area where we stayed felt kinda sketchy.

And then, we gave it a chance. We settled in after our overnight jaunt to gorgeous, quaint Cafayate, and put our bias against cities aside. We took it all in, thanks in large part to the guidance of our friend Ruth who knows the city well.

We enjoyed a casual sidewalk dinner listening to Argentinian folk musicians. We rode a gondola to the top of Cerro San Bernardo to get a view of the vast city. We did a bit of shopping, marveling in the quality artisan products we could find - not all the shops were jammed with the typical tourist fare. I felt my eyes well up with tears during one museum visit. We sat at a plaza cafe, doing some serious people watching while the waiter free-poured the liquor. We toured through two jaw-dropping iglesias and marveled at the brilliant indulgences of the Catholic church. We even went up into the mountains of the city's outskirts and did some horseback riding.

We are now believers.

This city sums up what we love about Argentina. Even though the country is quite a bit more modern then, say, it's Bolivian neighbour, it has also retained much more of it's old world charm and culture then it's neighbour to the west, Chile. It is buzzing with energy, and set against a rustic, colonial backdrop. It has been a true highlight in our exploration of Argentina.

The one sad aspect of this stop (besides leaving it) is that we have also said goodbye to two good friends that we had the pleasure of meeting up with during our travels - Gill and Ruth. It is a true fin de una epoca, as we all head our separate ways with little chance of crossing paths again in our South American travels (unless of course, Gill starts stalking us again). It is hard to imagine the road ahead without them.

A few more details and pictures on this unforgettable city...

MAAM - Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Monta├▒a
We have done many museum tours in the past five months, but nothing has been as gut wrenching as this one. MAAM houses an understandably controversial exhibit.

In 1999, the bodies of three children were found some 480km west of Salta, near the Chilean border and on the peak of a mountain. From their clothing, accessories and markings they bore, it was determined that they were high-ranking human sacrifices of an Inca tribe. Given the high altitude at which they were placed, their features and everything they wore remained remarkably intact.

Only the boy, aged six, was on display during our visit as all three of them are rotated through on a six month basis in order to ensure preservation. He was displayed in the exact position in which they found him, his hair sprouting up and his skin perfectly preserved. Perhaps it is a good thing that we were not able to see all three as I immediately had tears come to my eyes and felt slightly nauseous on seeing him. It was a very chilling experience, to say the least. It is expected that there are many more such sacrifices yet to be found high on that mountain.

Churches, churches, and more churches!
Not that the pictures can give any indication of the jaw dropping sensation when viewing one of these magnificent buildings in person, but here they are anyways...

The Gaucho lifestyle
A very important icon of Argentinian culture is The Gaucho - that lonesome cowboy who tends to the open ranches with his incredible horsemanship. Who else do you think takes care of all this amazing beef that we love?

It is no surprise then that agrotourism is a huge deal here. People come from all over and pay good money in order to actually stay and WORK on a farm alongside the gauchos. Now, I am all about trying to experience different cultural aspects first hand, but I ain't paying to work nowhere! Also, what would my many farming relatives have to say about the fact that I was putting out my own money in order to work on a farm when they would let me do it for free?

We opted instead yesterday for an afternoon of riding horses alongside a gaucho in the mountains surrounding Salta, followed by a traditional asado (bbq) on the open grill.

I am NOT a horse person, and have only ridden twice in my life, with about 20 years spanning each time. In fact, horses have always scared me for the fact that they seem so uncontrollable. However, if I can jump off a mountain with only a piece of fabric protecting me from free-falling, then I surely can ride a damn horse for a couple of hours!

To be on the safe side, I asked for a horse that was muy tranquillo. I got what I asked for, that's for sure! I got the oldest, slowest and most stubborn horse possible. Up into the mountains we went, and I was always pulling up the rear, to the point that our gaucho had to come back and be sure that I was still with the group of seven. The horse would move only at one pace, and only when he felt like it. He also never liked to stick to the actual trail much, instead walking just far enough off of it to ensure that I was getting thoroughly scratched up by the thorns that lined the side. I'm pretty sure he hated me.

At one point, just after the peak of the trail, I caught up to the group only because they were all stopped. An English girl in our group had gotten off her horse and was crouched on the ground beside. She apparently wasn't feeling very good from something she ate a day ago, and with all the heat from the sun she had to stop as she thought she was going to be sick. Only a minute later she passed out completely for a good 20 seconds while her sister started freaking out trying to revive her. When she finally came to, she was completely delirious and was alternating between apologizing for the delay and asking for help. The gaucho took her on his horse and road her back down the hill for attention.

A scary few moments for all of us, but she was fine when we saw her later, just having been dehydrated and overexposed to the heat. We continued on our way down the hill, rather then waiting for the gaucho to return (as we probably should have). My arms show the reason why as I have a number of scratches from the thorns that overgrew the path on the right, when we obviously should have taken the path to the left!

Riding thru some thick brush

After we made it down, we had another quick ride on more open road where the horses could really move (mine trotted slightly, but that was all he would give), and then we stopped for lunch. The asado included all kinds of meat cooked up on the fire grill - ribs, steak, chorizo, etc. along with salad and potatoes. It was served on the beautiful patio of the ranch (which was at one time a convent - complete with a small chapel inside). All in all, a gorgeous day and we were pretty glad to spend it all outdoors before what we have coming up today...

A 23 hour bus ride for only a 2 day stop! Our longest trip yet, but the destination will be worth it. We are off to see the Iguazu Falls, which are taller and supposedly more magnificent then Niagara by a long shot.

MORE PICTURES!! A lot to catch up here.

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