After our little detour through Paraguay we came back to Argentina. So we entered the country for the fifth time in less than two months (maybe the secret service will start to wonder WTH we are trying to do here).
Even though we entered the country a lot, so far we have had mixed feelings about the country, and it was almost walking backwards that we came in again.
As places, we liked Buenos Aires, we’ve seen the (almost) bottom of South America in Ushuaia, had some of the best hiking days of the trip in Patagonia, and witness the might of the Iguazu Falls. All of it sounds epic, and it surely is but we were missing something. The places we have been felt like dedicated to tourism only, with plenty of opportunities to do crazy things in the awesome outdoor playground that Argentina has, but we found very little culture, or traditions. As often when the main attraction is tourism, the prices go up, and the quality of service or offer goes down. And we saw a lot of that too. Patagonia is an expansive place to visit, Buenos Aires is like all capitals, not really a bargain, and Puerto Iguazu, despite being a very small village in the jungle full of awesome natural reserves did not have anything much better than Swedish price ranged pizzas. The food options were always limited to pizza, pasta, or grilled meat (of varying quality) with fries.
Argentina is a country that has faced several serious financial crises over the past years, and as a result of that the economy of the country is quite unstable. For us travellers today, it results in very annoying little details: we can only take out a small amount of cash from the machine at a time, and each time we do, we have to pay expansive fees. Moreover, a lot of places refuse to accept credit cards, or they are charging also quite a lot for that. We have lost quite a lot of money in taxes so far, and we would have rather spent it elsehow. The prices all over the country have gone up a lot as well, and not only in remote Patagonia. If you read about Argentina or talk to people that say it is a cheap country, it is not anymore. Sometimes we are close to Swedish prices.
So for all of these reasons, we were uncertain of how long more we were going to stay in Argentina, and our general mood was to try to reach the north to enter cheaper Bolivia.
But nonetheless, we were looking at our visit in the city of Salta. It did not start super well, as our bus from Paraguay to Resistencia in Argentina got delayed by three hours while trying to go through the border. One person working, five looking around, no computer or passport reader, the fact that every single luggage had to be checked and a general mess: welcome back to Argentina! We were going to miss our connection bus to reach Salta, but the second bus had a flat tyre, and got delayed by three hours too. So at the end, we just waited a lot, and got quite delayed but it could have been worse.
After one night sleep in the bus we reached Salta, and liked it at first sight almost. It was quieter than any big cities we’ve been before, with a lot of parks and green areas, and splendid colonial style buildings and churches. The weather was lovely as well, sunny but not too hot, like a proper Swedish summer.
We stayed in a very charming house, booked through AirBnb, and for almost the first time since ages, we relaxed, did only a little everyday between two coffees.
We discovered the strong culture and heritage of Northwest Argentina. Unlike Patagonia who was very seldom inhabited until recently expect for nomadic tribes, Northwest Argentina has been more populated, by indigenous people first, and then conquered by the Incas, whose empire grew as south as Santiago in Chile, just before the Spanish came and put a halt to its expansion. As the area around Salta is right in the middle of the Andes, with some pretty high mountains, it holds a particular importance for the Inca people who believed that high summits and volcanoes where the way where the soul would reach the sky and meet with the ancestors. In several volcano summits, they found some archaeological sites with altars and tombs. Including some mummified kids. Yes, you read that right. We visited a pretty interesting museum, and terrifying at the same time, about the mummy kids in Salta. It was apparently a thing during Inca time to sacrifice the most good looking kids of the village to the gods. The kids will be picked up very young, then sent to the capital of the empire, Cuzco, where after some initiation time they would go back to their village. There a procession will be organised to the highest volcano, where a tomb was dug. After drugging the kids so they would sleep, they will be buried alive and their soul will leave their body to reach out to the ancestors. Some 20 years ago an archaeological expedition found three of them, in a state of conservation beyond belief. The cold, the lack of oxygen at that altitude, as well as a layer of volcano ash that covered them had allowed this unique feature, and after some scientific research, their bodies are now shown in the museum. It is not a visit or sight that let you insensitive!
The Inca heritage can also be seen in the local gastronomy. It is richer here in Salta than anywhere we’ve been before. There is more corn everywhere, some quinoa, some stews with goat meat, some new kind of small potatoes, as well as llama meat!
We discovered Merima’s new favourite food so far : humitas! Even better than the Paraguayan chipas. The humitas are made out of freshly grinded corn paste, more corn, and a bit of onion and potatoes. The paste is rolled in balls, which are place into corn leaves, and put to cook into a steamer. Once it is cooked, you open the corn leaves, and eat it all. Delicious!! And the good news is that it seems from now on, there will be humitas all along the rest of our travel!
During one of our nights out in Salta, we went to a peña. It is a typical restaurant where live music and dance is displayed at the time of eating, a bit cabaret like, where the French Cancan dancers would be replaced by guys looking like cowboys in traditional costume, doing some crazy tap dancing with knifes and whip in their hands, as well as girls with traditional long dresses, waving around handkerchiefs to the sounds of drums and flutes. Fantastic! And for the music part, a group of guitar guys would sing along and ask the public of locals (with another Italian couple, we were the only gringos in the audience) to join them. They were really good at creating a warm atmosphere, and even ask personally to every table where they were coming from, and then asking for a round of applause to welcome everyone. We got our own round of applause too J For the record we said we were from Sweden to make it shorter and easier! It was a really nice evening, even after one of the dancers asked Fred to join her on stage. She probably quickly realized her mistake and regretted it for the whole dance!
In the next post, you’ll have a read about the little road trip we took in Salta’s surroundings and how we ended up either on Mars or the Moon. We’re still not so sure!