Congratulations to me are in order! I just finished 2 politics essays culminating 4000 words. I have been working on those stinkers for like 2 weeks now. Finally ready to talk about my trip up north!!
The bus ride was about 24 hours. The time was surprisingly a non-issue. I had just worked Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of that week before; the night before until about 5 in the morning. AND I fell asleep on the bus and ended up in San Telmo so I had to walk home after that. I was running rate to make my bus on Sunday at noon (surprise, surprise) and saw an advertisement from the cab window. It said "Salta awaits you," and had a beautiful picture below. Life is such a movie sometimes, I swear. I made the bus with about five minutes to spare, which is better than some of the other buses I've struggled to catch. Once I got on, I just felt incredible! I hadn't been out of the city since Tigre in January, which is a LOT of time to spend in the center of a downtown of a busy city. Here's a picture from the bus window:
We got into the city of Salta at around 3 on Monday afternoon.
When I got there, I went to a tourist agency to ask for ideas on making a route throughout Salta. The problem was that, because it was rainy season, everything was considerably more challenging.... some not even doable because of flooding and mudslides. I decided to sleep that night in Chicoana, a quick 45-minute bus ride out of the city. It was a beautiful ride there though the country. I was smiling so dorkishly in my bus seat.
Fortunately, that week that I was there was ALL Carnaval all throughout Salta and Jujuy. This is how Chicoana looked when I arrived. It was raining. I found a hostel real quick, and went for a walk.
I stumbled into a tobacco field... and just stood there, listening to the raindrops gently hit the leaves.
The sky boomed with thunder. I rolled up my pantlegs and ran out, my shoes squishing in the mud. Music came from a folklore dance nearby down the dirt road. It cost 15 pesos, but I got in for 5 ($1.20 USD) because I played the foreigner card. (I'm traveling and don't have much money....) It was already getting dark by that time. I met a lovely younger (in their 30s) couple, Felipe and Carlotta, who let me sit with them and shared some boxed wine with me. I watched them dance. Folkloric dance is so beautiful to watch. They hold their arms up in the air, and turn, and snap: it kind of reminds me of windmills. He rolled up his panuelo (hankerchief) in the air. She held hers in front of her mouth, like a mating game.
Some people were dressed up as gauchos. I asked them if it was just for Carnaval. Felipe said they always dress like that, that's its a way of keeping the traditional "Salteño" traditions alive. They even still consider themselves gauchos.
I got a tamale. The couple that was making them were actually there because they had won a local tamale-making competition. That says something, because everyone says that Salta is home of the best tamales in Argentina.
A tall, skinny man with no teeth and deep cheekbones asked me to dance. The couple I was with said it's rude to say no to a dance. (According to customs.) I said okay. Went I got to the dirt-ground dance floor, a boy came up to me and handed me a hankerchief. Fortunately I had a fair amount of cups of boxed wine, so I just watched the other people dancing and danced! It was fun. I danced a lot that night. It tired me out! Some people had their faces painted. Carnaval is supposedly the time that the devil is set loose and because of that, everyone dresses up in silly costumes and parties! It's basically the one time of year that no one works for about one or two weeks, and can just relax. What an amazing tradition, huh?
A woman got up and played a drum and sand in some indigenous language. I think it was Quechua. My eyes started to water up. It was beautiful.
It ended at 10. Before I left, an old drunk man from the town gave me a laurel of albahaca (basil), a traditional symbol of carnaval. (Or at least that of Salta.) Felipe drove me back to the hostel in this jeep with open doors. It bumped up and down on the dirt road. When I returned, a man, Daniel, had left me a message. In the guest book, everyone writes where they came from and where they're going to. Daniel saw that I was intended to go to Cachi, and he was also. He had a car, so offered to take me early in the morning. That night, I fell asleep to crickets.
We met up at about 7:30 that morning in the lobby, and stopped for a cup of coffee and medialunas before the drive. It had rained all night, so there was a chance that the path would be cut by rain. We decided to try anyway.
We drove through giant ponds and waited as cranes moved piles of dirt so cars could pass (See left side of the phone above) and we were actually feeling pretty hopeful until we got to a rest stop in El Maray, and it began to rain again. Here are some photos from the rest stop. Next to the picture taken below was an auto-repair shop, with a baby goat (5 months-old) on the roof.
The dude on the left has a big hunk of coca leaves in his cheek. Keep in mind that it's NOT like cocaine! Sucking on coca leaves is a tradition up north like drinking mate is for other parts of Argentina/Latin America. It's also used to help with altitude sickness. When you suck on them, your saliva mixed with the leaves produces a kind of juice, which also helps with dehydration. It tastes very bitter!
We ended up having to wait there for like an hour or so, hoping the rain would stop. It didn't. A big tour bus of older French couples was stuck in the little restaurant there with us. The bus driver bought me a Pepsi to accompany my delicious 2 pesos (50 cent) a piece empanadas. Daniel decided to continue waiting, but the tour bus decided to turn back around and go back to Salta the city. I didn't want to potentially stay there for the night, and since the tour bus offered to let me go back with them, I took them up on it. It was a very funny ride, considering my French is limited to "Bonjour," "Mercy," and "Toilet" (spelling?), and that the age group on the bus was probably between 50 and 80. I fit right in. It was around 2 in the afternoon at that time. One man handed me a plastic cup with straight gin. Some things just don't need a translator, huh?
We got back into Salta about an hour or hour and a half later. After dropping off the french group at a hotel, the tour/coach bus driver drove me around in that big thing to find a hostel. I found a nice one, and we split ways. The sun had finally come out, too! Here are some pictures from the hostel.
I didn't want to spend much time in Salta the city. In fact, I wanted to avoid city, even a small one, for as long as possible. I checked in to the hostel, then went over to the town square and picked up a bus to San Lorenzo. It was about 40 minutes away. Here's a picture from the bus window:
It's a fairly rich suburban town, but the line ends in a place where you can do mountain hikes or horseback riding. Before I went up I got some coca leaves for the trip. Here are some pictures from the hike:
By the time I got back down to the bottom of the mountain, it was dark. Just before a little mountain kiosk closed, I bought a big hunk of goat's cheese and a big circle of bread with pieces of sausage baked into it. I hopped on a bus, headed back to the hostel, and got to bed at about 11:30 that night.
The next morning, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to look up hostels in Cafayate, where I was heading to that day. The streets were dark and incredible foggy! You couldn't see past the block. The bus left the station at 7. Of course, I underestimated how long it would take to walk there, and ended up having to run to the station with my big backpack and stuffed purse. I made it with about two minutes to spare. Fortunately, everything in Argentina is late. (In that way, I'm so right for this country, no?) It was about a 3 hour bus ride to Cafayate.
Right when I got off the bus, there was a lady waiting to attract people to the hostel. I went with her. I had to share the room (bunks) with about 9 other people, but it wasn't a big deal.
Wow, I've been working on this blog post for a while! I think I'm gonna come back to this later. Stay tuned... Cafayate was probably the best day of all of them!
Sending lots of love.