Gaucho Town - Salta, Argentina

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June 20th 2011
Published: July 26th 2011
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In the end, I think Ciaran and I spent a bit too long in Salta and so feeling on the place in the end were undeservably a little rougher than they should have been. Staying as long as we did though, couldn't really be helped as I had the dreaded man flu for the first couple of days.

Feeling rough and getting ill in Salta, I put down to the huge bus journey we'd undertaken in arriving. Between the three legs, the bus journey had taken a whole day and night. Jet lag is something that is very easily avoidable, but simply adjusting your sleeping pattern a little and staying awake longer than you'd like to, but this sort of bus journey is impossible with popping a valium if you want to sleep. We didn't have any sadly so we were both completely wrecked the morning we got off at the bus station and promptly walked the wrong direction out of the exit.

We walked completely the wrong way after having consulted our map, street signs can be a rarity, so you often have to make judgement calls. The direction of the Andes was our
What a bladder!What a bladder!What a bladder!

The excellent Pissbag
indication that we were going the wrong way. I asked a local and he confirmed it. This dull tired walk was saved by two things - the first was the view of the Andean Basin sitting next to the city. Mountains instantly make me think that a location is my kind of place. The second was that we met and decided that we liked one of the many many random roaming dogs. This scruffy mutt followed us and we fed is some of the many overly-sugary biscuits we were granted as lunch, dinner and breakfast on the buses.

We affectately named the dog, Pissbag, for Pissbag pee'd almost constantly, on everything he saw, without ever needing to take a drink.

He followed us as we got back to the bus station and promptly walking in a different wrong direction. There were three routes out and eventually we walked down our last option and towards town. The dog followed us whilst urinating in basically every direction except for vertically, until we reached the front door of the hostel we planned on staying in. We walked straight in and ashamedly forgot about the dog somewhat. I blame the lack of sleep.

Maybe it was due to the lack of excitment or entertainment in Paraguay, but we felt we had to do something that morning, lack of sleep irregardless. As a result we headed off vaguely in the direction of Cerro San Bernado, standing at 1458m. We walked towards this reasonable looking hike only to have to stop for coffee whilst we were still on town. We ate sandwiches, empanadas and drank our coffee whilst observing a totally badass and jolly looking Priest in full black, white neck stripe and black cowboy hat to top the look off. He was walking in front of the rather beautiful Sao Fransisco church. Once we felt we might be capable of walking again we left, persisting with the the mountain pursuit, only to have to stop again.

This stop however, was unexpecting and absolutely fantastic. We had bumped into a Gaucho Parade.

Little did we know in advance that the weekend we had arrived, was the annual commemoration weekend of General Martin Güemes. This man was responsible for forces that were under attack by the Spanish during the War of Independence. During a defeat, he was shot in the back, but somehow managed to retreat with his troops to safety. Güemes died from this gunshot, but before he did, he passed on his final instructions to his soldiers which led them to defeat their opposition and win Salta it's freedom and peace.

For those who don't know, a Gaucho is essentially a Latino cowboy, or cowgirl.

For a long time the pair of us stood on the corner of the road watching this huge parade of people of horseback dressed in traditional cowboy uniforms go past. The parade was very mixed, some of the riders were male, some female, some young, some old. It was a very intresting and unexpected sight. It felt a wonderful stereotype of Argentina, there was a large crowd and just about everything imaginable appeared to be on sale - candyfloss and toffee apples looked especially appealing.

We observed the parade for a long time, following the vast line of riders as they made their journey, passing underneath a fantastic statue of Güemes and in front of a large brass band. Finally we decided that we should move on, if we were going to make it to the top before the lack of sleep bludgeoned us anymore. We hopped across the road, dodging the riders in a Froggeresque fashion to get to the staircase at the base of the mountain, which was located behind the Güemes statue.

The climb consisted of a few hundred steps, passing shrines to the Virgin Mary on the way - it´s probably not necessary to point out that it led to much much sweating. As we sweated our way closer to the top, we noticed the cable car that could have taken us up (grudgingly) and we both appreciated the glorious views over the city. Salta gave me a really good vibe. The city was clean, the buildings very well restored, the plaza beautiful, I had seen a Gaucho parade and most significantly, I was on top of a mountain, my favourite kind of place.

We spent a good while at the top enjoying the views and gave a biscuit or two to a dog with crazy coloured eyes. En-route back down to the bottom of the mountain we decided that stairs suck and instead headed down
Gaucho Priest At The ParadeGaucho Priest At The ParadeGaucho Priest At The Parade

When I see this man, all I can think of is the movie Braindead where a priest appears, declares that it is time for some divine intervention, before kicking heads of zombies. So Cool.
a series of dirt trails through the bushes and trees, where some other people were already going. We overtook a few people and had some young kids race pass us as well. Eventually we caught up with a family. What the pàrents were thinking in taking their kids down the off-path I don´t know. It was very steep and there were a lot of strange trees that had what can only be descvribed as spiky nipples on their trunks. I have a scar from scratching against one on my left wrist. We had also wrongly assumed that they knew where they were going. They didn´t. We overtook them a few minutes before we reached a fence. They were heading towards a dead end, which we had just reached. It took us another half hour to circumnavigate the fence and locate a path back off the last bit of the mountain and back to the statue. I assume the family are still in there somewhere.

Whilst walking back into town, we spotted and approached a huge concert stage being set up and many people relaxing post parade in the afternoon sun. There were lots of people posing for
Güemes StatueGüemes StatueGüemes Statue

Overlooking the parade and band.
photos and taking rides on llamas and ponies. Feeling rather hungry after our successful hike, we settled on eating some rather large barbequed chorizo hot dogs. Whilst eating the tasty treats someone told us that they would probably make us ill - not a nice thing to hear whilst you´re eating. We ate them anyway and were fine.

On the way back to the hostel after an exhuasting couple of days we visited the central plaza which was beautifu, well kept and surround by fantastic colonial buildings, including the Cathedral. That evening I shaved my passport control confusing facial hair off. It made my face cold.

The next day we headed out to do the tourist rounds. We watched another Gaucho parade in the main plaza, checked out the cathedral and went to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña. The museum was built to store three important Inca mummies, the 'Llullaillaco Children'. These three mummies were found in 1999 and are displayed in rotation. On display when we visited was a young boy from a rich family. He was chosen by society for this wealth and his good looks and intelligence to basically sit on a mountain to freeze to death as a sacrifice. It wasn't exactly a delightful museum to visit, but was informative and well made. There were numerous articles that the three had been carrying at the time and what they represented.

The museum was good, despite the obvious discomfort of seeing a mummified child, but failed to report a number of other less pleasant points which research on the bodies has picked up on. We were informed that basically the children were sent to the mountains on their own. in fact the boy had been tied up to the extent that his ribs and pelvis had cracked. I can understand why this isn't detailed in the museum as not to offend people. But truth is truth.

By the evening I was feeling the devastation of man flu upon me but I headed out with Ciaran anyway in the direction of the stage. A huge crowd was gathered and enjoying some great Argentinian music. The audience seemed to particularly enjoy Hot Chocolate playing whilst the lead singer threatened to take his clothes off. On account of my physical demise, we didn't stay for too long and retired after meeting an English couple, Mark and Sarah.

Third day in Salta we investigated doing some tours, although the town seemed mostly devoid of travellers due to it being the low season, so we decided against it. Instead we headed on a walk to the outskirts of the town to a crafts market. It wasn't smaller than expectded, but housed some interesting items, although it was relatively expensive so we did not purchase anything. On the way back to town we found and empanada shack and stuffed out faces with them before going to a small restaurant serving incredible lemon grilled chicken for just over a pound, with chips. Probably the second best food I'd had in South America so far behind the Salvador pizzas.

The previous night, Mark and Sarah had told us about a restaurant that had to be tried, and so in the mid afternoon we went to Viejo Jacks. I wish I had taken my camera for this masterpiece.

Ciaran and I split a KILOGRAM of rib-eye steak that was cooked to salty perfection on a huge grill (for you oldies, that's around 18oz's each). There was not a gram of fat on the meat. Incredible. We accompanied the steak with some proper chips with scrambled egg and cheese on top. They didn't really get touched, the meat was enough. We had planned on having a few drinks with the meal, but it would have been impossible. We laboured our way back to the hostel in some kind of wierd meat haze. It was almost like being drunk. I found a spot on a sofa in the hostel and passed into a meat coma. Truely incredible food.

By our last full day in Salta we were bored. The hostel staff seemed unfriendly and unhelpful and it was not a social place. It being the off-season compounded the boredom. Our time had started off well enough, but the town lacked outdoor activites that we easily accessible without a guide. We did take one tip from a Swiss guy who informed us off a trek half hour away in a village called San Lorenzo.

As such, we headed there on a bus and located the start of the trek. Sadly we discovered we had to pay 15 pesos to access the 'park' and the walk was only meant to be around two hours long. We did it in an hour and a half, feeling uninspired. There was nothing to see, the path was set and the viewpoint at the top was obscured by trees. We passed the time joking about getting attacked by pumas, it would have made it more interesting at least. We were genuinely shocked that someone from Switzerland could have found it interesting.

More frustrating than the disappointment of the walk was the sheer difficulty of getting the bus back to Salta. For some reason coins are almost impossible to come by in Argentina, there is even something of an urban legend that the mafia have accumulated most of it and are holding it to ransom

Anyway, for some reason the Salta buses operated on coins or prepaid cards. Two coins per journey. I had approximately no coins, having used them for the journey out (we hadn't expected to have to use any). Of course we didn't have prepaid cards. It took close to an hour and walking into four different shops, purchasing fruit, ice cream and a bag of nuts from different locations before we finally had the change to make it back. It was at this point that we decided we were fed up of Salta and decided to leave the next morning to join Mark and Sarah in Cafayate, which they had raved about to us on Facebook.

We decided that before we left, we had to find some evening entertainment. This led us back to a small dank pool hall we had been in a few nights previously. We played for an hour with some beers, but it closed at a rather pathetic 10pm so we went on a desperate hunt for some other nightlife. Eventually, somehow, we found ourself on a street entirely full of restaurants and bars and we wandered into the one with the most appealing tout outside. At the front was a small stage where traditional Argentinian music was being performed. This varied from countryside folk music to a lame boyband, to a pair of old cowboys. The latter were fantastic and hugely popular, one bearded man on the drum, the other bearded man with a guitar. The entertainment was great, but with an early start the next day, we headed back.

Back in the hostel something strange was going on. People were present, drinking and having fun! We sat around a table with the others playing cards and doing far too many drinking games. At some point an American girl complained that her camera had disappeared and on checking the CCTV it was found that one of two Ecuadorian twin brothers had taken it. On this discovery, the innocent brother went mad at his brother and things were pretty insane for a while as the camera was eventually returned, abeit without the memory card.

Having a camera taken is awful for anyone, but what hurts most, is losing your memory card and the memories stored on it. We could not understand why the Ecuadorian guy hadn't given it back, having already returned the camera. He had stolen it off a friend he was travelling with. Things were mucho loco for a long time, emotions drunkenly raised and frustration brewing. A decent night had been spoiled. A couple of us searched through the bins optimistically, but with no luck.

Eventually the Swiss guy joined us, having heard what was going on. Turns out that this nice guy who spoke in perfect monotone robot was in fact a policeman of some type in his country. He asked and was left alone in a room with the Ecuadorian thief. A few minutes later he came out with the memory card, 'No problem'. I never found out what happened in that room. I'd prefer not to know. The thief left the hostel with his things shortly after, leaving his brother behind and who couldn't apologise enough of behalf of his idiotic brother. A strange evening and end to Salta.

Additional: 25/07/2011 Last night I met one of the girls, Mikaela in La Paz randomly. Turns out that the same guy had actually stolen some money off them as well. They had been travelling together since meeting in Ecuador, what an asshole.

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