Salta, Argentina

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April 19th 2012
Published: July 29th 2012
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We were surprised as we arrived into Salta. We expected a bigger version of Cafayate. What we saw couldn't have been more different; green hills surrounding a low rise smoggy dirty city. We had held a vision of a super charming province capital and were sadly disappointed. Regardless we had planned on being here a few days and proceeded to walk to our hostel from the bus terminal. Much farther than we expected, 15 blocks later through the heat we arrived sweating. The hostel had a good set up and our ensuite room was clean so we were content. We dropped our stuff off and set out to explore the unappealing city. In the historic center Salta gained some charm with its well maintained colonial buildings and churches. The Cathedral was pretty impressive inside with the ridiculous amount of gold and jewels strewn about it. Although impressive, I can never fully appreciate these adornments and churches as I know it was on the backs of indigenous slaves that all the grandiose decoration came to be. In Plaza de Julio we looked for a place that had a cafe con Bailey's and found one, but then saw the wierd couple we got stuck talking to in Cordoba. We avoided the cafe at all costs and ended up having the coffee with Baileys's in a mini mall. On our way back we stopped at a tour agency where we weighed our options of things to do in the area. We were next to convinced to sign up and drop a deposit for a 500 km, 13 hour mini bus tour of the mountains and villages surrounding Salta. We didn't have any cash on us at the time so we told the tour agent we would come back and walked back to the hostel. That gave us time to think that we had no desire to spend our day driving around the curving high altitude roads in a mini bus all day, especially since we would travel a good chunk of the same route on a bus a few days later. We decided to sign up through the hostel to go horseback riding the next day instead. At the hostel, we found to our surprise that we couldn't avoid the wierd couple forever as they were staying at the hostel as well! Fortunately, we weren't stuck talking to them as we had found to

But who mined all that gold...gross
an even better surprise that Clay was staying here too! We cooked a simple dinner and stayed up until 1am talking and drinking cheap wine with our amigo. It was great reconnecting with someone who we both got along with so well. There haven't been many of these people on this trip; its hard meeting and connecting with people while travelling as a couple. Regardless of the infrequency, we were happy to have a friend for a little while.

The next morning we were picked up in a truck by a gaucho to go to a ranch outside Salta. The road to the ranch was initially awkward, making us think, "Where the hell are we going?" We drove through a large industrial park then turned onto a dirt road littered with trash and potholes. As we began climbing a hill along switchbacks the road cleaned up, at least in terms of trash. After cresting the hill, we dropped into a green valley with pastures on each side which helped reassure us that things were panning out well. However when we arrived to the ranch and saw our horses we began questioning again. They looked anorexic! We asked our gaucho guide who responded that they were going though a change in diet due to the changing seasons. As were were waiting around, I saw my horse stumble over her own feet. It reminded me of Chloe then made me think it was a good thing the two weren't paired up! Our gaucho guide fitted saddles on the horses and we fitted our helmets then we mounted up. The trail began flat and mellow but soon began climbing. As it had been raining recently the trails were a bit muddy and after my horse's self-stumble, I hoped she wouldn't do it again with the mud and toss me. The trail was pretty overgrown and abundantly green, and as I was in the lead, I was constantly using the reigns to take out the thick spiderwebs and shoe away mosquitos. Regardless of the overgrowth and unweariness in my horse, it was really fun. We reached the top of the hill after a half hour and overlooked the valley. On the other side of the valley, we could make out Salta but unfortunately with the cloud cover, couldn't see any farther so we missed out on a view of the Andes. We took some pictures then started down the hill. Soon there after it began drizzling and Chloe began to fear this would turn into the disaster that happened to her in Costa Rica where the horses lost control and slipped down the mountain. Fortunately for us , the rain remained a drizzle and the horses had no problem. During the entire ride, both of us were continuously perplexed at seeing cactus among such dense green vegetation. Our guide explained that around Salta the vegetation and climate exhibited a transition between the mountains and the desert, so although it seemed lush now, at the other end of the year it could be dry as a bone.

Once we reached the bottom of the hill (without slipping down!) we trotted side by side in one of the pastures. The pasture we were in also had a number of young stags that immediately became interested in our older female horses strutting by. Intimidating at first with 6 males following us, we soon put some distance between us with the help of the gaucho intervening. As we reached the road at the end of the pasture, our horses became anxious. The guide explained that they knew the end was near and wanted to run back home. He asked if we were ready to gallop and I said yes even though I was unsure. He filmed each of us with my camera. Before taking off, he asked me if I had any last words to which I pondered then responded, "Suerte a todos," or "Good luck to everyone." I shook the reigns and sped off. Not really knowing what I was doing, I felt a bit out of control as I bounced around trying to use my knees to feel more stable. I was very happy to arrive back to the corral without getting rattled off onto the ground. Chloe's horse was lazy or something, since she never really picked up much speed. In any case, we all made it back in one piece and with big smiles on our faces. After our guide took the saddles off the horses he got to work on an asado for lunch. When it came out we were impressed. Steak, chorizo, potatoes, yams, corn picked from the field next to us, some salad, and a bottle of cheap wine. This gaucho was taking good care of us! After the asado he drove us back to the hostel, where we spent the rest of the evening. A great day on horses with a gaucho, check that one off the list!

The following day we didn't have anything planned other than El Clasico, the match between FCB and Real Madrid later in the afternoon. To fill the day, Chloe had wanted to walk to an artesan market that she had read about in our travel book. Although there were buses to get across town, she wanted to walk and explore the city along the way. So, we walked 30 or so blocks along a main uninteresting, low rise building street to the market. Upon arrival we were less than impressed. Overpriced and unoriginal, this is not what Chloe expected. Regardless, we had walked all this way so we checked out each shop thoroughly. After an hour and a half looking at tourist trinkets we headed back. Fortunately we made it back earlier than expected since somehow I had confused kick off time and the game was starting as we arrived. This was more than just another classic; if Barca lost then they would have no chance to win La Liga. Tragically, that's exactly what happened. That egoistic a-hole Ronaldo scored twice and Barca couldn't find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Deflated, Chloe and I walked around town doing some last minute errands. We were also sad as this would be our last night in Argentina. With this in mind, to pay homage to her Papa Guillermo, Chloe bought some candied buts from a street vendor, just as he did for her when she was a kid. Continuing with this theme, we thought what better way to say goodbye to Argentina than eat a big asado with a bunch of people. The hostel had a weekly asado and we signed up. As it turns out, this was way more than a simple BBQ. Beyond a plethora of meat and veggies from the grill there was live music and traditional gaucho dancing. Chatting with other couples, listening to music, watching the young dancers and gorging on a delicious adado and bottle of Malbec, this was a perfect end to such a rich and rewarding country. ¬°¬°Viva Argentina!!

The next morning came very early as we had a bus to catch into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, a place on Earth that is truly out of this world...

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