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Published: January 19th 2011
Back to Salta
We left Puerto Iguazu on the morning of the 9th on a 24 hour bus to take us to Salta. The bus had an impressive run of English language films including one starring Chris Brown (because a hit record is evidence you can act), one starring 50 Cent (ditto) and a final starring the only action star of the 80´s and 90´s not to get a bait for "The Expendables", Steven Seagal. Seagal got his revenge though - wrote and produced his own film, "Born to Raise Hell" in which he seduces a woman half his age and a quarter his weight but does so (thankfully) without ever taking his rollneck sweater and leather jacket off. Despite the quality of film on offer, I used the time to knock over "The Good Soldiers" by David Finkel, a literary journalism piece on the Iraq War "surge" and how a company of soldiers and their families dealt with it. Good read.
The bus itself was comfortable, although the stewardess again had an attitude. I know that spending 24 hours working on a bus is enough to put anyone in a bad mood but really, if she ever hoped to make the leap from buses to planes (and she was pretty enough to at least be a domestic stewardess) then she really needed to work on the service-with-a-smile side of things.
We got in to Salta the next morning almost two hours early at a little after 9AM. If you get in to Salta, it´s a town where everyone expects a tip. The guys unloading our bags from the bus chucked my bag in to a puddle and broke the zip on my toiletries bag, then held out their hands expectantly as I went to pick it up. I told them I´d be right back and bailed.
We booked our ticket to La Quiaca, Argentina´s border town with Bolivia, for the next day and then went to hop a cab for a hostel. We made the joke that it would be funny to get the same cabby we had got last time, an absent minded woman who we had shown the map of Salta to and where on it we wanted to go and then she would stop and constantly ask us if this was the spot, as if we had any idea about Salta. Anyway our little joke turned out to be almost true as she was the second cab off the rank when we arrived. Yet again, someone stood on the cab rank, opened the cab´s boot door and helped me put my bag in the boot then held out his hand for a tip. I gave this guy a peso but it was a bit of a pain - I didn´t ask the guy for his help so it´s a bit rich that he expects me to pay him. On the other hand, considering he was happy with the equivalent of AUS$0.25 maybe I should loosen the purse strings a little.
We checked in to hostel Sol Huasi just off the town´s main square and, though our bed had not been made up, spent a fair chunk of the day asleep. This had become quite the pattern - no matter how much sleep I got on the bus the night before, I would spend the next day asleep in a bed. I guess my body just doesn´t register "bus sleep" as "real sleep".
That afternoon I had one ambition - to go to the Rugby store in town that had a ball in its window from St Joseph´s College Hunter´s Hill. For those of you who are unfamiliar, St Joseph´s (Joey´s) is the greatest Rugby school in the world. In the 120 or so year that the college´s 1st XV has competed in the GPS Rugby competition, they have won the competition 54 times. They´ve also churned out more Wallabies than any other school in Australia. Finally, the school colours are cerise (a fancy word for hot pink) and blue, meaning their Rugby jersey is saucy combination of these two colours. And yes, I may have attended this hallowed learning institution (it´s a school too, did I mention that?)
So, when I first walked the streets of Salta and saw a Rugby ball with the colours and crest of my Alma Mater on it, I was intrigued. However the first time I was there the store was closed. So upon returning to Salta I was absolutely determined to find out how and why this store had this ball.
The Boss and I rocked up to the store to find it closed. Again. A sign on the store window said that it was open 9:30AM - 1PM and then 5PM - 9PM. It was 4:30PM, so the Boss suggested we go on the internet for a while and come back. But standing out the front of the store was a bloke wearing a pink Stade Francais t-shirt. I´d only seen that t-shirt once before - in the window of that store. I was convinced he worked at the store. "I´m gunna ask him," I told the Boss.
"He´s on his break, leave him alone. We´ll come back later and you can ask him then."
We got something to eat and interneted for a while then walked back in the pouring rain at 8:30PM. They were closed. I was pissed.
Did You Say Steak?
We went back to the hostel to discover that our room still hadn´t been made up, so I got a set of sheets and made it up myself. I´m not too precious to make my own bed here but it´s kind of the bare minimum for a private room isn´t it - that your bed is made for you? That the bed was also one of the most uncomfortable I slept in in South America leads me to strongly recommend you do not stay in this hostel. The fact that they allowed a woman with her two infant daughters stay and spend the night and morning running through the halls screaming only adds to my lack of endorsement (I know these kids behaviour isn´t the hostel´s fault but there aren´t too many hostels I know of that allow minors to stay. And to the woman whose kids they were - their behaviour is
your fault and you´re a slack, lazy parent and therefore a horrible person.)
From the hostel we got a cab to a steak place that had been recommended to us by a friend. It was called Viejo Jack´s and was the best restaurant recommendation we´ve received all trip. The menu offered steak and that was what you got - no side salad, no chips, no mash - just a steak the size of your plate. We made the mistake of ordering a side serve of salad and mash and barely touched them. The steaks were amazing and my body spent the better part of the next two days digesting. The only surprise came at the bill, where we were charged ARG$10 for service which I was happy to pay since the waiter had been decent. But when I put a $200 on the $194 bill, the waiter came out with the change and told us that the "service" charge wasn´t actually for his service but for the "complimentary" bread and dip we had received when we first sat down. Again, I thought it was a bit of a rort but we put another $10 down on the bill and left it at that.
Back in Bolivia
We were up the next day at 9AM, had breakfast at the hostel (pastry, scone and a coffe - not bad) and checked out at around 9:40. The Boss asked if I wanted to go to the Rugby store one last time and ask what the story was, the look of anger and disappointment on her face when I said I did told me that she had not anticipated that answer. We hoofed it up there only to discover that it was closed. Again. So I guess I got my answer - they got the ball the same way they get any of their business, by magic.
We were on a 10:30AM bus to La Quiaca and arrived around 6PM. The sun was still out but there were some pretty ominous clouds overhead. We walked the four or so blocks to the border and arrived just as the skies opened up. The raindrops felt particularly hard until I saw they were solid on the floor. I learned over the next 20 or so minutes that the advantage of being hailed, rather than rained, on is that though it hurts more, you don´t get as wet. It passed after those 20 minutes and we were left in a line to get stamped out of Argentina that did not move. Honestly, in the 20 minutes we stood in the wet we shifted our bags about a metre forward, such was the speed with which this line was going. We ended up standing in it for the next three hours. During that time some dude pulled out a recorder shaped like a saxophone and started honking away on it. I believe I´ve made my stance on public music clear before, but in a nutshell I don´t appreciate it. I go to more gigs than most and don´t go anywhere without my MP3 player in my pocket, so this isn´t a grinchy attitude I have towards music. I´m just of the opinion that you don´t have a recording contract for a reason, so to pull out your shitty 2nd grade instrument and make dozens of people listen to you butcher out a few folk songs you know from home is nothing short of rude.
Anyway, I kept my opinions to myself until this guy started really blowing on it, at which point I said "righto mate, that´ll do." My bad. Apparently he´d been waiting for that opportunity because he held his hand to his ear ("I can´t hear/understand you") and kept on blowing.
"Alright, you´re a dick too. Congratulations." It was really all I had.
He then went to his bag, pulled out his guitar and I was stuck for the next two and a half hours listening to this jerk and his dickhead mates have a jam session.
During this time the Boss had to run off to the bathroom to be sick. I´m not saying it was this guy´s music that was directly responsible, but...
The mystery of why the line took so long to move was partially explained when we were about ten people away from the front and the bloke doing the passport stamping suddenly closed the office window and disappeared for twenty minutes. If this was happening every ten or twenty people, then a three hour wait is on the cards. Otherwise I have no idea because when I got to the window it took him less than 30 seconds to process me.
We wandered over to the Bolivian side which was to be the true test. We had left Bolivia without getting our exit stamps and so to walk back through, officially, there were bound to be some questions. So rather than go through the passport control office, we walked around it on the road. A police officer stood guard on the road but, as luck would have it, just as we came through he had someone else´s passport in hand and was looking down at it. We stepped up on to the curb and walked behind him back in to Bolivia!
The Boss´s waning health, along with the increasing hour of the night, meant that we had decided to just stay the night in Villazon, Bolivia´s border town. But after asking at three hotels and all saying they were full we decided that the original plan of pushing forward to spend the night in Tupiza was the way to go. A bloke was selling seats in a car for B$30 each and, though a bus was B$15 each, we decided it was a far better option than spending the night on the streets of Villazon. We had to wait for the guy to sell the other two seats in the car before it departed so we went for a wander to find some paracetamol (I´d been pretty crook, Dad gave a symptoms-based diagnosis of “Dengue, malaria even yellow fever… viral arthritis most likely”). We found a chemist where they tried to sell me a pack of paracetamol for B$60, which is a little less than AUS$10. This woman was trying to tell me that a pack of over-the-counter panadol was worth the same as two peoples´ two hour cab ride in a country where you can get a bottle of depo-provera for a quarter of that price. I went without.
Since we were pretty well in a do-or-die situation, I can´t really say I regret getting the car to Tupiza but jeez it was uncomfortable. The car was older than me and the padding in the seats was akin to a fine layer of moss on a rock. Apart from that it was a pretty exciting trip as an oncoming storm gave off lightning that, at times, lit up the countryside. We pulled in to Tupiza a little before midnight but rather than being dropped at the bus station, the cabby took us to some stand alone hostel where he told us we would get a great rate on a night´s accommodation. The fact that we didn´t want to stay there, had plans for the next day and had had enough bullshit for one day didn´t matter to the cabby, who spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince us that this place was the only one in town with availability, that there was no better rates in all Tupiza and that the bus depot was only 3 minutes away. I reckon he just got a free night there if he got his passengers to stay.
Eventually we got dropped at the bus depot and walked straight to the hostel we´d stayed in last time we´d been in Tupiza – Cnl Pedro Arraya hostel. The bloke on the door checked us in and we were shown to our room. What I had been dreaming of since, well the last time we stayed there, was fulfilled – the Arraya has the best beds in all of South America and their showers are pretty damn good too. I slept like a log.
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