It was a long journey to the Argentinian border and then onwards to Salta, the major city in the north. We started early in the morning and arrived late at night. But not too late to change money. I had been wondering how the blue dollar process worked. It all seemed incredibly shady and a nightmare to get a decent price for the pesos. Well within five minutes of entering our hostel, I was significantly richer, cashing in my four hundred dollars for an exchange rate of 15.90 pesos to the dollar. Without the blue dollar it is 9 pesos to the dollar. In other words, you don’t come to Argentina without exchanging dollars unofficially or using Azimo (more on that in another blog).
Salta is a lovely city with a very European vibe. On the way to the hostel, we passed people walking their dogs and even a couple of people using sign language. It’s a world away from Bolivia. It’s a city with a scenic plaza, impressive cathedrals and churches and a rather unique museum. Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana, is dedicated to the discoveries on the mountain of Llullaillaco in 1999. A place of human sacrifices during Inca times, they not only found ceramics and handicrafts but three child bodies almost perfectly preserved. Due to the difficulties of displaying them, only one is on show at any one time. The children were offered to the gods after a long ceremony over many months, which involved high-born children being sent to Cuzco to be ceremonially married off before being brought about to their home land, fed alcohol until they passed out and then either bludgeoned to death before being put into the mountain or entombed alive.
The child on show when we were there was a six to seven year old boy. His posture showed the absolute brutality and sense of loneliness that he must have felt.
Other than that we spent a lot of time walking from car rental shop, to car rental shop. Maria and Ramon, from Holland had joined us, as well as Louis from Brazil and we were intent on renting a car to take in the surrounding scenery. After many hours searching, including having to sit out a long siesta (this is actually a thing in Argentina), two cars for five days were rented. We then headed back to the hostel and enjoyed the first of hopefully many Argentinian asados, which in English translates into something like – a barbecue with far too much food for Rob to eat.
We arrived the following day at midday to pick up the Vauxhall Corsas and hit the road. First problem was getting out of the city and navigating the various speed changes. Argentina doesn’t seem to like telling you clearly what speed to go and instead the roads are just a jumble of signs with different speeds every few metres. Coupled with the lack of any priority signage and a city full of one way streets, it was a battle getting out. And when we did, the weather then turned and it was a rainy drive first to Jujuy, a big city with no sights and then onto Tilcara. We spent the night there and were treated to live music with our dinner, which consisted of literally sitting on the stage as a group performed local music far too loudly.
The next morning we walked up to some ruins, which had been mostly reconstructed, but gave the first view of the excellent scenery, which we would soon be spoilt by. We also journeyed to a waterfall, but the less said about that the better. All I will say is that it was certainly not swimmable.
We then drove to the wonderfully named Humahaca. The town itself was pleasant enough but it was the rock formations close by which really stole the show. The jagged formations formed waves of different colours – a sight quite unlike what I have seen before.
We stayed the night in Purmamarca and arose the following morning for a short walk just outside of the village where yet more colourful and dramatic rock formations were on display. It was then time for a long journey to the south of Salta.
The landscape continued to impress and after many picture stops we arrived in Cachi in the evening. Another quiet town, we did make some friends, namely the dog variety. Three dogs, of varying sizes and indeed temperament followed us everywhere we went and would wait outside the hostel and restaurant when we were eating. It did slightly backfire when a ferocious dog decided to tell us we couldn’t walk near its owners house and our dogs decided to tell it that we could. A huge scrap ensued, which was only broken up by a local and his water bucket. Despite a bruising battle, the walking wounded continued to follow us.
After another viewpoint we made our way to the town of Molinos, which is quite possibly the most deserted place, which has people living there, I have ever been to. It does have a vicuna farm, however, and these highly amusing creatures were about the only intelligent life which could be found.
Being in wine country, we decided to visit a vineyard and what better place to do it then one of the most expensive wine producers in Argentina. Colome Bodega is found 18km down a dirt track off the road to the middle of nowhere. The scenery was great, as was the free glass of wine. We were then shown an art gallery, which the owner of the vineyard had personally gone out and persuaded the artist James Turrell to display his work in. James Turrell, whose work is in Tate Modern and many other major galleries, works with light and perception. We were guided around by a very passionate, if slightly OCD man, who had truly bought into Turrell’s vision. I struggled to keep a straight face at the first two exhibits, which were entirely pointless. Just a blank shape surrounded by light.
The third installation got a little more interesting. You walked along a thin platform through different colours. Due to the intensity you couldn’t see the walls or the floor, other than the platform you were waling on, which proved to be quite disorientating. The next one was the real prize winner though. We had to take off our shoes and wear plastic bags on our feet. Then we were shown around the room, which had some stairs leading up to a blue window. From the sides it looked flat, when in front it looked to have depth. After much teasing from the guide, we walked through into the blue light and indeed into another room. Again, due to the lights intensity, finding the walls was not easy and then at the end of the room, there was no walls, just a drop. It was all rather cool, except for the spider, which sat at the bottom of the drop. The guide was not happy at that at all.
From there the art gallery returned to type and proved to be hugely boring, but it was worth it for those two exhibits. From there we drove back down the dirt track, only to stop after a while due a flat tyre. Fixed (with little to no help from me), we drove another great road scenery wise and arrived in the second largest producer of wine in Argentina, Cafayate.
The first job there was to find a better waterfall then the one on the second day and we did that with ease. Walking through a small valley, clambering over boulders and rocks, we arrived at lots of pools perfect for lying back and relaxing, although they were cold. After a morning of physical exertion, we then spent the afternoon visiting other wine producers and having tasting sessions.
On the last day we had to return the car by midday, so it was a bit of a drive to get back. We did stop off, however, at some canyons, which were fairly impressive in terms of size. We also found a significant sand dune, which was a nice place to stretch the legs. We arrived back with four minutes to spare, the two white cars painted brown due to the dust and ours covered in presents from the birds, which were living in a tree above the road next to our hostel in Cafayate. It was a lot of driving, but totally worth it in terms of the glorious views and one great way to get accustomed with life in Argentina.