Saturday, August 6, 2011

Salta - Argentina

To get to Salta we first needed to head to the Argentine town of Resistencia as there were no direct routes.  On this trip we needed to cross a dusty border where the baggage staff tried their very best to convince me to leave my laptop bag on the bus whilst we went through customs.  I found this quite funny and articulated that the bag was staying with me, had I put it on the bus there would have been no doubt that that would have been the last time I saw it.  The only border drama was a girl who had forgotten to get her entry stamp to Paraguay (quite easily done) and was fined around fifty dollars for the mistake.  Travelling on to Resistencia we were stopped several times by security including sniffer dogs (which were actually quite cute) which boarded the bus and checked the undercarriage.  I assume that this was because the route we were taking was hugging the border of Paraguay which has more relaxed drug control.  After seven hours we arrived at the bus station of Resistencia, Argentina and we missed the next bus heading out to Salta by a matter of minutes and therefore had to wait a couple of hours for the next one.  On the bright side it was nice to have a break from being on a bus for a while.  After killing time with a beer in the smelly bus station and having fun with the resident dogs and it was time to board our overnight bus where a chronic snorer was the only thing keeping us from a good night’s sleep.                

First impressions of Salta were that it was a pleasant and attractive looking place.  The route into town from the bus station involved walking parallel to a large park with spacious walkways which really goes down well when you are carrying heavy bags and don’t want to compete for pavement space!  There were hostels-a-plenty, yet most of them were quite pricy for what you actually got.  It wasn’t much fun hunting around, but we finally found one for the right price on the other side of town called Residencial Balcare where we had a double with a heater (the nights were now cold again) for 100 Pesos or about fifteen pounds per night.  We spent the rest of the day wandering around the local area where we bought some strawberries and relaxed in a coffee shop.  For dinner we tried to find a recommended parilla place but it was closed.  As it was a bank holiday in turned out that most things were closed and we ended up settling for a small café where we made the mistake of not asking the price of the food and got a little bit ripped off, we contested it but ultimately the fault was our own.  That evening we went to the lively bar area a couple of blocks from Plaza Guemes filled with holidaying locals eating, drinking and being entertained with traditional dancing and music from many large restaurants and bars.  We decided to watch the semi-final between Paraguay and Venezuela in one of these bars and watched Paraguay go through on penalties before we went home. 

The Iglesia San Francisco

Llama rides for the children

Horse and cart rides along the park stretch

Riding the cable cars up the Cerro San Bernardo was the first activity of the following day.  We strolled through town past the prettiest church, Iglesia San Francisco, bought some tickets to the tango show ‘El Passion del Tango’ in the theatre for tomorrow night and walked back towards the Parque San Martin.  This strip was lined with people selling jewellery and sweets; there were even llamas and miniature ponies that could be hired for children to ride in tiny little carriage behind.  The queue for the cable car lasted about forty minutes amongst eager holiday makers, but it was worth it and the views up the hill were spectacular.  Atop of the hill we wandered around lazily and had our packed lunch overlooking Salta.  Kate made a birthday greeting for her sister Jenny and we took a picture of it over the city for her 30th.  We helped ourselves to a couple of bottles of left-over Pepsi on a restaurant table before joining the shorter queue for the return journey in the cable cars.  That evening we had a parilla in the same area as the previous night which was really good value and different to any we had had before as along with the usual ribs and sausage it also came with kidneys and intestines and something which we think may have been a slice of heart!  The offal wasn’t our favourite part of the meal but it was still interesting to try and it went down well with the lucky dog in the park afterwards along with the bones and other leftovers.  

Our view of Salta from the cable car

The poochie enjoying his leftovers

We spent the 22nd of July watching people boating around in the Parque San Martin after visiting the bus station in order to try to buy our tickets to San Pedro de Atacama.  Unfortunately this was not possible and the gentleman behind the counter informed us that there would be no buses going that way as the route was to be closed for at least the next thirty days, he showed us a picture of a road sign that was practically submerged in snow.  We cut our losses and instead opted to head to Bolivia earlier than planned and booked a midnight bus for the next day to Tupiza, a small town in the south where we hoped to do some horse riding and venture to the salt flats.  It was nice to relax in the good weather and do a bit of updating on the laptop in the daytime and we were both looking forward to the tango show that evening.  Suitably tarted up to go out, we went to the theatre which was practically full and watched a spectacular display of dancing.  The four couples performed extremely well, telling their stories through dance and there were legs kicking everywhere.  I don’t profess to know anything about it but we both enjoyed the show a lot and at the end the performers received a standing ovation.

In our theatre seats waiting for the show to start

The standing ovation after the Tango show

To top off the evening we stepped outside the theatre and into a parade in the plaza.   There was music blearing out from vehicles leading processions of traditional dancers in brightly coloured clothes making their way around the square.  The crowd formed on either side of the dancers’ route and often spectators had their photos taken with the happy smiling street performers.  There was also a bizarre group consisting of people wearing gigantic papier-mâché heads of what I can only assume to be local celebrities or politicians.  There were all manner of dance groups but my favourite had to be the group that had donned impressive tribal attire and marched to the beat of a drum.   There were some really spectacular costumes on display especially a man who had a gigantic skull above his feathered costume and another which had a lion who I managed to get a picture with afterwards.  It was an amazing carnival atmosphere and a wonderful surprise which really helped to conclude a fantastic evening in Salta.

Walking out of the theatre into the festivities

A giant head dancer

One of the costumes

Some more celebrating

Kate with a street dancer

Me with a street dancer

Our final full day wasn’t very exceptional, we had our bus to catch at midnight and had already seen most of what the city had to offer.  We therefore spent most of the day between cafes.  There was a moment of excitement when some horsemen went past as there was some form of celebration going on in the main plaza.  A tent had been set up displaying model towns of Salta from the colonial era.  We tried the local beer, uncomplicatedly named ‘Salta’ and for dinner went back up to the party bar area near our hostel. 

The colonial horsemen

Having just enough Argentinian Pesos left to see us through a meal, we sat down at a table for two in a large restaurant that we had to ourselves even though it was already eight o clock.  There were reservations on every other table but they love eating late here.  By the time the restaurant had filled we were wiping our faces with the napkin and loosening our belts.  Just after asking for the bill some entertainment started, so I paid the bill and asked if we could have the menu again so that we could have a digestive and see a bit of what was on offer before making our way to the bus.  We ordered a couple of drinks and watched a bit of the band (who were excellent) and the dancers allowed up some very willing volunteers.

Salta Beer

Kate enjoying her wine in the bar before it got lively

The musicians and dancers including one of the diners

There was a bitter moment when we asked to pay for our drinks straight away as we would need to leave very soon.  When the second bill arrived (we had already paid our original food bill) it included a fifty peso gratuity fee for the entertainment with no prior warning and I simply didn’t have the pesos in my wallet.  Although this is probably normal practice I felt somewhat cheated and began complaining in my best Spanish that this was out of order and something that we really weren’t accustomed to, what’s more we didn’t even have the money to pay as we had calculated our expected bill carefully.  He seemed to understand and went to speak to the manager but came back and said again that we still needed to pay. 

A gentleman on the table next to us tried helping out so now I am speaking to and trying to listen in Spanish to two different people in a noisy restaurant at the same time.  Our neighbour was infinitely sympathetic to our position, I now understood what had happened yet I told him that he could have every last Argentine peso I had which wasn’t much after the drinks, but I was not going to pay on card or get money out because this simply hadn’t been clear.   Our waiter could have told us we would have to pay for the entertainment before bringing us what would have been a very expensive round.  He finally conceded as I imagine he didn’t want a scene in the busy restaurant, we shook hands and I explained that next time they needed to explain this hidden cost to foreigners as we don’t expect to pay for entertainment the restaurant chooses to put on especially if you don’t’ tell us!  Bah!  All in all it was only a slight damper on what had been a nice way to finish off our time in Salta, the unsung city of Argentina.  Even so we looked forward to getting to Bolivia where our money would take us a lot further and we would feel more off the beaten track again.        

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