Well our first impressions of Argentina weren’t the best due to the countrywide bus strike and our trouble finding a hostel in Jujuy, where we ended up for our first night.
Luckily things changed rather quickly.
We didn’t see much in Jujuy, although we did walk around with our bags for over an hour trying to find a hostel that still existed and was open (our Lonely Planet is 3 years old which is like 21 years old in dog or Latin American hostel years; very outdated).
The hostel we did eventually find was reasonably cheap and we met a nice French girl in our room, Aurelie. The guy at our hostel said that although there weren’t any buses going to Salta, it was only 2 hours away and that we could get a collectivo so we headed to the station with Aurelie the next morning to track one down.
It didn’t take long. After asking a couple of people we found some dodgy looking guys on the corner across from the station offering rides in their cars to Salta. Two hours and about 10 check points later (check points to Argentina is like strikes to Bolivia), we arrived in Salta.
I had been told that Salta isn’t that interesting and to not bother going unless planning to do one of the myriad activities offered in the countryside in Salta province.
I almost immediately disagreed with that.
Salta is a beautiful city and one of the most interesting cities in Argentina in regards to architecture. Salta’s Cathedral is like Barbie’s dream house: it is a neoclassical pink and yellow dream.
Another thing I noticed is how good everything smelt. A lot of cities and small towns we had visited in Northern South America didn’t have the best rubbish disposal systems which often left the streets smelling like rotting refuse (just in some places, not all the time). There was nothing like that in Salta. Also we really noticed that the people of Salta wear a lot of aftershave and perfume and we could smell that too. It is a weird thing to admire in a city but I really did enjoy the nice smells.
We had a lovely afternoon exploring the city then got the gondola up to the top of San Bernardo, a small mountain with a great view over the downtown area. We watched the sunset over Salta and watched the city lights slowing blinking on – beautiful.
We hiked back down a trail in the dark with torches and ended up in a very upscale neighbourhood with ridiculous mansions (ridiculously awesome!). Wandering around lost for a while and just watching people going about their everyday lives in this great city was a fantastic way to spend an evening.
The next day we had an early start for our day trip to Cachi. We had wanted to get the bus there ourselves but unfortunately it wasn’t possible because of the strikes, so we spent the day with a lot of old Argentinean ladies being shuttled around in a tour bus instead.
There was a lot of driving to get to Cachi and we stopped at a couple of places along the way, including a cactus desert where there is a point on the highway (an old Inca road) where strange lights have been seen and where our Guide claimed to have had an alien encounter. There is actually a weird section of highway there that appears to have been melted. You can get cell phone reception in that one spot despite being on a plateau surrounded by mountains with no tower nearby – weird.
Cachi is a lovely little white washed town, very similar to Villa de Leyva in Colombia but a bit smaller and sleepier.
We had our picnic lunch in the sun-drenched square then ambled down to the river where I made friends with a beautiful tortoiseshell cat that was nestled in a hay bale on the top of a pickup truck.
The drive back was long and problematic. Firstly we got a flat tyre, then a lot of people were really sick from the windy roads and one lady spewed so we had to stop a few times.
One good stop on the way back was when we spotted some Andean Condors on the top of a hill. Apparently you don’t usually see them in this area. Our Guide didn’t have his camera on him so he asked Trav to email him the photos he took for a book he is writing.
I am pleased we visited Cachi but tours can really be arduous sometimes.
We got back to Salta and were informed the strike was over – yay! The next day we were already signed up to do a day trip to Cafayate so decided to stay that night then get a night bus to Cordoba after that.
Our first stop was the amazing red desert of the Quebrada de Cafayate. It was the same kind of landscape as Tupiza in Bolivia.
There are a few rock formations that look like things such as the Toad, and a big circular ravine known as Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat) which is very echoey.
The first thing we did when we got to Cafayate was visit a Vineyard for a tour and wine tasting. I am not usually a big fan of wine but Cafayate is known for its sweet white wine known as Torrontes. I really liked it and we got given some delicious creamy cheese, also made on site, to try with it – mmmmm. After the wine tasting we went across the street to try some salamis including an alpaca one. I didn’t realise it was alpaca until after I had eaten it. It tasted like regular pork salami to me but I felt a bit bad as I don’t usually eat pets. Oh well.
We had free time to look around Cafayate after that. It is such a laid back and friendly place and I instantly fell deeply in love with it. I was taking photos of some great street art when I looked up and saw a wall full of cats, just staring at me. It was like someone had posed them at equal spaces from each across the wall with every cat a different colour and pattern than the one next to it. I walked a bit closer (you may have noticed by now that I have a wee bit of a cat obsession) but they were very skittish and a couple jumped off the wall so I backed off. Just then a little old lady came over to the wall and the cats went wild. She had food for them which she put up on the wall, I think she must do it every day. The cats were crawling all over each other to get the food and it was quite a sight.
After that distraction, we went to an ice cream shop that is famous for its wine ice cream. I prefer to drink my wine, if anything, so got a plum one instead. Very good.
I left Cafayate vowing to come back to spend at least a couple of days, biking around the vineyards.
We stopped at another winery for a second tasting on the way out of town, then at a small tourist stop where you can feed the Llamas.
It was a great day trip and felt a lot less rushed and crazy than the day before.
Our last day in Salta province we spent in the city. We went to a great museum on the Plaza which displays the perfectly preserved mummy of Lightning Girl; a young girl who was an Inca sacrifice found on top of a nearby volcano. She was hit by lightning at some point after she died, hence the name. That evening we caught a night bus to Cordoba.
Cordoba is a lively student city with loads of classy restaurants and bars and great shopping. We looked around a bit on our first day and met Aurelie and her friend for a picnic lunch in the Main square before relaxing in the city rose garden.
Our second day we explored town a bit more and I debated over whether to buy some boots. I have a bit of a weakness for a nice pair of boots and they are everywhere in Cordoba.
I managed to resist and luckily so as back at the Hostel later I realised my change purse with 900 pesos in it was gone from my bag.
I guess I was pick-pocked while we walked around town. I hate the feeling you get when you are robbed. That sinking feeling in your stomach and the feeling of an invasion of your personal space. I’m pretty used to it now though.
We went to the Police Station the next day to get a police report for my insurance before catching a bus to Villa General Belgrano, a picturesque German town in the mountains outside of Cordoba, for some well needed R & R.
It was love at first sight for me. Before we even pulled into the Bus station I wanted to stay a long, long time in Villa General Belgrano. I can’t put my finger on exactly what did it for me; it could have been the cutesy German restaurants, the abundance of pine trees (reminding me of home) or the general small European town feel about it, whatever it was, it was exactly what I needed.
We walked to the HI Hostel just out of town down a quiet country road. Green parrots chatted to each other in the trees above us. The Hostel was beautiful, just like an Alpine Lodge, and we got our own homey little room for a steal. We were planning to spend one night in VGB then head back to Cordoba to bus on to Buenos Aires but I just didn’t want to leave the place so we ended up staying for three.
We strolled along the path by the wooded stream, ate hearty German fare in the local restaurants, drunk amazing craft brewed beers (fruit and honey beer!!), biked through the country roads to a beautiful stream and ponds, climbed a hill with great views over town and even took a bus to La Cumbrecita, another beautiful Alpine village nearby, where I had the richest and most delicious pasta I have ever eaten.
We hiked to an amazing waterfall surrounded by berry trees of yellow and red, admired the amazing amount of stars visable in the night sky and visited Cristo Grande, a giant statue of Christ on the Cross located on a quiet hillside.
It was bliss.
But we had to leave as we were fast running out of time on the South American section of our trip. I almost shed a tear saying goodbye to this town. I need to find a replica in New Zealand or Canada where I can move to.
Oh well, onward to the big city for new experiences and excitement.
Buenos Aires here we come!