Sunday, May 5, 2013

Week 4: Salta

We arrived in northern Argentina, Salta, after a 20 hr bus ride just to find out it was a holiday and there would be nothing to do but catch up on our sleep. Shucks, too bad. After an extremely long nap, we walked the streets of a ghost town and were lucky to find a few places open for lunch. The day off gave us an opportunity to do some research on our new destination which would later unexpectedly become more of a home due to a bus strike, do some laundry and get to know our hostel companions/refugees.

The next day we walked about 12.5 miles to all parts of Salta and finished our day at Plaza 9 de Julio where we visited the Museo Arquelogico de Alta Montana. There we saw what's considered the best naturally preserved mummies in the world. Unearthed in 1999 from the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of Salta near the Chilean border, three children between the ages of 6-13 were found frozen with internal organs intact, blood still present in the heart and lungs, and skin and facial features mostly unscathed. No special efforts have been made to preserve them; the cold and dry, thin air did all the work.

The children were sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as capacocha. They walked hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco were only the most beautiful, healthy, and physically perfect children were taken to the summit of Llullaillaco (yoo-yeye-YAH-co), given chicha (maize beer), and, once they were asleep, placed underground with funerary ornaments, where they froze to death. According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops like angels. It is believed that there are over 40 mountain burial sites in Salta. Unfortunately we couldn't take any pictures but you can Google "La Nina del Rayo" and see what she looked like. She is called that because while still buried she was struck by lightning. It felt like at any moment she was about to wake up. So wild.

The next day we took an 11-hr tour around the surroundings of Salta. We shared the tour with an older couple, Betty and Julio who were from Buenos Aires and only spoke Spanish. Nate got a really good Spanish lesson and we saw and did some rad stuff. We traveled the same path as Las Trens de las Nubes, which used to be a trading train from Argentina to Chile, but now is only used for tourism. Our first stop was San Antonio de Los Cobres, a very poor mining town, nothing we aren't extremely family with. We got to speak with some of the local children and eat their famous llama stew with lentils. It was quite delicious and very lean. From there we traveled to an altitude of 4,700 meters above sea level through some incredible mountains to the Salt Flats. Since we won't be able to make it to Bolivia to see the largest salt flats in the world, we opted for the 6th largest called "Salinas Grandes" with 12,000 hectares of salt.

The path of Tren de las Nubes

A traditional mud home with cactus wood ceilings

San Antonio de los Cobres

Llama lentil stew...mmmm

Llamas outside of a stew

Salinas Grandes

Block of Salt

Pools of water underneath the salt

From there we went to a small town called Purmamarca where we saw the mountain of seven colors due to the mineral and iron deposits that have oxidized at different rates. The views of the day were fantastic and luckily neither of us got altitude sickness because we chewed cocoa leaves and drank cocoa/mate tea with our fellow tour companions of the day.

Oxidized minerals in the mountains

La montana de siete colores

Mouthful of cocoa leaves

Being in the desert and surrounded by Gauchos you can't help but want to spend a day on a ranch, so that's what we did. We woke up early the next day and went to Finca Sayta to ride horses and have an asado. We rode for about two and a half hours and got the chance to not only trot with our horses but gallop, which sounds like the same thing, but galloping is way faster as I quickly learned. Our gauchos were as authentic as they come, born into the Guacho lifestyle with tons of kids, multiple women, and machismo egos to match. Before I even got on my horse the Gaucho told me I needed to learn to listen to men better, I think you all know how that conversation finished. Despite the testosterone, we had a great time and us ladies stuck to our "feminists" ways as later the owner of the ranch Enrique told me. He was a crazy man who liked to call every one a "son of a ----" and insisted that because the wine bottle finished in mine and Nate's glass, we now had a 66% chance of having a child in the upcoming year. Crazy old man, but a hoot, nonetheless. And if the company hadn't been so good, the food would have made up for it because in true asado style it was freakin delicious.

Nate got to gallop alone with his horse Paisano

My horse Cozaco

With crazy ranch owner Enrique

Our gaucho day was supposed to be our last excursion before quickly moving onto Chile the following day, but like I mentioned before there is currently a bus strike that has stopped all long distance travel. The owners of the companies want a 23% increase in salaries to match the inflation rate retroactively from January and a clause that allows them to renegotiate their salary if the inflation crisis continues. The strike began the day after we arrived and has been going on for 4 days. Even Chilean bus companies aren't able to travel due to the vandalisation that is occurring to any bus that is on the road. So as of now we are staying put, enjoying our Sunday traditions of catching up on correspondence and taking it easy with hopes that in the next day or two we can continue to our third country. Until then wine is cheap, the weather is cool, and of all the hostels we have stayed at this is our favorite. So no complaints here and power to the people.

Till next time.

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