01.03.2006 - 06.03.2006
Leaving around Midnight, we took the only train to Villazon, on the border with Argentina. The dark sagebrush and rock formations were occasionally visible in the moonlight, but the rest of the supposedly incredible scenery was hard to see. I slept little as is usually the case with all night journeys. In the early morning we made the uneventful border crossing, but not before witnessing the hundreds, perhaps thousands of indigenous "mule men" carrying huge sacks of goods from Bolivia to Argentina. They appeared like an endless stream of worker ants, who would drop their loads on the Argentinian side and then return to Bolivia empty handed, only to do it over and over again. Too tired to take pictures, and somewhat embarrassed as well, I refer you to the following site to get an idea of what it was like:http://www.lightstalkers.org/im/show/494566. We walked across the bridge to the bus station of La Quica,in Argentina, and although a rather scruffy border town, it was already possible to discern some differences between the two countries. It was clearly more prosperous than the Bolivian side. We caught the next through bus to Tilcara, and spent the night there before going on to Salta, the next morning.
Salta remains one of my favorite cities in Argentina. Situated in a valley surrounding by the Andes, and founded in the 1500's, it has many old colonial buildings and wonderful parks.
Plaza 9 de Julio, not far from our hotel, is charming with it's wide cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes.
The food is fabulous, in some ways the best in Argentina, because in addition to the usual succulent steaks, there are local specialties such as Locro, a hearty soup, more like a stew with vegetables and meat. There are empanadas of all types, baked and therefore not greasy as they often are in many other places. There are also ice-cream shops with exotic flavors and huge cones. Most important of all, YOU CAN EAT ANYWHERE AND NOT GET SICK. This was a very welcome change after the rigors of the Solar.
In Salta, the differences between Argentina and the Andean countries of Ecuador, Peru and Bolvia, were emphatic and obvious. There were hardly any indigenous people, the Argentinians having killed most of them off in the mid 19th century. Everyone looked European, and we no longer stood out. The buildings were well kept, and the city was generally clean and and easy to explore. We felt we had made the transition to a first world country, but because of the economic crisis, some 6 years earlier it was still very cheap by US and European standards. At this time of year, the afternoons were hot, and as in Spain, a late lunch and siesta were common place. Stores would often close for several hours. Afternoons I would lunch on a dozen assorted empanadas, and a bottle of the local brew, Quilnes, about $2US, and spend a few hours people watching and reading. It all felt very civilized compared to what we were used to.
Unfortunately I got rather sick not long after our arrival, perhaps brought on by lack of sleep and the poor diet of the proceeding weeks. It was more of a respiratory thing than a stomach bug. I spent a few days either in bed or lying about in the shade of some nearby parks. It felt like a reminder that if I pushed my body it would push back, but who knows? Maybe it was something I caught from the woman across from me in the train who was sneezing and coughing. It did prevent a few of those leisurely lunches, as I was prone for most of that time. After I felt somewhat better, we walked the city streets and took a few side trips. There was a small mountain on the edge of town, Cerro Bernardo[i], with a teleferico, and we rode up to see the view and explore the gardens and fountains at the top.
Another day we took the bus to San Lorenzo, a wealthy suburb at the foot of the mountains. There were some easy hiking trails through the hills and along a stream.
Mostly we just took it easy, luxuriating in the comfortable surroundings and safe food. All part of my recovery, of course.