Salta, Argentina

Salta is the hub of Northwestern Argentina. It is the link to all of the northern activities and sights, a gorgeous city in itself, and surrounded by beautiful canyons, desert, and valleys. We didn’t stay long, but we captured a lot while we were there.

We got an overnight bus out of Mendoza and arrived in Salta around 7 in the morning. We found a great, social hostel across the street from a breakfast bistro that becomes a busy bar at night. This restaurant truly captured the art of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bar. It covered ALL the bases of what we needed! For our 2 days in the city, we walked around quite a bit.  The churches in Salta are all massive and colorful. As we explored the main few blocks of the city, there were 2 huge churches, a nunnery, and a beautiful plaza. Most of the architecture is extremely old, with tall buildings that have simply been added on to over time. While Salta has the size to be a thriving city, it still has the homely, welcoming feel of a small town. This was an aspect I absolutely loved about Salta! Because of this, Salta has held on to unique cultural aspects without becoming overrun with bike rentals and kiosks on every corner. (Cough cough… Santiago…)

A freshly painted church near the main square of Salta stands gleaming in the sunlight.
A freshly painted church near the main square of Salta stands gleaming in the sunlight.

Aside from the churches, Chase and I had much to explore. The main plaza of Salta was filled with families milling around and enjoying their weekend. One particular family caught my eye and still brings me a smile every time I think back on them. They had 2 little boys, each with their own bag of popcorn. The smiles on their faces as the walked around, feeding the pigeons only to seize that opportunity to chase them brought laughter to all of those present. One of them was a little older than two years, and was waddling around and so slow that the birds weren’t afraid at all. The older brother, maybe 4 or 5 years old, was running full speed throwing popcorn at the birds like a future baseball player! The pure joy he got from popcorn and the world’s most hated city bird was admirable. Joy is contagious, and that kid had enough for all of us! Around the plaza, we had the chance to go to some amazing archeological museums with mummies from Inca sacrifices thousands of years ago, Salta’s history and creation, and a room with so many paintings of men with beards that Chase got to find his historical beard twin! The days downtown were filled with learning and laughter.

A little local boy runs after the birds, attempting to feed them and chase them at the same time.
A little local boy runs after the birds, attempting to feed them and chase them at the same time.

The artisan shops were on the edge of town, next to Cerro San Bernardo, so we took the chance before ascending the mountain to explore and do a little shopping. There were SO MANY things that we would love to bring home. Unfortunately, they weren’t a possibility of backpacking across the rest of South America, so we ended up with only one jewel of an item… As we walked through one of the cramped tents, Chase spotted what appeared to be a llama leg. After a closer look, we discovered that it had been fashioned to be a corkscrew as well as a bottle opener! He fell in love with it, and out of pure uniqueness and hilarity, I did to. That little llama leg will be the source of many stories once we are home going in to the future. After bartering our way through the artisan shops, we went to the top of Cerro San Bernardo. It was incredible! At the top, the view was stunning (as to be expected), but the environment was surprising as well. The top is made in to a park with waterfalls, playgrounds, and benches everywhere. Near the gondola, there is a large paved area set up with stationary bikes for spin classes as well as a complete weight lifting set up! As we enjoyed the view, there was a spin class in the background with college aged kids lifting a little beyond that. We walked back down the mountain along the long stairway that is more like rocks thrown together than actual stairs, and ended up in a part of town we had not yet been. As it happens, that was the same street as the movie theatre!

One of the many man made waterfalls at the top of Cerro San Bernardo in Salta
One of the many man made waterfalls at the top of Cerro San Bernardo in Salta
Overlooking the city of Salta, Argentina from the top of Cerro San Bernardo.
Overlooking the city of Salta, Argentina from the top of Cerro San Bernardo.

Now, I had been keeping an eye on where the movie theatre might be since Jurassic World had just come out, so this was the perfect opportunity to see if it was playing in english. Good news, it was! Chase and I got to crawl out of our cave and see an American movie to get a taste of back home! We smuggled in some snacks, settled in, and enjoyed a 3D showing of the movie I have been dying to see! Woo hoo! I cannot explain how awesome it was to sit in a comfy leather chair and watch an action adventure dinosaur movie. Chase and I were happy campers!

The next day in Salta was spent exploring Valles Calchaquies and Cafayate. It was a long drive, but well worth it! Valles Calchaquies is so wide that each side has its own ecosystem. On one side, the rock formations stand high, varied with colors and cacti. On the other side, there are semi desert conditions but with much more water, allowing for the vineyards, greenery, and flatter lands. As we drove through, we saw many amazing sights. The first that we passed was La Garganta del Diablo. Named in english “The Devil’s Throat”, it was a deep, thin canyon that was the reddest color of rock formations I have ever seen! The Anfiteatro (“Amphitheatre”) was similar, but the walk down the thin canyons led to a large, round area with acoustics that were amazing. I yelled “ECHO!!!” in to it and received many repetitions of my voice back from the canyon. It was incredible. Shortly after we arrived in the amphitheatre, a little local band came in and began playing music and singing. It was absolutely wonderful. The sound was amazing, and the canyons peaceful.

Chase stands at the furthest point allowed to hike and climb in to the canyon.
Chase stands at the furthest point allowed to hike and climb in to the canyon.
The exit to the Amphitheatre, tall and thin.
The exit to the Amphitheatre, tall and thin.

After those two amazing sights the valley contains rock formations of incredible stature and age, with a huge variety of colors. We stopped and took a few more pictures and stood on the edge of one of the towering cliffs before making our way down to the bottom to get to the other end of the valley.

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When we finally arrived in wine country again, it was incredible, and very different from what we saw in Mendoza. Here, the land receives less water, but still enought for the grapes to grow. Because of the conditions of the sand and environment, the white grape Torrontes thrives here. While Torrontes is more unknown in the states, it is incredibly popular here. The tour of the winery was wonderful, as usual, and the landscape stunning. In addition to the vineyards, cacti thrive in the area. I absolutely loved it! It gives me hope that maybe those little vines my mother planted in the back yard may some day produce a grape. After all, it does take three years before the vines have grapes worth harvesting! We spent a little bit of time in the main square of Cafayate for lunch, and strangely enough, wine ice cream. Now, this isn’t wine-flavored ice cream. This is ice cream made directly from wine! I tasted torrontes ice cream and malbec ice cream. While they weren’t the best ice cream in Argentina, they were a delightful change, tasty, and perfect on the scorching hot day. It was great to taste the wine ice cream in the town it was invented in!

A cactus grows next to the vineyards of Cafayate, nestled next to the mountains at the end of Valle Calchaquies.
A cactus grows next to the vineyards of Cafayate, nestled next to the mountains at the end of Valle Calchaquies.

Well, That’s it for the journey to San Pedro! We then hopped on the overnight bus and headed for San Pedro, Chile. For a final stop in Argentina, it was a great one! Thanks Argentina, you have been a wonderful reminder of home, an introduction to new culture, and a university of wine! 😉

From somewhere new, Jess

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