Argentina: Final days in Argentina
When your teeth start to have a permanent purple tint to them, it’s time to move on! The last couple of days in Mendoza were pretty quiet. Lani and I both have a lot of plotting to do as our travel plans keep changing, so we had lots of pow-wow discussions on what to do with ourselves. We did spend one day doing a bicycle tour of some of the local bodegas (wineries). It was a really fun way to explore the vineyard area and gave us the opportunity to squeeze in some much needed exercise. The bikes they gave us, however, were complete crap! One of them had no brakes, which became trickier as the afternoon progressed and Laurie’s got a flat on our way to the last bodega. We were all kind of hoping that this would be our ticket to a free ride back to the rental place, as by that point the ride back along the bumpy gravel road did not sound like much fun, but alas, someone pulled over to help the damsels in distress and we had to peddle back, as planned. I must say that overall I was a bit let down by Mendoza. Fellow travellers had raved about it so much that I had high hopes, but I just didn’t love it as much as I had wanted.
It was then time for the last long haul north in Argentina. We took an overnighter to Tucumán and then another up to the city of Salta. Salta, upon first glance, was much more what I had expected of Mendoza. It was welcoming, not too big, easy to navigate and just full of great people. Unfortunately, we only had a day there to spend. Everything has drastically changed somewhere between Mendoza and Salta and I am now back to the typical Andean culture that can be found in much of South America. It’s hard to believe that Salta and Buenos Aires are part of the same country. People here have lost their European look, they are shorter, have darker skin, and are more indigenous-looking, if such a term can be used. The music is changing back to the pan-pipe folkloric tunes and the crafts are once again primarily wool. It has made me realize that I have almost come full circle from where I began, as this is much of what I saw in Northern Peru and Ecuador at the start of this trip.
One of the best things about Salta, and all of NW Argentina, is their great food! Empanadas are one of my favorite things on earth and Salta is known for making great ones. Whenever I get to a new Latin American country, empanadas are the first thing I am search of. First place is still being held by one I had on the steps of the cathedral in Tunja, Colombia. Salta’s come in a close second! Needless to say, we had A LOT in our 24 hour Salta stint. Other typical foods of the region are mostly stews, which I also love! I had Locro, a pumpkin, chickpea, veal and potato stew and Guiso de Lentejas, a lentil stew. YUM! We also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try llama. We had llama steaks and llama stew and I’m hoping tonight to find a llama empanada….not sure if they exist.
In Salta we had wanted to go to a peña, where you can listen to live regional music, but this was apparently the popular thing to do on Good Friday because they were all stuffed to the gills. We had to be satisfied by standing on the sidewalk and listening like ostracized children.
From Salta we jutted up Jujuy and rented a car to explore some of the smaller towns of the far north. The highlights of this road trip were the many gorges lined with colorful rocks and gobs of giant cacti. This part of the country is very arid and dusty, dusty, dusty, but quite beautiful! In Purmamarca we saw the seven colored mountain (see pics) with rocks ranging from pastel pink to deep purple. In Maimará there was a huge cemetery that looked more like a town that had an incredible backdrop of tiled rocks, dubbed the artist’s palette. This wouldn’t be a bad final resting place. The little town of Humahuaca had a great market where I finally had to break down and buy a wool sweater as I wasn’t prepared for the bitter evening cold of the desert. Our final stop was the darling town of Tilcara, where we decided to spend Easter Sunday. At home, Easter tends to be more of a family holiday and is relatively quiet. Down here, it’s much more of a community event and many people have vacation all of Holy Week. This means there are lots of Argentinean tourists out and about. Tilcara is known for their Stations of the Cross processions. Each station has a mural that has been made out of flowers, leaves, seeds, twigs, etc and they are all very ornately decorated and impressive. A lot of work goes into making these every year and locals and tourists alike gather to do the processional walk around town. Today is Easter Sunday and all day there have been little groups of bands walking through the street beating their drums and playing their pan pipes. Despite the fact that they don’t really follow much of a beat and each band member kind of plays to their own tune, they were entertaining to listen to and the perfect way to enjoy the atmosphere of the day. The Northwest region revolves around Pachamama, Mother Earth, and this is reflected in the crafts, structural design of the buildings, the simplicity of life, and the attitude of the people. You see many images of a weeping woman, and today I learned that this represents Mother Earth, shedding her tears into the ground to make it fertile. For this and many other reasons, Tilcara has been a great final stop for our Argentinean adventure!! It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for 6 weeks, but when I think back to all the ground we covered, it couldn’t have been done any faster. In fact, there is still so much of Argentina that has been left for next time.
Tomorrow we head for Bolivia and all it has to offer! Feliz Pascua, Happy Easter!!