Sunday, September 27, 2009

El Norte, parte 2

After Las Salinas Grandes, we descended the mountain range and returned to Salta. The trip down was full of spectacular views of colorful mountains and valleys. That night in Salta we made pasta in our hostel and got some shut eye before our second tour.

Monday was Día de Primavera, first day of spring! It was a very interesting day because we ended up on a special tour for about 5 young families who knew the guide, Rafa, personally. The families were, of course, Indio Solari fanatics. They were visiting Salta for the concert, but normally live in Buenos Aires province. The little kids were rockers too. They knew all the words and were showing off their concert t-shirts. Hilarious.

The day started by sharing mate with one of the new guys, Rafa, the driver and Sarah while heading north on the highway. Our destination of the day was Humahuaca. They were very excited to show us the music of their beloved Indio. I thought it was sort of run-of-the-mill rock at first, but then we looked at the book they had with all of lyrics and artwork associated with the music. The lyrics and artwork gave it all a context and now I like it a lot more. Funny how music transforms when you know what to listen for.

After some scenic photo stops, we went to Purmamarca. Sarah and I had been to Purmamarca the day before, but this time the Hill of Seven Colors was much more vivid. That hill is one of the most famous, but most of the mountains in that area are uniquely colorful. I though it all looked even better through my polarized sunglasses. Sarah disagreed. Either way, the pictures don't it justice.

We then headed into the hills, seeing them from the inside. It was beautiful. There were interesting rock formations and, of course, vivid colors. This group photo includes the Indio-worshiping banner that they flourished in all of their photos.
We made it to Humahuaca at lunch-time and ate at a restaurant that specialized in regional cuisine. At ate an amazing quinoa and vegetable stew. Lunch was fun because it was the first time that I got to significantly converse with the families. I sat next to a 10-year-old named Luna who was an absolute sweetheart. She told me about how dulce de cayote is delicious and I told her about how the United States has a lot of countryside. They thought a lot of strange things about the states, such as the entire country being a gigantic city. Luna and I talked a lot, but I also talked to the adults quite a bit. They asked me lots of questions. Between the main course and dessert Luna's 3-year-old brother caught on to what my name is and kept exclaiming "Cati, Cati!" to get my attention while I was talking to everyone else. Each time, he proceeded to tell me a lot about airplanes.

We then parted with the group, as they were heading back to Salta and we were staying the night in Humahuaca. Our hostel, Posada del Sol, was the greatest hostel I've experienced. We walked over the bridge that divides Humahuaca, down some dirt roads and arrived to the group of small, white-washed buildings with a group of gypsy-looking musicians and dancers in front. Our room had 5 beds and our 2 beds were up a ladder. It felt like we were staying in a treehouse, which we loved. After checking in, I went straight for the siesta option. I both feel asleep and woke up to the folkloric melodies and laughing outside. When I did wake up, Sarah and I joined the folks outside for a few dances.

Humahuaca is wonderful. It's a large town that's frozen in time, forgive the cliché. There's a German-style clock tower and a huge monument commemorating the native population, tree-lined plazas and handicraft shops, cobble stone streets and markets with frest vegetables, cheeses and meats. Our first night there, there was a parade of high school students celebrating the first day of spring, which is also student's day here in Argentina (like mother's day, but for students.) They were led by a brass band, had fire works that sounded like guns and danced in lines, shouting and singing the whole way. The police were anxiously monitoring the whole scene, but it was all harmless. Just very loud.

For dinner, we ended up in a mom and pop restaurant and shared goat stew and a tamale. The owners' son came over and talked to us. He was about three, and it was very amusing. He explained some super-heroes to us and demanded that we choose which super-hero we wanted to be. About every 5 seconds he'd declare "cambió," and we would have to switch which super-hero we were.

After this point my camera ran out of batteries and I didn't charge it, so all of the pictures are on Sarah's here's a good point to end part 2 and part 3 will come soon...

Friday, September 25, 2009

El Norte, parte1

I love the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. We left Mendoza last Friday on an 18 hour bus ride to Salta city, arriving on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Salta was alive with Argentine tourists from other parts of the country. They were gathered for an Indio concert, Argentina's equivalent of Red Hot Chili Peppers or Rage Against the Machine, but with more die-hard fans. Actually, Sarah and I didn't figure out why everyone had shirts that said "Indio" until the following day. It seemed that we were the only ones who hadn't come to Salta for that concert, which, as one fan told us, was 40,000 strong.

Anyway, we left the bus terminal on foot and, after a short walk through the park, we came to the main plaza. This plaza was surrounded by gorgeous colonial architecture and had live music (not Indio, but others,) creating an even more pleasant atmosphere. We lingered in the plaza for a bit before proceeding to our hostel. After checking in and resting a bit, we walked to the tourist office to plan what adventures we wanted to set off on. At the tourist office, we found an English girl that we had met at the bus station in Mendoza. She'd been traveling worldwide by herself for months and just arrived in South America a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, she was at the tourist office searching for a place to stay that night. There was a mistake with her reservation and everything in or close to Salta was booked because of the aforementioned Indio fans. After hours of searching, we were about to try and sneak her into our hostel room so she might sleep on the floor, but she ended up staying with the nice girl who worked at the office.

That evening we tried panchos (hot dogs with ridiculous toppings), and sipped Salta cerveza while listening to the live outdoor music in the plaza. I had chimichurri and corn on my hot dog, and Sarah had eggplant sauce and fried potatoes. A variety of musicians played, there were folkloric and tango artists alike. My favorite was a women who sang with a strong, entrancing voice and kept the rhythm with an echoing drum. She told stories and jokes, linking the meaning of the songs together.

Early in the morning we were met by our guide, Rafael, and we set off towards the mountains. Following the path of the Train to the Clouds, we climbed up the gorgeous mountain pass. The Train to the Clouds is the highest altitude train in the world; it was refurbished in 2008 and now runs on Saturdays for tourists:

"The journey on the Tren a las Nubes - Train To the Clouds starts at Salta. It runs through 19 tunnels, over 29 bridges, 13 viaducts, 9 sheds, two loops formed by the railway and several big sewer systems, among them, true and colossal works of art delivered by its creator's imagination, Engineer Richard Fontaine Maury, whose great exploit was to cross the Andes range using the potentials of engineering.

The Train To The Clouds began its travels on June 16, 1972. It uses no racks, so the single power of the diesel engine locomotive pulls the ten wagons that make it up. Comprising a Diesel locomotive, a wagon equipped with a medical post and informative central booth, a restaurant wagon, a bar wagon, and seven other wagons with first class seats, making up a total capacity of 520 passengers."

Then we came to some pre-incan ruins, which were basically multiple squares of stacked stones. As humble as they were, it is amazing to think how long they have stayed there. Further down the road, we ate lunch in San Antonio de Los Cobres, an isolated mining town. This area is generally rich in mined resources: salt, borax and copper, amongst others. Almost everyone ate milanesa de llama. Llama meat is typical to Northern Argentina, and it is delicious. It is extremely low in fat but still moist and tender. They say that it is also very nutricious.

A long and bumpy road took us to Las Salinas Grandes...which means miles and miles of salt flats! It was a fun place to visit. The salt here cannot be used as table salt because it lacks iodine, but I tasted it and it was good-tasting salt! Underneath the salt is an underground lake and the salt is collected in pools. There are multiple rows of these pools, the water in them is a beautiful light blue color and the salt inside the pool looks like ice.