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.