Thursday, 31 March 2011

A glass of salted rioja

Our first stop in Argentina was to stay a couple of days in Salta close to the Bolivian border. Well, close for Argentinian standards as we are still speaking a 7h bus ride away! But as we would soon discover, by spending more and more hours on buses, Argentina is a huge country!
Still fairly unaware of what lied before us, and after a lazy morning of just relaxing and catching up with some e-mails, we ventured out into the streets of the hugely popular city among the Argentines themselves. If I understood correctly from the various Argentines that we would later meet during our trip - Salta is a favoured summer destination as it has cooler temperature, good night life and is beautiful.

And it is indeed a nice city. But we didn't find it very special. Rather, among all the places we visited in Argentina, it was my least favoured one. It's an ok place to hang out for a couple of days if you have time but that's it. I have heard however that the nearby Quebrada de Humahuaca is supposed to be magnificently beautiful. Regretfully we only realised this as we had already gone further down to Mendoza and too late to backtrack up there.

The fact that this was my least favourite place in Argentina doesn't mean that we didn't enjoy ourselves in Salta. We did! We had a lazy first day just recuperating and then strolling into the centre, checking out the place, seeing a pink church for the first time, having a nice meal and generally just enjoying the atmosphere.

After a late lunch of milanesa and beer (very typical), we just bought some cheese and Malbec and returned to the hostel where we bumped into the guided group who were having a small party in the garden to celebrate Australia's independence day with wine, balloons and silly hats. We were convinced to join them (not a difficult task) and a bit of wine and many laughs later, we somehow ended up also joining them in the taxis for a night out in town.

Being in the middle of the week and fairly early at around 11 pm (Argentinians go out a lot later and were still having dinner at this time), the bars we went to were mostly empty. That didn't stop us from having fun and dance, nor did it stop us getting stared at - but perhaps that was more explained by the silly hats and balloons that had followed us into town.

After a first bar that was very empty, we moved onto another one as soon as it opened at around 1am and then stayed there for the rest of the night. Luckily this one soon filled-up as our plans for an early night went down the drain.

The next morning's early rise to go horseback riding after first having to check-out was a bit tough as we had gotten back at around 3 in the morning. However, after some breakfast and the drive out to the farm we were more than ready to jump onto the horses for a nice long ride.

It soon dawned on us though that the ride was not too happen anytime soon as they couldn't 'find' the horses as the farm gauchos lets them roam freely in the forest when not used.

In the meantime, we amused ourselves with learning how to throw a lasso and, mostly, failing badly. We got an instruction on how to do it and then three shots to get the loop around a trunk. If we didn't manage within those three shots we had to run across the lawn while one of the gauchos tried to catch us.

Only one of the group managed to get the lasso around the trunk. All the others failed and had to run, and almost all of us were caught by the lasso. It seems it was easier for the gaucho to catch us running than it was for us to catch an unmoving piece of wood. Years of training I guess.

As most of the horses continued to be in hiding, the group was split into two and the smaller one including Nuno, I and another couple took off on the horses that had actually shown up. Or horses and horses, the other girl actually ended up riding on a donkey. Not really the same thing. We were lucky though and ended up with two lovely white sisters.


The owner of the farm took us into the forest on a small path with bushes grabbing at our arms. A path which didn't seem to see much traffic usually and I wondered if this was really the right way? As the owner stopped to listen a few times for the sound of other horses, claiming that often they would come to join the group when they heard them pass by, my suspicion went up a bit further.
I was still hoping that once we made it out this dense forest we would be allow to gallop for a bit since the owner had initially said that it would be partly through the forest and partly time for galloping.
It turned out however that the second part with space for galloping was actually only for about one minute before we returned to the farm. While the first part of riding through dense forest had been for about an hour - which still did not add up to the 2 to 2.5 hours that we had paid for.

We weren't very happy coming back as the experience had been far from what we had expected. However, we thought that the tours of this company were just bad in general.

As we came back the other group was diving into the included barbecue and we quickly went to join them for some incredibly good meat. At least here the standard of the outing was at least as high as expected. Ok, they had run out of potatoes by the time we made it back, but the meat was incredibly good and there were loads of yummy salads and some nice wine so that was fine.
Some of the really cool/friendly group of travellers that we met (for the first time in Uyuni) and their fun guide.

It was only as the other group set out on their tour that the real unfairness of the day finally became clear to us as we heard that they didn't need to worry about the branches as they were going another way.

It turned out in fact that they were riding the 'normal' path on a bit wider road up a hill with a view over Salta and with lots of room for galloping and enjoying the horseback ride to the fullest. It seemed our doubts about the path we had taken were right and we had most probably been used as 'bait' to try to find the rest of the horses with no consideration for if we had a nice time or not.

A bit disappointing, but as we both love to ride it was still a lovely day as we did get to be on the horse back and enjoy the interaction horse and (wo)man for a lovely moment. I definitely think that this is something I will want to pursue when I get back home as the feeling is amazing.

And it was rather lucky that we were not in the second group after all as they returned after our bus had already left in the evening as the half-day somehow turned into a full day. We made it back in time though and after a short interaction with a group of young local boys, who asked Nuno; 'do you know that Messi is the best player in the world, better than Ronaldo?', once they found out that he was Portuguese. The boy that asked it had a small mischievous smile lightning up his eyes as he asked the question. To my surprise Nuno agreed with him making me reevaluate my boyfriend with renewed respect.

Then it was time to leave for another couple of nights spent in buses as it would have seemed that we had already forgotten the joy of trying to sleep in a non-reclining seat. It is a good way of saving money though as it means paying for one less night of accommodation and it is a good way of saving some time as one can still enjoy the day and just travel at night when one should anyways sleep.

We were lucky this time as the bus for La Rioja had reclining seats for both of us and hadn't adopted the lovely night-light terror of the previous bus. Neither had the bus from La Rioja to Mendoza that we booked as soon as we arrived in La Rioja the next morning as we only intended to spend a day visiting the national park know as the Valley of the moon.

And we did indeed take the bus that same night from the cockroach-infested bus terminal (in fact most of La Rioja was infested with cockroaches making us feel rather happy not to be spending the night there even though it is otherwise a nice city), but we did not make it to the moon. Although we had arrived very early in the morning it was already too late to join any of the group tours and we decided that it was too expensive to take a private guide for the day.

These are things that happens when travelling. Sometimes you go to places that where not at all in your plan and sometimes you don't get to go to places that were. It all depends on circumstances and luck, and sometimes on the size of your wallet.

No loss though as we spent a nice, lazy day in the city instead enjoying the beautiful tree-filled main square where we watched the locals go about their lives - from the business cloths in the morning, to the more leisure ones in the evening -, enjoying some shade from the very strong and hot sun during the three hours the whole town shut down during siesta (we were lucky to find a place for lunch before as most places stopped serving it by 13.45). We played close to a hundred games of speed probably, read, slept and followed a group of samba-resembling drummers and dancers around for a bit.

A very lazy day when we didn't really do or see anything special. A nice break from the 'work' of travel to recharge our batteries and just relax.

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