04 September 2013

cordilleras y catedrales: (less than) 36 hours in salta

mountain ranges and cathedrals.

this weekend i left córdoba for the first time to visit salta with maddy and two of our new friends from work. it's a city in northwest argentina near the borders of chile and bolivia that's known for its colonial architecture, south american culture, and incredible location nestled in the sierras chicas, a group of mountains in the shadow of the andes that boasts amazing desertic landscapes, amazing mountains etched in many-colored rock, charming (though horribly poor) rural villages, vast salt flats, and plentiful valuable minerals for mining.

we had work on friday and monday, so we squeezed in the trip between two overnight bus rides, one on friday and one on sunday night. we knew we wouldn't get to see everything. next time i'm dying to go to the pueblo of cafayate and see the valles calchaquíes to the north of salta; that area is supposed to be gorgeous and is famous for its wines. but i am still so glad to have seen such a beautiful region of argentina.

this totally looks like it could be the default desktop background for the next windows update.


an hour into our 14-hour bus ride to salta, we woke up to the loud and prolonged sound of shattering glass. as the bus rolled to a stop a few minutes later, we learned that someone had thrown a rock at a second-story window, smashing it. we were the only passengers who seemed stressed or even surprised by the incident as we watched the conductors patch up the missing window with a foam mat and rope. surely we would turn around, and our trip would be derailed... but no, within 15 minutes we were back on the road without so much as an announcement to the passengers. we later were told that this is common when passing through slum areas on the outskirts of the city, since it's a tactic to lure the bus to a stop and then rob it. that explains why the driver waited so long to stop as the glass shattered. the whole event seemed so developing-world, especially their nonchalance about the crime and how they simply swept the glass shards onto the side of the road, leaving pieces all over the dirt shoulder and plenty of chips of glass also in the entryway of the bus.

diy window covering.

thankfully, the rest of the weekend was less scary.

we spent the first day driving through the mountains to the west of the city. we saw so many things along the way:

a million cactuses.

multicolored rocks; there's one mountain known for having seven distinct stripes.

dry riverbeds, which fill during the summers as the landscape turns green.

the landscape reminds me SO MUCH of driving the garden route in southern south africa. i just checked - they're at very similar latitude, so it makes sense that they'd have similar climates and geography. something about the colors, the vegetation, the shape of the mountains...

large mining equipment, and plenty more abandoned mine sites.

the santa rosa festival, with a large crowd gathering at a tiny village church to celebrate their patron saint.

san antonio de las cobres, a tiny mountain town where we had lunch.

cheers to new friends.

meet alice.

alice tried the llama milanesa on behalf of all of her vegetarian travel companions.

trucks full of borax, lithium salts, and other mineral raw materials traveling to refineries in other parts of the country.

had to stop at a passport checkpoint since the road runs internationally and we weren't far from the chilean border.

the salinas grandes, an absolutely awe-inspiring giant expanse of salt flats in jujuy province. the salinas were the farthest place we went from salta, four hours into the mountains. if we had kept going along the same road, we would have reached chile within 100 km, and eventually reached the pacific ocean. in the other direction, it goes all the way to brazil and the atlantic.

be prepared for a lot of pictures of me, sorry.

me + excitement. 

me + maddy.

me + my new salt friend.

(maddy + my replacement.)

me + yoga in a scenic place (and one of the first times i've actually stretched since i left the u.s., oh my goodness).

jessica and maddy join in.

i've seen salt flats in chile as well, but these were different: flatter, bigger, more sparse. looking out over the sea of perfect white hexagons was unforgettable. partly due to the season and partly to time of day, there were no tourists there - except, actually, a pair of brazilian truckers who stopped to take photos of each other! the emptiness amplified the experience.

there is active mining going on to produce table salt as well as other products.

alice is shy about pictures.

maddy is good at yoga.

i'm good at photographing yoga.

piles of salt already mined.

"please don't climb on the mounds of salt."

on the edge of the salinas, you can buy a salt sculpture as a souvenir or just watch them being made by the artisan vendors.

indigenous symbols carved into local rock include representations of the four elements and a totem for protection of your family.

the oxygen-light air of 4,800 m above sea level; we all felt winded and had headaches for a lot of the day. part of that had to do with not drinking enough water because there were no bathrooms anywhere... but a lot of it had to do with lack of oxygen, especially since the recent northern winds had blown a lot of the oxygen away.

we hit this marker once we'd already gone down in altitude quite a ways, but still even stepping up onto the stone put us out of breath:

a large group of vicuñas, llama-like animals but smaller and with less wool. apparently it is rare to spot them by the road; we were lucky.

the pueblo of purmamarca, which seemed more touristed and held a colorful artisanal market.

somewhere around here was the "seven-colored hill," but we're not actually exactly sure which one it was.

compulsive ring-shopping is a shared passion.

the beginning of sunset.

several small wildfires in the dry brush.

the sunset over the mountains: i literally cannot think of a more beautiful landscape. the whole drive was so scenic and picturesque and relaxing and amazing. we all loved it so much.

the perfect day was capped off with a perfect dinner when we discovered salta has its own vegan restaurant, called chirimoya. we even picked up fresh germinated almond milk for breakfast the next morning.

we went into the city the next day. there was loads of interesting architecture.

the statue at plaza 9 de julio, the main town square.

we saw the cathedral, famous for its statues of the virgin mary and cristo del milagro. but we entered the cathedral during a service, so we didn't get to explore it as up close as we would have liked.

we also walked around and explored:

local wines on display at a tourist market.

the museum of high-altitude archaeology (museo de arqueología de alta montaña), which houses an exhibit about three 500-year-old mummies of incan child sacrifices found at llullaillaco volcano on the argentina-chile border. we only saw one of the mummies, a 6-year-old girl whose mummy was later struck by lightning. there were also artifacts found with the children at the summit of the frozen volcano, and information about the sacrifice ritual and incan traditions and beliefs.

the outside of the museum, which fronts plaza 9 de julio.

a park full of food vendors and families with young children enjoying the sunny spring weather.

the top of san bernardo mountain, where you can take a cable car (we didn't have the time or energy for the 1,000 steps) to a little mountaintop park with a panoramic view of the surprisingly large city in a valley.

apparently salta needed a sky-high gym.

the whole crew.

an empanada restaurant with a super-welcoming owner/chef/waiter who gave us a free humita and the recipe for his delicious cheese empanadas (which turn out to have chicken broth and 3/4 of us are vegetarian... oops. we did ask for vegetarian over and over!) he then told us about his work fundraising for and helping a poor rural school located seven hours into the mountains - and we were ecstatic because we will be able to help through our work in córdoba.

the only other customers were two older men, friends of the owner who were playing cards indoors.

he lent us a hat.

bonus: a free humita, a sweet corn mush wrapped in corn husks.

the sunday market on the main street, balcarce, which is hopping with clubs by night and cafés by day. the artisans themselves were selling their wares and it was a struggle not to buy everything. i was particularly intrigued by a table full of grape honey (literally made from grape juice) and by a leather hair wrap that creates a very south american-looking braid-like style. but i've got a lot more weeks and trips to explore and decide what to buy.

even our hostel was charming.

i would apologize for the obscene number of photos in this post... but nope, i'm not sorry. the rest of my life in argentina is interesting, but not nearly as photogenic, so maybe future posts won't take so long to load. :)

x, m

p.s. bonus: more photos of mountains, in case you're still interested:

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