Monday August 14, 2023
We went up to 3,500 metres in the Cactus National Park (show them what they like). Finally, here are some pictures of snow in the mountains.
Note the extremely unpaved nature of the road. Was I glad not to be driving? I most definitely was.
I became even gladder as we went up to “the bishop’s viewing point” along extremely narrow, winding unpaved roads. Weirdly it reminded me a little bit of Kerry.
Braving R’s disapproval we went to inspect the local tat for sale nearby. Herself got a necklace with a stylised suri bird and I bought a little polished stone chinchilla (“the animal of love,” the vendor told me earnestly, not everywhere you would have to say).
We saw many cows (weird), llamas, horses and donkeys in the desert landscape.
Also there were lots of places that weren’t connected to the electricity mains but were solar powered – even houses that looked pretty basic tended to have their own solar panels. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a great place to shoot a period film as electricity lines seemed to be non-existent.
R had taken the opportunity to pick up some goat and also some llama salami at the market. We ate it in the van. I can definitely confirm that it does not taste like chicken. Notwithstanding our consumption of exotic salami, we stopped for lunch in a traditional road side café. I should have said that the van always contained water and a range of snacks lest we needed to be nourished at any point during the journey. I don’t know when I last ate quite as much.
R pointed out to us that the jacaranda flowers were out and that spring had started very early. We made some combined gloomy noises about the impacts of climate change but those of us who had flown 10,000 kms to be there felt poorly positioned to take the high moral ground.
We wended our way back to Salta where, to my disappointment, we were staying in a different hotel from the place where we had got the brilliant laundry service. R said we would love it as a trendy boutique hotel and it was nice with huge bedrooms but it felt a bit like a boutique hotel that you could find anywhere. We were given the afternoon off which was a huge thrill. However, deep regret here, the boutique hotel had no pool. Was I to be forever thwarted in my desire to enjoy swimming pools in Argentine hotels? Spoiler alert: broadly yes.
We needed to change money and R took Mr. Waffle off to some exciting street corner operation trying to find the very best rate (something R regarded as a personal challenge). Mr. Waffle went with some trepidation. Following the primary election results where Milei did unexpectedly well the exchange rate went 700 pesos to the dollar, up from 500 when we arrived. It did fall back a bit later as the markets calmed down but this is a country that has defaulted on its debt nine times since it got independence from the Spanish in 1816 and, probably, more pertinently three times since 2001 so the markets are a bit wary. The poor old Argentinians.
The rest of us went to a second hand book shop with, sadly for us, no foreign language books at all, and then repaired to a café for a restorative cup of tea.
R, finally acknowledging my need to buy local tat brought us to the most brilliant market slightly outside Salta. The stuff there was amazing and I bought so many nice things. Delighted with myself. I bought a cactus wood bread basket, safe for export, since you’re asking.
For dinner, we had expressed a desire to have choripan again – reliving our first experience in BA. Our lovely driver M, said to R, “Leave it to me” and brought us to a local street side place. We had so much fun. R said, “You are an all-terrain family.” Which he meant as a compliment because he loves his jeep but also was not true as we were definitely not the kind of Andean climbers he was used to. In fairness, he was an all-terrain guide.
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
The boys decided that they would like to stay home and it was with some hesitation that I abandoned them in Salta while the rest of us headed off.
First we went to Tastíl to inspect more ruins. Again, we had the place to ourselves.
There were rabbit like animals all over the place. “Not rabbits, viscacha,” corrected R. Although like rabbits, they are apparently unrelated. On first inspection, they have very different tails but quite similar ears. Cute.
R showed us how when you hit some of the rocks they were musical because they had metal in them. More entertaining than it sounds. Your genius photographer took this snap.
We went up to 3500 metres and all was well. We saw the old railroad for the mines. R told us that there were huge Chinese operations extracting lithium around here. He said that up in some of the mines all of the signs were in Chinese as well. We all felt a bit ambivalent about this but the Chinese will lend to the Argentinians as I understand it and this is something most people seem to be backing away from.
R said that the fifth largest salt flat in the world is in the Andes. Who knew?
Then we went to this old mining town (now much expanded), San Antonio de los Cobres, for our lunch. This is a bit like what I imagine the Klondike was like. It all felt thrown up and very rough and ready. I see from the internet that the water there comes with extra arsenic. This was not covered over lunch.
We went for a walk near the highest point we had been to (4080 metres). Herself and I felt fine but poor Mr. Waffle was really not very well. The altitude did not suit him. R spent a long time explaining the concept of Puna to us. It seems to mean high altitude in the Andes but it’s related a bit to how you feel as well as the altitude.
There were many fields of llamas all of which I failed to photograph.
I finally broke R and we started speaking French. God, I was delighted with myself. He was very complimentary about my companions’ French and he took it upon himself to correct mine (that sounds sarcastic but we welcome opportunities for self-improvement). He asked herself about how her French got so good and she explained that she had spent time at school in Tours. She has previously told me that all French people know Tours and they know two things about it: i) it is where they speak the best French and ii) it is the most boring town in France. R conformed to type.
When we got back to Salta it was to find that the boys had managed very well in our absence and rather than sticking to the hotel and room service (which was what I thought would happen) had been out and about and got themselves lunch in town.
That evening we went out to a “Peña” which is dinner and music and a big feature of Salta. Mr. Waffle stayed home to recover but the rest of us trotted out. We didn’t have dinner (an asado, the famous Argentine barbecue) until 10 but we were totally adapted to Argentine hours so that was fine. The music was all very atmospheric and that but those of us who had been trekking at altitude earlier in the day were exhausted so we called it a night relatively early.
Stay tuned for further adventures when our heroes return to the big city.