over the last several days, we’ve slowly been making our way to Bolivia. step 1 was to take a 27 hour bus from puerto iguazu to a city called Salta in the far north of Argentina. we arrived in salta after midnight, totally exhausted, and went straight to sleep. i woke up the next morning, stepped outside, and realized that i was no longer in the Argentina that i was used to. the north of Argentina is completely different from the rest of the country. here in the north, things are way more like what i had expected from south America. first of all, there are way more indigenous people here. in the rest of Argentina, pretty much everyone is of European descent, and it really feels super modern and European. the north is more like Mexico, with people selling stuff on the streets, outdoor markets, etc. not only that, but the food is different up here as well. first off, the food is spicier and they actually have salsa. plus, they have tamales and other things that you just cant find in the south. although i definitely had a good time in the south, the north is much more exotic and was kind of what i was looking for when coming here… I’m starting to get really excited for Bolivia!
Salta isn’t exactly an enormous city, but it’s not really all that small either with about half a million people. the town is really nice with lots of cool colonial architecture and a really lively atmosphere. the town has lots of really large ornate churches and a big park in the middle for people to chill out in. if we weren’t pressed for time, it would totally have been a cool place to spend a few days in.
one thing that i keep meaning to write about is MatÃ©. MatÃ© is this kind of herbal tea that people in Argentina are *obsessed* with. you drink the tea out of a small container made out of wood or a gourd (also called a MatÃ©) by using a special metal straw (called a bombilla) that has a strainer built in. everywhere in Argentina you can see people walking down the street, sipping MatÃ©. they sip MatÃ© on picnics, on their work breaks, in town, at restaurants, while hiking on trails… basically everywhere. people here just cant get enough of this stuff.
i had been wanting to try it for a while, and when i met up with Caryn in buenos aires, it turned out that she had bought her very own MatÃ© and bombilla. drinking MatÃ© is this whole procedure. there is one person who is in charge of pouring. they fill the gourd with the tea, add a tiny bit of sugar on top, pour hot water in it from a thermos or kettle, and then pass it to the first person. when the first person is done, they pass it back to the person on charge, who adds more sugar and more water and passes it to the second person, etc, etc. we were only two people, so there was less passing, but it was still cool. my first few sips of matÃ© tasted kind of disgusting. it was really bitter. but after a while i got used to it and started liking it.
the tea itself tastes good, and after trying it a few times, you just want more and more. i can see why people here are so psyched on the stuff! but also, part of what i like about the whole thing is the whole ritual of it all. passing the matÃ© back and forth, just spending time hanging out and drinking tea. for some reason it’s *really* enjoyable. it’s a great way to pass some time in the afternoon so Caryn and i ended up drinking matÃ© a bunch of times. in salta, we took our mate to the town plaza, and hung out drinking matÃ© and people watching.
at night, we went to this restaurant that had live music. it felt a bit contrived and touristy, but was cool anyway. they had a guy on stage in a full gaucho outfit (a gaucho is an Argentinean cowboy) with a huge wide-brimmed hat, and puffy pants and everything singing and playing guitar. they even pulled people from the crowd to come up and dance with him, and Caryn was one of the people who did it.
the next day, it was time to move on. our plan was to work our way to the Bolivian border slowly because of the extreme altitude. most of Bolivia is extremely high up, and the border is at 3,400 meters which is ridiculously high. we had read tons of stuff online about the dangers of altitude sickness which apparently can happen from anywhere starting at 2,500 meters. so, so as not to get sick, we took our time and decided to stop in several towns along the way.
after salta, our next stop was tilcara, a tiny little town with only 2,000 people. old crumbling adobe houses lined unpaved and dusty streets. it really felt like there should be cowboys walking the streets here. we stayed at a small hotel with two really friendly dogs, one of which would try to jump on us every time we got near it. one thing i keep forgetting to mention is how many dogs there are here in Argentina. they are *everywhere*. any town you go to, there will be tons of stray dogs wandering the street in packs. dogs of all different shapes and sizes. one other thing about the north is that food is getting cheaper here. we went to dinner at a small restaurant that had set menus. for the price of $1.30 i got: soup, a large plate of gnocchi w/ sauce and some thinly sliced steak, and dessert. crazy.
after tilcara, the next town was humahuaca. now, i definitely felt like we were in Arizona. there were large cacti everywhere, lots of dusty land with small shrubs. humahuaca was a bigger city than tilcara, but it was still pretty small. there were a few churches to see, a couple of statues and monuments, but really not much else. there is supposedly some good hiking nearby, but we stayed in the town only one day, so we didn’t do any. at night, the restaurant that we went to served llama. should i try it? on one hand i felt like i should just try anything. on the other hand, llamas are ridiculously cute.. could i eat one? well, i ate it. it was actually really good. tasted fairly mild and looked like white meat… kind of like pork maybe. poor llama!
the next morning it was time for the final bus ride of our ascent. it was only a 2 hour bus ride to La Quiaca at the border. the scenery from the bus was amazing. all the towns that we had been passing through are located n a canyon, an this canyon is made up of rocks of all different colors. the canyon walls shimmer in red hues, green hues, yellow, and an almost blueish purplish color. the various layers or rock also made all sorts of different patterns which would change as you drove by them. the sky was an incredible shade of blue and driving through all this scenery while watching llamas and sheep running around was really cool.
so here i am. on the border of Argentina and Bolivia. already i see lots of old ladies dressed in colorful Bolivian clothes with large hats wandering round with babies strapped to their backs. Bolivia is just a few blocks away. the altitude here SUCKS. I’m tired, lethargic, and even walking across the room makes me start breathing heavily. as I’ve been typing, my headache has slowly been getting worse. hopefully these symptoms will go away soon… but regardless, I’m really excited to be here!