Friday, May 25, 2012

Salta & Jujuy- mid-April 2008

Salta, to my, my sister's and probably my dad's surprise, is more than a city full of Bolivian Argentinians (by the way, it's apparently legitimate to say that, since I've heard salteños joke about it themselves). It's quite a big and busy city - which surprised me - and a pretty one too. In fact, the nickname for the city is Salta La Linda, which means Pretty Salta, more or less. It has a big colonial architecture thing going, and they even have a law there that says that in some streets in the center buildings must have colonial facades (similar to the Jerusalem stone law, I guess). Most impressive, as is often the case, are the churches. It seems it's quite popular in Salta to paint the churches in strange combinations of pastel colours, usually using two main colours. There is also a nice pub & nightclub area a bit outside the center, although it's a designated night life area, so there's nothing there besides the clubs and bars. I find that a bit strange, and much prefer places to be interspersed into the "daylife" city. Other notable features are a great succession of plazas (my favorite one had a small lake with ducks and pedal boats), two pedestrian streets which are the commercial center of the town, some good museums and a nice handcraft market on Sunday.
First of all on my agenda was attending the passover seder in Beit Habad with my sister. This was part of the reason why I came to Salta directly from La Rioja, since I figured that if you have an opportunity to do the Seder with at least one family member in the middle of a trip like this, you take it. The Seder was really big, loud and long, and sometimes it was really unpleasant because people were talking and making noise all the time, but the Rabbi and the guys from the local Jewish community were all really nice and patient. Also, although it seemed very loud and disrespectful to me at times, apparently it was a lot better than last year. I guess it's hard to do a Seder with 250 20+ year-olds that are on their "fuck authority" after-army trip... [Since then, I think I spent 4 or 5 passovers while traveling or working outside the country, and I chose to ignore it. For me the seder is a family thing, and I see no reason to attend one other than family reasons.]
The next day we went to the handcrafts market. Now, travelers in Latin America, and probably in other places, often get completely fed up with the ubiquitous handcraft market, but the one in Salta was pretty good, with many original artists and not too much mass production "hand made" stuff. I usually never find anything that interests me in these markets, but here there was an exception: a Chilean guy called Roberto that makes amazing musical instruments out of bamboo and other natural materials- he had some saxophones, one of them a beautiful piece coated in seashells, a dij, a trumpet and some flutes. And the most amazing thing is the sound that he can get out of them- it's really something else. I spent about an hour talking to him, seeing him carve out new instruments (he makes a plain bamboo saxophone in two hours), and listening to him play. I asked for two saxes, smaller than the ones he already had, and got them within 3-4 hours. He also had a great story about how he started making them: he was backpacking, and his bag got stolen, with his flutes and what-have-yous inside. The only thing he was left with was his wallet and his knife. Now, since he can't live without playing music, after a few days he decided to try to carve out a flute out of bamboo, and the rest is history. Check out the video and photo.
Moving on. The main attraction in Salta is actually more its surroundings than the city itself- there are beautiful deserts in the whole area, multi coloured mountains and quaint, "authentic" little towns (about the whole authentic thing... I'll post something I wrote about it next, but suffice to say I hate that description. But the towns themselves are still cool). Anyway, what most people do is group 4-5 people together, rent a car and go driving around in the area, so, like a good Israeli, I did that. I hooked up with three girls I had met before, in Bariloche, and we went on a 72-hour roadtrip, first south of Salta to Cachi and Cafayate, and then north, to Jujuy, Purmamarca and Tilcara. The best thing about these places is the road that leads there and the beautiful scenery, but there are also some things to do and see in every town: Cachi is quite nice and calm, Cafayate has some wineries that do wine tours and tastings, and Purmamarca and Tilcara are nice, small, mud-house towns built into the mountains. Purmamarca lies below the Cerro de Siete Colores (the 7 colours Mt.), an extremely beautiful, and of course multi-coloured, small mountain. The scenery for the whole trip was very unique and varied: mountains of all colours, windswept geological shapes and layers, broken hills and stone walls, and some small canyons, all by the side of the road. It made me want to study a basics of geology course [For those who don't know, I ended up doing a bit more than that. These days I'm finishing my degree in Geology, and I consider that 72-hour trip as the moment where the seed for that was planted]. In one of these small canyons, called the amphitheater, there was a guy playing guitar and flute, and the acoustics were great. We sat there for about an hour, made some coffee, and just enjoyed the place. I ended up drinking coffee with the guy, buying a CD from him, and debating which of the three girls I was with was the prettiest one. By the way, they were quite pretty, each in her own way, so for 3 days I felt a bit of what it's like to live life as a good looking girl... every guy we met went out of his way to help us, no matter if it was a policeman, a gas station attendant or a waiter. It was quite funny. 
After that I spent two more days in the city, and then I took a 24-hour bus to Iguazu. Just so we're clear, that's not a kiosk that's open all night or something- it's a bus that takes 24 hours. I actually had a pretty good trip, especially since at around 3AM there was a great lightning storm, unlike anything I'd ever seen. We were going through a big flat area, so you could see very far, and there were about 10-20 lightning strikes a minute, some of them lighting up the whole sky... so I stayed up and watched that for an hour and a half or so.

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