We were promised that our tour guide was English-speaking (which was mostly true), but due to the fact that everybody else in our eight-person tour group was Argentinian, we felt that maybe we were missing out on some of the finer points of the journey!
Leading us on the trip were driver Federico and guide Fabio. He wasn’t blonde with long flowing hair, but that was OK. We noticed very early on that they liked to stop the bus at any opportunity, not necessarily for our gain but to have a smoke. Given that we were headed up into fairly high-altitude locations, Fabio recommended I take a few coca leaves and put them in my mouth. I took about five small leaves. The juices are supposed to help combat altitude sickness. Fabio responded by taking a wad of about 20 leaves for the right side of his mouth and another 20 for the left. This guy likes his coca.
We saw a truck that had crashed just hours before our arrival and dropped its cargo of onions all over the road. These streets are dangerous, folks!
We stopped by some cardoon cacti which grow very large. By “some”, we’re talking forty-thousand or so in the valley we were in. Very cool. Apparently some Western films have also been shot in the area around Salta and into southern Bolivia (Tupiza), because the area looks very similar to that classic cacti-ridden desert.
On the trip, we also managed to catch an armadillo running across the road, many guanacos, two foxes, and a host of llamas. There were some incredible panoramas, which you can hopefully see in the pictures. Also pictured is a nice little shrine with offerings to Pachamama (the earth goddess) from the highest altitude point we reached at about 3500m. In the fields, we saw the bright red of local farmers drying peppers in the sun.
In Cachi proper, we visited the local church and saw their version of the Virgin Mary inside. In Argentina, it’s common for each region to display the Virgin Mary in a style befitting their local customs and history. So Virgin Marys around Salta will look nothing like the Virgin Marys in Buenos Aires. Interesting!
We were also treated to two children being publicly pantsed by their respective parents to allow them to pee on trees. This is two separate families within ten minutes. Just droppin’ the trousers and going for it! Classy! Sandra also found a very large swing in a public park that came complete with straps. I guess Argentinians can get a bit adventurous with their playground equipment and need some extra safety devices built in.
In the evening, we walked around Salta a bit more. We went through a large park in the centre of the city and noticed a large gathering beside a building. Upon going over to see what all the fuss was about, we discovered it was a pet adoption fair. Countless puppies and kittens in boxes all around. Sandra saw a dog with no hind legs pulling a wheeled cart with a donation tin on the back and she cried. This is a true story and you can see the picture of said dog, complete with massive underbite.
We tried to eat at the vegan restaurant again (Chirimoya) and failed. Closed. At 8pm on a weekend. What kind of restaurant is this?! Instead we had a cheap meal of smoothies and tostadas (toasted sandwiches) in the public square. After that, we prepped our bags to take our overnight bus to La Quiaca, where we planned to cross the border on foot to Villazon, Bolivia. At the Salta terminal, Sandra delved fully into true backpacker routine by showering in a sink.
Now we begin the 10pm-5:30am bus ride that will bring us to the border of Bolivia. This’ll be fun...