North to Salta, Argentina
The alarm rings at 3:45 a.m. to rouse us for our 4:30 ride to Aeroparque , the downtown Buenos Aires airport situated by the river. Almost a year later, these early hours still kill me. We have a 6:00 a.m. flight north to Salta where we will be spending the next four days exploring the Andes, their lowlands and following the route of the famous Tren a las Nubes, the train to the clouds. We have ordered a “remise”, a prearranged, non-taxi car hire, and he is scheduled to pick us up outside our apartment at 4:30. The ride is confirmed by phone, in Spanish, at 4:25. We wait until 5:05 and out of frustration, hail a cab. Buenos Aires is a city that never sleeps, and it seems there is any number of cabs to take even at this bleary-eyed hour. Southern Winds airlines is pleasant enough with tons of leg room and a nice inflight snack. The two hour flight is full of snoozing, and completely uneventful. We arrive to a sunny, crisp and clear day, our hotel van waiting to bring us into town and our hotel.
Wide, Flat, Spring-fed Valleys
Our first views outside of Buenos Aires are not surprising: wide, flat, spring-fed valleys surrounded by long, high, and very dry mountain ranges. The city of Salta is pleasant enough, the main square is the center of the town’s café and business life. We cannot check into the hotel until after 11:30, so we drop our bags and check out the many tour and excursion outfits that line our street, leading to the main square. We opt for 2 days of touring, our last day will be a free day to explore the town and “hang out’ until our flight in the early evening. All tours are full days and start at 7:00 a.m., and our first day’s tour will be a 13 hour day.
Booked and ready to go, we continue to wander the inner part of the city, quickly realizing that there isn’t much to see other than side streets that surround the “9th of July” main square. The usual child hawkers ply their trade on the square, their dirty faces imploring you to buy Holy Virgin Mary trading cards. Gangs of teenagers, baseball caps askew and cigarettes hanging from their mouths, trail you for your shoeshine business, not remembering that they got you not ten minutes before. This is all very familiar to us.
Siesta in Full Swing
Our room is comfortable and by Argentinean standards deluxe. It is now after 2:30 p.m., and we grab some local empanadas and pizza and a big bottle of “Salta” beer. The streets are all but deserted as we leave the restaurant; siesta is in full swing. We wander back to our room and join in. Doors and windows start to unbolt again around 5:30 p.m. We wander a bit and settle at a café on the square for beer, sandwiches and the bustling life of Salta playing out on the square in front of us. Other tourists come and go around us, Spanish, German and Dutch; all are represented here at the café. They too, are continuously approached by the kid-hawkers and we watch and laugh as the pitching continues.
Our early morning tour calls, and we catch the last bit of BBC World news before falling off to sleep.