Salta was a place on a map to us, in the right direction and on the right route for us to see some of Argentina and cross into Chile where there were some big attractions…….then we discovered that Salta is a huge attraction on it’s own!
Surrounded by mountains reaching to over 6,000 metres, and with spectacular desert, canyon and mountain scenery, Salta is a popular destination for national and international tourists. The town itself is very well preserved, with centuries old buildings in Spanish/European styling and with lots of cafes and bars around a central garden square. Of course we were to find out that the census next week is expected to reveal a population of nearly a million but the town centre had a feel of a typical country Australian regional town.
We took a tour – our third this year(!) – to a town called Cachi. The highlight was the terrain we traversed along the way, climbing out of mountainous valleys to a height of over 3,400 metres, and then dropping gradually again through cactus filled desert plains and hidden valleys of colourful mountainsides and desolate lunar landscapes. What we didn’t realise at the time was that desolate was an exaggeration compared with the coming days of travel!
Along the way we saw a Cliffside climbing to 4000 metres that the driver told us is named after the Condor as they can someimtes be seen here. Yeah, right! Like the Jaguars in the forests of the Rio da Plata – possible to be seen but not probable!
And then we saw them, 4 at first, then they disappeared, then 1 and then a little further along and as we had climbed closer to the top of the pass we saw 9 of the world’s largest flying creatures, the Condor, soaring not far above us!
Further along in our little VW Crossfire, a sort of 4WD hatchback, we ventured off the main dirt road and went to investigate a valley next to an old Uranium mine! The mine was out of view but the valley was spectacular, multi-coloured cliffs, eroded pinnacles also in multi-colours and true cacti, 15 feet high with little arms sticking out. Of course the detour wasn’t without drama – the little VW didn’t quite have the dust sealing properties that the designers had hoped for so we drove along in choking dust for 15 minutes before returning to the main road.
After a stop in the small town of Cachi, we headed back towards Salta. As seems to be the case 9 times out of 10, I noticed that having had an enjoyable, meat packed lunch and it being 1500 metres above his home town, our driver was a little tired. The will power he used to keep those little dark eyes open was impressive but not enough. I worried that my conversation may actually make him even drowsier (“so what languages do students study at school in Salta?”) and as it turned out it did so he pulled over. Phew!! Just to get some “tablets” out of the back of the car!! Yikes! Well, we got back safely without too many hair raising moments as we descended past drops of a thousand feet.
The only other thing we could say about Argentina is we didn’t give it enough time. It is like Australia (as is Brazil) with so much varied country to see you need I would guess at least 3 weeks to see the best of Argentina. We certainly liked what we saw, found it more relaxing then Brazil (and cheaper) and could have stayed longer just in the parts we had seen. But onward to higher and dryer destinations – across the Andes into Chile!