Arriving at the border early the next morning against the flow of the incoming shoppers, we’re not one step into the immigration building before the superior from yesterday whispers to his colleague who blurts out asking if Matt has his fee receipt. Without acknowledging him, Matt waves it in the air. Pricks.
Again the most convenient way from here to the town of Salta is via a shared taxi unless you plan to get the 08:35, 12:30 or 15:30 buses. Arriving at 10am the decision was made for us already. A transfer in Orno (35 Pesos) to Salta (230 Pesos) takes a little over four and half hours (mostly due to our coca leaf munching driver), where the bus for an extra 10 peso would’ve had us arriving at six in the evening, you do the maths.
With only a general idea of the location of the hostel, most corner cafes have amazing espresso coffee and Wi-Fi. Luckily choosing one on the same street as Hostel Alquimia, the street art makes for a much longer journey due to Matt’s fanatical photo taking.
The hostel’s friendly staff have us checked in quickly (see tips) and being low season it’s reasonably quiet. Finding the best location to exchange US Dollars on the Blue Peso market, the touts aren’t inconspicuous at all, they’re generally found out the front of the legal exchange offices. With a fist now full of pesos we trundle on to the Central Market to find a crowd gathered around the closed entrance gates.
Figuring that the Argentinian siesta finishes a little later at five o’clock, within 10 minutes the vendors blocking the gate frantically part the way and the locals pour in. Disappointed with the selection of red meat, this is Argentina after all, we pick up the veg we need and sadly the only meat purchased was a stick of salami that was terribly floury, lacking in any resemblance of flavour. Hearing of a retro bowling alley/pub in the north of town, we again find this closed, this time permanently, though we do find a video game arcade open with a couple Dayton USA machines pumping out that all too familiar tune.
‘Gonna kick your arse at Dayyyyttooonaaaaa.’
With Sarah slipping through in first place in the first game on Expert level (hard and shit), the second and third is on the Advanced course that all lovers of this game will agree is the best. With Matt managing to hold the title Sarah’s forced into the loser’s position. Again.
A consolidation Super Pancho (skip the liquid cheese), basically a massive hotdog found on every corner, soon brings back a smile to the little princess’s face. You’ve got to try one and you know it’s cheap and nasty if all the school kids are mowing them down.
Heading back down the main shopping arcade we notice that the dogs here are well taken care of, many being provided with handmade coats. Walking home we duck into a Bodega for a bottle of Malbec and some Argentinian craft beers, a Negra from La Burra (8%) and a Strong Red Ale from Otro Mondo (7.5%). Meeting up with the rest of the inhabitants of the hostel ensured we had others besides each other to carry on with, and a few hours later we had more international friends.
Salta can often be skipped by the tourists in a hurry to get to Mendoza, which is unfortunate as it retains a very local feeling where the street food is always good, the nightlife cranking, along with revealing some colonial architectural gems and many a good cozy cafe.
For a vantage point over the city hike up (or telerifico…for the lazy) to the top of Cerro San Bernado. The views from here are worth the easy walk, giving a perspective of the church dotted sprawl below. The cleanest public toilets in Latin America are a bonus and the restaurant serves up a good feed too.
Back down to the fairytale Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria de la Vina, draped in an original cloak of blue and cream with ochre features, it’s a highlight of religious grandeur. Walking the near deserted streets of the area, we hear the faint rumblings of music, though can’t quite pinpoint its location. Following our ears we arrive at an intersection where the music undoubtedly is resonating from.
Café Imperio, on Cordoba and Alvarado, welcomes us in with open arms. The Sunday locals greet us warmly and the waiters sit us down. The music is coming from the corner, where a talented local guitar player accompanied by a portly gentleman belting out a classic tune in Spanish has everybody’s attention. Ordering coffee and soaking up the atmosphere, the lead man soon has us involved and the locals are splendidly rapt that a pair of Aussies are loving the music, even though we can only translate snips of the lyrics.
A duet by friends comes next and then one of the elderly men and his wife perform a local handkerchief twirling dance right behind our table. Afterwards it’s leaving time for the table of singers/dancers, who wave goodbye to applause all round. It’s not 30 seconds until one of the gents comes bounding back in for a lively encore, hell yeah we want more.
What an intimate find in the backstreets outside the tourist area that was!
Leaving the song and dance behind, we make our way past the unusual Iglesia San Francisco, with it’s strange fascination with the human arm. The external facade features a pair of arms and inside is one of the strangest features we’ve ever seen in a church…an arm protruding from the wall holding Jesus on a crucifix.
Eventually finding a butcher with real cuts of beef only a stone’s throw from the hostel, Matt’s stoked to finally sample the local specialty – steak (three juicy ones for 45 Pesos). For the ultimate indulgence he tops it with blue vein cheese before kicking back to watch Chile thrash Bolivia 5 – 0, in the Copa America…ouch.
Bolivia’s time is up, as is ours, so it’s down to the Terminal for the bus to Mendoza.
For more great pics of Argentina check out our Flickr Page. Thanks for reading.
TIPS FOR SALTA
- Hostel Alquimia has great staff, Wi-Fi is good, basic breakfast (Bread with jam and butter), kitchen is equipped ok, hot water sporadic, beds comfortable, pillow a foam block. The nights were freezing though there are extra blankets and a fire place (gas). Beers 970ml for 25 pesos £1.25 each.
- Here as in most places in Argentina the ‘blue peso’ is available in most tourist hot spots. Ask your hotel/hostel and they’ll point you in the right direction.
- Although Sunday is a quiet day in town do go wandering south of Ave San Martin. You’ll be granted with a very local vibe and may even stumble across a jam session as we did!
- Be sure to visit a Rotiseria. These have all sorts of local delicacies sold by weight. Our spot was El Gato Coqueto and the pasty style ham and cheese quiche is divinely calorific!
- Kick someone’s arse at Daytona! Located in Sacoa Arcade on Alvarado street.
- Grab a bottle of local red wine for the overnight bus ride to Mendoza, trust us you’ll be thankful you did.