For our last full day in Salta & our final free day in Argentina, we’d planned another tour. This one, however, was a bit different. This time, our guide & driver were two separate people. We rode in a little bus rather than a pickup truck, would be making fewer stops & wouldn’t be hanging out in any strange, tiny outposts with mummies or singing gauchos.
Instead, we’d sit in our comfy seats while our guide pointed out all the cool shit on the side of the road, the cool shit we’d see later & various stories about the area. Then we’d go check out a winery before being set loose to run amok in the town of Cafayate.
Like our previous tour, we made a few stops to check out the scenery & take photos. The only problem with making these stops is that Olivier is part monkey & cannot resist the urge to climb on rocks & things, so he’d wander off, then a little bit later, I’d have to wave him back down from wherever he’d perched himself.
Along the road to Cafayate, there are various rock formations that appear to look like something else. We cruised past them in a vehicle, so it was difficult to get decent photos, not to mention the fact that imagination also plays a big part in being able to see that this rock formation really does look like a solemn monk, or that this other one looks like giant toes.
The most impressive was “The Titanic.” Well, because it looked like the Titanic sinking.
We continued on until we arrived at a winery, where we were given brief tour & then anyone who wanted to could attend a tasting. There were about a dozen of us in the bus, but only four of us were at the tasting because most people are weirdos. So, Olivier & I tried out a few of the wines with an unfriendly German & a painfully shy Australian.
Everyone else scurried back to the bus while Olivier stopped to buy some wine & I shot the shit with our guide.
“So, you live in France, but you come from where in the United States?”
“Colorado. You just follow the mountains up a while & there it is.”
“Ah! You’re from Colorado? It’s not so different than here, then?”
I looked at his sandy brown hair, his sunglasses propped up on his head… T-shirt, fleece jacket, hands in his pockets like he hadn’t a care in the world. The way he looked, he could’ve been from Colorado himself.
“Nah,” I said. “Not so different at all.”
A few blocks away, we stopped for a couple of hours so that all of us tourists could explore, get some lunch, or loiter in the park.
Olivier & I went to a restaurant with a big, shady patio so we could eat outside. Since I’d gone overboard with the empanadas, we decided to get a big, hot grill full of meat. Going to Argentina & not trying out the beef is a shame (sorry, herbivores) & I didn’t feel like I’d made my red meat quota, so I was pretty excited about it.
Maybe a little too excited. This grill had a variety of meat sizzling on it & it all looked great. I grabbed a piece of liver. It was good. Then I had a some steak. I was on a roll & there was no stopping me. That, combined with me being a somewhat adventurous eater was not good.
Olivier tried to talk me out of putting that piece of kidney meat in my mouth, but I just wouldn’t fucking listen… & I paid a terrible price: a mouth full of urine-soaked meat sponge.
I don’t care how good you think your reasons are, I caution you all to NEVER, EVER PUT A MEATY URINE SPONGE IN YOUR MOUTH.
Once we’d all been gathered up in the bus again, we stopped at a few more natural attractions, the most interesting one being the natural amphitheater. Of course, there were more monkey shenanigans when Olivier decided to climb all over the place, this time inspiring a couple of fellow travelers to engage in the hijinks.
Then, our guide informed us that it was time for the “surprise.” I wasn’t too excited, assuming that “surprise” meant some quaint roadside bullshit, or another wacky rock formation. But, it turned out that the quaint roadside bullshit was super-cute & fun, as they took us to a little place with llamas.
Even though I was bursting with giddiness, I patiently waited for all the other passengers to exit the bus safely & assisted the elderly down the steps.
Nah… I’m just kidding. It took all my self-control not to shove people out of the bus in all my excitement to pet the llamas.
After we’d finished with all that, it was time to head back toward the hotel. Being in a group, this means our little bus dropped each person off at their lodgings, rather than dumping us all off at one place. One by one, we waved goodbye. “Au revoir, ciao, bye, adios.” Whatever.
Even our guide was dropped off before Olivier & I were, our hotel being farther out of town than anyone else. So, we moved up to the front of the bus. We hadn’t really spoken to the driver all day, so Olivier started chatting with him in Spanish, as the driver spoke no English. Me, I don’t speak much Spanish, aside from a few useful or ridiculous phrases, but I understood all right, so I just did a lot of smiling & nodding.
By the time we reached our hotel, the two of them were high-fiving, engaged in some big discussion about rugby, talking about the driver’s kids, fist-bumping & being best friends.
This is pretty much how it was with most of the people we talked with during our time in Argentina. Talking to a new person is as comfortable & fun as talking to someone you’ve known for a long time. I felt no sense of stiffness & formality… a person doesn’t have to know you well enough to joke with you – they’re willing to kid around & laugh with you right off.
It’s a place that makes you friendly… even when you’re not a friendly person. Which I’m not.
Then there’s the feeling of being closer to home, even though Paris is actually about a thousand miles closer to Colorado than Buenos Aires is, it is culturally a world away. People in Argentina don’t find it strange to smile at a stranger. I talked to some of them about it. They told me that it’s normal; it’s friendly & nice. As many people know, this is not the case in many parts of Europe, especially in & around Paris.
While talking to some of my new Argentinian friends, we had a laugh over the chaotic streets of Paris.
“City plans should be in a grid.”
“Indeed they should. I got lost over & over again in Paris. Four lefts should make a circle, not a zigzag that takes you to the next quarter.”
“And it’s so dark in Paris in the winter. 8am. Nothing but darkness.”
“Yeah. Even the faces of the Parisians. Dark all winter long.”
“It’s too bad they don’t smile more. It’d brighten things up.”
“It sure would. Let’s have another beer. And smile!”
The endless fashion show that is part of the daily life in France was a world away. In Argentina, everyone was relaxed, casual. Strolling around the city sidewalks in a pair of shorts & sandals on a hot day was normal & not a colossal offense answered with silent sneers & derisive frowns.
I mentioned this to one of the locals I talked to; that I felt so relaxed & comfortable.
“Well, we’re not without our problems. Just like any place, I think,” she said.
“True enough,” I said. “But the human thing. You guys seem to have that figured out.”
She shrugged. “If you have that, everything else works out, I suppose.”
Truth. As long as you avoid the pee meat.