I didn’t know much about Salta. I was told there would be wine & mountains — not wee fucking hills, but proper mountains. That’s all I need to know. I don’t require much more than wine & mountains to be happy. I’m kind of low-maintenance like that.
Our first couple of days & nights at the hotel, we were exhausted, so we didn’t do much. We strolled around the area of San Lorenzo, the tiny little town where our hotel was located. We passed a couple of horses, several dogs & a smiley hobo who decided to chat with a tree after he realized we weren’t going to be very good conversation. Neither one of us could understand the poor guy. Not because we couldn’t understand any Spanish, but because we do not speak tree.
We stayed in & had dinner in the restaurant of our hotel, stuffing ourselves with carne & queso empanadas, humitas, tamales & some of the local beer.
In the mornings, I stayed in bed, drooling & snoring while Olivier went for his run. We’d already noticed all the dogs. Everywhere you look, there’s a dog or two walking around, hanging out, or just having a nap. When Olivier emerged from the hotel early in the morning, he found his pack waiting for him.
One afternoon, we took the bus to downtown Salta to have a look around, eat more empanadas & sit on benches in the park while watching birds flutter & people chatter.
After a couple of days spent bumming around Salta & San Lorenzo, it was time to get to a higher elevation. We had a day trip planned with a guide who would take us through the mountains, to the salt flats & through various towns.
Early on a Tuesday morning & our guide came to fetch us at the hotel. He shook our hands, told us his name was Gonzalo. He already had a German-speaking couple from Switzerland in the truck who were friendly enough.
The five of us chatted as we went entered the foothills. None of us were fully awake, the sky still an early-morning gray, the air still damp & cold each time we hopped out of the truck to take a few pictures & let our guide have a smoke.
Our first real stop was at Santa Rosa de Tastil, which is more of an outpost than a town. Other than some of the best coffee ever, there is also a little museum, which is wonderfully weird. This place has everything: a mummy, tiny dead animal carcasses preserved in jars of formaldehyde, a detailed guided tour given by a fabulously kooky museum lady & some very cool stones that play music if you whack them with a little mallet like a xylophone.
As we went up in elevation, we stuffed our cheeks with coca leaves & gawked at llamas & cacti. After a bit of stuffing & gawking, we made another stop at San Antonio de los Cobres. This is a little copper mining town up in the mountains that kind of has a strange vibe to it. But it feels like a real place as opposed to a shining stop to charm the tourists.
Olivier & I, along with our Swiss travelers sat down in a tiny restaurant for lunch where I sucked down yet another pile of empanadas, which turned out to be one pile too many, leaving me unable to even glance at another empanada for the rest of the trip. While we ate, some of the locals & a couple of the other guides pulled out guitars & started singing.
After our little surprise concert, the four of us wandered around the town until our trusty Gonzalo fetched us & drove us out of the Salta province & into the Jujuy province to Salinas Grandes or the big-ass, blinding white salt flats.
We drove on a little more, until we reached the highest point, then we began our descent in elevation. After driving & stopping a few more times, we arrived in Purmamarca. By this time, we were nearing the end of our big day out. It was time for us to part ways with our single-serving Swiss friends. Gonzalo left Olivier & I on our own in the town while he took them to their hotel.
Purmamarca isn’t a big town. It’s quite small, but is remarkable to look upon. The most prominent feature is Cerro de los Siete Colores, the Hill of Seven Colors. It’s no bullshit. This thing is colorful. Everywhere you look, there is a rainbow of color: the stones in the sidewalk, on the buildings & on the graves in the cemetery with their cactus-wood crosses.
By the time we left Purmamarca, my pockets were stuffed with blue, purple & green stones.
It was just the three of us on the road back to Salta. No more stops for photos & strange museums. Just highway & conversation while our guide’s music from the 80′s played in the background.
As we rolled along the highway, chatting about Argentina, France & the U.S., we were abruptly yanked out of our conversation & soothing melodies of Air Supply by the horrible sound of a popping tire. We all jumped out of the truck, but Gonzalo, he didn’t need our help. He had the spare tire on in just a few minutes.
Around 8pm, we pulled up in front of our hotel. We hopped out of the truck to say our goodbyes & silly as it may sound, Olivier & I felt a little sad. Here we’d spent the entire day with our new friend, talking about serious things, joking & sharing stories, but this was a single-serving friend & now it was time to say goodbye.
He gave each of us a big hug & we all wished one another well. As we started across the road to the hotel, we heard his voice once more.
We turned around.
“I’ll see you in another life, guys.”