We left Dragones and all its glories behind and headed west again towards Salta, the Capital of Salta province. The first thing I did was to find an empty jug and fill it up with extra gas just in case. The next was finding a shoe store to fix Lourdes’s boots, but we never managed to find any; they were either closed or the locals sent us on a wild goose chase. In northern Salta, we had to turn south at a junction that split the road in three. One went to Bolivia, one to Chile and the one we took went south for the wine country, a 2000km long section of vines and spectacular scenery.
The dusty landscape of Chaco started to change and massive Andean peaks started too loom over us. The Sahara like heat finally gave away to much cooler breeze and we emerged from the Chaco in one piece. At one of our stops on the road, we walked into a field and unbeknownst to us, it was filled with tiny Velcro looking seeds like burrs which stuck to everything. I was wearing my riding pants and I only got a few, but Lourdes’ pants got covered with these sharp little burrs. We spent hours picking them up with tweezers and that definitely wasn’t fun. we stopped for lunch at an ungodly unsanitary place surrounded with stray dogs. They circled around the table and followed my fork every time I put it in my mouth. Of course they wouldn’t go anywhere close to other patrons as they would beat them off, so they stuck with the dog loving gringo in hope of a bone.
We stopped so many times that before we knew it, it was getting dark and we only racked 100km that day. As we were in no hurry to get anywhere, we camped at a police station on the highway and called it a night. Salta was only a short ride away and we arrived there the next day well before sundown. Salta is charming city, far away from the aristocrat Buenos Aires province and heavily influenced by its close neighbors Bolivia and Chile. In fact, Salta is everything that Buenos Aires isn’t and in a good way. Salta still has its South American charm of the 70’s before the McDonald dominated the world. Small pastry and deli shops were found on every corner and the people were in no hurry to get anywhere. We liked Salta.
Six days before we entered Salta, two young French girls were raped, beaten and murdered execution-style outside of the city while hiking, and this news was a horror to the locals. “Salta is not Buenos Aires, these things don’t happen here”, and they are right. The circumstances of these crimes steered so much attention to this quite city, as I’m sure no European female will ever set a foot near this province again for some times to come. Although my heart goes out to their family, it’s unfair to judge the population based on a single terrible crime. We were warned about the danger of traveling, but I don’t pay too much heed to these kinds of warnings; that’s how I keep my sanity.
We bought some salami, olives, cheese and bread for dinner and headed to another favorite crashing place of mine: fire stations. The first station had no room but the second station gave us a room to stay in. In much of the world, fire stations, churches, schools, and even the city administration provide assistance to tourists, and not too many people know about that. I have slept in so many different places that I can’t even remember, but the major advantage is that you always meet new people. The firemen were super cool, helpful, and we had a lot of fun at the station. They helped me out with rigging up a second camera on the bike and best of all they had internet, shower and a kitchen too.
Before entering Salta, we found a map of the area and finally I could navigate with more precision. Our next destination we decided was to be Cafayate (not to be mistaken with Calafate. Calafate is in Southern Patagonia, and the story from there is here, If you haven’t read that one you definitely should), 250km to the south. We had no idea what we would find there but the few pictures we saw from the map was enough to make me itch. The caption read “Salta, Tan Linda Que Enamora.” This 250km section would turn out to be one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve laid my eyes upon. Stay tuned.