#10 Argentina, March 27, 2005

Dear Everybody,

On arriving in Salta, I went to the Corre Camino Hostel. This one was not so terrific—kind of a mess— but I stayed there one night and in the evening had a lively conversation with a group of young backpackers—a Swiss, a Finn, an Indian, an Israeli, and a Frenchman. This is the point of staying in a hostel, of course. The next day I found a little gem of a hotel where I was cosseted by the family and the maid—brought coffee, etc.

Typically when I order a cafe con leche in the mornings in the coffee bars, it is served with a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a few little tiny cookies, and a glass of club soda, all for under $1.50. Last night when I ordered a ‘chop’ (tap beer) it was served with a bowl of homemade potato chips that were perfect. The coffee bars are nearly full much of the day—mostly with men but some women, too.

I visited the Central Market in Salta—looked like the typical market but so clean! That is the cleanest market I’ve ever seen—the cheese lady was even cleaning a big round cheese with a rag. And I’ll bet there are no mice in that market as there appeared to be quite a number of cats on duty.

I did a Salta museum trek—four museums and two churches. The museums were kind of ‘small town’ but were in very interesting 18th century old houses, some with furniture. One had a collection of carriages including an 18th century hearse used for burying children.





I tried out the local beauty shop, having a haircut (great), a manicure (good but terrible color of polish) and a pedicure (terrific). Everyone is so nice—another patron could tell that I couldn’t speak much Spanish and offered to interpret for me as she could speak English.



The Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) is a star attraction in Salta, which I took on Thursday. I got on at 7:00 AM and arrived back at the station at 11:45 PM—a long but beautiful day.







The scenery was smashing, the weather perfect and the route exciting with two switchbacks (where you go in a Z up the mountain), two spirals (where the train crosses over its own tracks only higher up the mountain), many tunnels, and lots of viaducts.



The end of the route was a huge viaduct at La Polvorilla, 200 feet high and 700 feet long. We reached an altitude of 4200 meters (14,000 feet). I had a pretty good lunch on the train, seated with a Frenchman and a couple from Buenos Aires. We conversed pretty successfully in Spanish.

The next day I took a two day tour in a circle south of Salta to see the quebradas (canyons) there. We were four tourists and a nice young driver, Marcello. The first day we saw beautiful green mountain scenery and spent a couple of hours at Cachi, a town with cobblestone streets and a lively plaza where we had a nice lunch of cabrito en casserole.







That afternoon we continued south and from Angastaco to Cafayate (where I had been a few days earlier but not on this route) the designer scenery was breathtaking! The colors—red, green, yellow, gray—on the rugged, moonlike terrain were like nothing I have ever seen before! If anyone is going to visit Argentina, the Train to the Clouds and this Quabrada del Flecha are two things not to be missed!

After dark at Cafayate Marcello took Peter and me out to some sand dunes where we scrambled up to the top, a full moon shining down on us and every star visible. We tried to figure out which of two possible constellations was the Southern Cross. It was so beautiful and quiet there.

The next morning after visiting two wine bodegas and having some tastes, we came back to Salta over the route that I had already been on the bus, and it, too, has gorgeous scenery, enjoyable for the second time. The other two tourists, a couple my age from Spain, now living in Buenos Aires, argued all the time like the Bikkersons; the third tourist was pleasant Peter from Switzerland.

Today, Easter Sunday, I got information at the Tourist Information Center about where to find the monument of Christ that was done by the sculptor, Iramain, whose museum I had visited in Tucuman. I took first one and then another local bus to La Caldera, 22 km north of Salta, and walked up a high hill to the monument that one could see from all over the valley. On the way back to the little town I asked at the police station where I should get the bus. The policeman didn’t think there would be a bus for two hours, so I thought I’d try to hitch a ride. However, not long after a bus did come and took me to the connecting point with the other bus back to Salta.

I had Easter dinner at my favorite restaurant here—an Italian Trattoria. I hope all of you had a lovely Easter Sunday with family and/or friends, and have properly marked the onset of spring—unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, where we marked the onset of fall, I guess! (The sun is still in the north—I can’t get used to that!)


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