We headed to Argentina with our first long distance bus and border crossing in South America. We booked our bus ticket in San Pedro de Atacama (it took us two attempts as we forgot to take our passports to the station and had to return a second time). All sorted in the end and we opted for the cheapest bus company offering the trip; Gemini for $18,000 Chilean pesos each (£21). It was a 9 hour trip but perfectly bearable given the comfy seats, toilet on board and 2 rounds of snacks they gave out. Getting off the bus and through border control was really smooth too, much more efficient than our Asia land border crossings like Vietnam to Cambodia. It was also throughout the day so we at least got to admire the scenery when we weren’t napping (okay, maybe just me). As we drew closer, we got to see the Cerro de los Siete colores (hill of 7 colours), which is a popular tour excursion though we were content seeing it from the bus (see photos below!). We finally arrived in Salta, a mountain city founded in 1582 in the North West of Argentina. We had anticipated it being quite a small city given its location, turn out its massive!
We had a bit of a nightmare as we got off the bus, our hostel was 5km away and it was getting dark so we wanted to get a taxi. Unfortunately, the ATMs near the bus terminal didn’t work with English credit cards (same happened to all the other Brits on the bus). So we had to walk into the city centre where we eventually found an ATM that worked for us, though by this point, we decided we’d just persevere and walk all the way with our backpacks. Though slightly out of town, the hostel we stayed in (All Norte), was awesome and one of our favourites from this trip. We met some lovely people and Dave was especially thrilled as he was able to actually speak English with other humans. Fernando, the owner, was also so kind to us and literally helped me practice Spanish in conversations for like 2 hours! The best part though was the two sweetest dogs (one was called Uma Thurman – ha). Turns out they are both former street dogs, and one of them, up until 4 months ago could only crawl until Fernando adopted him and got him surgery to fix his crushed spinal column. Now he’s running around and the transition from the videos we saw of him are insane! We spent a whole day at the hostel where we just chilled and did some proper planning. We discovered a website called Platforma 10, which has been a total life saver helping us work our bus routes and how much the tickets are going to cost us. We originally thought we’d go East in to Paraguay but after our research, we concluded it was best to stay in Argentina and head South.
Anyway, Salta itself we really enjoyed, though it is a city, it didn’t feel too busy and there were some lovely parks, one with a huge fountain and really unique looking ducks. There was a huge supermarket near our hostel so we tried to eat in and make a packed lunch as much as possible though we did have one really good meal out. Of course, given we were in Argentina, it was meat galore. I opted for a steak, where the waiter asked awkwardly ‘definitely this one, it’s 445 grams?’, to which I said that’s fine by me. Dave had a local speciality of llama steak in red wine sauce which sort of tasted like a mix between chicken and a tender red meat. We headed to Cerro San Bernardo, a hill where you can get a cable car or walk the 1000 steps to the summit overlooking the city. We decided to walk (slowly) despite the heat. I also realised I’d forgotten a hair tie so had to make do with shoving sticks in my hair to keep it up, did the job though. The hill boasts 126 species of birds, and it made the walk much more enjoyable for me getting to take photos of a few on the way up. We were really surprised to find a pretty impressive and big fountain/waterfall display at the top of the hill and of course, some great views over Salta.
We went to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (high altitude archeology), renowned for housing the best preserved mummies. The museum had lots of information (though not everything was translated to English) about Inca rituals and sacrifices. The mummies are of three children who were found 500 years ago at the top of Mount Llullaillaco, at the incredibly high 6700m above sea level! The Incas used to select young children from different tribes, often the most beautiful or intelligent. The children would journey to the main tribe and after a celebration used to strengthen the bond between tribes, would be offered as sacrifice to the mountain. The children were drugged and then taken up the mountain and buried alive, though the Incas didn’t believe they would die, rather join the mountain in Spirit. Due to the altitude (and thus temperatures), the children were preserved and found virtually intact in 1999 (apart from one who had been struck by lightening some time in the last 500 years). We thought we’d see all 3 mummies but there is only 1 on display at a time and are on rotation to help preserve them and allow for more scientific study. Simultaneously horrific and fascinating.
We went to the bus station to book our onwards tickets to Córdoba (we chose it as it broke up our journey to Buenos Aires). Whilst at the station, a little girl with Down syndrome came up to me and said that she’d lost her mum. I’ve never been more grateful or seen the importance more of learning to speak the language of the country we are in than that moment! Fortunately, we were able to take her to a security guard and explain and then she soon found her mum. Anyway, the bus. There’s only one bus company that does the route; Balut and holy sh!t it was incredible. The most ridiculous bus either of us have ever been on. There were only 3 chairs in a row and it was huge leather seats that reclined to a fully horizontal position and basically turned in to a bed. We also got served a hot meal, tea and coffee on board, your own personal tablet with fancy headphones and English films! Dave who notoriously struggles to sleep on night buses said it was the best night sleep in transit he’s had yet! It was an 11 hour trip, $1579 Argentinian pesos (£71) each and definitely worth the money especially when you consider we skip the cost of a night’s accommodation.
Unfortunately, the bus was the best part of Córdoba. Sorry to any Córdobians, but this was the first place on our travels that we unanimously did not like. Perhaps it was in part due to the shite hostel we stayed in, which didn’t even have windows. But it was also the fact that it was a huge city that somehow managed to feel so congested and busy, coming from two Londoners! Córdoba is renowned for being a student city with 10% of the population at university. It’s also where the current Pope Francis is from apparently. We did a free walking tour with a company called La Docta. We’ve done quite a lot of walking tours now, and we can honestly attest that this was the worst tour we’d ever done, both tour guide wise and location wise (avoid if you ever go). It was through the historic part of the city centre. We started at Plaza San Martin, apparently every city in Argentina, Chile & Peru has multiple statues, plazas, squares etc named after him. San Martin was the liberator of the three countries, awarding them independence from the Spanish empire in the early 1800s. Most of tour revolved around visiting various religious monuments; a cathedral, jesuit crypt and church – to be fair, of course the interiors are very impressive but it’s just not either of our cups of tea. The final stop on the tour was to the University of Córdoba where we learned that education is completely free and also available to absolutely anyone which I definitely endorse. The tour guide said the city treats students really well and they enjoy a lot of perks, even subsidised daily steak lunches costing $4 Argentinian pesos = 17p! Our highlight from Córdoba was finding a really quaint cafe called Fellini Cafe where we got an incredible spread when we ordered Brunch for 2!
Thanks for reading, join us next time in the capital; Buenos Aires!
Sophie & Dave