After 3 weeks in Bolivia, we were ready to move on. It is now time for us to travel in Argentina which is the last country in the South American portion of our Great Adventure. Since Bolivia is very poor, has less infrastructure, and rather bland and unoriginal cuisine, Argentina is an extremely welcome change! We were both excited to eat the world-famous fresh beef of Argentina, and drink the country’s amazing wine, both of which are very inexpensive.
Our journey started departing Santa Cruz via train around 3:30 pm. After being onboard for 15 minutes, we quickly realized how much we wanted off! The train was awful, the car was just like the inside of a very old school bus. It is very old and rusty, sways drastically from side to side, has vinyl school bus style seats, dust and dirt everywhere, and no food or drinks onboard; a crummy combination for the 20 hours it took to arrive at the border town of Yacuiba. We stupidly thought we would have a dining car, and when we saw there was no such thing, we figured well of course it must stop somewhere where we can have dinner. Wrong again! We took as a sign that we were only gringos onboard that we should have taken the bus (oops).
It was hell, which is probably where the train came from. We stopped in random places in the pitch dark to pick people with flashlights up on the side of the tracks, and we also had live chickens on board. The lights stayed on the entire time, and because people were constantly getting on and off at all hours of the night, we got no sleep. We weren’t as creative as the locals who brought blankets to sleep on the floor. The icing on the cake was the dirt masks we were wearing when we got off the train. We ran off that train so fast when it FINALLY arrived at our destination 3 hours late at 11 am the following morning. We then crossed the border into Argentina (it was also the first time our bags were inspected at a border so far), and had to wait another 4 hours for our 7 hour bus ride to the city of Salta. Arriving around 12 am after 3o+ hours of traveling, all we wanted was a shower and a bed which seems to be a recurring theme after travel days.
It is amazing how everything changes when you cross a border and enter into a new country. Even though Bolivia and Argentina are neighbors, it is night and day when comparing the two. Argentina is beautiful, full of life and friendly people, has great food, and everything else you could ask for. It truly was a breath of fresh air and clearly different than Bolivia. On our first day in Salta we walked around the city, viewing the Spanish and Catholic influenced architecture, visited the Museo Antropologico Juan Martin Leguizamom which houses pre-hispanic artifacts as well as an exhibition of high-altitude burials, and rode the teleferico or cable car to Cerro San Bernardo which is a small beautiful green mountain that over looks the entire city.
That evening, our hostel had a BBQ, and we provided the meat for the staff to cook. I was extremely excited to eat some great beef, and purchased a kilo (2.2 lbs) of filet for about $10. It was the largest single piece of steak I have ever bought and held in my own hands and I was in heaven.
Beware photo of raw meat below!
There were about 10 people at the BBQ, which was about everyone at the hostel. We ate dinner and drank wine for hours and just talked about our travels. Hearing people talk about their home countries, their random stories, travel adventures, work, and just about everything in between is one of the single most wonderful experiences you can have while traveling. Most of them took off extended periods from their careers to travel, and from doctors and private bankers, to recent graduates, we realized that there are many people just like us- young professionals traveling the same way we are. This brings us comfort in its own way and we are planning on meeting up with a few of them in a week when we go to Mendoza.
The following day, we went horseback riding about an hour outside the city at Sayta ranch. We arrived at the small ranch just in time for lunch, and not just any lunch, but a feast you would expect to see in a movie set in rural Europe. We dined at a large table outdoors with about 15 other people surrounded by tall trees and green fields, as our host grilled mounds of steak, pork belly, chorizo, and other various meats served with fresh bread, vegetables- the works. It was enough food to make God full. Our glasses were constantly filled with wine made at a nearby monastery. The story goes that the monastery only makes 7000 liters of this unlabeled wine per year. They do not sell it to anyone, and no one else has this wine except Enrique, the owner, because he is a friend of one of the monks. With a wonderful combination of fruitiness and body, it is the smoothest wine we have ever tasted.
After about a 2 hour feast, several of us saddled up our horses and took off for the ride. We rode peacefully through green pastures and tobacco lined farm land with pockets of tall trees and mountains in the distance. At times, we passed through very small neighborhoods where dogs would run out barking and kids would wave to us while playing outside. I enjoyed the ride, but Rachel was overjoyed since she loves horses. They are to her what surfing is to me, and she was glowing when we were able to gallop for a short time.
It was such a wonderful way to see the land, and a great way to experience the people by being invited into someone’s home. Sometimes tour operators are not the friendliest since they do the same activities every single day, but Enrique and his family filled the day with smiles and enthusiasm as if we were their first clients at a new business.
Next stop in Argentina: Cordoba.