Friday, December 31, 2010

After the rain...

Good evening,

Welcome to the last blog post of 2010. For some of you it will already be next year, for others it will still be this year and you will just be gearing up for the celebrations to begin in earnest (a special shout out to Mum and Dad at this point, who I know will be partying in raucous fashion)!

I have just got up after a siesta and feel a bit dimwitted as a result ("and how is that different from usual?" I can hear some of you ask... well, imagine a 20W lightbulb on it's last legs, flickering in a very dark room - that's how switched on I feel at the moment. Middle of the day sleeps always have that effect on me... So, after writing this I will require a strong coffee and a shower, and that should hopefully then keep me going until 2011). I also still feel very self-indulgent having siestas - it must be the protestant work-ethic hard-wired into the system. How wasteful to spend part of the day sleeping! ;-). Well, as will shortly become apparent, I had quite a busy morning, so deserved a bit of a post-prandial snooze.

Right, I left you last time as I was waiting for the bus in Tucuman, so let's restart there:

Wednesday 29th December 2010

After finishing blog-writing duties I set off for the bus station. It was stinking hot (again), the sun was blazing directly overhead and I was unable to turn my head (as a result of the stiff neck). But, for some reasons (we all know why: I am tight), I decided to walk the 10 or so blocks to the bus station instead of getting a taxi. I was dripping on arrival (soaked with sweat, I mean. I hadn't miraculously turned into an old-fashioned beef-fat-and-jelly spread - that would have been weird!). Luckily there was an air-conditioned shopping centre at the bus station, so I was able to rest a while there, in order to retain my composure. And just as I sat down, I noticed the 5 Argentinian girls from the hostel, sitting about 10 metres, away, assembling a picnic from the usual components (i.e. processed cheese and ham)... BUT there was a novel twist [those crazy cosmopolitan young things]: the bread was brown and had a rounded end. OMG. I went over to say hello... and then goodbye (one kiss each, as is the custom here)... and I was off to wait for my bus... and wait... and wait... and wait a little while longer...

The bus eventually arrived about an hour late, giving me amble time for people watching (and over-cautious bag guarding!). I was stood next to a statue of the Virgin Mary (not for any religious reasons, I don't think. It was a co-incidence. Or was it? Maybe, in the back of my mind, I did think that I would somehow be less likely to be the victim of theft if I stood there, with my back to the virgin and my bag between my knees. Does that make me a Catholic?). Anyway, it was amazing how many people came over to touch the glass box she was standing in (I imagine they would have got their grubby little mits on the virgin herself if the glass hadn't got in the way). Some of them held their hands there for quite a long time before crossing themselves in the style of an Ethiopian athlete before a race. It was quite interesting from a socialogical perspective, and the first real insight into the peity of the nation. People here are still quite Catholic, or so it would seem from 60 minutes in Tucuman bus station.

Well, the sky had clouded over by the time I got on the bus, so the start of the journey was a bit dull (more fields of sugar cane, horses tied to poles (no, not Polish people) at the side of the road, old bangers, distant mountains - God, I'm becoming blasé about seeing such interesting things!). Luckily, there was the excitement of a complimentary processed ham and cheese role (I went totally crazy and added some cream cheese that I had left over from the night before! Just call me Heston Blumenthal [sp?]- I'll be presenting an experimental cookery show on Argentinian TV before you know it), an alfajor and 2 jammy-dodgers (well, an inferior approximation of said British classic biscuit). I didn't do anything with the biscuits (other than eat them), but I did break with tradition in a most revolutionary way by consuming some fruit (an orange) after the "meal" and spraying juice everyhwere in the process. Thank God for the tea-tree-oil wet-wipes, that's all I can say. They have been a godsend (wow, what is it with all the references to God today?... did the V.M. "touch" me while I was standing there in the bus station?). I must also say that wet-wipes were indispensible in the (almost very embarrassing) "yoghurt on the shorts incident", on the way to wine-tasting in Mendoza. Tip to any would-be travellers: wet-wipes, all the way, baby!

Well, the bus ride got more and more interesting as Salta approached (or as we approached Salta, more precisely speaking). Lush green mountains, undulating terrain, roads with bends (most of the roads in Argentina are totally flat and straight). It was nice, and despite the weather (showers, patches of mist and drizzle), boded well for things to come in Salta province.

On arrival at the bus station, I was met by a tout, trying to get me into his hostel. I told him I had already booked at another one, and on saying the name, another tout said "oh, that's where I'm from"(all in Spanish, natch) and promptly took me to find a taxi, gave me a voucher for the ride and explained the location to the driver. How nice was that! The taxi driver was also really friendly, asking me where I was from and telling me nuggets of information about Salta (in Spanish, of course, to which I falteringly tried to respond in kind: "los árboles son hermosas en esta época del año" [Michelle and Abi, that one's for you!], that kind of thing!).

So, I get to the hostel, and lo and behold, it's flipping empty! Just one other (German) guest! Jeez... and I was hoping for a mixed and interesting (but not too noisy) international crowd. Oh well, must keep positive... and try to make the best of any situation that I find myself in! So, I dumped my bags (at least I've got a room to myself!) and headed to the supermarket (taking in the centre of the city in the process). It seems like a nice place (with a much more indigenous flavour than any previous city), and the hostel has a good atmosphere, despite being devoid of people. The staff are really friendly and because they don't speak English, at least my Spanish will get a bit of an airing.

Indeed, I spent most of the evening talking to the guy who runs the place (the language barrier resulted in a slightly stilted conversation, but at least I felt comfortable and relaxed in his presence). As a result of which, I slept for almost 10 hours (only occasionally interrupted by stabbing pains in my neck!).

Thursday 30th December 2010

The pains had subsided somewhat upon rising, and there were nice medialunas and coffee for breakfast. Shame the weather was still dull (and cold!), but never mind, a change is as good as a rest (as the hackneyed old cliché goes) and to be frank , I was getting bored of clear blue skies and soaring temperatures (well, no, I wasn't, but like I said earlier, I'm trying to be positive and not regret leaving La Rioja too much!). So yes, as I almost fogot to say... in comparison to La Rioja and Tucuman, it is bloody freezing here! Obvsiouly, it's a matter of perspective, and for those of you back in Europe (and/or any scientific-minded pedants out there [I know quite a few of my friends who fit that description... but I don't know if they can be bothered to read this drivel] you won't consider mid-twenties freezing exactly. But, it must be said, I felt decidedly chilly, and required long sleeves (and legs) for the first time since I left the UK. I've become even softer that I was before (if that's actually possible).

Given the weather I decided to stay in during the morning and hope it would brighten up later. Oh, the irony! So, after chats on Skype with Mum and Dad and Adrian (not all together... he might have gone "home", but it's his home and not my home [to kind of paraphare Morrissey, Smiths fans {you can comment at this point if you want to be applauded for your superior musical taste}]) (oooh... multiple brackets - classy!), lunch, a bit of a lie-down and a cup of tea, I decided to head out into the gloom. And, oh yes, as soon as I set foot outside it starts to drizzle. Lovely. It could be England (the only difference being that I didn't bring an umbrella with me - which I would never be without in the UK [that's for you Beatris]!). Well, obviously I'm only talking about the weather - that's pretty much where the similarities end! So, it was still interesting to walk around, slowing down under the porticoes and awnings, speeding up in the wet bits and trying to avoid walking too close to the puddles in the road (we think our potholes are bad!). In the end I tired somewhat of feeling damp, so headed to the supermarket instead (along with every other Salta resident, it would seem). It was a bit like being at a rock-concert, as you sort of had to sidle past people where you could, but generally just go with the flow, so as not to get crushed. Anyway, it was worth it for my 1 pound 50 steak and 3 bottles of wine for the price of two (that's 1 pound 50 a bottle, fact fans!). And, very oddly, given the crush, there was no queue for the checkout. Perhaps people were just pretending to shop, in order to keep out of the rain!

The rain continued all evening (if anything getting heavier and heavier), so I was content to stay in the hostel, eating my steak (yum - I managed to get it just right [seared on the outside, bloody in the middle], despite the limited cooking arrangements - accompanied with pan-fried potatoes and green peppers and a tomato salad), drinking wine (syrah from Mendoza) and later on reading a new book that I've just picked up. I always seem more inclined to read when it's raining, so I could get a fair bit done while I'm here in Salta (it is the wet season, after all). A few more guests arrived (all Argentinian), but they didn't seem particularly chatty, and I wasn't feeling very confident with my Spanish, so greetings and nods were about as far as we got. I was in bed by 1am (slowly returning to my natural rhythm, perhaps)...

Friday 31st December 2010 (aka New Year's Eve)

Another good night's sleep (the hostel is on a pedestrian street, slightly outside of the centre and as a result is blissfully quiet - of course, not having any room-mates also helps!). Breakfast was even better now that I've discovered the fridge! Milk, cereal, Dulce de Leche (for the first time in well over a week - still pretty sickly, but heck it's what you've got to do in Argentina), in addition to the coffee and medialunas of the day before (oh, and fruit, which I forot to mention yesterday). And, guess what? The rain had stopped and the sun was threatening to break through! YES!

So, without delay (it was already 11am, not waking up until after 10), I hit Salta at pace. My aim was to walk up Cerro San Bernado (the hill which overlooks Salta), and be back in time for a late lunch. To which I can now report: mission accomplished!

For reasons of thrift (yeah yeah, I know...) I eschewed the cable car, and worked up a healthy sweat as a result. It's about 500 metres above the city (which itself stands at over 1000m), and counts over 1000 steps (there was a sign which told you the number, but I could have done with Dad here to do a proper count [he likes counting steps almost as much as he likes reading number plates and is the reason that I'm not totally useless at sciency/technological things! ;-)] and verify the exact number... something like 1050, I believe).

At least there were some trees to offer shade on the way up (the sun had come out fully by this point... and it was about 10 degrees warmer than the day before as a result), and it was totally worth it for the views. It was stunning! I shall post the pictures on Picasaweb when I get the chance. The top of the hill/little mountain has been landscaped (reasonably tastefully, it must be said [think tropical botanical garden crossed with a few tons of concrete and an over-ambitious pond/water-feature designer]). There were also some interesting birds (of the avian variety), instects and flowers to gawp at too. All in all a lovely little outing, and the reason I deserved my siesta this afternoon.

All of which basically brings this blog bang up-to-date. I have just been asked (by the hostel manager blokey) if I want to partake in empanadas to see in the New Year. I was happy to take him up on the offer (although I would have preferred asado - lazy bastard), as the bottle of wine/dinner for one option wasn't exactly my preferred plan! Hopefully a glass or two of wine will improve my Spanish skills sufficiently to take part in at least some of the conversation, and I will enter 2011 feeling contented (and merry). I hope the same applies to you all... may 2011 be a good year for everyone.

See you next year... until then, take care (especially when drunk: please don't drive or operate heavy machinery)...


Love J xx

1 comment:

Sidmouthian said...

I spent about 2 hours writing that, so I jolly well hope you appreciate it!