Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting for my bus to Salta

Good morning!

It's not often you're treated to a morning post, but today is an exception. I had to be up (relatively) earlier in order to check out of the hostel (well, out of the room, at least), but now have to wait until 13:30 for my bus to take me to Salta. Unfortunately, my decrepit body is once again proving a (literal) pain in the neck, because I woke up at the crack of dawn with a very stiff (and sore) neck/shoulder. I'm not sure whether I can place the blame on the bed, the slightly stressful day I had yesterday, or just the fact that I'm getting old. Whatever the cause it's rather annoying (especially being, as it is, hot on the heels of my back). Oh well, I'm sure I'll survive...

Anyway, I've only got one day to report (the updates have been as regular as my bowels of late), so I had better let you know what I got up to yesterday:

Tuesday 28th December 2010

After taking an age to get to sleep (it was flippin' hot and sticky in the dorm) and observing the strange antics of my dorm-mate who got up and left in the middle of the night (after only arriving at about 10pm), in the end I had quite a good night's sleep. The period from about 4-10am is definitely the coolest, and with ear-plugs in to guard against early morning birdsong, traffic and kitchen clatter, it's the ideal time to get some solid sleep (no such luck this morning with my neck as sore as it was).

Breakfast was a disappointing affair. The orange juice was nice (with bits even!) and the bread and coffee were okay, but everything was rationed in very small portions, so there was no mammoth gorging like in other hostels! ;-) I then decided to plan my next move, so set about searching for hostels in Tafi del Valle and Cafayate, which were my next intended destinations. And this is where the day started to go downhill. First of all, the main hostel in Tafi sounded decidedly hippified and grungy, so I thought I would head straight to Cafayate. But there was virturally no availability for the entire period up to and including New Year. Bummer. I wasn't sure I wanted to take the risk of turning up on spec, so I looked into alternative options instead. There was availability in a few hostels in Salta, so with the different options in mind, I went out to explore Tucuman and see what kind of decision I made in the process.

Tucuman is, in layout and buildings and people, much like any other Argentinian city. There are a handful of colonial buildings, dotted among a random assortment of other architectural styles (including one very random newly-built, Georgian-style townhouse I noticed!). The streets follow the now familiar grid pattern. There are squares dotted here and there. There are battered old cars. There are men with moustaches. The pavements are uniformly uneven. But what is different is the atmosphere, both literally and metaphorically. The humidity lends an air of tropical decay. Things are lusher and greener here. Bryophytes cling to the trees. Familiar varieties of tropical fruit can be spotted in peoples gardens: mangoes, avocados, loquats. Assorted herbage sprouts from neglected plots. Trees are enlivened with splashes of floral colour (frangipani, hibiscus, unknown species). People's skin feels damp to the touch and glistens with sweat (I am basing this on my own skin, rather than from going around touching people!). This is very different from the dusty, wild-west feel of cities further south. And I rather like it.

However, I did feel a bit folorn, wandering around, not really knowing where to go next. I felt a bit of a stranger in this strange tropical city. This feeling of being a bit "lost" wasn't helped by my search for a cash machine. I hadn't had a problem before, but had heard many fellow travellers complain about the lack of availability and massive queues whenever you did manage to find one. Well, typically (as I was down to my last 2 pesos [about 30p] in cash), today was the day that I struggled to get out money. In the city centre the queues were about 40 people deep, so I decided to head back to the hostel (via the supermarket) and hope to find a cashpoint en route. I thought my luck was in when I found 2 cash points without anyone waiting. But, alas, no, they were both without cash (waiting until you had gone trough the whole process before telling you this, mind, and thus causing some momentary anxiety about whether or not your account would be charged as a result [which I don't think it has]). I then spent a good half hour on a fruitless wander around some rather less salubrious areas of Tucuman, looking (increasingly desperately) for another cash point (at least I didn't have any money to steal). Finally, success! The queue was only 3 deep (although the bloke in front spent about 20 minutes doing something...), and once inside the little cubicle, I extracted my 900 pesos and skipped off the supermarket...

After lunch, and motivated as much as anything by a desire to be with other international travellers (fear not Argentinian readers - it's not that I don't love you, it's just that sometimes I feel the need to be with other "strangers"... especially solo travellers, who are, naturally, easier to talk to!), I decided to head to Salta for New Year, and see if I could meet some more people from overseas! Thus, I made the rash move of actually booking a hostel (using hostelbookers for the first time - let's hope it actually works!). I'll let you know in due course how it works out.

A bit of a siesta was required after all the umming and aahing of the morning, after which I headed back out into the city to make further explorations and head over to the bus station to get my ticket for tomorrow. Nothing particularly exciting to report. Similar feelings to the morning: tropical feeling, slightly rough around the edges, some nice buildings, lots of attractive people (as everywhere in Argentina). The weather was cloudy for the first time in ages (oh, it had rained the night before but it had been sunny in the morning) and was noticeably cooler in the afternoon as a result. Oh, and I aborted one supermarket visit after noticing queues that were about 20 people long!

After a second (successful supermarket trip - some cheap fennel purchased!), I came back to the hostel and showered. As I set about making pasta with fennel and blue cheese, I started speaking to a group of 5 Argentinian girls who had arrived earlier in the day. They were really nice and invited me to eat with them. After faltering attempts at Spanish (on which they [unbelievably] complimented me), they revealed that they all spoke English (one of them almost perfectly) and we spent the evening chatting, playing Pictionary and generally having a fun time. All of which goes to show how important it is to remain positive while travelling: those moments when you feel a bit lonely and dejected can soon be brought round by meeting some nice people and finding that you have connections with (almost) everyone - it's just a matter of somehow breaking the ice and finding a way to initiate the conversation.

Well, I really need a pee, so I will leave it there for now (people must wonder why I am rocking in my chair!).

I hope all is well back at home (or in your respective corners of the world)!

All the best,
Love J xx

Oh yes, I was once again asked the time by a person sitting in a doorway. This has happened quite regularly and Adrian's theory is that people recognise that you (assume Devon accent) "baint be from around these parts" are curious to find out if you can speak Spanish. At least now I can tell the time in Spanish (rather than offering them my watch face for them to tell their own time).

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