Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More waffle from Salta

Buenos noches (I'm still not really comfortable using this as a greeting [feels like more of a salutation to me {actually, are "greeting" and "salutation" one and the same thing? - I think they probably are, which makes this quadri-bracketed parenthesis utterly redundant. However, your observations (especially from the lexicographically-minded amongst you) would be appreciated}],

Anyway, moving on from that lengthy aside (I think that could be a new name for this blog: "Lengthy Asides (from A Sidmouthian Abroad)"... I wonder if www.lenghtyasides.com already exists? Ooh, I've just checked and it doesn't! Wow. Excitement! Exclamation marks ahoy!!! It's got my name all over it)... Well, get a grip, Wood! I'm not in the market for websites. Back to the task at hand... It's been raining fairly solidly for the last 3 days, so that's given me plenty of time to sit on my backside doing nothing, well, apart from contemplating my navel, learning bits and pieces of Spanish (I've started reading a children's book in Spanish called something like "When the cat met God", or whatever the translation into English should be - obviously I'm reading it for it's Spanish content, rather than it's moral message [I'm relying on Beatris for that - following on from her recent kind offer], cooking, eating, going for little walks and writing this blog (intermittently). Oh, and I haven't touched a drop of wine for the last 2 days!!!!! Yes, that warrants at least 5 exclamation marks, because a) wine here is cheap (and good), b) I'm wine-lover and c) I´ve got a keen eye for a bargain (all of which makes it's flipping hard for me to resist). Well, resist I have (with the help of not setting foot inside the supermarket [actually, I lie, I was even strong enough to go to the supermarket yesterday and not put a bottle of wine in my basket!]). So, with some kind of inner-strength I didn't know I had, I'm going for a hat-trick of wine-free days before hitting the vineyards of Cafayate on Wednesday. I felt I owed it to my liver to give it a little rest mid-holiday (actually, I'm on the homeward stretch now... with less than 6 weeks to go [out of the 13 in total]), so that's what I'm doing. 3 days seems ample, don't you think? Any more and I might forget how to appreciate wine properly. And I'm sure I've got a very quickly-regenerating liver (I hope so, at least).

Right, back to the day-by-day analysis of proceedings (as you can see, the cup of tea [and subsequent dinner of spicy vegetable stew - a counterpoint to all the asados I've been eating] has fully restored my blatherability and I'm back in full grandiloquent, garrulous mood. Here goes Friday:

Friday 7th November 2011

Up with the lark (again) - if larks get up at 8am, that is - and swiftly (do you like the bird references?) back to bed again, realising that I then had the dorm to myself for a couple of hours. Lush! After 10, breakfasted (no, [I thought perhaps I could but] I just can't resist - having swallowed breakfast. Sorry [the spirit of Richard Whiteley still lives on, after all these years]) and sunscreened up, I headed out for one last wander/photograph session in and Around Tilcara, before a last luncheon (of the previous days leftovers) and my departure back to Salta. Ooh, I've just remembered that the previous day they was some kind of local carnival (lots of kiddies dressed up in costume, playing the same song (well, rhythm, actually - to call is a song is stretching it somewhat) over and over again, while walking around the streets of Tilcara - weird, but kinda scenic, I suppose). Anyway, I don't think I saw anything of particular note during my morning excursion. More rocks, more adobe houses (that's nothing to do with Photoshop or Acrobat, btw - they are sundried bricks made from riverine clay: see Picasaweb pics for details), more stray dogs (they don't have quite the "awww, help the poor ickle homeless dog" spirit that we have in animal-loving Britain), and a brilliant bright blue sky. Hooray for the sun (thinking back, it's just as well I had a few days of sun in the mountains because on average Salta has been bloody grey and dreary and today I would once again describe it as cool [low 20s today, I would guess]).

Well, after my reheated pasta (I spurn your Italian scorn: I'm travelling) and another lounge in the hammock (more signs of impending hippydom [a joke, I hope - please {to paraphrase Steve Redgrave*}, if I return wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, hand-woven baggy trousers, assorted bits of string around my wrists and ankles and a poncho, please, someone shoot me). And, worse still, if I start playing the bongos, well, I allow you to commit me to a more torturous death, which, it has to be said, would be an apt punishment), I headed to the bus station (in a swirl of dirt and dust [the wind tends to pick up in the afternoon, in Tilcara, at least, and fills the air with assorted debris... good for the wild west feel, bad for the eyes and nasal passages]).

The bus was on-time leave (late arriving - bastards!), and the journey was the same scenic epic as on the way up (only on the way down this time - funny that). You'd have thought that would have made it quicker. But, no. Stops in every godforsaken little town between Jujuy and Salta and another lengthy fill-up in the Balut bus depot (one of my favourite spots so far, it must be said - not!) put the mockers on that and made it a bit of a hard-going slog. I was also feeling the effects of my limited sleep and rather-less-limited alcohol intake of the past few days. In other words, I didn't make full use of my window seat (the window was once again covered in crap anyway), but decided to get a bit of shut eye instead (especially once we had left the clear blue skies of the upper valley and descended into the tropical drizzle on the approach to Jujuy). I would have managed more sleep, but the woman behind me kept kicking my seat (she seemed to feel my decision to actually use the recline function was somehow invading her personal space... well, I've got news for you, love: if you weren't so bloody fat, there wouldn't have been a problem. Stop eating all the asados/ empanadas/ milanesas/ facturas/ alfajores/ ice-cream/ lard and let sleeping Brits lie!).

In the end, we made it into Salta (an hour late... making it a near-five hour journey, for a distance of little over 200km. Jeez). I was met at the bus station by the Salteña girlfriend of the German guy from the hostel. This wasn't arranged, but a welcoming kiss is always appreciated! It turns out that she works for a different hostel, trying to get people to stay there. Slightly odd, considering she's shacked up with someone at a totally different hostel. Still, work's work, I suppose.

I walked to the hostel (more taxi-fare-avoiding-thrift), and was hoping to have a quiet evening and an early night! Ha! No such luck! The hostel was much busier than my previous stay earlier in the week and that evening they were having an asado with people from the twin hostel in the centre of town. Well, I was a bit reluctant to join in at first (wine was included in the price, and I didn't know if I could handle it!)... but in the end I bit the bullet and joined in the merriment. And I'm really glad I did. Not only did I meet some more lovely people (including an Australian couple, who were doing very well to endear themselves to me... until they mentioned "the mission", that is!), but the asado was one of the best I have eaten so far (supplemented with grilled vegetables and a lovely salad, for us veggie-loving non-Argentinians, I suppose). All in all it was a very nice evening, and I was self-disciplined enough to limit the wine intake to a few glasses and go to bed at a reasonable hour (2ish) instead of hitting the nite-spots of Salta at pace (like a lot of the others).

*and we all know what didn't, but should've, happened to Steve Redgrave, as soon as he got back in a boat, don't we? (and, well, if you don't, er, I won't go into all the details... all I'll say is that he kindly gave us permission to shoot him, that's all - and instead of taking him up on the offer, he became a national hero instead. Grrr...).

Saturday 8th January 2011

In the morning I was glad for the early night, as I woke up at 11am, feeling the freshest I had for days! Whoop. The smallest pleasures are the best! I proceeded to get into conversation with a handful of the nicest Argentinians I have met so far (and that is saying something!). I had had a brief chat with Cecilia (an English teacher from B.A.) the night before, but had further (extended) chats with her and her friends (Ana and Esteban) for about 4 hours solid during the day on Saturday. It was just a shame they had to leave later in the day (off to Chile and Peru), because we just clicked and it was lovely speaking to them (oh and the weather had been quite good in Salta up until that point - we had been able to sit outside the previous evening and much of the day on Saturday). Still, hopefully I'll be able to meet up with them in Buenos Aires later in my travels.

The rest of Saturday proceeded at a leisurely pace. I went for a wander, culminating in a supermarket shop-up. This was the last day when I gave into temptation (well, I'm sure it won't be THE last) and purchased wine. I went for a 6 peso bottle (the cheapest yet - I've been working my way down from about 20 pesos, just to see how bad it gets), perhaps subconsciously hoping that it would be undrinkable and I'd have to use it for cooking (or tip it down the sink [hmm... that's just a turn of phrase, actually. You know that would never happen in the Wood household {or to a member thereof}]). Well, when I got back to the hostel, Christophe (the German) said it was disgusting and that the last time he drank it, it gave him a terrible headache the next day (who said the Germans were direct?!). Well, what could I do but put the theory to test. I opened her up (it was a girl - simple and a bit cheap), and took a swig (no refined swilling and supping for wine that cost a quid). And what can I say? Well, I've had far, far worse. It didn't have much character (or body), but was perfectly drinkable in an uncomplicated sort of way. Christophe was surprised by my reaction and decided to give it (her) another go. Well, maybe he had had a dodgy bottle before, because he certainly didn't seem to mind it (her) this time (thankfully helping me to avoid drinking the whole bottle). Perhaps it (she) tasted better for him this time because it (she) was free! ;-)

Well, such moderate wine-drinking was followed by a moderately early night (around 1am, I believe), which is just as well, as from around 8pm onwards the heavens opened (or maybe it was just precipitation resulting
from a build-up of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds) and it absolutely tipped it down, thus soaking anyone who had dared venture from the (relative) dryness of the hostel. And it's barely stopped since. Actually, that's another lie (or Wood exaggeration), but during Saturday night there were some incredible thunderstorms (the whole building shook at times) and it has rained on and off (without seeing a glimmer of sun) ever since. And talk about humidity! Everything feels damp, the salt has caked together into an, er, salt-cake, and my sink-rinsed smalls are taking forever to dry! But at least it's different (and not really cold), so then you don't mind as much, do you.

Sunday 9th January 2011

We're certainly getting closer to being up-to-date now. I'm going to keep going until midnight, in the hope that by then I'll actually be writing this in (close to) real-time.

So, what of Sunday? Well, it rained nearly all morning (and into the afternoon), giving me the chance to do assorted internettery and Skype Ma and Pa. A leisurely lunch followed (everything has been leisurely the last few days! A post-Tilcara stupor, pehaps), and then a leisurely walk out to the Feria Artisanal. I wasn't really interested in the Feria itself (it's just another tat market, basically), but thought the walk itself would be interesting (it's a couple of kilometres from the hostel, on the outskirts(ish) of town). Well, interesting it was, as at about half distance the housing becomes decidedly more shabby (concrete blocks on stilts, anyone?) and the streets possess a decidedly more edgy feel. Okay, so I felt a bit uncomfortable, truth be told, but I think the effect was amplified by the fact that it was during siesta-time on a Sunday afternoon, and the eerie quietness, gave the feeling of someone lurking around the corner, waiting to mug you. To be fair, Salta, as a rule, feels really safe (much more so that B.A., for example [although I guess you generally feel more comfortable once you have been in a place for a while]), with police on every street corner (apart from the 2km I walked on Sunday, that is!), and a generally relaxed, easy-going feel. Oh, but on this particular afternoon I was once again asked the time (las cinco menos cinco - an easy one!), so at least one person thought "who's this strange foreign-looking chap walking in a dodgy area of town on a Sunday afternoon".

Well, it was worth the walk, actually. The Feria is housed in an interesting old colonial building (a former estate complex of some kind), with portico(e)s and internal courtyards and loads of tropical trees and plants all around. It was a shame it was cloudy (and spitting with rain) because the photos would have looked nicer with a blue sky, but there you go, you can't have everything. At least it wasn't Portugal at Christmas! ;-) In fact, my timing was just about perfect, because just as I got back to the hostel (after an extension loop via the centre/north of town and the supermarket [no wine! A Wood first!!!]) the great hosepipe/sprinkler in the sky was once again switched on and Salta was drenched (Christope remarked how poor their drainage is, as the roads tend to flood as soon as a bit of water touches the tarmac).

It was another quiet evening at the hostel. I practiced a bit of French with a couple of lesbians, ate the most enormous rice salad ever constructed (exaggerate, moi?), and went to bed at midnight (I'll be back to normal by Wednesday at this rate!)...

Monday 10th January 2011

...but (or possibly because of the unusually early night) I went on to have the weirdest night ever. Admittedly the hostel was quite noisy (a group of 11 Porteño friends had arrived at the hostel earlier in the evening), but I kept waking up, had a couple of nightmares (including one where I lashed out with my arm as a result and knocked an empty plastic bottle off the bedside table and onto the floor) and generally felt most unsettled. I was wearing earplugs and could sort of hear some noise through them (but the muffled quality led to an air of mystery: is that someone knocking on the door? In fact, it was; is that someone climbing into the bunk above me? Actually, it wasn't; that kind of thing). Luckily things had quietened down by morning and I got a good solid four hours from 6 to 10am, so I haven't felt too bad today.
However, I haven't exactly exerted myself. Indeed, I've devoted most of the day to blog writing (as you can probably tell from the extensive missives popping up like virtual mushrooms). The weather has once again been shit (and COLD - I've needed jeans and a jumper) and so I felt more inclined to stay indoors and catch up with stuff like this (as well as a bit of Spanish revision, hostel booking in Cafayate and the usual cooking-eating-washing triumvirate of necessities). Oh, and thinking of necessities, you'll be pleased to hear that my bowels are in perfect working order (touch wood), and have been as regular as (Swiss) clockwork (I'm thinking of you, Adrian, as I write this!).

Well, it is fast approaching midnight and I don't wish to turn into a pumpkin. I do wish, however, that the noisy Porteños would quieten down a bit and let me have an uniterrupted night's sleep. This is rather unlikely however, as unlike my previous 6 nights in the hostel (prior to going to Tilcara), I now have a full dorm of 4 people, which will doubtless lead to a certain number of interruptions. Well, I've got no pressing engagments tomorrow (I'd like to go to the Modern Art Gallery and need to get a bus ticket for Cafayate, but that's about it), so if needs be, I can sleep well into the day (and/or take a protracted siesta), and with that relaxing thought in mind I am going to sign off now and head off to bed.

I'm up-to-date. Yippee. Three cheers for me. Hip hip...

Good night, sleep tight, and don't even mention bed bugs, because I'm staying in a hostel.

Best wishes,
Love J xx

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