Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Salta "la linda" (no, not the long-legged variety - it means beautiful in Spanish)

Good evening,

I hope all is well with each and every one of you (i.e. the 3 people who read this). It's time for a quick update, but I'm not feeling very inspired, and haven't actually done all that much recently, so this will probably be quite short compared to my usual standards. I left you last on New Year's Eve, prior to the festivities commencing, so before I get back to that, I should once again wish you HAPPY NEW YEAR (this time on the right side of the year divide). And thus I can continue...

Friday 31st December 2010 continued...

The evening was rather a strange one, all told (as is often the case with New Year's Eve). This was mainly due to the combination of people, and the fact that most of the evening was conducted in Spanish (preventing me from being my usual loquacious self). I mean, it's wrong to begrudge people the right to speak their own language in their own country... and, of course, I don't... it just meant that my enjoyment was reduced slightly (as I couldn't relax fully and I used all my effort to try and keep up with the conversation - which ultimately I wasn't even all that interested in), that's all. Actually, it's probably not about the language at all (I mean, I managed perfectly well with Oscar and Andres, and our shared common language ground is minimal), it's just a question of human relationships (or the lack their of) and my own mood. So, despite drinking a reasonable amount, I never really "got into the spirit" of the evening, and it ended up being just a nice, pleasant (and thus slightly boring) kind of evening.

Anyway, the details: we made homemade empanadas (which was interesting in itself - little shop-bought pastry circles, filled with a spicy chicken or beef filling, and served with a spicy salsa), but they were deep-fried and, whilst very tasty, they laid heavy on the stomach and have probably added an extra kilo to the already growing weight gain (watch out chairs!!!). ;-) I also drank fantin (red wine and Fanta) for the first time, which was eminently drinkable (too drinkable?) but added to the sensation of piling empty calories into an already over-stuffed body! It didn't help that the bloke making the empanadas was the size of a small bus! Each time I ate one I looked at him and saw myself approaching my ultimate destiny! We moved from fantin to vino y coca and ultimately fernet, but it was no use, I just wasn't in the mood! I declined the offer of a post-party boliche (night-club), and instead stayed up chatting for a while and then went to bed at 4am (ridiculously early for Argentina - sorry folks!). I even read before sleeping, that's how much of an "un-party-mood" I felt in!

Saturday 1st January 2011

The year started later than usual...  with a nice long lie-in. I think my mood had improved, though... with the feeling that Christmas and New Year was over with for another year (the Wood family isn't big on the old "festive season"). Still, I was almost instantly faced with a new challenge...

I had briefly chatted to a young, friendly (if slightly over-earnest and rather too intense) Dutch man the previous evening. He was travelling alone in South America and was clearly starting to feel a bit jaded by the whole experience. He was looking for someone to go travelling with and clearly thought I was a suitable candidate. I, trying to be friendly, said that maybe we could travel together for a bit, but it was a tentative offer at best, and I wasn't prepared for our first meeting of the day on Saturday. He had spent the whole morning at various travel agents (after God knows how little sleep), trying to devise a plan for us to follow. Ah! He came back with the offer of a 400 peso, 2 night trip, visiting Cachi and Cafayate, sharing transport with a French couple he had met in one of the travel agents... and there was me thinking that we might get the same bus somewhere and then review our options. Hmmm... So, I spend the next few hours trying to work out how to let him down gently. I mean, I had plenty of decent excuses (I'm hoping to go to Cachi and Cafayate with Cami, when she arrives up north, after all... and I've got much more time than him... and I think two introspective, over-anxious worriers is a recipe for disaster!), but he had the look of an abused dog (all big eyes and on-the-verge-of-crying intensity), and I found it very difficult to adminster the kick that destroyed the last ounce of "travelling-alone-confidence" that he possessed. Err... what to do?

Well, in the end, I was given a deadline. He had arranged to meet the French couple at 7pm and needed to know by then what I intended to do. I managed to pluck up the courage to say that I wouldn't be travelling with them, but still offered to go to the travel agents with him/them, just as a bit of an outing on an otherwise very quiet day (everything in Salta was closed on New Year's Day and it was rather like a ghost town).

And I I'm glad I did... for it was a very "interesting" experience. I don't think I've met such a rude person as the travel agent since that woman in San Luis, but by God (shit, more God references!), he was arrogant beyond belief and yet without an ounce of charm. I guess he knew he was one of the only travel agents open on New Year's Day and thus knew full well that their options were limited. He had them overa barrel! But, still, he must have been suffereing from one hell of a hangover to exhibit such pure contempt for his customers (and fellow human beings!). I was jolly glad I wasn't paying for his services, that's all I can say!

Still, they booked the trip nonetheless and we walked back the hostel, hoping to find a shop open en route. Hmm... not only had it started pissing down with rain (as has been the evening ritual in Salta so far), but everywhere was closed, there was hardly a soul on the street, and Salta had taken on the air of Sidmouth during a winter storm: empty, somewhat forlorn, and rather melancholy. In other words, totally different to the run-up to New Year, when it was bustling with activity (which, aside from the Folk Festival, never happens in Sidmouth!).

Luckily, given the previous day's 3 for 2 wine offer, I still had supplies in stock and was able to offer Martijn wine, if little in the way of food. I guess I felt a bit guilty about letting him down in the travel companion department, and thought I could paper over the cracks with the offer of food and wine (albeit rather limited in the food department)! However, all was not lost, food-wise, as Christophe (German guy, virtual resident of the hostel, local "girlfriend" in tow), offered us some pasta and I was able to cobble together pasta with peppers and tomato and a potato salad accompaniement, which actually turned out rather well. The evening was also boosted by the appearance of Hidde and Ynama, a very nice couple from The Netherlands, who I spent the evening chatting to. Fun times (again revealing how important personal rapport is whilst travelling)!

Sunday 2nd January 2011

Another quiet day in Salta. Once again the town was empty... I guess people were still recovering from a raucous NY'sE. But it was quite nice in a ultra-relaxed kind of way. I spend the day wandering around, taking photos, relaxing at the hostel, reading, cooking, having a siesta, more reading (almost finished two books in less than a week... good going for me!). It was nice, but I was glad to have Hidde and Ynama's company in the evening (I was going to have a booze-free night (which would have been the first for a long while), but ended up sharing the last remaining bottle with Hidde, which was nice). I have basically come to realise that I can only truly enjoy my own company if I have the sea and a beach (or a lake or river, at the very least) close at hand. Otherwise, after a while, I don't really know what to do with myself. Wandering around an inland city starts to pall after a while (without company to enjoy it with, at least). There, I'm a product of my environment, after all, and I can't really escape the watery wonders of Devon, as much as try! ;-) Still, I must remember that the sea in Devon at this time of year is brown and grey and cold and uninviting, and it's still better to be inland in Argentina, with light, balmy evenings, and cheap wine and good meat and the thrill of a new culture to explore and new people to meet, just around the corner... Oh, and the weather was much better today, so the sun shone for most of it and the rain failed to materialise at 5pm, as had been the habit of the last few days. I should count myself (very) lucky, shouldn't I?

Monday 3rd January 2011

Hidde and Ynama headed off in the morning (adventurously hiring a car for a few days and preparing to go camping in the mountains!), and once again the hostel was almost empty. The weather was still good though, and it is definitely warming up a degree or two (approaching 30 once again, I would guess). Thus, the day was set fair for lounging and wandering, and proceeded in much the same fashion as the day before. A big lunch, a siesta, reading my book, wandering around town...

I also had a nice chat with Mum and Dad and failed attempts to chat with Michelle/Adam and Adrian (and thus ended up feeling a bit guilty that I cut Mum and Dad a bit short!). I generally spent the day feeling a bit "flat" and thus started to get the feeling I was nearing the end of phase one here in Salta. I felt that I needed to do something else, or I risked getting bored and would stop enjoying being here. So, in the end, after much deliberation (God, I'm indecisive), I booked my bus to Tilcara (in the Quebrada de Humahuaca) for tomorrow, and plan to spend a few days there (or thereabouts) before returning to Salta once more.

I have to say I've really liked the hostel (San Jorge) here in Salta... and will be returning, for sure. It's really relaxed and friendly (and spacious and airy, especially being as quiet as it is), the breakfast is good and the place generally has a good feeling/atmosphere. Typically, as I type this, more nice people have arrived, this time a Swiss couple from near to Verbier (and hence common ground to talk about!). Oh, well, decision made, I will have to stick to it!

Oh yes, I forgot to say, Martijn (the Dutch guy) returned from his tour with the French couple (a great success by all accounts) and again made me feel a bit uncomfortable for having decided not to travel with him! I couldn't mention it to Mum and Dad on Skype because he was loitering in the background. Anyway, I feel a bit guilty for bad-mouthing him... It's just a bit of a shame, really... because I'm sure he's a nice person (and his English is very good), but my sensitive side just sees unhappiness lurking within him and therefore I can't really feel relaxed in his company. Well, I saw him off at the bus station anyway (after going for a bit of a wander with him around the city) and breathed a bit of a sigh of relief for deciding not to travel with him. Sometimes you've got to go with gut instincts, and this was definitely one of these times.

Anyway, the day has ended on a very good note. I bought another great steak (which was once again expertly cooked [by some fluke or other], and served with a red-wine jus [in order to prevent me drinking the whole bottle]). Mmmm... Still, I drank the best part of the rest of the bottle and thus feel a little bit tipsy (well, drunk) typing this, so please excuse anything that doesn't make s(h)ense!!!

Well, I will leave it there for now. I've got to be up reasonably early tomorrow, so I had better head off to bed for a relatively early night. I should be back with a report from my latest travels at the weekend. I'll look forward to hearing from you then (perhaps).

Best wishes to you all...

Love James xx

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