KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The next morning, we joined the others at the bus stand and took the local bus south to the provincial capital, Jujuy. Now my challenge to you is, pronounce ‘Jujuy’ and make the locals understand you on the first try!
It was a short ride in a southerly direction, but we were astounded at how much the vegetation changed. We were clearly leaving the Quebrada de Humahuaca as the trees and farms along the highway became lush and green. We saw horses at almost every turn and I began to understand the attraction for the children from the big cities. Many come here with their parents on school holiday and horseback riding is very popular.
When we reached Jujuy after just over an hour, we needed to change to another bus, and another bus company. We found a Flechabus that was leaving in five minutes, so we bought a ticket and rushed to load our luggage. We estimated that we could be in Salta within an hour or so. The bus was much newer and more comfortable that the little one from Purmamarca and we settled in and watched the movie that was showing on the television screen at the front. I realized it was a film starring Shia LaBoeuf, from the golf movie called The Greatest Game Ever Played. However, this movie was called Disturbia and it was a suspense/thriller.
About fifteen minutes into our trip, our bus suddenly stopped and we could see a crowd of people on the highway ahead of us; dark smoke rising into the sky. I was worried that there had been a serious accident and that there were probably fatalities. No one seemed too concerned about what was happening and before long I went to the front of the bus and realized that we had encountered a roadblock. There was a banner in Spanish, but I was able to see the Spanish words for ‘work’ and ‘dignity’. We waited for about half an hour and then the protesters agreed to let us through. We left the highway and entered a secondary road that seemed to take us in a less direct route to Salta.
We became absorbed in the movie as the scenery was consistently green and lush and then all of a sudden, we stopped again. We were on a relatively small rural road and when I went to the front of the bus again, expecting another protest, this time I saw some heavy-duty machinery blocking the road. I thought that perhaps protesters had blocked the road with the backhoe, but instead I found that a canal had burst its banks and washed out the foundation for a power line. The lines were down and draped across the road. Some electrical workers were on scene, disconnecting the lines. Eventually the backhoe lifted the inert power lines so that we could be on our way once again.
At last we arrived in Salta. Our one-hour trip from Jujuy had taken three hours. It was the middle of the afternoon so it didn’t matter much. We walked to the hotel that had been recommended to us by our friend Cecile LaTour and were delighted to find that they had a room for us for the five nights we wished to stay in Salta. What can I say about the Hotel Antigua Convento? It is a delightful place with fantastically friendly bilingual staff. Our room is a mixture of modern facilities with old-world touches. The sheets are divine and the towels heavenly. What a treat!
I should tell you a little about Salta. It is the capital of a province in the northwestern part of Argentina and has some of the best-preserved colonial buildings in all of the country. It is nestled in a valley with a perpetual spring-like climate. It was this climate that attracted the Spaniards south from Bolivia where they could pasture their animals and grow crops that were too delicate for the harsh Bolivian highlands. The central areas of the city have many beautiful buildings and life is easy here when you see the high-end shops and the pricy restaurants ringing the central plaza.
However, once you venture away from the plaza you begin to see the evidence of a much tougher life for the indigenous people who have migrated to the city in search of work, leaving the much harsher economic conditions in the rural areas. The sidewalks of the side streets are poorly maintained and the garbage collection is scanty at best. Argentines (along with Chileans) are great consumers of bottled soft drinks and the evidence of their addiction to these sugar-laden beverages are everywhere. Plastic bottles lie in the gutters and vacant lots. Graffiti again raises its ugly face – something we were pleased to do without in the vast stretches of desert we passed through on our way south from the desert highlands of the Andes.
We did make a trip to the top of Cerro San Bernardo on the cable car and from the viewpoints at the top the city looked pristine with all the red-tiled roofs and the whitewashed walls. There are plenty of shade trees in Salta and we saw some unusual varieties. We weren’t able to get the names of all the news species of trees we saw, but we especially loved the yuchan trees with their bulbous trunks and huge white and pink flowers. The central plaza is ringed with orange trees, most of which were laden with green fruit. With fall approaching, some of the oranges are starting to turn colour and we wondered if office workers will be allowed to pick the fruit and eat them while taking a break from work and enjoying the square.
One of the most fascinating places we visited in Salta was the Museum of Anthropology of the Alto (High) Montana (Mountains). It’s a small museum dedicated to preserving, studying and displaying the mummies of three children who were discovered in 1999 atop a 6700 m (20,000 ft) volcano in Salta province. The low humidity, the low atmospheric pressure and the chilling temperatures of the highest peak in the region preserved the bodies of the children. It is felt that the three young high-born children were offered to the gods in tribute. They were probably given alcohol to drink and coco leaves to chew before being left to the elements. Their bodies are almost perfectly preserved, only one is on display at any given time and they are rotated every six months.
We enjoyed our time in Salta but the Iguazu Falls on the Argentina border with Brazil and Paraguay were beaconing. It was time to move on once again. We decided to try the much-heralded overnight cama (bed) buses and see how comfortable they really are. The trip to Iguazu from Salta is over 1400 kilometers and will take at least 23 hours provided there are no protesters or roadblocks along the way. The news stations tell us that protests are underway throughout northern Argentina; we only hope that we have witnessed our one and only protest already. Apparently, the protesters have decided to delay travellers no longer than fifteen minutes. While I sympathize with their concerns, 23 hours on a bus is long enough without any delays.