Salta feels completely different from the rest of Argentina. Our taxi driver was dressed like a gaucho: beret, red plaid button-down shirt tucked into his jeans, with a giant belt buckle and high boots. As we rode into the centre from the airport we could see the difference in people's faces; they look more indigenous, with darker complexions and simpler clothing. It was a refreshing change and made us excited for our next few weeks in Bolivia and Peru.
The name, Salta means "the very beautiful one" in the Aymara language. When we told Argentines that we would be visiting here their faces would always brighten. Everyone told us how beautiful it is and how we must see this or that. For us it was like wandering around a larger, busier Colonia del Sacramento; the city has some of the most well-preserved colonial architecture in Argentina. It was founded in 1582 by Spaniards moving south from Peru.
While we could have taken a long bus ride out to Cafayate or participated in any number of adventure activities in the surrounding hills and mountains, we chose to relax instead and adopted the ambling pace of the locals during our time there. Several museums are worth a look but we chose the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana (High Mountain Archaeology Museum) under the advice of our mates, Jess and Jamie over at Adventures with Cloud People. In 1999 explorers found the mummified bodies of three children who had been offered up as human sacrifices by the Incas. The discovery took place at the peak of the Llullaillaco volcano, which at 6,739 metres is one of the highest and most important mountains of America. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, low humidity, low temperature and thermal stability in the place they were found, the bodies are almost perfectly preserved.
The bodies are rotated every six months so that only one is on display at a time. We saw the body of a nearly seven year old boy, which was probably the least confronting of the three based on the photos we saw of the other two. He was seated, with his head and legs bent, his knees covering his face. The sacrificed children were those of the elite, which is difficult for us to understand considering how pampered and protected the children of the wealthy and famous are in our society. It was an honour for them to be participants in the ritual of sacrifice and they were not thought to die, but to be with their loved ones for eternity. It is difficult for me to witness their fate as objects in a museum - I don't think that is something anyone would want for their remains. At least I know I wouldn't. The preservation of the bodies is a very important phenomenon in the field of archaeology, however, which cannot be denied.
We previously said that it was difficult to find great food in Argentina, diversity being a major factor in this statement. Not so in Salta, where we found delicious Mexican and Middle Eastern food as well as a restaurant specializing in "high mountain cuisine," with delicious interpretations of local ingredients. Salta also has plenty of great parrillas and a happening nightlife scene. We were sure to try the local Torrontes, which is my new favourite white wine variety.
On the morning we headed out of Salta on our way to Bolivia, we caught the sunrise over the city. As we drove further and further north, past the Humahuaca Canyon and the Tropic of Capricorn, the landscape changed from green to brown. Parts of it looked as if we had already entered Bolivia, with a few people dressed in traditional garb wandering the streets in tiny towns next to the highway. Our only problem was that Argentina did not want to let us go. The border officials in La Quiaca actually gave us trouble leaving the country, requesting money and a list of the people in our group before they would stamp our passports. I've heard of travellers having border difficulty entering a country, but never leaving one. After almost an hour we were on our way, bound for a new adventure in the fourth South American country on our journey.
I'll leave you with images from our drive through northwest Argentina on our way to Bolivia.