“Whhheeeewwwww!!!” my tour guide yelled as he swerved in front of a Semi truck to make the exit off the highway on our way to the Salinas grandes salt plains. When I originally arrived in Argentina, I quickly learned that driving was very different there. It was like everything was in fast forward with drivers swerving all over within inches of each other, but it always felt very controlled and I never saw an accident. However most times I got out of the car, I had to unpeel my fingers from whatever I was whiteknuckling inside the car.
After the weekend in Iguazu, I flew to Salta to do a couple day trips. Salta is completely opposite of Iguazu. Salta is in the Northwest bordering the Andes mountains and is very dry with a similar look and feel to the US Midwest, while Iguazu is tropical. I didn’t realize I actually enjoyed the feel of the Midwest until I took the trip to Salta. Again the experiences engrained a connection to the environment.
My plan for the Salta trip was to stay in another hostel and to take 3 day trips. 1 would be to the Humahuaca area, the 2nd would be to Cafayate, and the 3rd would be a tour to the clouds and the Salinas grandes. I checked into my hostel, entered my room, and quickly realized I was already tired of staying in hostels. To be fair, the hostel was absolutely fine for the $20 USD a night charge. When I walked into my double bunk bed room, I was greeted by a smiling man laying in one of the beds and then saw what one could call a self cleaning bathroom. The bathroom was about the size of a porta potty offering a shower, toilet, and sink. When the shower was turned on, it not only cleaned you but also cleaned the sink and toilet all emptying in the drain under your feet. I admired the efficiency but maybe not the sanitation. At that moment, I decided I was done with my hostel experiences and ready to check into a hotel. I stayed the night, reverting back to my fully clothed, keys between fingers technique I had deployed the 1st night in Iguazu. The hostel breakfast consisted of a bowl of bread, some sugar, and some coffee. I checked out of the hostel and into a Sheraton for the rest of the nights.
My “tour to the clouds” day trip was awesome. I was picked up by an energetic guy in a Jeep, got in, and he offered me some coca leaves to help prevent altitude sickness. He showed me how you wrap them into something like a ball. You put the ball between your cheek and your teeth similar to tobacco dip. I googled coca leaves before the trip so I at least knew the background and benefits. I tried it out and felt no altitude sickness and also didn’t feel the need to do anything crazy. The coca leaves worked as advertised, or the placebo effect worked, but in the end I felt fine so I was happy. He also opened his ash tray and offered me some white powder which I immediately declined even though he said it’s an alkaline powder that helps break down the coca leaves. I googled it later and there is such a substance and it’s called “yista”. Anyway, we picked up 3 other tourists, 2 were from Germany and 1 from maybe Austria.
Our tour guide was an aggressive driver but he also said he did this tour and a few others 6 to 7 days a week, each day lasting about 12 hours (or he was setting himself up for a good tip). This was 7 years ago so my memory of the detailed itinerary is probably slightly off but at one point we needed to get off the highway however we were two lanes to the left and there was a semi truck pretty much next to us in the right lane. Our driver gunned it, crossing in front of the semi truck just making the exit before the exit ramp barrier thing. For that split second, my brain said “He does it everyday, he knew what he was doing”, and then he yelled “Whhheeeewwwww!!!” like he just had a big surge of adrenaline from surviving death. Cool, great.
The rest of the tour was great. At one point, one of the other tourists had to take a bio break so we pulled off to the side of the road, she wandered off toward an abandoned house to find some privacy, then the the next minute we see her walking towards us and a local Lady walking over to the “abandoned house” which the guide then clarified was not an abandoned house and she probably just relieved herself on their living room floor. The guide noted that he’ll need to apologize tomorrow and may need to take a different route for the next few days.
We eventually made it to the Salinas Grandes salt plains which were very surreal. It’s just an emptiness of dry plains for as far as you can see. These are one of the places where after it rains, you can take pictures that make it look like you are walking on clouds similar to the Utah Salt flats. I tried to get some of the stereotypical photos and took home my souvenir llama made of salt. The day trip was great with all the weaving through the mountains in the jeep, the spanish music playing, and getting a chance to just soak in the environment with just a few other people.
The other day trips to Humahuaca and Jujuy hit another side of the emotions with a more intimate look at the local towns and people at a slower pace.