In Salta, on the other hand, I immediately felt like I'd arrived in the right place. Surrounded by tree-covered hills, it nevertheless has an arid feel, since most of its 700mm rainfall falls December-January. It's often said that in this part of Argentina you start to feel the influence of Bolivia, and that's true to an extent. There are plenty of mestizo people, whom you don't see in other parts of Argentina, and many of the streets outside of the central few blocks are bumpy and lined with faded, crumbling buildings. But I'm not the only one to comment that the lazy feel, tree-shaded streets and pretty churches reminds them of Spain.
Salta is also sounded by beautiful and diverse countryside, from the lush microclimates near the city, to the towering, cactus-sprinkled canyons to the north near Jujuy. You can do all kinds of trekking, horse riding, biking and rafting nearby. Plus it abounds with attractive cafes, bars and restaurants and, I was assured, absolutely rocks on the weekend. I only wish I'd had more time to take it all in.
As it was I had to content myself with two days worth. On Tuesday I explored the city, photographing the churches - pastel coloured with an Andalucian influence - and climbing the Cerro San Bernado, a hill rising up behind the city. There's a cable car to the top, but of course, I had to take the hard way, up the exactly 1,000 steps (the numbers are marked at intervals of 50). There are little grottos marking the stations of the cross on the way up. On the thorny hillside with the sun beating down and the previous night's bbq and wine squeezing out of my pores, it did rather feel like my own personal Calvary. Later I checked the internet to find that the temperature had hit 31 degrees. Salta has a beautiful, warm climate, with the summer months aliviated by afternoon storms; it averages 26-28 six months of the year, but it's in the months October-December that the temperature can soar up towards the 38 degree mark.
On Wednesday I was up early to go rafting on the rio Juramento, about two hours drive away below the dique (dam) of Cabra Corral. The river wound through beautiful steep canyons with eroded layers of different colours. The rapids were grade III, ideal for beginners, they say, to which I would agree. There were only a few moments of "un poco de emoción", as the guide described it, the rest was pretty relaxed. Of course none of us had any idea what we were doing; the guide oversaw the direction of the boat and told us when to paddle. Nevertheless, I wasn't the only one to feel like I perhaps could handle something a little more dangerous.
On the way down the river we saw dinosaur footprints on a flat part of the canyon wall. According to the guide, it had been a stormy beach before the Andes rose up; later erosion has peeled away the layers of silt that covered over the dinosaurs' prints in the wet sand. The last 200 metres of the trip the guide told us we could throw ourselves out of the boat and float down to the bank, bouyed by our life jackets. Great fun! - and possible because the water was about 15 degrees; you wouldn't try that on the white water in NZ...
Apart from me, a Mexican guy and an English girl, the rest of the people in the two rafts were again Argentinians. It makes the tourist experience a little more genuine when you're doing it with local people.
I should also mention that the hostel in Salta was one of the most pleasant I have stayed at - run by young Argentinians (and one Israeli) who seemed to be enjoying themselves, it has a nice roof terrace with a bar and a collective bbq every Wednesday. Even though I was only there a couple of days, I felt like I'd made some friends, and was quite sad to leave.
If you have the chance, go to Argentina!! In upcoming editions, I'll explain why...