The heart throbs and the pulse races, we are surrounded by fire consuming and making fuel of any new shoot intent on bland staid endeavours. This fire is all consuming, bubbling unseen below the surface of every daily act akin to the eternal grinding movement of the earth below. We are where the earth literally collides and imparts this molten movement, fire and energy into the people that walk the oh so scant crust atop the rage. Welcome to northern Argentina. The culture and lifestyle here reflects the world in which it resides and the beating heart of that drive is Salta, the green oasis standing defiant in the burning desert. First impressions can be such a powerful thing. We’re high from our fiery visit to Cafayate as we ride into town on this wave of eager expectation.
And thud back down to earth, there’s absolutely zero romance in buying bus tickets and joining the cattle crush that is retrieving luggage from bus cargo. The luggage retrieval process is particularly comical and each country in South America has it’s eccentricities. In Ecuador the baggage is waiting on the ground before you can even disembark, the bus nearly pulling away for its next trip with you onboard if you don’t rush. Mexico has no marking of your bags so if you prefer it to be you that carries your bag away you get off the bus pushing for the door like a big girl at a boxing day sale; often one of us would charge for the door while the other lugged our carry bags. And then there’s Chile, South Americas answer to German efficiency, just join the queue young man we have a process. So we’re here in Argentina, the land of the assertive elbow, I really need to learn the Spanish for ‘there’s a queue’. It’s like being at a Mylie Cyrus concert, just for the record I have not had the pleasure but one can imagine. Every short cow in Argentina bustles forward to get one inch closer aggressively wedging in front of you. I have taken to using our tent as a kind of gate similar to the running start for harness horses, back you old nag I say to their defeated grimaces. Victory, don’t cry for me Evita.
With unromantic rubbish done and the hoard of nags kept at bay we have our stuff and we’re on our way. Our cabbie is a cool fella and as seems common in Argentina, he loves Midnight Oil. Basically think of any big band from the 80’s or 90’s in Australia and they all love them over here. One dab into a local radio station answers why, it’s like being transported back to the time of Air Jordans, mullets and Puberty Blues; awesome. He also reinforces what we’ve heard a few times, he has learnt a lot of his English by translating song lyrics, that is seriously a common thing here. So every Argentinian can say ‘how do we sleep while our beds are burning?’ in perfect Aussie accent, hilarious.
Our hostel in Salta is a bit naff so we jaunt off to the plaza for the obligatory pulse taking of the town. Salta is described as ‘Salta the beautiful’ in common vernacular but we’re not seeing that just yet. This may have something to do with us being in the district of light industry, motor mechanics not always known for their historically aesthetic building facades. Alas, the plaza does hit a pretty high note, it’s one of the best we’ve seem in South America. As usual the life of the town is buzzing and the balance between, informal, linear, natural and grandiose is immaculately balanced, Salta delivers it’s first winner. Just to be a total ponce, we also see a rainbow over the square that is distorted by a cloud, creating a quite wild rash of bright colour across the sky not unlike an Aurora. Neither of us have ever seen this before, it’s quite a cool and temporary display, the show disappearing in a few minutes leaving us fortunate to see it.
Our first glimpse into Salta sees a momentary pause to the romantic carpet ride on which we entered the town upon. We are as they might say in war movies ‘man down’ with Charlie succumbing to the meat-a-thon and two bottles of wine a day saturation. Safe to say he’s not winning the best room-mate award of late. Instead of galloping into town on our white charger we’re more so bumping into town on the back of a livestock cart, Salta thus far is picking up the pieces rather than sweeping us away. For us the pulsing beat of this region’s soul is a little distant, now in a city instead of a symbolic cultural pinnacle we take a temporary step off this romantic flight. In our minds Salta remains the romantic factory pumping soul and life into the region; for now though it’s a necessary safe haven from that romance we seek. The good life, the passionate flair, whatever you want to call it is a tangible fire burning hot enough to burn, it remains to be seen if we can stand the heat of this kitchen or not. Is holding our hand in the flame trepidatious? yes. Are we going to throw our arm in anyway? Absolutely.