Thursday, November 8, 2007


I spent my first day in Salta just walking around.

All over Salta, entire buildings are painted with bright-red Coca-Cola ads. The vibrant advertisements, the soft pastels of the buildings, the bright blue sky, the pale purple of the jacarandas. . . They all added up to a very colorful city to explore.

As I walked around, someone called out to me.


I had walked past the guy, but his merchandise had caught my eye, and now he wasn't going to let me off.

"¡Flaco! ¿Probás un damasquito?"

("Dude, do you want to try an apricot?")

Clearly he had made me on sight. Readers of my other blog may remember that the Michigan apricot crop was wiped out by a late spring freeze. No apricots for me this year. Until now.

"How much?" I asked.

They were four pesos, about US$1.25 for a good-sized tray. I popped a sample in my mouth and began digging for my wallet. What the hell was I going to do with 30 apricots? I had no idea. But they were too good to pass up.

I placed the apricots gently into my shoulder bag and kept walking.

A few minutes later I walked past a scrawny kid sitting on the shaded stoop of a convenience store.

"¿Una monedita, señor?" He wanted a little change.

I said no and walked a few spaces before it dawned on me. I spun around and began digging in my bag as I walked up to him.

"¿Che, querés?" I placed four rosy-orange apricots into his tiny, filthy hand.

He thanked me and I walked another block, until another kid asked me for change. I started digging out my apricots again when I turned around and saw that the first kid had finished one of his apricots and was walking up to share the others with this second kid.

I waved him away and gave the second kid some apricots of his own.

I ate the rest of the apricots for dessert that night, left some on my night stand and found that the maid had helped herself when I got back to my room late the next evening.

Who could blame her? They were really great apricots.

* * *

Of course, I made time for some ice cream. The place I went had some unique flavors, including cayote con nuez, cayote being in the squash family and looking like a watermelon on the outside; nuez is walnut. I also tried torrontés, ice cream made from the region's star white wine grape. On the menu was té de coca, or coca-leaf tea ice cream. But they were out of it.

* * *

I knew I wanted to go to the nearby wine region of Cafayate the next day, but I had to figure out how to get there.

There were plenty of excursiones offered, where they provide a bus and a guide and drive you around. This country is absolutely mad about excursions. I think it's a sort of full-employment scheme to soak up the graduates of the tourism programs at universities.

It's to the point where if you contemplate doing something outside of a pre-programmed excursion, people look at you like you're nuts. And sometimes it's all but impossible to do things without an excursion if you don't have a car.

But I was determined to try. Because the excursions on offer to wine country all involved spending the better part of the day looking at rock formations that allegedly resembled things.

I know this because I went into a travel agency where a woman excitedly showed me pictures of these formations.*

"This is the Titanic. This is called the Obelisk. This one is called the Toad."

"Um, I'm really more interested in wineries. Is there any tour where you see fewer rocks and more wineries?"

"No, not really," she said.

Of course not. Why would there be, with so many rocks to look at?

I should mention that part of my frustration with this excursion-centric system stems from a deeply scarring guided tour I was all but forced on during a trip to Argentina four years ago. I saw nothing of interest but spent 14 hours on a bus filled entirely with senior citizens, who for at least the last five hours of the trip were drunk off their asses and engaging in a group sing-along at the top of their lungs.

So I went to the bus station to see if there was a bus that would take me to Cafayate, where I could then strike out on my own. There was. It left at 7am and took about three and a half hours to get there.

So I bought a ticket and went to bed early.

*It all started to remind me of possibly the most random tour I've ever taken in my life, into the Cuevas del Drach salt caves in Mallorca, where we were shown stalagmites and stalactites that supposedly resembled things and then treated to a classical music concert performed by musicians on boats floating in an underground lake. Naturally.


Wobbly Librarian said...

Apricots are better than money to give to kids, I think...

Sarah said...

OMG, the cave excursion! How could I forget that!! Hilarious. What a special memory for us :)

Dan said...

Honestly, if you hadn't been there, I might have written it off long ago as a hallucination.