The northern part of Argentina doesn’t resemble anything like the rest of the country. Here you find a different landscape and a separate way of living. The locals are more indigenous illustrating Argentina’s link to the Inca’s. From Ecuador to the northern border of Argentina, the Inca’s occupied land likely thousands of years before the Spanish arrived. In Salta, a city about 3 hours from the Bolivian border and 4 hours from the Chilean border, you will find less European influence. There is also a great deal of poverty in the small towns and villages outside of Salta. Some of the villages do not have running water and electricity, while others are completely reliant on tourism. I asked a local about the impact of the world financial crisis on this part of the country and he chuckled a bit. He said his people have been in crisis for all of their lives. It served as a good reminder that people have larger problems than their stock price falling.
Locals in this part of Argentina eat more hearty food. They fancy locro(a type of corn soup), tamales and lamb. They aren’t serving dulce de leche in Salta. The dessert of choice is a type of goat cheese and some crazy jam with honey. It’s an acquired taste but after the third time it started growing on me. There are a few wineries here that specialize in white wine something relatively unheard of in Argentina. The climate is dry as this is a desert and the days hot and nights cool. Tourism is a big part of their livelihood and many of the goods and services are produced by the locals.
On my tour to a place called Humahuaca(close to Bolivian border), I visited a few villages. Picture lots of dust and adobe homes held together with string. I have seen a great deal of poverty in the last few months and it doesn’t get any easier to swallow with time. Looking into the eyes of the children is especially challenging for me. I want to ensure they are loved or cared for but sometimes I realize it’s not my battle to fight. I shared my tour with another Argentinean couple. While we only spoke Spanish, it was interesting to learn their perspective on their own people. This time of year many Argentineans (who can afford it) travel for a “winter” vacation. It was their first time to this area and they found it to be incredibly beautiful and yet concerning that a large part of their country is both desolate and in ruins. A city called San Pedro JuJuy is a complete dump and most of the buildings are falling apart. I walked around a bit and decided not to even try to think positively. In five years, this place will resemble a war zone. It seems a bit ironic that these multi-colored wonders (mountains)of the world sit amongst such ruin. And heartache. A few people from throughout Argentina have told me there are less opportunities for the “darker skinned” descendants of the Incas but I never saw it more apparent until I visited this part of the country.
It was a very good experience for me. I realize the big cities do not always represent a people. Even in NYC, I have to pinch myself and say while I sit in my Manhattan apartment someone is sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Queens or Brooklyn with 6 or 7 other people struggling everyday. The northwest part of Argentina should not be missed. It tells the story of the real Argentina. A culture deep in history, a people rich in spirit and a land relatively unchanged by time. My parents keep asking me how many mountains can you see before you think they all look the same. There is some truth to that but the reality is each day I open my eyes a little wider and see something I didn’t see the day before. Awareness is half the battle.
Remind me to tell you about Pablo my savior at the hotel and the darling waitress I met at dinner one night. Their stories touched me and I learned my struggle to get to the gym each day is not the same as a struggle to succeed and be more than life cut out for you.
Stay tuned for more adventures as things only went downhill from Salta. I mean that literally and figuratively. I’ve arrived in Santiago and I am wine tasting some Chilean reds tomorrow. After you read about the last 4 days of my life, you will understand everything. My Internet connection died so I have to finish that Monday. Hope everyone had a great July 4th weekend.