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Livin' La Vida Gaucho...

Exploring Salta, Argentina and visit to an Estancia

View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

After our R&R in Buenos Aires, we took another overnight bus ride (22-hours) to Salta, Argentina. From BA, we had to decide whether to go north or south. In the end, we decided to head north for warmer weather (Florida has thinned our blood considerably) and the Bolivian Salt Flats (Salar de Unuyi) won us over. We’ll have to save the Argentinean Lake District and Patagonia for another trip.
We noted upon our arrival in Salta that we were a bit more winded walking around town. Yes, it could be all the assada and flan we’ve been eating, but we thought it was more likely due to the elevation change. Salta sits at approximately 4,500 feet above sea level and is surrounded by the Andes on all sides. The scenery is pretty impressive.
We spent our first days orienting ourselves with the town and hitting up some of the recommended sites. During the first day, we visited two historic churches and a convent. Then, around sunset on the first day, we made our way up Cerro San Bernardo (a surrounding mountain) via teleferico (a gondola) for some great views of Salta and the surrounding Lermo Valley. On the second day, we saw the very impressive Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana. The museum documented the discovery of three children mummies on Llullaiaco Volcano. The mummies and their contents were nearly perfectly preserved due to the dry climate and high altitude. The museum gave so much information and insight into the mummies and Inca culture, it was fascinating.

IMG_1385.jpg Church Downtown
IMG_1402.jpg At the top of Cerro San Bernardo

One of the more prominent cultural aspects of northern Argentina is the gaucho. Gauchos are basically cowboys and most of them still live on and run estancias (ranches/farms). Since we were here, we figured we may as well see what it’s all about. If there was ever a place where you felt the need to swing your leg over a horse and ride into the sunset, this was it. We hooked up with Cabalgatas Gauchas for some horse riding and an overnight stay at their estancia. It was quite a bit of dumb luck, but the day we decided to go to the estancia was also a national holiday for Gauchos (June 16th). To celebrate the gaucho history and life, there was a huge parade in Salta. Approximately 4,000 Gauchos participated in the parade and it made for an interesting cultural experience. Later that day, we were picked up by one of our Gaucho tour guides and driven to a different estancia for lunch. Jeff and I stepped out of the car and laughed to ourselves…we could not have looked more conspicuous. First, everyone was dressed in the traditional Gaucho garb (the pants, boots, ponchos, hats, etc), and second, no one else was a tourist. The lunch turned out to be an after-party for the gauchos who participated in parade (including our guides). We were welcomed with multiple kisses and plopped down on a long picnic tables. We were served a traditional Gaucho meal which consisted of beans, corn, pork, and other unidentifiable things (we didn’t ask) and it was delicious :) After our meal, we were escorted to our horses and left from there on our ride. My first thought was “oh man…all of these Gauchos are watching and we’re going to awkwardly get on our horses for their enjoyment”. But, as it turns out, most of them were leaving at the same time and the one guide gave me his poncho so I’d look more authentic, so he said.
IMG_1454.jpg Gaucho Parade
IMG_1471.jpg Gaucho Parade
IMG_1483.jpg Gauchos up close and personal
Our ride up to the estancia was beautiful. We literally went through a mountain pass, steep and narrow in parts, and then had a gorgeous view of the valley below. Enormous cacti and shrubbery dotted the landscape, and we periodically passed through huge cornfields and pastures. It was a pretty ride. Thankfully, my horse behaved. It has been years since I’ve seriously ridden a horse and I was slightly concerned she would develop a mind of her own.
Once we made it to the estancia, we were treated to a delicious Argentinean BBQ (parilla). The experience was especially nice because we ate dinner with the ranch owner, his family, and our guides. The estancia was located in an old converted convent and since nuns give up all creature comforts, our room was basic and did not have central heat (we made do with a portable heater). Overall, it was a fantastic experience and we would highly recommend it to others.

IMG_1489.jpg Me and my horse, Princess- and in my snazzy poncho
IMG_1506.jpg Jeff and his ride
IMG_1530.jpg My new buddy on the Estancia
IMG_1554.jpg View of the Estancia after a walk up the mountain
On what was supposed to be our last day in Salta, we went to San Lorenzo, a small town north of Salta which is known for its rainforest. We took the afternoon to climb along a winding trail and up to a lookout point for some great pictures of the surrounding valley and town. It was pretty steep in parts and we were both seriously out of breath (because of the altitude, not our physical condition of course :)). Small side story…on our way to get the bus to San Lorenzo, we were told the bus only takes exact change, no bills. Easy enough, we’ll go get change. Not so much. We asked a dozen vendors for monedas (coin) and they all said they didn’t have any. Finally, after going at this for the better part of an hour, we found a cabbie that would oblige us. Apparently, coin is treated like gold here because it is in short supply. Supposedly, the bus companies take the coin and then sell it on the black market for an up charge of five to ten percent. Strange.
IMG_1563.jpg Taking in the view from the Lookout Point
IMG_1567.jpg View from the Top
We were supposed to catch a bus to San Pedro de Atacamas, Chile the following morning, but apparently snow is blocking the road and so we are trapped in Salta until the road clears. You never know what is going to happen when you travel! We’ll send updates after our next town…

Posted by geldere 19:35 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains horses salta estancia

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