Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Crossing Over

This has got to be one of the longest mountain passes..there's like an entire world up top, with salt flats, long flat deserts, wild donkeys, and here and there some indigenous settlements.
Volcanoes below:

As you can see, that snow is left over from the storm that left me trapped in San Pedro for two additional days waiting for it to open. It was actually a nice break for me and I wrote like a fiend and have almost completed a really good close-to-final draft of my novel A Horse Named Sorrow. I just holed up in a cafe with its great propietors, Ruben and Ivan and one other guy who had two sweet kids, Antoine 5 and Gaspar 1, Antoine having the honor of being the wifi password so he had some small fame among travelers. All the stranded came and went, jockeying for other methods of traveling, some heading south, others reserving with questionable outfits claiming other 'routes'. In the end, most of us ended up on the bus Sunday, and I'm glad I wasted no time looking for alternatives. Everything comes to he who waits the Tao would say. Of course, I'm under way less pressure than some of these folks on two-week vacations with reservations and flights imminent.
Anyway, we sort of grew into a little social circle, so that was sort of fun...a French woman, a Korean girl, a crazy Norwegian girl who was great fun, along with her Chilean friend, an interesting Canadian guy who studies physics and astronomy and who I had a lovely dinner with, the two ridiculously handsome, charming and sweet Argentine guys who work at Ezeiza (the main BsAs airport) and ended up missing work for a few days, and some other French and Belgians. Not meeting many Americans out here.
I sat next to Luke on the bus, a 24 yr old Australian who I think is going to get the most amazing traveler award if I had it to give after all these people I've met. Australians are just amazing travelers, and Luke was a perfect example. He travels completely without limits, hiking volcanoes, hitchhiking, renting bikes for a week at a time, one pair of jeans, sleeping anywhere, dodging land mines left over from the Chile/Peru Pacific War of a century ago (there are still lives mines left over in the desert), literally walking whole days to reach villages he wants to see. He met his girlfriend on top of a volcano and was going back to Salta to pick up his new bank card, the first having snapped in his pocket when he was doing a handstand. I first met him way up near the Antiplanico Lakes and then he reappeared at the bus. Quite a character, and a geologist to boot, and he had great tips for the Salta area so I've totally adjusted my trip to see some other places I'd likely not have visited. Thank you Luke!

Finally arriving in Salta, we all stumbled off in different directions. Luke hopped on a 30-hour bus to Rio to visit his girlfriend. And I've been enjoying Salta, writing tons, back in the cafe culture in Argentina...enormous cafes on nearly every corner, with superlative coffee :)

Lots of orange trees in Salta...everyone calls it Salta La Linda (Salta the pretty). It sort of lives in an eternal spring, never too hot or too cold. It's been fresca each morning with lovely sunny days. If my Dad ever leaves the US this is the place for him :)
Behind this statue is the trail up to Cerro San Bernardo that I hiked. I wrote some more at the cafe up top. Great having this little tiny computer you can carry anywhere. So glad I brought it along.

Beautiful pepper and jacaranda trees everywhere

One of my dog friends. There are lots of stray dogs in South America as I've mentioned. Generally they are well-behaved and sweet-natured and I think now it's a better system than rounding them up and euthanizing them as we do. Yes, we have pet adoption, but for anyone who knows someone in dog rescue, you soon learn the reality that most are euthanized. These street dogs seem to find enough food and rarely beg. This dog, Oscar, hiked with me half the day (Oscar because he's dark--spanish word for dark is oscuro.) My last dog friend was an Alsatian named Salvador in Valparaiso. Eventually they wander off, but they are like other travelers I've met, friends for a short spell. I've grown fonder of dogs on this trip, blest by the kindness of perros callejeros.

A bad picture, sorry, but I promised Fede a pic of Salta Negra beer :)

And this one's for Ezequiel...my favorite soda in South America which I really miss...more or less like Fresca with only a touch of sugar, unlike the way too sweet bilz in Chile, though I do still like the bilz baby, my favorite mascot creature encountered thus far

I do love Argentina and feel very comfortable here. I think it's just that I'm more like these people personality wise. I like to talk to strangers, kids, basically see no reason not to be warm and friendly with everyone. People just smile here from ear to ear. Folks were very sweet up in San Pedro, and it reminded me how I really prefer the small towns of Chile to the cities where people are more reserved like American city people. Chileans are very nice generally as well, but you have to break through to them, and sometimes they seem impolite which is true I think of a lot of Americans and French. My anecdotal take on it anyway after 4 months walking these streets. What I really miss here in Argentina is that they don't just say hi, they smile and greet you with all they've got, and they don't just say thank you every single time and say your welcome, they effuse.....no, no, no, no, no, de nada!! That's basically the long Argentine your welcome...its like saying, of course, don't even think about it, anytime. People call it the Italian influence and that's likely the source.
On the other hand, there's a dark side. While Chile is organized and straightforward, more or less US-style (really uncanny how similar Chile and US are on many levels. Any Estadounidense would be very comfortable traveling in Chile and I recommend it), Argentina is pretty rife with scandal and corruption, as evidenced anytime you pick up a newspaper, of which this article is a perfect example:
(Say it aint so, even the arguably most saintly group of people, the Mothers of the Disappeared accused of money laundering, and they're tied at the hip to Cristina so it's just the operatic gossip mill of Argentine politics once again, which seems to be business as usual. Oh well, this is the land of Evita after all!)

A wider, South American issue is the effort to give Bolivia a port. The port it once had was taken by the Chileans in the War of the Pacific 100 years ago. The OAS (Org for Am States) discussed this the other day along with the Malvinas (Falklands) issue.

I'll add more pics here later today.....here they are!

I met Mercedes in a shop and she offered me mate...this is a great milestone...when a stranger offers you their mate, you must accept and it's an offer of friendship. She puts sugar in her mate which was a first for me and actually quite good.

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