It's true, I've fallen for the coca leaf. But don't worry, you'd need a kilo and a load of chemicals to turn it into the contraband drug that has destroyed millions. The leaf is more like tea, and tastes great...sort of like artichokes. I really like it and you can buy it all over, though it's illegal to cultivate it in Argentina. It's not even legal to have the leaf in the US, so I won't be able to bring any back with me, and let's hope there isn't a leftover leaf in my luggage or I'm cooked good. You basically use it the same way you use chewing tobacco, but it's far mellower (that stuff should be illegal and is definitely a drug) and you don't have to spit as it tastes great and you swallow the juice.
This is the amazing Rodrigo, who I met at a folklorico place called Casona del Marino, an old mansion that hosts drop-in musicians. I've been here 3 nights running as it's simply amazing. Very low-key, great food (I spend $5 for a pile of tamales, humita and empanadas with the hottest salsa I've found thus far--Mexican-style, yes!), vino and great people like Rodrigo who befriended me my first night there and has been a pal since, introducing me to his poet friends and other musicians. Below is a video of him playing, and you'll see why I'm so impressed. He's very good:
And here are some more songs he played for me by other artists:
He also works at a mountaineering store where I started this blog today.....only in Argentina: a mountaineering store complete with espresso and wine bar :)
Yesterday I went up the valley to Pumamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca, indigenous towns on the road to Bolivia. Rodrigo's mother is Bolivian, and many people here are more mestizo than the rest of Argentina due to the large indigenous population. Rodrigo's folklorico music is the perfect accompaniment to this amazing and colorful dry mountain landscape, land of rugged gauchos and home to Fede who you met in my Cordoba entries and who I will see next week.
Note the cemetery which looks like a mini town and is always placed above the town to bring the dead closer to the heavens
The ruins at Tilcara where the indigenous people fought off the Spanish...for awhile. The Incas were here as well and had a big effect on the culutre before the Spanish arrived.
here you can see the wood inside a cactus
A marker for the Tropic of Capricorn for what it's worth. I have many Capricorn friends so it has sentimental value :)
Nice butt on this statue commemorating the area's importance in the struggle for independence
Our charming Argentine guide, Naomi. We had a great group of almost all Argentines. Many fun shouting discussions and mate passed about. These people know how to have fun :)
Magda, from Puerto Rico, and Atlanta more recently. We shared a bottle of Salta beer before she headed east on her bus...she was my helpful teacher on the tour (It was all Spanish and I kept up generally which is a nice change). Magda also kept me full up with coca leaves.
Below....All things Belgrano.
Manuel Belgrano....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Belgrano...is one of Argentine's founding fathers, and along with San Martin....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_de_San_Mart%C3%ADn...is probably the most honored in plazas, streets, statues, etc. Belgrano and San Martin are sort of like the Ben Franklin and George Washington of Argentine. Both good guys with no personal ambitions who basically just did what was of the most service. Belgrano was an economist who was asked to be a general and ended up the hero of northern Argentina, driving the Spanish out of Salta, Jujuy etc. He was also instrumental in creating the constitution and a bunch of other stuff. It's also suspected he was gay...never married and he apparently always liked wearing his white pants, and many of his depictions are a bit on the nancy side. He also designed the Argentine flag, which is the prettiest flag on earth. The Union Jack may be cool, but the Argentine flag is still the prettiest and sweetest and has to be the most convincing evidence of Belgrano's gay soul. Me and Eze and Fede have joked about him a lot, but we like him when all is said and done....because he's a good solid guy, humble, who basically lived his life according to what his karma more or less threw in front of him. I now call any gay person who lives that way 'living la vida Belgrano' because we need a term for those who aren't closeted, and not on the down-low, but who live generally outside the gay scene. I've been living the vida Belgrano for quite some time, and most of my friends do as well :)
Knock off the 'de' in the pic of the magazine above and that boy is living la vida belgrano!
Memorial in Parque San Martin with a poem by Neruda. Nice to see some Chilean/Argentine rapprochement. They're usually two completely separate worlds.
A rare statue of Juan Peron. This is the first I've seen in my travels. There's also an Evita statue in Plaza Evita Duarte de Peron of her leaning down to help a little kid...the usual sentimental benefactor rendering. It's weird you rarely see them honored like this when their presence is so huge in Argentina's history. Of course it's controversial. A President depicted in a statue with a military uniform on is hardly suggestive of the democratic ideal.
Below is the beautiful Parque San Lorenzo where Rodrigo sent me this afternoon, raving of its beauty. A short bus ride and I was in heaven. Lots of trees here in Salta...an odd climate. Very dry, but there are these clouds that sit in the canyons, Big Sur - like, and they create these mossy fern-full forests. Salta is really a beautiful place, possibly the prettiest city in Argentina...I find myself just walking around humming folklorico and whispering ..Salta, la linda...
A bird's eye view of Salta. In the foreground you can see some of the big homes of San Lorenzo where Salta's rich obviously live.
Well I'm craving tamales and jonesing for some Rodrigo tunes...off to Casona del Marino!