Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Northern Argentina: European atmosphere in Gaucho-land

Lee and Me stopping for pictures while touring the Sayta ranch area


After a lengthy bus ride to the northern city of Salta Lee and me found ourselves wandering around in the streets of Salta, feeling in Europe but with price tags similar to those of Peru. Having difficulties finding partners for a trip in the nearby area, we decided to hopped to Sayta farm where we received such a warm hospitality that it was hard for us to say goodbye, even after several days of relaxation…

Crossing into Argentina - not what you thought!

Well, after almost 7 months in South America, I have never thought I would find my self waiting for the MASHIAH on the exit border checkpoint of Chile. But, it indeed happened, I have Lee as a witness, so you might as well believe me. TWO FUCKN HOURS!!!! And, of course, only god knows why…
Me and Lee were just making our seats more comfortable, when the bus stopped heavily in front of the Chilean border checkpoint. OK, we knew the drill, and went down with our stuff and went toward the already forming line of passengers. The line moved slowly and while we were waiting for our turn, two elderly Peruvian women addressed us with numerous questions with their rusty English and hard to comprehend Spanish speech. As I had a bit more vocabulary than Lee had, I found myself talking with these two women, fumbling for words and getting annoyed and at the same time, bored as hell.
Well, the line got shorter and shorter, but then one of the custom officers announced something in rapid Spanish and suddenly the line stop short and people coming with vehicles kept on passing us by, checked and moved on while we waited for only god knows what. Finally, the office was reopened and happily we got back to the bus, thinking that finally we gonna be on our way to Argentina. Only, we talked and talked when suddenly I noticed that we were not moving for the past one hour. After we both got agitated, we climbed down the bus only to find out that the Chilean custom people took the time and only now was releasing the bus. Damn, that took so much time! While we were happy to see that the bus going to move, I have noticed that the two ladies we talked with before were seating across the passageway. Just great, I thought, hope they wont bother us too much…Well, I didn't know what's coming…
So, OK. We were on our way, speeding up on the asphalt eastward, passing the desert plane covered with snow, an amazing phenomenon with the Licancubar volcano rising in the background, partially snowed and looking very impressive.
Long bus rides are usually a bore, and this one was no exception apart from two hilarious incidents.
Two hours into the ride, I have noticed that people were talking and looking toward the aft of the bus. At first I didn't take too much of a notice, as sometime people are bored and gossip or whatever. Only, when I saw that people were moving all around the bus, and Lee also told me about this, I took a look back and saw that three people were standing right next to the bathroom (if you can call a half by half meter wide cell a bathroom…), calling the person inside, not getting a reply. At that instance, the whole bus was interested and five minutes after not receiving any response, the bus stopped and the driver went toward the bathroom to check it out (like, what can he exactly do that they didn't try already??). The cell was locked from inside, and after couple of minutes more the cell was opened and apparently the friend of this locked guy talked with him, smiling and grinning at the attention this incident drawn. Once the door was opened, the bus driver returned to his seat and we continued on his journey, thinking what the hell that was, only speculating (maybe the guy passed out of the intense stench in the cell…you never know for sure).
The second incident happened after crossing the Argentinean border (Paso de Jama, where we met two Israelis, a father and a daughter, traveling for one month in a Jeep). While driving down the Argentinean unpaved road, One passenger went to the driver`s cabin to put on some tunes and after five minutes, suddenly, louder than possible to imagine, a Spanish rock band rocked the bus interior, sending one of the ladies jumping in her seat, and in the mid of doing this, babbling in fast Spanish that it is an act of inconsideration. It was SO funny, that me and Lee could not stop ourselves from bursting in loud laughter, which we fast tried to conceal but to no use. Instinctively, Lee took the Dictionary she was reading while all this happened and shoved in front of her face to conceal her laughter (not that you could not hear her laughter behind it, but she had to do something…). Seeing her, holding the Dictionary, all shaking from laughter, I was even more ripped with waves of laughter, and all this happens when the two ladies on the other side see and understand. Lee kept on saying "it is not nice, EIZE FADIHA, it is really not nice" between one giggle and another, and kept on laughing like they was no connection between her common sense and the urge to burst out laughing at this hilarious moment. I was not better, as I was not able to stop laughing and giggling and I was right there, smack right next to those women, without a damn Dictionary to conceal my enjoyment of this lady's fright. Even when we came to Salta we kept on laughing, remembering those moments…what a ride, what a ride…By the way, an hour after this happened one lady noticed my look over her shoulder and took the advantage or eye contact to explain me in rapid Spanish why she jumped and acted as she did. I just said yeah, I understand, that's fine, not mentioning it to Lee, knowing she would burst out in laughter, recalling the incident (which she did when I told her about this in Jujuy…).
The rest of the ride was quite boring, with only the scenery changes, passing through the Argentinean Salar and passing high mountain passes while a spread of clouds concealed the sun and made the whole scenery a bit gloomy. We stopped at San Salvador de Jujuy (or just plain Jujuy), a not attractive town, where the women started to ask question, an of course, went down to business when she asked if we are a romantic couple. No, we are not, I answered bluntly, and she was looking at us, not knowing what to say for a moment, and continued on saying that it is better to travel together than apart, and I, of course, I agreed with her totally. I was happy when this ride was over, coz more questioning like this and I would have started thinking I am interrogated by the god damn secret service!

Salta - Shopping and relaxation
We arrived Salta around 8 PM, tired but happy to be on Argentinean soil. Things looked modern, but the people were not looking so different than the Chilean or even the Peruvian in some cases…We took our backpacks, visited the toilets (after the bathroom incident I didn't even think of going in there…), took out some fresh cash from the nearby ATM, and headed straight for Terra Oculta II hostel, which sits on a main road, San martin Avenue.
After dropping our stuff in the room, we venture into the city, looking for something to eat. We came to the main square, 9 of September, and there we saw a nice restaurant right next to the plaza, selling Pizzas and all kind of other dishes. We were hungry as hell, and the prices seemed reasonable, so we got in. Inside the place was packed full with elegantly dressed people, and at the backside of the restaurant a little stage was lit and it looked like a live show was prepared. While we savored over the great Pizza (one of the best I had in South America thus far) we heard the speakers behind us come into action, and three guys played a mixture of singing and stand-up show for two hours. Even though it was in rapid Spanish, we could enjoy their gestures and the people in the restaurant kept on roaring with loud laughter • wished we could understand them; it looked like a good show! Around 1:30 am we returned to our hostel, dead tired but happy.
The time in Salta passed fast even though we walked almost everyday in the same streets. We also climbed the Cerro San Bernardo twice and enjoyed a great fruit shake with marvelous views over Salta. In our room we also met a German guy that was about to do a PhD on a social issue, and while talking with him me and Lee understand for the first time the difference between the Catholics stream and the Protestant stream (the first control their own destiny, Heaven or Hell, while the later have a pre-determined fate, which they of course, can not control). We met also another Israeli name Snir that came for a three month visit in Brazil and Argentina, and was pressed to do quite a lot of things in the rest of the time he had on his hands. We suggested that he will join us in renting a car and exploring the area north of Salta, but after he told us that he plans to fast on YOM-KIPUR, we understand that it would not be possible to merge our time line with his. We had different ideas for the Yom Kipur day…

Where time stands still - Sayta ranch
Since I met Lee and Adi, both told me about a ranch near Salta that I "must" visit. "Enrique is a such a warm man, it is such a nice place and the food is so good, it is just a heaven!" they kept on repeating in my ears. Well, the time has come to visit the place, and Lee which looked forward for this moment, was even more excited. She was also excited to meet her good friend, Tina, which worked in the ranch and which she had a special connection with. Only, she found out that Tina has already left back to States and she was a bit disappointed to return to the ranch which Tina contributed a good part. We at first decided to spent the holiday in Enrique ranch for two days and then hopefully find other people to go and rent a car.
Wedensday morning a taxi driver came to pick us up and after a half an hour we came to the ranch, called Sayta. Enrique, a very proud, esthetic and well dressed as a Gaucho middle-aged man came into the vast yard in front of his house with wide smile and bright-lit eyes. Tono, his assistant also came to greet us and both gave Lee a very good and warm hug and shook my hand firmly. "Welcome to my home, feel home!" Enrique said in his English, and as he showed us to the already made table with cups, jam and butter, he commented that "my English sucks! It is shit!". We laughed and had some coffee while talking and absorbing the surrounding. Enrique`s ranch spreads over a quarter area of a football field, with trees bordering the whole estate from all sides. Apart from beautiful horses, Enrique also raises three Alpacas, numerous ducks, gooses, rabbits and also twin black beautiful Labradors, cuties as they are spoiled.
After we finished our little breakfast, Enrique showed us our room, one of three connected rooms, all filled with antiques and old photographs. Indeed, the whole atmosphere is like time had stopped moving, as so many antiques were spread all over the ranch. In his study, Lee showed me, Enrique had a formidable collection of weapons of all kinds and from diverse periods: from knives to a 81 m"m mortar, and from 19th century rifles to a WWI airplane`s machine gun.
After we put all our stuff in the room, we went to the yard near the swimming pool to catch some sun. While we sat and talked, Enrique came with two glasses and a bottle of wine and filled two glasses for both of us and one for him. "Salut!" we cried and shook the glasses while staring one into the other`s eyes (if not done correctly, the saying goes, no sex for seven years...). Sex, you will understand shortly, is a motiv that reappears when talking with Enrique...
Enrique quickly left us alone and went to prepare the grill (Parilla in Espanol) for the BBQ, or Asado. Couple of other tourists showed up and after we talked with the over their breakfast, they got prepared for the riding, with Enrique inspecting everything and comment. In parallel, Enrique mastered the grill, and Tono and another young Guacho name Roman took the tourists to ride in the area for a couple of hours. When they got back, the meat was ready and we all took our seats and started eating. The amount of the meat and wine that was served was enormous, and even after I have eaten slowly (and only meat!!) I was stuffed as hell, and the wine lolled my head really good! After such a meal we both needed some time to rest and ease our drunk head and aching stomach.
When we woke up and went to the pool side we noticed a yet another member of the Sayta family. Her name is Marialena, 22, and she work in the ranch as a horse back guide and also helps with serving the different salads. We talked with her and was surprised of not seeing her in the last visit, for which Marialena answered she was visiting Bariloche at that time. We quickly joined another friend of the ranch called Oscar who came to visit and have dinner with us all. Cena was Spaghetti with white sauce (cream and cheese, I guess), something really good, and really-really heavy, especially when it is served around 10 PM! Apart from Enrique, everyone was around the table: Tono, Marialena, Oscar, Lee and me. This evening I also got acquainted with Tono`s beautiful voice and musical capabilities: he played the Charango, the Flute, the classic Guitar, the Andean flute-pipe and so on...a VERY talented guy!
So, after we cleared the table and with a freshly-opened bottle of red wine, the gang pulled out their entire musical arsenal. Lee`s eyes, not surprisingly, were locked on the Bombo, the Argentinean drum. After she heard some tunes, she quickly grabbed the two sticks and started testing with the tool and amazingly quickly she caught the right tempo needed for every kind of tune, and Tono quickly joined her up with the Guitar and his wonderful voice and together they played when Oscar try to meet their accurate synchronization with the other Bombo. It was a wonderful evening, full of music, singing and at a certain point with Samba dancing also, when Marialena showed me how to dance the Samba (easier than I thought) and similarly Tono showed the same thing to Lee. This musical evening could easily continue on and on but Enrique called to alert the people that the day after no less than 10 tourists are expected, and there was quite of preparation. So, around 1:30 am we went back to our room for night sleep.
I had a funny incidence before I got into the sack: I was just starting to brush my teeth and raised my head while doing so when suddenly out of the blue landed a small green frog straight into the sink. Surprised and amused, I went to the room to call Lee to come with the camera. Well, you can imagine it was a bit hard for her to understand my blabbering when I had a mouthful of paste and a brush sticking out of my mouth. Eventually, she came not understanding why I need in the middle night a camera. Till she saw the frog…Well, after that I had to take the camera and shoot it myself, as she was laughing her heart out and couldn't't hold the camera straight without shaking…She started asking me question, and only after I spitted the paste out of my mouth I could answer the expected question: Where the hell she came from?! Well, not that I really knew, but at least I could talk again and also take a fuzzy picture of that small frog, indifferent to the whole commotion. You can imagine the amount of noise we made that Tono came to see what happen, and in the process, took the little frog and threw her somewhere into the bush…

Riding around Sayta
The next day passed in tranquility and while talking with other tourists that came to ride the horses, they asked me why I am not going to ride too. Well, I told them, it is quite expensive, and staying in the ranch was expensive in itself (15 USD a day!). Tono also approached me and asked if I want to ride and I told him it is a bit expensive for me, and after talking with Enrique they agreed to take only half of the price. Great and spontaneously! Lee, that had some riding experience before, agreed to join in too!
After the meal Tono brought out the music instruments and sitting beside Lee with the Bombo, they both played some half an hour in front of the enjoying Tourists. Enrique joined in with his voice in the songs he liked and the whole feeling was of something so special and intimate, a family event. All of us were applauding to Tono and Lee each time they finished a tune, and it was obvious from the looks on Lee`s face that this was new for her, as she told me at the evening before when Tono suggested they will play together in front of visiting tourists. This musical fiesta, however, was ended as me and Lee needed to change clothes and prepare for the tour. As both of us didn't thought about riding horses, we came only with sandals and we needed a closed shoe…After looking around, Marialena (nicknamed La Negra, by the way) found me a pair of boots that fit my feet more or less. I put on my jeans and didn't thought I am gonna regret it later…Lee also needed shoes and she got a soft fabric shoes, which she also regretted to take…
We mounted on top of the horses (my first time, btw) and apart from feeling a sense of pressure on my inner thigh, things looked really cool. I knew I am gonna be in pains when I get back after the tour, but I didn't want to think about it (and good at that!). I caressed Paloma, my beautiful white-grayish horse, with affection.
Aside from me and Lee, another Spanish girl joined this tour (which we actually met already in the hostel in Salta) and we were guided by Roman , who lead the tour and La Negra closed the rear.
At first, we marched through the small town of Chicoana, while a dog joined us and attracted a lot of canine attention, which lucky for him, mostly were harshly barking but not more than that. After some 20 minutes we came to the open fields around the little town, Tobacco field that is…When finally I felt back at nature after so much time in the city, I took out the camera and snapped some pictures while riding the horse (a not easy task done with one hand at that!), which I hope to develope and display when I will find the time...
By the time we came to the first strip where we could do some galloping, my inner thighs and knees where agonizing from the sitting position, and I wished we were going back to the ranch or that some fairy would spill some magic dust and evaporate my ache from my mind. Roman explained and demonstrated the technique how galloping should be done (just hold tight on the reins, lift that tender piece of ass and enjoy the ride!). After he galloped elegantly and without too much of a fuss (like me walking down the street), we started also. Now, these horses are regulary going out for tours, so not only they know where to go (well, most of the time...) they also know when to gallop...In any case, not unlike most horses that need some kicking in the ribs, these fellas need only a sound of MUZI-PUZI-SHMUZI and the start galloping and not stopping...So, I gave it a little kick, just in case, and a bit of the SMUZI thing and the beast started from light trotting to galloping. Well, that was something...I lifted the ass (if you want and if you dont, it gets in to the air) and felt how my whole body was rumbling with the rushing beast, hearing the woofs thundering on the ground beneath and the shaking of the earth as Paloma raced that 200 meters. Such a force! Now I understand why they use the term horse power to describe the engine`s power. Stopping Paloma was not that hard, pulling at the reigns tightly and her lifting her head in disagreement. We galloped this strip twice more (which made all my aches even more agonizing...) while I focused on enjoying the experience. We continued the tour, while Lee encouraged her horse to gallop, and without knowing this, made Paloma follow the galloping. Calling Lee to stop galloping becuase of this horse-bond thing, it only made her laugh more and gallop more..Wonderfull! I pulled the reigns but Paloma had her own will and continue on galloping behind Lee`s horse. This thing was repeating itself, and one time we found ourself at the outskirts of the path becuase her horse stopped only when encountered with a barb fence (good for that...). We then returned and joined the group for another galloping cession in another part of this land, near a little forest. I deicded to rest a bit with the galloping and took advantage to take couple of pictures of Lee galloping across the field. The sun was setting down slowly and it was very-very nice! We then took a break for nature, which was quickly accompanied by shouts. Looking toward the "ladies room" area, i noticed that Lee was stuck in a kneeling position near a fence that devided the fields. She was rippeling with laughter as Roman rushed for her and released her from the bond she made with the fence. OK, wonder what was this all about, I thought as I made my way toward the "mens room" (far better than the womens, as you can realize by yourself). When I asked Lee what happened she answered, giggeling, "My camera strap was caguht in the fence when I tried to pass the fence and I could not move or release it! It was SO funny!" Well, Lee`s "trouble" didnt end there, as you will soon find out by yourself...
We hopped on the horses and continued our tour, passing fields of tobbacos, crossing a section of the forest (so cool!) and riding slowly as the sun went down and down. We had another galloping session while darkness started to take domination and afterwards we continue to ride back to town. On the way, for reasons unknown to no one, Lee`s horse decided to check out a bush of throns...well, undtill Lee understanded where the beast was going, the poor girl was caught deep in the bush, her hair tangled with the thorns and her skin got scratched in numerous places. Roman quickly manouvered his horse and released her from the tangeling bush, and we returned to the riding. The moon rose above us and I already felt tired from the riding, not to mention the pains (shit, you people would think it is a god damn nightmare to ride a horse, but really it is not like this..I am just a spoiled little brat, thats all...). Lee also was feeling tired and started to feel the pains I was feeling almost from the beginning, in addition for agonizing from the soft shoes...Finally, around 8:30 PM we came back to the ranch while Enrique and Tono came to welcome us and ask how was it. I quickly went to change the boots that made me suffer so much and when returning back had some coffee. Erica, a Jewish Argentinean living near Bariloche was talking with Lee and she thought about maybe joining us to rent a car. We both were tired and after one hour went to sleep, poor Lee starting to feel the aches of riding and galloping (aches that didnt left her for three days!).

What`s next?
The next day we woke up and organized our self for returning to Salta as we wanted to rent a car. While I was listening to music and writing my diary, a dutch couple came to sit near the pool and we started talking. Turns out, that this couple was already been to half of the world, and it was interesting to talk with them as they knew so much and could compare so much cultures and behaviors. We also talked about the Nederlands current problems, which was the increasing Muslim fondelmentalism and their affect on the dutch community. They talked about their extreme actions, but more than that, about the future which they saw it in grey shades and were not too optimistic. We also asked them what they did in the area and for our surprise, they already visited the places we wanted to visit ourself! Great! Advising with them, we understanded that it is not necessary to rent a car for the excursions we want to do, and we could as easilt and cheaply just take a bus...OK...We joined them for another meat-rich lunch and after they left for a ride, we packed our little stuff and said goodbye to Enrique and the ranch staff, promising to come back...

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