Sunday, October 18, 2009

(old) The joy of shopping.

Despite yesterday’s hassle it really was nice to be in Argentina, starting with breakfast. The Inti huasi hostel offered a nice spread of things we hadn’t seen in a while. Coffee, toast, dulce de leche, or course but more exciting, were the corn flakes. I’d never thought I’d get excited by breakfast cereal but that’s what backpacking does – you get excited by simple little things. And we’d just about forgotten about yesterday’s little border scam. We helped clean the slate by moving into the no-free nice room with private bath (including bath tub) and handing in our laundry. More excitement. Then it was time to actually explore Salta. Last night some of the other guests had been talking about the cheap empañadas sold at a little place on the main square and the promise of cheap and tasty food was a good reason to head to the square for lunch. The hostel was in a residential area but not to far from the centre of town. It was a good thing it was in a quiet area and it was Sunday because we needed to get used to civilization again. Sure we’d had a brief peak at it when we were in Chile but for some reason here in Salta it was immediate and stronger. There were stoplights! And street signs! There were huge grocery stores and trash bins on the corner. But it was also so green, lush and warm after our time in the desert. After freezing in Bolivia it was nice to be wearing shorts again, even if the strange clothes added to the disorientation.

But despite all this civilization, Salta was spookily quiet. It was Sunday and Mother’s Day in Argentina, meaning, everyone was at home or in church rather than out in the streets. It was a good thing because I’m sure I looked like an idiot gawking at all the beautiful buildings and shop windows. I’ll admit I was suffering from a bit of culture shock. Unlike the culture shock I experienced in Costa Rica, this was a good culture shock because the culture was Latin American not North American. And Salta was definitively Latin American. It was one of Argentina’s oldest cities and it was lovely. The square was old and leafy and surrounded by a pink cathedral, colonial archways and beautiful old hotels. But our destination was the empañada café. We found it and ordered a plate full and a couple of sodas. They weren’t super cheap but they were super tasty and the view from the sidewalk table let us take in the locals on a lazy Sunday.

We paid our bill and continued are informal walking tour. The main square was surrounded by pedestrian malls that were empty, all the shops being closed. There were beautiful buildings everywhere and evidence of ongoing restoration. A police station looked like a Moorish castle. The legislature looked like a palace. And family homes looked like Parisian townhomes. And the quiet streets we were able to appreciate them all without distraction.

However, one of the main attractions of Salta was the shopping mall. Adrian had walked there last night to fetch his McDonald’s. And now it was my turn to visit. After 7 months on the road, I was down to one pair of pants and a pair of shorts and my shoelaces had snapped rendering my trainers almost unwearable. The mall was the first modern thing we’d seen in Salta and it was tastefully tucked between the hillside suburbs and the old town centre but still in walking distance and despite it being Sunday it was open. Unfortunately, the shopping was not the best. The stores were all way out of their price range and even if we had been able to afford them, the designer duds did not come in my size. Le sigh. Just as we were about to leave disheartened, we came across a small outdoor gear store. They didn’t have much but I saw that they carried my Solomon sneakers with the annoying laces. I asked if perchance they had replacement laces in stock and they did – for less than I’d seen them sold for in Canada. Hallelujah! I bought two pairs just in case. I know it sounds like a petty thing, but honestly finding replacement laces for these super high-tech shoes was something I didn’t expect to happen and I was glad I ignored Adrian every time he told me just to buy a new pair of shoes.

We’d walked around town, had lunch, been through the mall and still had half the afternoon left. So we decided to take in the city’s major tourist sight, the funicular, called the teleferico in these parts. We walked to the park and found the boarding station that would take us up San Bernardo hill for a view of the city and surrounding countryside. The station looked like something from the 1920s and I was wondering about the safety of heading up inside a rickety old car. But a plaque inside the building revealed that the funicular was only 20 years old. It blended in perfectly with the old city but was shiny and new. And I’m glad because the funicular went high up and was high off the ground (photo above) and I didn’t want our journey to end in a crash to the bottom of the mountain before we'd had a chance to appreciate it. We decided not to walk down the mountain and purchased return tickets (Salta was small and walkable but we’d walked it all and our feet were tired.) and then hopped into our very own car.

The speakers pumped in classical music and in both Spanish and English welcomed visitors to the funicular and to Salta. I’m glad there was something to distract us because we were really far off the ground and every time the car traveled over a junction, it shook and swayed precariously. But the views were spectacular. Not sure they were worth the price of admission but close. And once we were at the top and on solid ground again we had time to take everything in. An annotated photo marked points of interest to look for, and I have to admit that I got most excited finding the large prison. But after looking around, there wasn’t much to do up at the top of the mountain. So we headed back down.

We walked through the park and to the grocery store where we loaded up on supplies for dinner as well as our first bottles of Argentinean wine. The good stuff was only $3 (the cheap plonk was $2) so we bought 3 for the next few nights. Perhaps not the smartest move because that night as we sat talking to Silvie and Tasha, the two English girls also staying at the hostel, we finished them off. So much for rationing. But I figure my success at the shopping was a good reason to celebrate.

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