Part of what makes Argentina such a great country to study in is its regional diversity. You have Buenos Aires, a modern city that is home to about one third of the country’s total population. Patagonia, in the south, boasts glaciers and penguins, while the Pampas are comprised of vast agricultural lands and are largely uninhabited. This weekend, though, I went north to the land of deserts, mountains and valleys.
After a 22-hour bus ride, we stretched our legs and disembarked into the sun-swathed streets of the traditional city of Salta. Burdened by our overloaded backpacks, we traversed cracked sidewalks and muddy asphalt in search of our hostel. The buildings in Salta are mostly old; some are crumbling with peeling paint.
Similarly to the U.S., most of the indigenous population residing in Argentina has been wiped out, except for in the northern part of the country. Today, artisans in Salta sell jewelry and souvenirs that are typical of their native ancestry. It was really interesting to see this aspect of the country as the indigenous culture is almost nonexistent in Buenos Aires.
We spent one day on a ranch, riding horses through the dry brush and enjoying an asado (barbecue) with other travelers, some of whom had embarked on year-long sabbaticals to explore South America. Even more intriguing than our European companions, though, were the gauchos who lived and worked at the ranch. We spent the evening sitting fireside, conversing with the traditional people who maintained a simple existence that is reminiscent of historical ways of life. It was fascinating to think about how different their lives are to the fast-paced, technology-driven world we reside in.
We also befriended a Swiss traveler who had been living at the ranch for a few months and shared her observations with us. Some of the things she had witnessed during her time in the countryside were horrifying, others charming. The details she shared were far beyond what any tourist could pick up in a brief visit, and we were incredibly lucky to meet her. The experience left me with a lot to think about, and for the first time, I felt like I had seen a glimpse of another world.
The rest of our trip consisted of grilling at our hostel with fellow travelers, exploring the city and its picturesque views and sampling the local cuisine and beverages. We spent Sunday on a bus tour that took us through the sloping mountains and valleys to the tiny village of Cachi. While not really worth the lengthy bus ride to the village, the views were incredible and we met some interesting characters along the way.
Our last morning in Salta, we behaved like typical tourists, burdened with luggage and adorned with cameras as we gazed in awe at the decadent cathedrals. We strolled through the lazy town squares and bought two and a half pounds of strawberries for less than $2 U.S. as a treat for the ride home.