I forgot to mention in my last entry that we had a massive asado meal in Mendoza! Argentinians love their meat and an asado is a big bbq with lots of different meats, including things like black pudding..which i passed on! The parrillada (grill) even had its own room in the restaurant we went to! You went up to the serving hatch and asked for whichever meat you wanted which led us in our very bad Spanish to basically ask...'i'll have some cow please!' and in response the chef picked up, what looked to me like half a cow, and happily started to hack off bits and pieces and plonk them on our plates! Now i cant remember the last time i ate a cut of red meat and i'm not saying it was the nicest thing i've ever tasted but it wasn't that bad, just a bit chewy as i think it had been cooking for a while! It had a really nice flavour because they dont use any additional flavourings on the meat, just some salt before cooking and it picks up a woody, smoky flavour from the grill. I had some chicken along with the beef and the chicken was really tasty! Much like the hangi in NZ actually.
Back in Cordoba we went out for a look round the town and had lunch. I was getting the hang of the red meat thing, my second steak was nicer and a bit less chewy so i enjoyed it more. Cordoba is a university town, kind of Argentinas answer to Cambridge so we mingled with the bustling students in the pedestrian streets, looked at all the old buildings and enjoyed a drink in one of the shady cafes in the plaza. My favourite thing about Cordoba was that the outlines of the cathedrals and older buildings were mirrored on the ground in white stone, like a reflection, it was really pretty. Unfortunately it started to rain so we headed back to the hostel and hunkered down for the night. There was a big covered rooftop terrace which was the perfect place to spend the evening.
The next day it was still raining but i headed out anyway, it was a Saturday and because of the rain everything had shut so it was a bit miserable. Also the pedestrian areas were paved with smooth stone and when wet it basically turned into a massive ice-rink! I don't think the Cordoba town planners were expecting much rain! So i slipping and sliding i made my way back to safety!
Sunday evening we went to the craft market, a really nice higgeldy piggeldy market which descended into a bit of a car boot sale by the end! Strangely there were lots of people wandering around thrusting kittens and puppies in your arms trying to get you to buy them! Had dinner in a lovely restaurant with a rooftop terrace overlooking the market, another meal, another steak! This time i had lomo which is fillet steak and so far this is the best steak i've had in Argentina, it was so tender they didnt even give us steak knives to eat with, just normal ones. And it was even served with vegetables!! I dont understand why everyone in this country isnt the size of a house because all they seem to eat is meat, pastry, pasta and pizza!!
Our hostel was on one of the pedestrian streets and out balcony faced the road so every morning we awoke to the sounds of the man in the street below trying to flog sunglasses, it had driven us mad and i think we were all ready to go and buy out his entire stall just to get him to be quiet!!!
Time to get on the move again and go north to Cafayate, another fun bus journey! The first part was overnight and a bit of a nightmare because the guy in the seat next to me wasn't content to just use his seat, no, he wanted half of mine too! Then he started to snore...and breathe all over me! Didn't get much sleep! Got to Tucuman then had to wait a few hours for the next bus. They had coin operated TV's bolted to the floor in front of the waiting area! Never see those before. Bus terminals are always great for people watching and here they are very busy due to the fact that for every one family member leaving on a bus there has to be a minimum of ten other family and friends to wave them off!!
Cafayate is a small town in the mountains and to get there you drive through the Quebrada de Cafayate which has some stunning scenery, from subtropical forest to mountain deserts complete with massive cacti! Spent a couple of days relaxing in Cafayate and enjoying the slow pace of life before heading north again to Salta (on the shakiest bone rattling bus ever!!)
In Salta i visited El Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, the Museum of High Altitude Archeology a really fascinating museum that documents the discovery and excavation of three mummified bodies on the peak of Mount Llullaillaco in 1999. The tale does get slightly spine chilling as you discover that the bodies were actually children who were essentially Inca child sacrifices. The Incas believed that the way to the gods was via the mountains, many high altitude altars and religious sites have been found, the resting place of the three Llullaillaco children being the highest in the area. The exhibition includes the burial artifacts found with the children, the most astonishing aspect is that due to the high altitude everything was preserved as if it had been made only yesterday, you can't quite believe that everything is original and not replicated. The final room holds the body of 'the Maiden', the only one of the three mummified bodies actually on display. She was approximately 15 years old when she died and is sat with her legs crossed and head bowed, like the artifacts she is perfectly preserved, it looks like she could just lift her head and re-enter the world of the living. Capacocha is the Incan practice of human sacrifice to the gods, using mainly children. They would only pick physically perfect, healthy children and it was an honour to be chosen. They would be dressed in their finest clothes and walk hundreds of miles to Cuzco to take part in ceremonies. After which they would be taken to the mountains, given maize beer to make them sleep and left in underground niches to freeze to death as an offering to the gods. According to Incan beliefs, the children didn't die but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops. The museum gives a very interesting insight into the Incan culture and practices but you are left to wonder whether it would have been more respectful to leave the children, together, in their original resting place.
The next day we were walking through the main square and happened upon the changing of the guard....gaucho style! A marching band for atmosphere and in trot the mounted gauchos in full traditional dress, flags, the works. They pranced around for a bit in what seemed like a very elaborate ceremony, one of the guards sang a song which got the crowd misty eyed and swaying, we weren't really sure what it was though. Then the gauchos dismounted, swapped with the other guards, a bit more horsemanship and they were off.
That evening we went for another asado, this time i had bife de chorizo, sirloin steak. Well my eyes nearly popped out my head when it arrived! A 500g plate full of 2 inch thick, still bleeding in the middle, steak! Ha, well i made a valiant attempt but barely ate a 1/3 of it!! Sarah however ate the ENTIRE THING i could not believe it! So now having sampled a variety of steaks i think i can safely say i'm a bife de lomo girl and cant wait to hunt out a good steak in Buenos Aires! ha never thought i'd say those words!!
With the gaucho guards as my inspiration i headed off into the hills for an afternoon of horse riding. I was picked up by a guy who spoke very little english but managed to get across that we were driving up to the ranch. Two minutes into the journey he hopped out to go to the shop and took about ten minutes to buy one bottle of water...ahh Argentinian time. Then we headed out of the city with the driver pointing out all the landmarks, including the town industrial estate and dump...nice!! Then we were off the tarmac and onto the most pot holed gravel track i've seen in a long while. The appalling condition of the road meant our top speed was so slow i could have probably walked up the hill faster! 50 millions switchbacks and bumps later we reached the top of the hill and descended into the valley and finally made it to the ranch. It was only me and another couple from London going riding so all the horses were quickly saddled up with the traditional layered Argentinian saddles. Then we were off with our guides and one of their young daughters, trailed by 4 or 5 dogs that live at the ranch! The scenery was beautiful and it was so peaceful, the perfect end to my time in Salta.