The beginning of the August kicked off with a bang for me, as one of my roommates Jonathan, from Quebec, and I traveled with two girls, Marie-Ève, from Quebec, and Annalena, from Germany. They all had put the trip together not too long before informing me, and were planning on heading out on Saturday evening, the 1st. They had invited me on Friday night. I barely head enough time to say, to confirm and pack my bags before I realized we were at the bus station waiting to go.
At this point, a little bit of the real Argentina showed up.
While waiting for the bus to arrive, Jonathan realized a pickpocket had managed to open up the top pocket of his backpack while we were walking to the bus station, and stolen some worthless items. Then, to “be safe” we were standing in a circle with all of our bags in the middle of us, when a man tapped on my shoulder and asked me in very unclear Spanish if this was the line for the bus to Rio de Janeiro. I tried to answer him, but for some reason, he seemed uninterested in what I was saying. Right then, I heard Marie-Ève start yelling, and before I knew it, some random was guy was grabbing Marie-Ève’s bag from another guy who looked very malicious, and the random guy was returning the bag. Then a security official approached us, told us to be more careful, and just left. We were all extremely surprised with what had just transpired. Our trip opened with a huge “PAY ATTENTION” stamp slapped onto our faces after nearly having had one of our traveling partners bag stolen, complete with Passport, money, and everything needed for traveling.
Fortunately, this was the only frightening moment of the journey.
We then boarded the bus for a 18 hour trip north to Iguazú, where we would encounter the infamous Iguazú waterfalls. Being the good American that I am, I did not research the area that our crew would be invading and discvoring, but rather relied on the high hopes of the little information that I had heard from others and on my recently established friends for their word.
And it turned out to be a good decision.
Iguazú: After having spent over a month straight in the, what Alicia Keys famously sings, “Concrete Jungle where dreams are made of”, Iguazú was exactly what the doctor ordered for a Montana boy yearning for nature.
The waterfalls were simply breathtaking.
I feel like I can really appreciate the strength and brute force of a wild and savage river having experienced it several times in the watercourses of the Gallatin valley. But none of those experiences could even begin to help me imagine what the pure power of the Paraná River offer as it roared over the basaltic cliffs that separate Argentina and Brazil. The boardwalk takes you to the edge of the biggest part of the falls, la Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil), where you look straight down the 230 feet of water to the misty abyss of the canyon depths. It spreads 2,300 ft in length, and the Brazilian side is barely visible through the gray haziness of the mist.
There are very few things in this world that have that unique mystique about them. They’re the one’s that take control of every one of your senses, and conjure them all into a super sixth sense. That sense that just lets you know that you are amongst a very special and prestigious area, and that what you are beholding should be appreciated to its fullest extent. Well, maybe you don’t actually acquire a sixth sense by beholding the beauty of Iguazú Falls, but you sure do get an amazing feeling that is sure to stick with you for a long time.
The second stage of our adventure lead us to the northwestern part of Argentina, into the province of Salta, and its capital, which is conveniently named Salta as well. But inconveniently, when we arrived, the weather was as the English would say, “Rubbish”, and really cold (38 F) for what I had packed and prepared for (70 F). However, I was able to manage.
For one of the days, we rented a car to travel up north into the province of Jujuy. We got an early start at 6:00 a.m., as to avoid the absurdity of Argentine city driving. Annalena was driving as we began our ascent into the darkness of the windy mountain rode. A yellow sign flashed by and from what we interpreted, it appeared there was a possibility of wild animals crossing the road. Considering we have these signs every 10 feet in Montana, I assumed here that we would be encountering some form of deer.
I was very wrong.
Just as I was about to lose the fight of keeping my heave eye lids open, the car screeched to a snap and I jerked to consciousness.
Animals, yes there were.
But deer? Hardly.
Seven full sized horses stood in the middle of the road, blocking our way, and they had about as much haste in their step as Kanye West did to get off the stage when he was telling Taylor Swift she hadn’t rightfully deserved the MTV Video of the Year Award. They stood around for about ten seconds, didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong, and when they did, they fled the scene.
Unfortunately, the horses were not as entertaining.
As we continued our drive, the sun’s rays slowly began to unfold upon the mountains, and the majestic scenery came to life. The mountains were gargantuan, rising to the heavens at a constant angle, without a speck of vegetation on them.
Had they been covered in snow, it would have been a 10 year old child’s sledding dream.
And as we continued along, the mountains began to give berth to cliffs that seemed to glow with all the colors that they contained. In a span of 100 yards, the colors would range from orange to red, to green, to bluish, to grey and back to a burnt orange. It was simply beautiful.
Then as we continued our venture, we rounded a corner and the mountains were suddenly filled with cactus. Huge cactus! The size of Yao Ming, and then some even bigger! Bigger then the biggest man in the NBA! Ya, that huge.
Anyway, we then continued past the land of bigger than Yao Ming sized cactus, and turned off the main highway to our final destination. The road lead us through a canyon and up some enormous switchbacks until we finally reached the top of the pass, which was found to be 13,450 feet. And from what I could see from the beautiful view there were many more mountains that were much higher.
But the road then descended down the other side of the mountain, and as we rounded a corner, our final destination came into plain view.
The Salinas Grandes .
BORING GEOGRAPHY PART (IF YOU ARE TIRED AT ALL, SKIP TO THE READING PAST THE BOLD): The Salinas Grandes are a huge salt flat that cover 212 km2 and were created by the evaporation of water that had accumulated much of the salt from the body of water’s previously volcanically active bottom.
And we’re back!
Anyway, the flats were super flat, extremely bright and white, and a lot harder then I had expected. I had imagined the ground to feel like firm sand, but it had a texture that reminded me of sharp concrete.
The spectacle was very impressive, but after looking at an extremely bright and flat area, we got bored relatively quickly. I kind of felt guilty because we had just driven four and half hours to see a huge, flat, cementified sand box for forty- five minutes. But what can I say, when you’re bored, you’re bored. You wouldn’t want to stare at the Berkley Pit for over an hour would you? Exactly. So we made our way back home and arrived just in time for dinner.
The next day we enjoyed a guided mountain bike tour that went through some canyons and up some hills of the mountains that surround Salta. Our guide was a really nice fellow, and he showed us where we could find some non-lethal tarantulas under some rocks in the river bed which was really freaky, but kind of cool as well.
The next day we made our way back to Buenos Aires on a 20 hours bus ride.
Unfortunately the rest of the month was not as exciting as the overall trip, and basically consisted of me finding my daily school routine. Our trip was during the first week of classes, so I had to catch up with classes and get accustomed to the “study” part of my study abroad. I am taking 4 of my 5 classes with other internationals, mostly from the U.S. and Europe, and the other one is a Psychology class with local Argentines, or Porteños.
My random quarrel of the month is one thing that bothers me the most down here: protests.
Almost everyday, in some part of the city, generally the more important roadways near the government buildings, people find it necessary to disrupt just about everything: public and every other form of transportation (which includes walking), the overall sound and relative calmness of the city (every single one of these protests involves at least ten drums beating to a Revolutionary War style rhythm. Honestly, why can’t they use some other cool form of music to get peoples attention i.e. electronic music, rock bands who support their cause, etc… And by the way, George Washington called. He wants his beat back.), and always causes others to make an adjustment to whatever they were doing (these people usually just get frustrated with protesters because of this, and end up being against what the protest is about because it has inconvenienced them).
Now, I realize many of these protests probably do actually serve a purpose and support a good cause, but come on. Can’t we look for a more effective way of getting our word across then beating a drum outside of the window of whoever’s attention we are trying to get?