Stationary in Salta
My first impressions of Argentina are mixed. I find the cost of accommodations high, and the price of long haul bus transport to be shockingly expensive, but I've been able to find Internet access as cheap as Bolivia, and the wine—oh yes, the wine—is deliciously cheap.
I've been traveling at lightning speed since I left Cuzco earlier this month; not spending more than three nights in any one location. Aggravating border crossings and sleepless buses have left me exhausted. Salta seems like as good a place as any to avoid seeing the inside of a bus for at least a week.
Up in the NW part of Argentina, Salta is a sizable city of over half a million Argentineans. It's a crossroads town that most every traveler heading north or south, to or from Chile and Bolivia will cross through—this I like.
I arrived in town and tackled the choice that confronts me each time I'm in a new city: Do I want cheap and comfortable accommodations, or to pay more for a sociable scene? Often times there isn't much overlap between the two—you're either on the Lonely Planet trail, or you're off it.
Guidebook suggested accommodations or not, I still find the price of simple dormitory rooms, filled with a half dozen bunk beds, to be rather high. Speaking to travelers with experience in the region, it sounds like $17–23 pesos (US$5.50–7.50) per night is going to be about the norm. Ouch.
I'm paying US$6.50 a night at the Hostal Terra Oculta (for the social scene). Rather disappointed with the cost, I walked around the city the first full day I was in town, sniffing out other housing options. Hostal Iguana, the top discovery made, offered me a private room, breakfast, and free Internet access for about US$0.75 less than what I was paying at Terra Oculta. I decided though that the small amount of money I'd save would, in turn, find me drinking a bottle of wine alone (in an otherwise empty hotel).
Speaking of wine, I've got a serious vice for vino tinto that has gone relatively unfulfilled since I left the States (it's just too expensive for my shoestring lifestyle of street food and dorm beds). Thankfully, Argentina is truly a wonderland of tasty, inexpensive wine, and I feel like a kid in a candy store.
Malbec is my vice of choice at the moment. This variety of grape is grown almost exclusively in Argentina, and has been making my taste buds tingle with delight from the first night I arrived in Salta. I'm very much looking forward to getting down to Mendoza for some tasting sessions at the local wineries.
Sadly, I can't seem to find an affordable way to bus down south. The costs of buses here are some of the most expensive I've seen in all of Latin America. Argentineans and tourists alike are paying anywhere from US$2–5 an hour spent on the bus (nearly the cost of a short flight in some places I've been). Services on some of the luxury bus services include seats that fold completely flat into beds, meals, and your choice of wine, champagne, or whiskey at midnight.
The absolute lowest fare I've found to Mendoza, a 16-hour trip, has been about US$35.
I rallied down to Salta for Halloween and All Saints/Souls Day festivities, but it looks like it was a wasted effort—nothing going on here. It should come as no surprise that I'm looking for something fun to do tonight; Halloween is the second most popular holiday in the United States (after Christmas).
I'm told by the staff here that there might be a few parties, but they're typically going to be small events in homes—nothing visible in the streets. Oh well…
I'm also asking staffers and travelers—I can't remember seeing such as concentration of Germans before—what there is to do during the day in Salta (as options aren't particular visible to me). Beer is the answer one staff member gave me, with a smile. Horseback riding, guided tours to nearby villages/landmarks, and some small museums seem to comprise the bulk of my options.
Instead of such things, I'd rather continue to try and relearn all the Spanish that I know—now totally wrong because Argentina has this crazy way of pronouncing double-Ls (as well as myriad other quirks). There's only a few Spanish-speaking countries that I haven't been in yet, so thankfully, this will be one of the last variations I'll have to adapt to.