It didn’t take long at all. We climbed off the night bus into Salta at around 11:00. We knew we couldn’t check in to our room until 13:00 but flew by the place we were staying to drop our backs off. Rather than just grabbing breakfast at a local confiteria, Maria who we were staying with told us to walk into town and check out placa 9 de Julio as it was only eight blocks away, and marked the heart of the city. A great idea, and the first of many fantastic suggestions Maria passed our way. By the time they brought us our coffee, as we looked out onto the busy central plaza, we were both in love with the place. Twenty minutes into a stroll around the centre, to help us digest breakfast, and I was saying to Lindsay I could live in Salta.
Salta is the capitol city of Salta Province, up in the northwest of Argentina. Its central placa is a real beauty, split into four triangular quadrants of vibrant green lawn with walkways in between leading to a central fountain. It is a style repeated in all the towns we passed through while travelling through the province and one that works well. Every time we passed through Salta city’s main placa it was buzzing with life and filled with the alluring aroma of freshly popped corn.
I’m not one for superlatives, I’m a bit of an arl crank these days (a hard truth that slaps me in the face all the time) but the popcorn in Salta is the best either of us have ever eaten. Cooked fresh by any one of a thousand vendors and fused with local honey, Salta popcorn is the best ten pesos you’ll spend in Argentina. We first ate it on top of mount San Bernardo, which we got to by riding the cable car up from the centre of town. To be fair, the popcorn cost 30 pesos up there, but it was still an absolute bargain.
It was on the top of that mountain that Salta started to remind me of home. The cable car taking you up a beautiful mountain where you find fantastic views of the city and the surrounding areas wasn’t the only similarity we noticed between Salta and our native Barcelona. Although the buildings are only two stories high, strict zoning laws mean the uniform height of all the colonial style buildings laid out in a grid system could fool you into thinking you were looking out over Eixample. The pace of life in Salta reminded us of home too with nobody in a rush, and savouring the beauty of life being the name of the game rather than working your fingers to the bone.
There is a lot of beauty to be savoured in Salta too. Both in the city and the surrounding area. Concentrating on the city, Salteños are always smiling as they come together day after day and the churches where they congregate are real show stoppers. They are big, bold, and rich with colour. We thought we’d found the cathedral a few times until we realised we weren’t in the centre of town. Culturally Salta has lot of beauty on its side too.
The Peña takes the place of the Tango here, which is much more folk oriented. The singing and dancing are more traditional and concentrate on telling Salta’s stories as well as the stories of the people and events that have make it the fantastic the place it is. In contrast to back in the UK, it is the young people of Salta, as well as the old, who celebrate who they are with the sound of their voice, the strum of their guitar, and the tap of their heel. Sitting in the middle of a Peña taking place across many different rooms, with many different musicians singing the old songs their way, I felt like I was in pub in Ireland again or back home at an old family party being regaled by our elders with all the finest Irish and Scouse folk songs they knew.
I think this is why it took me no time at all to feel like I could live in Salta. Through the choices I‘ve made, I’m lucky enough to call two fantastic countries and cities home. I’m proud to be from Liverpool in the UK and to have lived in Barcelona, Spain. I’ve also a deep spiritual connection to my roots in Ireland, which was celebrated in style at the beginning of this trip when we headed to Achill Island to see where my family came from. Salta has something from all three places where I feel at home, and before I’d experienced the Salteño way of doing things I could feel the similarity. I could see it in the way that people went about their day, openly welcomed and helped you with any query you could think of, and walked around with air of defiance and pride in the place that they’re from and the people that they are.
I didn’t learn enough about Salta. I could only pick up bits of the songs that they were singing and failed to turn up at the Museo del Norte at a time when it was open. I felt enough though, and I loved it.
As an arl crank, I’d rather not say one place was a favourite over another, so I’m not going to now. I will say that Salta was a treat, though. A place where I instantly felt comfortable and couldn’t help saying so to Lindsay. I’m pretty sure she feels the same way though too; her smile never lies.