Flying across Argentina is an awesome experience - it is both beautiful and vast. The eighth largest country in the world apparently. It certainly looks and feels like a different country when we touch down in Salta. The air is clean for a change, the people look more Andean, and I think they smile more too. The stunning landscape frames them with a peculiar beauty.
I'm trying to travel like a backpacker. I have a backpack, and no hotel or hostel reserved. My guide is the Lonely Planet's South America on a shoestring. First choice in my new guise: bus or cab. I'm a fraud. I take a cab. It´s two quid more. I check into a decent hotel I got out of the Frommers guide and after a nice shower I actually see the bus pass my window. South America on a towrope.
Salta is among the most beautiful towns I have ever visited. I start walking to the bus station to check out plans for tomorrow (not very cool of me I know). I walk through Parque San Martin with it's boating lake, little foodstalls and cable car to the overlooking peak. I feel a long way from Buenos Aires.
Iglesia San Francisco
Heading back towards town I spot the tower of Iglesia San Francisco, a stunningly ornate church. From here I head into the main square, Plaza 9 de Julio. I don´t exaaggerate when I say it is one of my favourite plazas anywhere in the world. Breathtaking buildings line each side, the greatest of them being the 19th century Iglesia Catedral, widely considered the most impressive in Argentina. Inside is even better. I sit and think peacefully for a few minutes. Some might go so far as to call it praying.
Iglesia Catedral, inside and out
The plaza itself is full of people. Schoolkids, workers, viejos. It seems as though the whole town is here, just kicking back and chilling out. Like they know how lucky they are to live somewhere like this, and they need do little more than to just gently soak it up. The other three sides of the square house two museums and the old town hall, or cabildo. There is a wonderful sense of colonial splendour, for once not decaying resentfully.
Plaza 9 de Julio
The place is clean too. You're not hopscotching your way through a maze of dog turds everywhere you go like in BA. It feels safe, even when I ambitiously seek out a restaurant late at night that is blatantly no longer there, and literally cross to the wrong side of the tracks. Salta is great. I am at peace. It goes on the list as somewhere I love straight away and to which I will return. But first I have to leave; a bus ride north, and more spendour, await.