|I know travelling is all about adventure, new experiences and having to rough it sometimes, but as we reclined our seats on the Argentinian bus and tucked into fresh crusty bread rolls with cheese, we realised we were far happier with a few home comforts. I mean tarmaced roads and fresh bread aren't exactly the pinnacle in terms of luxuries, but after weeks of dust tracks, rice and numb limbs, this was like travelling in Business Class.
Our first Argentinian city was Salta and it was here that we said goodbye to Rose and Martan, who were heading off to Buenos Aires. Always keen to diversify our accommodation experiences, we decided to stay in a family hostel. Basically, this is someone's house and they rent out a couple of rooms and you have use of the kitchen. Our hostess was one of the Tifolli sisters (the other two lived in houses next door), a very sweet old lady who moved around with the speed of a tortoise just out of hibernation. After showing us our room, she smiled and launched into an incomprehensible monologue. People had said that Argentinian Spanish was completely different to the Spanish spoken in the rest of South America, but this was ridiculous - I didn't understand a word! I politely told her so, but she continued talking anyway. I'm not sure whether she was talking to herself, or maybe she thought that by continuing, I would suddenly be bestowed with the gift of tongues, and be able to reply.
Salta was everything a city should be, and we gorged ourselves on Western excess. A couple of glorious hours were whiled away paying homage to a shopping centre and we booked cinema tickets so we could repeat the experience later on. Then we spent a very unhealthy amount of time in the supermarket, marvelling at the sheer selection of food and drooling over the deli counter. It must have been quite a pathetic sight, but we were so excited with our bags of groceries that we didn't care. We stayed with sister Tiffoli a couple of nights and then decided to splash out on a night in a nice hotel for our wedding anniversary. We chose a hotel in a small town outside Salta called 'San Lorenzo', which is where the wealthy people build their mansions. We got a taxi with a man called O'Reilly, who had a booming voice and a smattering of heavily-accented English words, none of which could be grouped into a sentence, so they were just randomly thrown about and always followed by a guffawing laugh.
The hotel was stunning and we had a really relaxing stay in definitely our best room yet (of course there wasn't actually much competition for that accolade). We knew it was a classy place as there were complimentary shampoos, we had two (new and fluffy) towels each and when we came back from dinner, there were chocolates and poems on the pillows. It was all over too soon though and, as we polished off the last of our late breakfast, O'Reilly pulled into the driveway. That night was spent on a bus to our next destination, Corrientes, so it wasn't quite as luxurious, but we managed to get some sleep and arrived in the morning, ready to explore another city. It wasn't nearly as nice as Salta and there didn't appear to be much to occupy bored tourists. We did have an hour-long lecture on the social and political history of the area in Spanish from the nice man in the tourist information office though, and we'd only popped in to pick up a map.
It was in Corrientes that we were fully introduced to the world of Mate. It's basically a leaf that is crushed, added to hot water and drunk through a straw. I suppose the closest comparison would be a nice cup of tea but whereas the British are renowned for their love of a good cuppa, the Argentinians are bordering on the obsessive over Mate. It's drunk from a special wooden or metal cup and is topped up continuously and passed amongst whatever friends or family happen to be closest. So, everyone wanders around with a flask of hot water, their cup and straw, and their leaves, which means travelling light is never an option. There was a whole aisle dedicated to Mate in the supermarket - and not a Twinings tea bag in sight!