Following our rather unconventional entrance to Argentina, we set off for the town of Salta – a 10 hour drive from the border.
The contrasts between Argentina and Bolivia were striking and following several days travelling across the frozen Altiplano – most welcome. We said goodbye to the Andes, the snowcapped backdrop we’d become accustomed to seeing for the last few weeks, in its place now Wild West landscapes, cacti and our old friend the sun.
Salta itself is a pleasant little city nestled in the base of a valley in the Northwest of Argentina. We were immediately struck by how European it felt, large tree lined avenues with cafes, boutique shops and restaurants…ah the restaurants.
We went for a group dinner on the first night to a place called Jacks. If you ever find yourself in Salta go to Jacks. They laid on a feast for us, roasted vegetables, salads, wines and of course steaks. You order steaks to share between 2 or 3 people – small pieces of meat don’t BBQ as well as great chunks of beef so they simply don’t cook anything that weighs less than a kilo, and they’ve got pretty good at it. The general consensus was it was some of (if not the) best steak anyone had ever eaten. Argentina was living up to its reputation already it would seem.
We spent a couple more days chilling in Salta, enjoying the comforts of a city and generally eating our way around town. It was in Salta that we first got acquainted with the black market currency scene. Following the 2002 financial crash Argentina has seen rapid inflation of their peso. Among measures introduced in attempts to stabilise the economy, the government banned the purchasing of foreign currency – including of course the American dollar. This did nothing to improve the state of the economy and created a demand for American dollars, which after many years has matured into a well organised network of “Cambios” working the high streets of most towns and city’s, buying up American dollars (brought into the country by tourists in the know) at around 8 pesos to 1 – the official exchange rate is around 4 pesos currently. So widespread is it now you will often see policeman in the queue ahead of you changing up dollars (probably bribes or confiscated notes) to get the favourable rate! We’d been informed of the fairly relaxed attitude of the law enforcement agencies and the proliferation of Cambios whilst still in Bolivia. So we withdrew our spending money for our time in Argentina from Bolivian ATMs in American dollars, crossed the border into Argentina, changed up and doubled our money…he who dares Rodders!