We’re getting good at border crossings. After a little trouble finding our bus from Tupiza to the border, and a little roadwork on the trip, we arrived in Villazon, Bolivia, got our exit stamps, skipped across the bridge marking the border to Argentina, got our entry stamps, and then hopped on another bus to our first stop of Salta, Argentina.

Salta's Cathedral

Like many other cities, we had heard mixed things about Salta. It might be because, being the biggest city in northwest Argentina, a lot of people overlook it in their excitement to get from one place to another. But for us, it was a great welcome to our last South American country. As in most colonial towns, we enjoyed sitting in the main square and the cafés that surround it, and watching the locals go by. And, as Claudia hinted at in her Bolivia / Argentina post, we enjoyed the European influence, and the cheese, cured meats, and espresso that it provided. As an added bonus, we were there during a large regional celebration (a commemoration of Cristo del Milagro, who was apparently to thank for stopping a series of earthquakes in 1692 when his picture was paraded through the city’s streets), meaning the city was bustling with people for our whole two-day stay there.

On the last night, we got a real treat: we had dinner at a peña, a traditional type of restaurant / bar / music venue where local Salteños come to eat, drink, and play and sing traditional folk music. The wonderful thing about this type of establishment is that the music isn’t confined to a stage, and there is no separation between performers and audience; it’s simply a traditional place for people to come and enjoy themselves, and anyone who wants to can join in the singing, playing, and dancing. The peña we picked was in a grand old mansion, so while the place was bustling and many people were there that night to eat, drink, and sing, most of the seating was sectioned off into small rooms of just four or five tables, allowing a very comfortable and intimate feeling. When we were seated, our room was about half-full, and pretty quiet, but there was a table with two young men around the corner in another room playing music and drinking wine. After we ordered, the last large table in our room began to fill up and instruments started to make their way out: acoustic guitars, a large animal-skin drum, a wooden flute, and various others.

While people streamed in, the tables filled with local beer, Coca-Cola (which were mixed in glasses), local red wine, orange Fanta (which were also mixed), french fries, more salteñas (a type of empanada originating in Salta, hence the name) than we could count, and of course, lots of meat. We enjoyed our first taste of Argentinian meat: a beautifully cooked flank steak, pork ribs, and blood sausage, and before we knew it the newly-arrived table broke out into song, and then kept playing one after another well into the night. This is my favorite type of music: the kind that’s played by the people who love it, that’s being played merely because they love to do it (not for money or fame or appreciation), and the kind that’s passed down between generations at dinner tables, in living rooms, around campfires, and at celebrations of all types all over the world. On that last point, one of the most interesting aspects is that while most of the singers and players were middle-aged, there were also a handful of their children in attendance, with hip haircuts, clothes, and piercings. They appeared to be enjoying it–or at least tolerating it–as much as angsty teenagers glued to their cellphones can appear to enjoy anything. While I didn’t know any of the songs, I could sense the passion, familiarity, and strong connections everyone in the room had to this traditional music.

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