Salta is not only miles away but also worlds apart from Patagonia. It’s a lively, bustling city surrounded by green hills, it has beautiful old buildings (though not all of them in good condition), impressive churches and a big central plaza where cultural events such as music and traditional dance take place.
A Lively City
Traffic lights mean nothing here and in the evenings the streets are even busier than during the day. The empanadas (almost always freshly baked) are of the best in the country and the fruits and vegetables are so tasteful, I couldn’t stop eating.
The Children of Llullallaco
The MAAM, the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (Museum of High Altitude Archeology) holds a very interesting exhibition on Inca culture, especially on child sacrifice in the Andean mountains. On around 200 Andean peaks archaeological vestiges of the Incas have been found but unfortunately, many of these sites have been looted. On Mount Llullaillaco however, in 1999 a team of archaeologists found three very well preserved Inca mummies; two girls and a boy who have been sacrificed in a holy ritual about 500 years ago.
The mummies and the objects found in their tombs have been transported to Salta – not without controversy though; is it OK to remove the bodies from their place of burial and to exhibit them in a public museum? Especially indigenous groups protested against the exhibition and it does feel a bit strange to be in that dark room along so many other people, staring at the dead child, seeing the fear in its face and in the way it clenches its fist.
Among the objects found in the children’s graves are llama and human figurines made of stone and metal as well as sandals, combs, textiles and bowls. They’re miniature objects depicting everyday life and things the children would need for their journey to the other side, because according to Inca beliefs, a person’s life doesn’t end with the person’s death.
The mummies are kept in special containers where the temperature and oxygen level are the same as on Mt Llullaillaco where they were found. It’s a technique called cryopreservation and the temperature inside the container is at a constant -20°C.
Because of their delicate condition, only one mummy at a time is exhibited at the museum for six or seven months. When we were there, we saw the boy. The museum is very interesting and gives you a good insight in Inca culture and why children were being sacrificed and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Around Salta .
There’s a lot to do around Salta. Tour operators offer tours to the mountains and to wineries and things like bungee jumping and paragliding. However, since Argentina is an expensive country and we had already spent a lot of money, we just enjoyed city life and the good wifi at the hostel and waited for the tour to the Puna to finally begin.
The Road to Cafayate
The Puna tour started in Cafayate where we spent only one night which was definitely not enough; the town is lovely! Unfortunately, it was raining so badly the day we were there that we couldn’t do anything. Except for eating tons of ice-cream. Wine flavored ice-cream.
The road from Salta to Cafayate was one of the most beautiful roads we traveled in all Argentina. It would have been a good thing to rent a car in Cafayate (or Salta) and drive around in the Valles Calchíes, enjoying the amazing rock formations, the mountains and rocks in different colors, and the green valley.