Once again on a plane! This time heading to the North-West of Argentina, to a city called Salta just beneath the Andes cordillera, where I will be doing an internship with an NGO that deals with young disadvantaged students.
Salta is also the name of the province which is not to far from the Bolivian border on the Northern side and the Chilean on the Western side. From the plane I was already able to see the arid and dry landscape of this region.
Ian and Ceri, the founders of the NGO, picked me up from the airport and I couldn’t ask for a better welcome. I fell in love with their house, the place where I am going to live which is located in a beautiful hidden valley – the view from here is just unreal! Unfortunately there is no wifi and no public transport here but when needed I can always get a remis (taxi) or a lift into town. You can’t have it all! 🙂
Life here is very different compared to what I experienced in Buenos Aires, it really feels like being in another country. Just to give you an idea, I am 1800 kilometres from the capital and at a height of 1500 metres.
The day after I arrived, I visited the city centre which is very pretty and a popular tourist destination for its colonial architecture. It is known as Salta La Linda!
The main square with its cafes, the cathedral and tall palm trees is lovely. I found Salta very charming, with its atmosphere, street art and colourful shops selling sandwiches or coca leaves and bica (bicarbonate of soda).
I immediately noticed that most of the people in Salta have different physical features, their skin is darker with asian-like eyes and they speak with a completely different accent. Whilst many people are overweight, some are incredibly thin owing to their poor diet. Apparently many people here need to have their gallbladder removed because of their diet characterised mostly by meat, bread and potatoes, lacking fresh fruit and vegetables. This is something that really surprised me after having seen many healthy looking people in Buenos Aires and after having been to the local market and seeing an incredible variety of vegetables. I was also surprised that despite the heat, everyone except tourists, wears long jeans!
However, what I saw during this first day is just the side that tourists see.
After meeting with the students of the Fundación, who are all the same age of me, and having had an enlightening discussion with them about Salta and the life here, Ian drove me around one of the poor barrios outside the city, called Solidaridad. I was very shocked, and I still am, to see what was outside the car: houses made with just a pile of bricks while waiting for enough money to start building with mortar, and an insane amount of rubbish and stray dogs on the side of the streets. This area is not small at all, since more than 20.000 people live here.
In the middle of this scenery you can then notice the presence of hotels which have hourly rates, Ian explained to me, to allow these people to have a bit of privacy from their big families 😉 . The reason for the size of the families, especially in these poor areas, is to be found in the culture of the country itself: because of the so-called machismo and the deeply rooted catholic culture is very hard to promote birth control. Not only, but abortion is also illegal.
Culture here has many similar aspects to life in Italy including corruption and an incredibly slow bureaucracy, which I have already experienced by simply trying to get a sim card and a debit card. Just to give you an idea, here it’s impossible to get a debit card (caja de ahorro) without the Argentinian ID (Documento Nacional de Identidad).
The only thing I can do is withdraw from my card a maximum 2000 Pesos per transaction, which has a commission of 92,10 AR$ (5 €), plus the fees my Italian bank charges and the forever-lasting question mark of the exchange rate. After having visited many phone shops, I finally found one that was able to give me a sim card without the DNI. It’s a Pay-as-you-go sim card, from a company called Tuenti for 90 AR$ per month which is not too bad.
It has been less then a week here Salta and I have already learnt so much!