March 22, 2012

Salta’s Surprise

Originally when we were planning our South American itinerary, we never had any intention of coming to Salta. We eventually booked one of our plane tickets here, but only because it was a good base to cross the Argentinean border into Bolivia. It wasn’t until we got to Buenos Aires that we heard people talking about Salta as a vacation destination. So we rejiggered our schedule a bit to give us 5 days in this city that we knew nothing about.

From the moment we flew over Salta, we liked it. We were expecting a dry and barren landscape like Arizona. Instead, we were surprised to see lots of green mountains surrounding this rather large city. Once we started walking around, we discovered that Salta’s got all the charm that we thought Mendoza would have. It has a lovely main square and is rich with beautifully colored churches.

There’s also a nice hike up 1,070 steps to the top of Cerro San Bernardo overlooking the city. We were wondering why we were slightly huffing and puffing on the way up. We later found out that Salta sits at 3,780 feet, a perfect transition elevation for what was to come.

One night we ate dinner along Balcarce Street, where all the nightlife is centered. We got a real treat with some live pena folklorica music and dancing. The singer was so good that I kept thinking she should be on Argentina’s Got Talent. Throughout the night she went around asking every table where they were from, and we soon discovered that we were the only non-Argentines in the entire restaurant. She would sing and beat her drum, and all of the diners would put their forks down and begin clapping the rhythm. It was delightful.

We’re not really museum people, but Salta has something really fascinating called the MAAM (Museum of High Altitude Archeology). This small museum, right along the city’s main square, documents the 1999 discovery of the Children of Llullaillaco – three Incan children who were sacrificed on Mount Vlullaillaco at 22,000 feet along the border between Argentina and Chile. The museum does a nice job of explaining the Incan rituals and reasoning for the sacrifice. Because of the extreme conditions where they were buried – high altitude, cold weather and low humidity – the children are perfectly mummified.

The museum does display the children, but only on a rotational basis. Right now they are exhibiting “The Girl of Lightening”. She was just barely over six years old at the time of sacrifice and was found with her legs crossed, head misshapen, eyes closed, mouth open, teeth showing and hair braided. Sometime over the last few centuries it is believed that she was stuck by lightening, and so she has burn marks down her face and clothes. She is obviously kept behind a fortress of glass, but we were shocked at how close we could get. I wish someone could have taken a picture of us, because our jaws were dropped. We couldn’t believe that we were standing less than two feet away, face-to-face, with a human Incan sacrifice that looked as real and intact as any one of us.

In order to keep the children in such a perfect state, the museum itself is kept very cold and dark. We were not allowed to take any photos inside the museum, so I downloaded this picture of the Girl of Lightening from the World Wide Web.

If you’re ever in Salta, the MAAM museum is a must see.

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