After an 18-hour journey from Bolivia (which should have only taken ten) it was not only clear that I`d arrived in a different country but it felt as though I`d ended up on a different continent. Here the Europeans really did leave their mark. Not only with the impressive colonial buildings which surround the main squares and are tucked away down side streets, but also in the day to day life of the country´s inhabitants.
Gone are the traditionally dressed women of Peru and Bolivia, who carry their babies on their backs in bright woven blankets. Here the people dress stylishly (putting my travelling ´wardrobe´to shame) and children are wheeled around in pushchairs – the first I`ve seen in South America. There are designer shops and malls everywhere and the prices are expensive. It has definitely been a shock to the system arriving here from Bolivia, where hostels are three times the price and my first bus journey cost 50 pounds – ten times what I`d paid in Bolivia. The money situation is also crazy. There is a severe shortage of coins in the country, which everyone needs to get around on the buses, so paying for things with notes is a nightmare. In the queue at the supermarket the other day I heard the checkout girl ask every single person in front of me whether they had change. Needless to say most didn`t, so it`s normal to get slightly more or less change than you were expecting as the cashiers round up or down.
Things seem quieter here, more ordered and less chaotic. Cars aren`t constantly beeping their horns. There are traffic lights and, what`s more surprising, drivers actually observe them.
Also noticeably absent here are the child workers, who are a common sight in Bolivia, where eight-year-olds are left in charge of internet cafes and six-year-olds will tug at your sleeve to buy something while dragging their even younger sibling behind them.
The thing I can`t get used to to at the moment though is the Argentinian accent – which replaces the ´ll´sound [pronounced`y`in most Spanish speaking countries] with a `ch`- and the speed at which people speak. My Spanish, which I had been getting by with in Peru and Bolivia is now completely useless, as even when I can make myself understood I find people´s replies incomprehensible.
On my first day in Salta I went to the market, looking for a cheap lunch. Thinking I`d ordered one empañada I was then surprised to see a plate of 12 arrive at my table. Either the girl who served me enjoyed the joke or I have eaten so much in South America that I now look like someone who can polish off 12 empañadas in one sitting…