Spending the bus trip to Salta in the front row seats on the upper level was great, but our arrival was overshadowed by a nasty surprise. Ben seriously hurt his back when picking up our luggage, so riding has been out of the question during the last days. As the pressure of being delayed steadily increases, we are once more stopped in our tracks. The only solace is that Salta is possibly the best place to be stuck so far.
Whether it was due to a bad position while sleeping on the coach or some awkward movement when lifting the boxed Stumpjumper remains unclear. What was clear, however, was that Ben was not able to cycle any further in his state, so we decided to stay in Salta for recovery. After booking into a nice hostel, I went to the city center while Ben was staying in bed to relax his strained back. Salta is called la linda, the beautiful, and I soon saw why: The city center is filled with colonial style buildings and I sat down on the Plaza 9 de Julio to enjoy a good espresso. The rest day also gave me ample opportunity to speak with Helene, so in the end I even enjoyed the unexpected delay. In the evening, Ben said that he was already feeling much better, and we agreed to give cycling a try on the next day.
But when we got on our bikes the next morning, it soon became obvious that Ben still was in no condition for the roads ahead. The asphalt on the roads out of town is in a miserable condition and each and every crack we bumped over sent a bolt of pain into Ben’s back. We turned around and went straight to the hospital, where we were attended immediately. In fact, there were many people waiting to be attended while they called us in straight away. Later, a nice lady in a handicraft shop told me that foreigners often get a favorable treatment, which embarassed me a little. The examination was quick and the doctor told us very matter-of-factly that it was nothing serious and that the only cure was resting. He then injected Ben with a dose of painkillers to get him going again. I am glad we could call Helene’s dad, Karl, for a second opinion. While he agreed with much of what his Argentinian colleague had said, he gave us lots of valuable information on how to treat Ben’s condition as effectively as possible. There just had been no time for lengthy explanations in the hospital. I suppose because everyone gets free treatment there, hospital staff is in a great hurry to attend as many patients as possible.
While poor Ben spent the next days in bed with his legs prepped up on a pile of cushions, I seized the opportunity to do some short excursions. First, I went to Cerro San Bernardo, a hill overviewing the city. The climb to the summit was demanding, but the bird’s eye view of Salta with the Andes as a backdrop more than compensated my efforts. On the way up, I had noticed a gravel track branching off the main road. Of course, curiosity got the better of me and I gladly took the detour. I came to a small hut guarded by a policeman. The officer courteously pointed out that the way ahead was off limits but that I should try a little dirt road that I had missed on the way. And indeed, there was a small path that closely followed the mountain slope. With the panniers gone, I felt confident to tackle some rough stuff, and I was surprised by how well my bike behaved on the single track. The path was obviously used by downhill mountainbikers as its gentle uphill zigzag was interrupted by a straight line leading down that I would have never dared to ride. I made it to the second summit of the day, Cerro Aladelta, and enjoyed the unobstructed view of the valleys around Salta.
The next day saw me go to the Quebrada de San Lorenzo, a small river gorge that forms part of the Yungas, a type of virgin forest. At the entrance, I met a policeman and asked him if it is allowed to enter the Quebrada with a bike. He told me that it was alright, but that he worried for my safety. I soon realized why: the path into the gorge runs along and often inside the riverbed across large rocks, and after a few minutes I was tired of carrying my bike. Since I had not brought a lock, I was glad to be able to leave my bike at the tourist information located at the entrance to the Quebrada. I enjoyed the spontaneous hiking a lot and explored the river valley for a couple of hours. It is incredible how lush and green the forest is in what is the equivalent to late February in the northern hemisphere. It was good to be out in the nature, but off the bike for a change. I still had not shaken off the cycling blues completely, and the small adventure by foot boosted my motivation to climb in the saddle again.
For me, our stay in Salta was crowned with a splendid excursion to the border with the neighboring province of Jujuy. I was lucky to be accompanied by Ileana, an avid local cyclist who has explored even the most challenging routes around town and Caro, who has lived in Berlin for some time. Of course, we had lots of stories to share while we visited the artificial lake of Campo Alegre and the yungas in the mountains in the north. And as any good excursion, it ended with an abundance of hearty empanadas and a good sip of Salta Negra, the local dark ale.
While Ben’s injury was a serious instance of bad luck, the unplanned break had its positive aspects for me. Even though there remains much to be seen and explored, this is the first time during our trip that I feel that I have had sufficient time to see enough of a place and thoroughly enjoy what Salta has to offer. Ben is already feeling better and we hope to resume our journey tomorrow, so keep your fingers crossed.