17.07.2012 - 20.07.2012 14 °C
After the 12 hour bus journey from San Pedro in Chile, we arrived in Salta in Northern Argentina at close to midnight. The first thing we noticed about Argentina was that there was much more hustle and bustle than there had been in Chile. In fact according to one bloke we had met in La Serena, the Chileans (much to their chargrin) are known as "the Brits of South America" due to their reserved nature, which is a label that nobody would ever attach to the Argies, for more reasons than one!
On the bus we had met a couple from near to Birmingham who were heading to the same hostel as us – '7 duendes', and as it turned out we shared a 4 bed dorm to keep costs low. As we checked in and settled down, as Salta is somewhat of an adrenalin junkie location, talk turned to bungee jumping, the pros and cons of, and the likelyhood of anybody partaking in such an outrageously anti survival instinct activity. I had never given a bungee jump any serious thought in the past, but had definitely adopted a passive "no way" attitude to it. For reasons unknown, during the short conversation my stance changed completely and 3 of us agreed to book it together the next day. The other bloke had a carefully considered "cold day in hell" stance which he didn't waver from at all, and fair play to him. Afterall, who would really want to sling themselves off a bridge with only a piece of elastic for support?
The next day we made some enquiries and booked the jump for the day after, to be picked up at 3pm. For the rest the day I put the jump out of my mind and in fact didn't think about it much until I was stood on a metal platform extended from a bridge and was looking down. But more about that later.
After we'd made the booking, Lou and I went to explore Salta. The central plaza was alive with activity – there was barely a seat to be had on the terrace outside any of the cafes, and there were several bands vying for attention. There were also scantily clad girls dancing to promote a restaurant, or bar or something, and the whole ambience was one of activity and energy. After we got bored of people watching we decided to head up to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo, which had been highly recommended for a panoramic view of the city. The way the vast majority of people get to the top is via the 'teleferico' (cable car), but the day we were there the queues were outrageously long so we decided to take the 1200 steps instead. It was a pretty hot day and the only other company we had on the walk up were young couples canoodling on the benches that were thoughtfully provided every 20 metres or so, and hardcore hill runners – the mere sight of which makes you feel terribly guilty for not being in peak physical condition (or indeed anywhere close to). We used the rest stops to learn a few new Spanish words, and by the time we got to the top, which took an hour or so, we were more proficient in the language by 20 words or so. The views from the top were indeed worthwhile and after having a coffee in the cafe up there we took the teleferico back down to enjoy yet more good views, albeit from a shaky cable car elevated a hundred metres or so above the ground. I took this opportunity to remind Lou what we were planning to do tomorrow: "Lou, look down. Looks far doesn't it? We'll be throwing ourselves off a bridge about this height tomorrow". Conversation in the cable car was pretty sparse from then on in.
We decided that as we had been in Argentina for almost a full day, we had waited quite long enough for a steak and so we arranged that evening to go and seak the national dish with the couple from Birmingham. As we were aware that Argentines like to eat late, we headed out about 9pm in search of a restaurant. We were recommended an area for good, cheap food and were lured into one restaurant with the promise of live music and cheap food. Being the person with the most Spanish in the group (although that wasn't saying much), the ordering was left to me. I ordered us all steak and chips for 3 quid and thought it would be rather criminal not to try some Argentine wine so ordered a local bottle for less than a tenner.
The atmosphere was quite subdued when we first sat down – there were another 3 or 4 covers but nobody seemed to be talking and the only background noise was a big bearded bloke quietly sound testing. However within minutes, and for reasons that we were unable to ascertain, the place was absolutely packed and there were queues outside. The bearded singer/song-writer soon began and the atmosphere had turned from pretty dull to a full-on party in no time. The people queing outside had even taken to dancing in the street and we quickly realised our seats right at the front of the restaurant were hot property.
Interspersed between aggressive Argentinian songs about hardship there was flamenco music at which point a couple would appear from nowhere and dance between the tables, and we felt extremely lucky to have stumbled upon this restaurant for our first experience of an Argentinian night out. After we finished our food, we assumed that we would have to move on to make way for somebody queing outside, however the waiter was having none of it and insisted we had more wine, which we duly did. Seeing everybody dancing in the street, the bearded singer invited them in and insisted that the waiters find some room for them. The place was already packed to the rafters but they were somehow squeezed into a corner and everybody was happy. After people had finished eating they started dancing around their tables and then after 3 hours of almost non-stop playing the bearded singer bid everybody goodnight and that was that. It was absolutely nothing like any restaurant experience we'd had before, and a great introduction to Argentina. There is a video of it a couple of posts above this one.
3pm the next day quickly came. We all woke up quite late as we had gone on to a couple of bars after the restaurant the night before, and no sooner had we had breakfast and had a stroll around town the taxi was there to pick us up. It was a 3 hour drive to the bungee destination and as I was sporting a fairly substantial hangover I slept for most of it and so had no time to really think about what I was about to do. I woke up with the bridge that we were to jump off in sight and the conversation was that it doesn't look all that high, and maybe it wouldn't be so scary afterall. Fast-forward an hour and even though I had all the equiptment on, I still hadn't really properly considered what I was about to do, and when the guide was going through the safety briefing whilst we were stood on the platform from which I was to jump, I was relaxed and care-free. Then I got to the edge and looked down. The physical change in my body when I looked down was akin to being hit on the head by a brick that you never see, i.e. You don't know what has hit you, but you know that something doesn't feel quite right. Thankfully, within a few seconds of looking down I heard the guide counting down from 3, and fighting against every survival instinct that exists in my brain, I put my arms out to the side and fell forward. I've never died, obviously, but the sensation when you start free falling towards the water is as close as I've ever felt. I tried to shout something but nothing came out. For a few seconds I was paralysed and then as I was bobbing up and down, and the danger had ceased, I re-gained control of my voicebox and something similar to "aghghghgblghagh" came out. A fantastic experience, but I can well imagine how so many people get to the top and can't do it. Lou made the same mistake as I did and looked down, except whereas my shock was all internal – externally I looked like peace and tranquility, if you looked up "white fear" in the dictionary, Lou's face on top of the platform would be there, staring back at you.