I’ve spent a week in Salta now and it’s a cool place. Although, through no fault of its own I’ve not really been able to give it the full enjoyment and tourist treatment I should have done. It was always intended as a practical stop off point to get everything in order before my (slightly daunting) jump into Bolivia, and so it’s proved in the main. Bumble has been well fed and watered, as have I. Actually, a little too well.
I seem to be struggling a little with the Argentine drinking culture, in as much as there doesn’t seem to be one until about 11pm at night. Cheeky sunny afternoon beers? Nope. After work beers? Nope. Popping out to have a drink for in a bar for someone’s birthday at 8:00? Nope. Deciding to stay out-out at 9:00pm? Nope. Having one or two with dinner at 10:00? Now you’ve got it. Going out-out at 12:00? That’s right. Having a few and a dance at 2:00. It’s the Argentine way!
I’ve heard people from Spain and elsewhere proclaiming that they only get ready to go out at 11pm as if it’s some kind of a good thing, it’s really not. “Yea but we stay out until 5am or 6am”… well so do I! Perhaps it’s a generational thing too, I was brought up in the days of drinking as much as you possibly can before “last orders” at 10:45. Getting to at least 4 or 5 pubs before that time. Oh and of course “shall we double-up for last orders..?”, “nah, double-up and a shot..”. It’s the Bradford way! Youngsters today seem to have a different culture, pre-load at home until 10:00 then go out.
It’s not my culture and I don’t know what on earth is good about it. Surely the best thing is for pubs and bars to be as busy as they can be for as long as they can be? There is a level of social cohesion to be gained from colleagues sharing an after-work drink or bumping into friends, neighbours, acquaintances, flirtatious prospects, grumpy exes, and long time enemies in a shared public social environment. I noticed it in Australia too. Birthday invitations are to bring a few beers round to somebody’s house, in England it’s to meet in the pub at 8:00. We’re losing it though, and I think society is losing something as a result.
Anyway, back to the story. The past few weeks I’ve been having one big night out a week, either Friday or Saturday but the challenge seems to be what to do between 7:00 and 11:00 when nobody seems to be out. Well of course you drink, by yourself, in an empty bar or at home. So by the time other people venture out into public or finish their restaurant dinner I’m already 4 or 5 pints ahead of them. And so it was on Friday in Salta. I ventured up to the classy looking bar strip on Balcarce, took my seat amongst the empty tables, ensconced my one litre bottle of the local brew “Salta” (of course) in its own ice bucket, and watched the crowds gradually build up. By midnight the place was actually lively and good fun and so was I!
I spent some time in a very cool bar with an older crowd and watched a very skillful jazz band reeling off the classics. Then something strange happened, I heard English voices. I rarity on my travels, in fact, they’re only the second English accents I’ve heard in 2 months and the first I’ve talked to. A great couple of couples, the lads from England, the partners from Sweden and somewhere else if I recall. Youngsters doing the big South American trip in hostels and on coaches, fair play to them. The barman refused to sell me 5 shots until he could physically verify that he was only selling one per person and even then he still couldn’t get is head around why I didn’t want a mixer. Anyway, fun was had by all and we said farewells and I headed across the road to the now familiar sound of Cumbia. By now it’s about 2 and there’s a good buzz about the place. I have a dance (of sorts), make a few new friends and in what seems like no time it’s kicking out time.
Never one to leave a party early, I accept an invitation from my 3 new mates who know somewhere that stays open late. My all too numbed spidey senses finally start to stir when my new mate knocks on the metal door of what looks like a warehouse and it’s opened just a crack. A few serious questions are answered and the door half opens to let us all squeeze beyond the stocky bouncer. The next few minutes are like a scene from a Guy Ritchie movie…we move along some derelict corridors past a couple of smoky rooms with very serious looking geezers playing cards. All of a sudden I feel sober. Two options really: back down and try to scuttle back asking the doorman ever so politely in English to let me leave…please sir…it’s not really the “bar” I was looking for; or breath in, puff my chest out and swagger as if it’s no big deal at all really. I choose the latter. Thankfully, it turns out that I’m not joining the queue for a Bond style seatless chair interrogation. The place opens out into a pool hall of sorts, drinks are cheap served from an icy bin across a wooden board. I have fun but don’t stare too long at anyone in particular and when it’s safely polite to make my excuses and leave, I do. My sense of direction and discreet Google Maps confirm I’m walking in the right direction home and by 6:30 I’m in bed. Looking back, it was probably as close to a stupid idea as I’d want to get in Argentina. I don’t think I’ll be doing the same in Columbia.