Salta, Argentina • August 2013 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes
The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.
Unlike the Bolivian taxis which took as many people as would fit as long as the doors could be fully closed, Argentinian motorists were clearly more compliant with the Highway Code requirement for all passengers to wear seatbelts. Therefore, we arrived at Loki Salta in two separate cars. Each meter was frozen at 105 Pesos (£11) having been ticking over like the second hand on a clock as we blasted along the highway, past the airport, and into the rural suburbs on our journey from the terminal. This seemed like an unusually remote place for a hostel to be located but we would find out later that a single bus ticket to the town centre cost just 3 Pesos (£0.30) per person. A smiley American with dyed red hair and piercings met us in the car park. Robin was the manager of the hostel and seemed a little overly excited for our arrival.
“Hey, I take it you are the Scottish boys that phoned this morning? Welcome to Salta, we’ve had a fine spell of weather as of late.”
“Thanks very much, we’re glad there were some rooms available at such short notice. We’ve set foot in both the Cusco and La Paz sister hostels already and the vibes were great.”
“No worries about that. Apart from the on-site staff we actually only have two other people staying here at the moment; Australian guys about your age. We only fully-opened last month and are still trying to find our feet.”
“Aw OK, it’s just that when we phoned this morning it seemed like there was a massive party still underway?” queried Endy.
“Not quite,” sniggered Robin. “We’ve been quite low on guest numbers the past couple of weeks so when people call we crank up the music full volume in the bar to pretend that the place isn’t actually a ghost town. A horrible joke, I know.”
“At least you’ve come clean I suppose,” reasoned Screen. “We’ve been living pretty rough the last week so it would actually be quite nice to just have a couple of days to chill out and recharge the batteries.”
“Well, we can certainly cater for that. There’s a football pitch over there; we have snooker, table tennis, and a bean bag cinema inside; there are hammocks strung out on the patio to lounge in, and an incredible menu of home-cooked dishes to choose from.”
“Awesome,” smiled Gadams, “and what about swimming?” he asked, pointing past the grassy pitch to a hollow bowl.
“Unfortunately, the pool is out of action at the moment; not enough people to justify the expense and all.”
“No worries,” I fake-sobbed. “First things first is to check-in and grab a shower. We do apologise for appearing in such a smelly mess.”
“You aren’t the first and you most certainly won’t be the last. Let me give you a quick tour of the place.”
Robin may have been pulling our legs on the phone that morning, but she most certainly wasn’t lying about the set-up of this hostel being perfectly tailored towards our desires. The main building was a vast open-spaced hanger with a full-length bar on one side. The full-length bay window opposite led out to a hammock-littered patio. Past the football pitch and swimming pool were a collection of modern stone huts that housed the guests, with wild horses galloping around the fenced field yonder. A more tranquil atmosphere I’ve yet to come across for the Argentinian equivalent of only £12 per night. We got our room key, took some much-needed showers, and then sprawled ourselves out on the bean bags for the remainder of the afternoon. A battered copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sat lonely on the bookshelf so I immersed myself in its pages as sports played on the TV behind. Loki Salta was answering to our every need, and things were about to get better.
“What were you guys planning on doing for dinner tonight?” asked Robin suggestively.
“Not too sure yet. We were probably just going to get something here if that’s OK with you?”
“Well, we’ve invited all the staff from another hostel down the road for a barbeque this evening if you fancy joining? We’re all just going to chip in 20 Pesos and then some of the guys will get as much meat and beers from the supermarket as possible. Tristan and Shawn, the Aussie guys I mentioned earlier, are currently in town but they’ll be making their way back for it as well.”
“That sounds absolutely delightful. Count us in.”
Two hours later we were making acquaintance with the boys from down under in a scene that could have been taken from The Great Hall in Harry Potter. The long wooden table at which we were seated groaned under the weight of ribs, steak, and vegetable skewers. The Aussies had been on the road for five months already and were slowly winding their way up the whole American continent. The eventual plan was to secure some working visas in the Canadian mountains when they near-enough ran out of land to explore.
“For me, it started out as just a two week holiday in Cancun,” began Shawn. “Tristan had sold all his belongings beforehand: car; furniture; clothes; the lot. His plan once the rest of our crew had flown back to New South Wales was to get his own ticket to Buenos Aires and then just see where curiosity took him.”
“I originally planned to do the trip alone, but when Shawn broke up with his girlfriend just a couple of weeks before our boys holiday I suggested he join me,” added Tristan. “Hesitant, he hadn’t made any formal decision until we were actually in Mexico, and it wasn’t until the last day that he decided not to board that flight home. We now think it will be about two more years before next setting foot on Australian soil.”
Everyone looked like stuffed turkeys as the plates were cleared and as we brought out the cards to play some drinking games two English hipsters appeared at the reception; confused expressions on their faces. Whereas we’d been offered a full tour of the grounds upon arrival, Alexander and George were immediately thrown by Robin into a game of ‘Fuck the Dealer’ before even having the chance to see their dorm room. In fairness, they were more than happy with this command, and after a few rounds of this ludicrous game were well on their merry way. As the name suggests, the aim is for the participants to get the unlucky person dealing the cards as drunk as possible by guessing correctly the colour, suit, or value of the next card being played. Robin had placed a stein-sized plastic measuring jug in the centre of the table and before each turn players had to pour some of their drink into the rising concoction as their ‘bet’. When the vessel was filled to the brim, whoever was the dealer at that point would have the pleasure of trying to down the mix. That person turned out to be Skills.
“This is going to be a piece of cake,” he drunkenly boasted, never the one to shy away from an ‘alpha male’ situation. Halfway through the game a couple of very cute English girls had also arrived, jumping the total guest residency from two to eleven in just one day, and it was clear he was out to impress. Bottoms up.
Skills started off strong as the cheers from the crowd (including Lucy and Natalie) spurred him on through the first half-litre of the vile mixture. When he got about halfway, however, he started to splutter. The wrenching said it all. The mixture of beer, cider, and fruit juice was about to come straight back up and there was no stopping it. Skills will take to his grave the statement that he did indeed make it to the bathroom on time, but the video footage and vomit stains on his shirt prove otherwise. At least he wasn’t the only one to make a fool of himself. Following this incident, Robin thought it was her duty as the manager of the establishment to finish off the dregs. This only led to her also making a quick dash to the latrines to cough up her BBQ burger and salad. Lucy, Natalie, Alexander, and George all made excuses of being tired and headed for bed; unable to comprehend what they’d just walked into.
I was the first to arise the following morning as usual, and stumbling into the bathroom to brush my teeth was given quite the shock treatment. Staring back at me from the open toilet lid was a creature from the deep. As my vision adjusted to the light, a shit the size of a baby’s arm wearing a boxing glove leered back at me from the pan. There could only be one culprit.
“Gadams,” I yelled, waking the entire utopia. “What the hell have you done in here?”
“Ah yeah, I had a little bit of a sore stomach last night,” he blearily responded.
“They say the equivalent of a man giving birth is like pissing out a whole orange, but this is surely taking it one step too far. How on earth were you even walking around with that log inside you?” I gave the lever a flush but the stool of tree trunk sized dimensions didn’t dislodge. I panicked that it might mutate and start attacking.
“Oh my God man, it was as painful as it looks trust me. I sat for over half an hour with my fingernails scraping the opposing wall; squeezing until I thought an intestine was going to pop out. I must have sweated more in that period than the entire length of the Inca Trail, including the incident we shall no longer speak of.”
“You mean the incident that I’ve thoroughly documented in my journal and am likely to include in a future publication?”
“Fuck. Well, I still don’t feel too great in all honesty; almost like I’m recuperating from an open-wound surgical operation. Would you mind if we extended our stay here for an extra day? Kick a rugby ball about and see what the town centre has to offer or something? I don’t think I could face another day travelling in this state.”
“As long as you allow said incident to be put in writing.”
“No shame. We have a deal. Shake on it?”
“Only if you’ve thoroughly washed your hands…”