“You’ll got any dinner plans?” asked the American.
Dinner plans? We hadn’t even got off the plane?
“This is my card and this is where I’m staying.”
“Oh...and do you have any dietary requirements?”
My travelling companion and I had left our puffy jackets and woolly jumpers with our hiking boots, back in Buenos Aires, because we had said good-bye to chilly, southern Patagonia and hello to Salta, a town rich with colonial architecture, nudging the north-west border of Argentina and Bolivia. So we were quite cold as we stood waiting for a cab into town, sheltering under a brooding sky, the supposed beautiful surrounding scenery obscured by low-slung cloud.
“Cold no?” said Martin, opening the door to our room, “never like this before, very strange weather.”
Between the plane and the bed, my travelling companion had sprung a leak. She blew her nose, violently. Coughed. Blew some more. Her eyes glazed and puffy, closed as she sank into the ample pillows of our boutique B&B.
“Half an hour, babes, I’ll be fine.”
I discussed my travelling companion's illness with Claudia, who spoke excellent English, and discovered the B&B's cleaner was also a nurse. We went to the pharmacy and bought drugs and a syringe. The patient could not take penicillin. I mimed death and repeated penicilina which is Spanish for penicillin. I went back to our room.
"I've bought medicine." I said, "and a syringe."
She wasn't too pleased but I convinced her the nurse would be coming. Soon. When she'd finished her cleaning.
I went for a walk. The dull day and chilly breeze didn't do much to enhance the colonial-ish main square. I found a restaurant that would let me take soup away. I mimed vegetarian and repeated 'vegetarianos', which is Spanish for vegetarian. I gave the soup to my travelling companion. It had bacon bits in it.
The recovery did involve a bit of hallucination but otherwise was swift and dramatic. We went for dinner with the American. He smoked for a living. He was the tobacco leaf inspector for Phillip Morris. He was in fact, the Marlboro Man and gave us cigarettes. And bought us dinner. Then we went to one of the many music bars on the strip and watched an Argentine Indian band. A very large man in a very large, black, leather jacket sat at an adjacent table. He engaged in conversation with my travelling companion. However, he spoke no English and she spoke less Spanish. But we were informed by his entourage that he was a famous Argentinean folk singer. People began to turn and look at our table. He then took to the stage and explained .... something ..... at length. The only word we could understand was 'Banessa', the Spanish pronunciation of Vanessa and the name of my travelling companion. Everyone turned around to look at us. And clap. Then he sang a song and played the guitar, a solemn, haunting melody the chorus of which appeared to be: Baaaaanessa...... Everyone clapped. And then he sang another, similar song, with the same chorus. The third song may have been the same but I was laughing so much I no longer cared. We thought the The Marlboro Man was about 40. He was 30. He thought I was somewhere between 38 and 42. It was a good evening.
Top tip: learn Spanish.