It was wet and cold when I arrived in Salta, a small city in Northern Argentina, on a bus from Chile. The weather prevented the outdoor activities that are usually on offer, so after a trip on the cable car to to the top of Cerro San Bernardo for not much of a view thanks to the cloud cover, there was little else to do other than take a stroll around the local squares and buildings.
The beautiful churches were a fine example of the excesses spent on the make-believe around the world while people go hungy and homeless.
One of the things I noticed in Argentina was the prevalance not only of children’s playgrounds in public parks, but also of adult ones with free exercise equipment, so I entertained myself at one of them between rainshowers.
Most importantly, I was spending my 31st birthday in Salta and wanted to have a fun night out. My Argentinean guide had been asking what I’d like our group to do for the night, and eventually I decided that yet another touristy bar wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted a gay bar instead. Manu, our guide, loooked perplexed when I announced this to him, and said that as Salta is a small and conservative city, he couldn’t promise anything, but to leave it with him.
In the end, he really came through. First, a table was booked for dinner at a restuarant with a local band and dancers who pulled spectators out of their seats to take part, finishing up with a huge conga line winding out the front door and back in the side one. Not long after I reclaimed my seat, the band began singing Happy Birthday in Spanish, and the whole restaurant joined in as a waiter approached me carrying a cake with a candle in it.
During dinner, Manu explained to me that he had spoken to a friend who spoke to a friend, and had found the city’s only gay bar! So after we finished eating and dancing, five of our group walked further out of the city centre to a quiet street and the closed doorway to Jekill, which we knocked on, to be told that the club wasn’t yet open and to come back at 1am. It was nearing 12.30, so we went for another drink nearby before returning to find neon lights and Lady Gaga music pumping out of the door.
We paid our entrance fees, were handed a drink voucher and a condom each (how very progressive), and descended down the rickety stairs to what I can only describe as a typical run-down small city gay bar. It was less London’s G-A-Y and more something between your teenage disco and the grimey Dempsey’s of Sheffield, where I spent much of my early twenties. There was a pole in the middle of the sticky dance floor, the lighting was green neon, and cheap beer overflowed from plastic cups on all sides. It was perfect.
We danced for nearly four hours, during which time a local girl took a shine to me. Her name was Laura, and her friends crowded round and cheered her on as she moved in to kiss me, while my friends took photos to laugh at later. It really did feel like being back at the teenage disco. “Tell her it’s your birthday!”, my friends were shouting over the music. So I did.
-Es mi cumpleaños.
-Ah! ¿Cuantos años tienes?
-Treinta y uno. Y tu?
Yikes. I was a cradle snatcher now.
The next morning (or more accurately, later that morning) I awoke at 10.30 to the sound of housekeepers knocking on the hotel room I shared with a fellow traveller. We had almost missed check-out time. My limbs felt used up, my belongings were scattered all over the floor, and my phone was filled with Facebook messages from Laura asking to see me again. But later that afternoon there was a bus waiting to take us on an overnight journey to Mendoza. We spent the time in between at Chirimoya, an excellent vegetarian cafe, reviving ourselves with delicious healthy food and refreshing drinks.
Upon boarding the bus I reclined my seat and was asleep before we had even left Salta. It had turned out that nights dancing until 5am weren’t as easy to cope with at 31 as they had been when I was 22.