North, but still south... the fijords of Fuegia

North, but still south... the fijords of Fuegia
North, but still south... the fijords of Fuegia

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Towards Bolivia: Uttermost Northern Argentina

Heading north from the city of Salta there were several things I wanted to see on what is known as the Quebrada de Humahuaca. I was lucky to make a new friend, through friends in Buenos Aires, in Miguel Pereira-- a proud resident of the Jujuy province who is a film/documentary director specializing in themes and landscapes of the region and Argentina in general. I'm excited to look for his films online (well represented at international film festivals) including Veronico Cruz (aka la deuda interna in Spanish speaking markets) and The Last Harvest.

 He showed me some of the regional sights and graciously answered the questions that I'd been saving up in the absence of a tour guide ... Plus enlightened me about some of the realities of life in Argentina.  It was great to have some 'adult' conversation after sharing hostel dorms with generally much younger travelers!

One amazing place (outside of the Quebrada area proper) was Salinas Grandes, up an amazing route over a high pass towards a border crossing with Chile.  It's a small (relative to my eventual destination) salt flat but it was my first ever flat white (of salt) experience...



The salt precipitates up and out after rains and is harvested locally on a small scale.

There is a camp of workers/artesania sellers, and a defunct salt hotel (the building and everything constructed from cut blocks of salt)


Any building/home complex in rural areas at minimum (and even at the remains of roadside construction camps) have outside ovens for bread/empanadas baking. It's just the done thing. Not inside. The buildings are well insulated adobe so not much need to warm them via the baking oven. Only small wood fires for cooking are used inside.


And there was this amazing salt Jesus next to a little enclave carved out among piles of salt, with seats made from stacks of salt blocks...


Some sights on the way between the Quebrada and the salinas...



There are several towns sitting the route up through the Quebrada, shunting people/tourists towards the Bolivian border.  The town of Tilacara, besides being beautiful with a neat upscale hippy vibe 


has a great botanical garden 








near a site of ancient occupation with extensive networks of stone foundations, interesting circular pits used as graves where the interred were sitting hunched in a ball, and where the site would have been a visible connection between other settlements in the valley.


Took an amazing hike up out of the town to see 'the nature'..



And again was amazed at the whole bromeliad thing going on... 



An excellent day with my photosynthesizing friends (and cool finds like this bleached cardon skeleton) And the wind and birds... nice to be out of the cities!  



The village of Purmamarca is well known for its hills of color (lots of mineral deposits in the rocks/soils of the region)


And a massive mesquite tree (a cousin species to ours) prob 100s of years old...


And more things of beauty too (tourism driven architecture, but well done restorations/improvements, and aesthetically pleasing so not much to protest!)


cardon wood accents (in the lamps), and interior ceilings are often covered/lined with cane... cozy feeling!


Then to Humahuaca where i stayed in a neat old home turned hostel that belonged to the grandparents of the current young dueƱo


and where I ate some really incredible food including creamy quinoa risotto and this gorgeous plate of local goat cheese (so creamy and mild) lightly fried in herbs... oh, so yum.


This was the gateway to the small town of Iruya, three hours one way by bus that everyone said was a not to miss-- off the beaten path, not touristy, etc... a town tucked down into (and up the sides of) a spectacularly eroded gorge... 


The scenery was spectacular and the drive and surroundings were inspiring (up and over a pass at 4000 meters!) but still a tourist destination despite the long trip to get there.  Even a handful of tourists felt like a lot. But noticeably lacking were the shanty shacks of identical artesania that have taken over the most beautiful parts if the other Quebrada villages so on that count it was refreshing.    And you could walk to villages further 'into the wild' from there which was cool, and impressive too that electricity and cell service reached these pretty remote areas that are still mainly agrarian.

The place that captured me even more was at the north end of the Quebrada de Humahuaca/Incan highway region... just a few kilometers east of the busy border town of La Quiaca lies the village of Yavi.   A few kms away from the fray, and on a paved road at that, but more like a century ago in feel. 




An oasis in the high desert, tucked down in a confluence of shallow valleys that have running water year round. The chapel there dates from the mid/early 1600s.  Not a typo. 1-6-00









The light was dark so photos don't well demonstrate the incredibleness of the detailed carvings... of course all of the artisan work, carvings etc were done by the local converts/conscripts so the images are often much more 'native' looking  than European looking, as in this figure holding the baptismal font


Windows made from sheets of mica


And stunning religious paintings, done by artists in La Paz... sent to this outpost to further cement the glory of god and demonstrate the long hand of power/control of the church.


Also interesting is that many of the angels portrayed in these early Spanish-era churches actually are holding guns as opposed to, I don't know, babies or rays of light or whatever it is angels normally occupy their hands with.  I guess it was meant to show that they were warriors of god, defending the faith or something like that. The figure at the lower right in this picture used to have a gun (not sure if it was real or a model, see how his left hand is curved?) but it was taken away to... A museum? To minimize the militant connotation?  Don't remember. 



And FYI all the gold is real gold leaf applied by hand.  (!)

Neat museum had artifacts from the long history of the area 




including its importance as a trade center in the mid 1800s.  Post office stamp


And rawhide traveling boxes/cases were interesting highlights



There is an old water wheel mill that if it got organized could do screaming business in producing organic small batch heirloom (like 1000s of years heirloom!) corn meal... neat concept. 

All of the buildings in the town are adobe which gave it a really nice feel. 




And there was this sweet wall hanging that showed off many of the area's kinds of corn. Not just varieties but races, akin to original strains of domesticated corn. They're still planted and used today for very specific foods/purposes such as a sweet breakfast dish, fermenting for alcohol, animal feed, savory desert, etc.  



Visited the school in the further out Yavi Chico village that has had agriculture there continuously for over 10,000 years. Still going strong. The school is trying to help strengthen and promote this amazing living history, helping the kids to be proud of and value their heritage, so the kids are teaching the teachers about their practices, even rituals, of the planting season etc. 



There is a calendar of the yearly cycle of what gets planted or prepared when, corn poetry, and a yearly festival where the kids make diffetent dishes and serve the teachers and visitors who come.  


There was a greenhouse there too that caught my eye... yay for reusing trash!!!  Plastic bottles strung together to make the roof :)


That evening we went out to a lagoon near an interesting geologic feature and besides being a beautifully spare and powerful landscape, the there were some protected petroglyphs which were pretty amazing. 





And this one is strikingly similar to one I've seen several times in the Big Bend...


Along with an amazing sunset.  The clouds were dripping molten cotton candy...


Then it was time to head for the border. A stop in La Quiaca checking out some sights, murals are everywhere in Argentina!



And then I scooted across... a long way from the other end of the country!

Next post coming up!
:) jos