|Right now I'm sitting in the Salta airport in the NW part of Argentina, not far from the Chilean border. Let me just describe the scene, it's comical: I'm pretty close to blind (had to take out my contacts, but didn't bring any replacements/glasses), dirty and dusty (since I didn`t have a towel to shower with in the hostel), and feeling really stupid for paying for TWO flights to Bs. As. I hadn`t planned to end up here -- it`s a long story. However, after looking back on my adventure over the past week, I realize that it was worth all the craziness/hassle/missing classes, etc.
Here`s how it started: FLACSO, my host institute in Bs. As., arranged and paid for an educational trip to Jujuy (the most NW province bordering Bolivia)where we participated in a seminar on the indigenous, Andean culture. This region is completely different than the other parts of Argentina I'd seen so far... I know I always say that... but Argentina really has such a wide range of climates and landscapes. I'm always amazed! Not only was the landscape different, but the people and food was drastically different (I actually felt like I was in Latin America, rather than the European capital that is Buenos Aires). This region is know for their spicy food (YAY!), corn and meat tamales, lentil stews, etc. Although I love the criollo food in Buenos Aires, I NEED something awaken my taste buds every once in a while...so this was a much needed change! Also, the people have darker, tougher skin and more indigenous features.
Our group of about 50 students left on Wednesday morning and arrived in the capital of the Jujuy (pronounced Hoo-hoowee), then took the 2 hour bus ride north to the town of Tilcara. We stayed in these cute little cabañas on the outskirts of the pueblo. The population of this town is only about 3,000, however, it`sone of the largest towns in the "Quebrada de Humahuaca" (Gorgue of Humahuaca), which is the most arqueologically rich area in the province and is one of UNESCO's Patrimony of Humanity sites. It's full of ruins of the indigenous people -- originally the Tilcara indians -- but later the Incas who invaded and conquered the locals around 1480 and integrated them into their empire. After having visited Perú in March and seeing the ruins in Cuzco and Machu Picchu, I was expecting this to be similar. I was definitely wrong. Unlike the lush green Peruvian Andes, the climate and vegetation here is extremely hot dry, and desert-like. The weather in coming from the Atlantic dictates the climate in this region, so by the time the air arrives here to the central part of the continent, there's no more humidity left.
Day 1: UBA's Museo Arqueológico Dr. Eduardo Casanova and its' center for Andean studies, located on the main plaza of the town, gave us a economic, political, and cultural introduction that morning. The future for most of the people in this town and region is looking less and less promising.
In the afternoon, we visited the ruins of the Pucará of Tilcara (pucará means fortress) and the accompanying high altitude botanical garden.
Day 2: We took another two hour bus ride north through the Quebrada and the city of Humahauca, population 5,000, to reach the ruins of Coctaca. Although I don't think I would have realized these were ruins if the tour guide hadn't been there to explain, it was an interesting site to learn about the argicultural methods of the indigenous population, the Omaguaca. The basic premise was the same as the Asian method of terraces on steep hills. Since there's very little water, the farmers built hundreds of retainer walls using stones cleared from the area to catch every bit of water that runs down from the mountains in the rainy season. The soil is so rocky and dry that the only thing that can be grown successfully there is potatos and certain types of wheat.
Day 3: Each day was more physically demanding, with today being the hardest becasuse because of the altitude. The first stop was Purmamarca, an adorable city with another artisan market. The main hightlight of the town is it's annual carnival celebration and it's incredible walls of 7 colorful layers of sediment. Next, we headed up to the Puna, the high flat plains that connect Chile, Bolivia, and Arg. We stopped along the side of the road to do an offering to the Pacha Mama at the highest point 4270 meters ( about 15000 ft). I was chewing my Coca leaves, so the altitude didn't get to me like it did at Machu Picchu. We made the Salinas Grandes, which are some of the salt fields in the world. We talked to the salt miners and got to watch the process. This was some of the most surreal and forbidding territory I've ever seen.