Aug 3, 2009

Two days in the Puna: Yavi

Yavi is a very small town set in a relatively green valley amidst a high, dry region. It's also at 3400 meters above sea level, which is 11, 154 feet, or just plain stinkin' high . Indeed, the thinner air caused this flatlander to pause and enjoy her surroundings during frequent rest breaks. We took a hike along the river for a spell, following the directions of a local mozo, or waiter, in order to reach some pictographs that this region is known for. That remote orange spot in the middle of the photo above is Elizabeth in search of more pictographs.
Buildings in this region, known as the altiplano or puna, are almost exclusively built of adobe. It is an extraordinary, time-tested technology. It stays cool in the heat, and remains fairly warm during winters. Central heating is quite unusual in these parts so people typically heat with small woodstoves and wear many layers wool sweaters, scarves and ponchos. In the picture above you can see that even the roof is covered with adobe, under which is a layer of straw, and under that are bamboo or canes, which are themselves laying on the rafters.

The church is also built of adobe. It is unusual in that it has cream-colored windows of onyx, and large paintings of the Cusco school. The retable in front, a huge facade behind the altar, is completely covered in gold leaf. You can expect to see this kind of things in urban settings, but in this little indigenous hamlet, quite unusual. I really liked this shot, showing Elizabeth resting for a spell, and the church caretaker attending to her knitting.
This herd of sheep came down the road without a shepherd. Seems that there was a sheep dog, but in every other way those sheep were on a mission and that was to get where they were going.
I was surprised to find that there was not much activity in the streets here, that people were not strolling in the evenings, and children were not playing in the plaza, as in other Argentine towns. In talking to one of our innkeepers, Elizabeth learned that most of the men of working age in Yavi must leave in order to make money. They travel as migrant workers farther south in Argentina to work in tobacco or sugar cane, both very labor intensive and hard, hard work. We also observed that there is much livestock in this area, principally sheep and goats, and they need tending. Finally, it seemed to be that Yavi is less Latin and more indigenous than other Argentine towns we had been in, and perhaps it is not their custom to be out and about in public.

Aug 1, 2009

Horseback Riding: fuimos al cabalgata!

We took a 3 hour trail/road ride up to the mouth of El Garganta del Diablo, or Devil's Throat. A beautiful slot canyon. Rather nice horses, and a friendly, knowleadgeable guide, Máximo.

We had a great time! The scenery around here is fabulous, the silence profound. The pace of life here is conducive to relaxation and contemplation.

Jul 31, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

I love food. Argentines loves food. Argentines make a lot of time in their days for meals....can you guess where this post is going? The cuisine of Argentina has been clearly influenced by Italian, French and German cultures. Breads, pastas, lots of beef, lots of vegetables and salads. The coffee is strong and people drink it any time of the day or night. Wine or beer seems to appear on lunch tables as often as at supper, or so we observe in restaurants.

Today for lunch I had a Choripan, a grilled sausage sandwich. 'Chorizo' is sausage and 'pan' is bread. "Choripan" then, is kind of like saying "Sau-sandwich" in English. It was super. I topped it with chimichurri, which is a slightly picante spread, and carrot mayo. Yum, yum, yum. Elizabeth had a 'Hamburguesa Completa' which was a thin hamburger patty on a grilled bun with lettuce, tomato, fried egg and red pepper mayo. Yum, yum, yum.

All over Argentina you find good bread of all kinds. A tortilla here can mean anything from a flaky buiscuit, to grilled flatbread, to a potatoe au gratin kind of dish. But not the Mexican tortillas like you find in the states--really nothing like that here. Bread with butter (not margarine) or a mayo spread is served with almost every meal.

We had a meal last night that was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. First was a picada, which is very much like an Italian antipasto, and I wouldn't be surprised if that were its origin. It came on a cutting board loaded with two kinds of olives, roasted red peppers, goat cheese, little roasted potatoes, pickles, white beans, an eggplant spread, a slightly spicy tomato spread, chicken escabeche (a sort of salad) and llama escabeche. Oh. My. God. Sooo good. We had a lovely Argentine red to go with it. Then we shared a nice stew of quinoa and vegetables, which was a mild and warm and was a nice follow-up to those strong flavors of the picada.

Argentinean food makes my palate sing!

Don't forget to check on Elizabeth's blog:

Jul 29, 2009

Tilcara II

We hiked the 2 kilometers up to the ruins today. They were a pre-Inkan society, agrarian, chose this location for its prime strategic views. You can see far and wide from the hill these ruins are on.

Lots of pleasant dogs in Argentina. Most look either well cared for, and even the street dogs are not skin and bones. Couldn't resist this shot.

Just a regular street view in Tilcara. Some streets cobbled, some paved, the rest dirt. We checked out the main square today and found just oodles of textiles to take in. Most of it wasn't artisan, but the things that whee, so beautiful! Looks like this girl's gonna come home with some woolens.

Overwhelmed with Beauty in Tilcara, Jujuy

Here we are in the Andean northwest of Argentina, which is so very much like the American Southwest: high desert, adobe buildings, indigenous presence, more tranquil, less populated. In fact, this town of Tilcara is simply beautiful and charming. We got off the bus last night around 8:00, and went in search of a room. Lots of dorm space available, but no rooms with a double bed. We searched and searched! After stopping at something like 6 places, we found two lovely places, and opted for the more economical choice. We may serve ourselves up some luxury in a few days however.

Everywhere you look in this town you are treated to unlimited blue sky and mountain views that go on and on. In one direction there are badlands, in another polychromatic hillsides, in another sweeping foothills that carry your eyes up to more adobe buildings fitting solidly into the hillside.

After finding our new digs last night we went out to vanquish our mounting hunger. By that time it was around 9:00, so were right on time for dinner. Usually we are the only ones in the restaurant for supper because we get there around 6:30 or 7:00. Here, as in many places in the Latin world, the evening meal doesn't really get started until after 9:00 and many cafes and restaurants don't even open their kitchens until 8:oo.

We ate in a place just a few steps from our hospedaje (hostel/hotel) a lovely sienna adobe building that had been so tastefully decorated that I was almost overcome by the beauty and couldn't stop looking around. How do people create such beautiful spaces? As someone who struggles to maintain order with unruly material things, I am in awe of such skill. I told Elizabeth that I feel like I need to apprentice myself to a friend of hers who also creates beautiful and simple spaces.

We both had delicious stews for supper, traditional local fare that was perfect for a chilly Andean night. I had carbonada, a delicately seasoned pumpkin, corn, bean and meat stew. She had a lentil stew that was smokier and more tangy. A nice glass of Argentine red was perfect with the meal.

Elizabeth's blog:

More later.

Jul 28, 2009

Mountain Biking in the foothills of the Andes

We went mountain biking for half a day in the Quebrada del Toro, or Bull Canyon, a week ago. It was fantastic! Made me wonder what have I been doing all this time, limiting myself to cities and museums. Mind you, I love museums, and I grew up in a city, so there are things to be said for that itinerary, but being outdoors while doing self-propelled sports really makes my heart sing.

We followed the tracks of the famous Tren a las Nubes, or Train to the Clouds. It was originally conceived as a way to get freight from northern Argentina over the mountains to Chile and an ocean port, but it proved to be too slow and costly. Likewise for passenger service. Now it functions only as a tourist enterprise. It only runs once a week on Saturdays, so crossing this long bridge, 150 meters long, was no problem.

After the ride we had a tasty lunch at a little comedor with our guide, Francisco, who is the sole proprietor of MountainBike Salta. Super friendly guy and he ran a great trip. Just the right amount of attentiveness and hands off for Elizabeth and I, as we are two adventureous, fit gals.

Anyhow, though this may be a mountain biking post, I still have to mention the food. We had empanadas, which are ubiquitous throughout Argentina. These tasty little savory turnovers can be filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables. They may be baked or deep fried. Usually the crust is bread dough-like, but in Buenos Aires they were more flaky, like pie crust. Almost always they are delicious and inexpensive. The other part of our post bike ride lunch was an ensalada completa, which is a salad with any number of very fresh greens, tomatoes, carrots, onions, hard boiled eggs and cubes of ham. Always with the ham here in Argentina, it appears on so many different dishes. And always salads are served with oil and vinegar. Always. We have not run across a poor salad yet. For you Coca Cola fans, that is a liter of coke on the table, in glass. Eat your heart out.

Jul 26, 2009

Salta la Linda, a few more pictures

Here's a slew of pictures from Salta. One of our first treks was to take the teleférico, or gondola, up to a hill above the city to take in the view and do a little hiking. So did hundreds of locals, so it was busy. We didn't hike much. But we did make these friends on the way up, who took pictures at every turn and did these teen-agery hand signy things in every picture. Cute, cute. The irony was in fact, that they did real hand signy things all the time: they are hearing impaired. One of them could hear somewhat and/or read lips well, and we communicated through her with some success until Elizabeth whipped out her notebook and we started writing back and forth. It was a lot of fun. Wish I remembered their names, and I don't have Elizabeth's notebook with me.

The lovely main plaza is just beyond all this traffic, just keep your head up and watch where you're going, as there is no traffic signal and no stop sign here. Cars, scooters and bikes--oh my!

Striking but practically garish Church of San Francisco. Below is some detail of the front left panel.

Jul 25, 2009

First Day in Salta

Got in this morning at 6:30 instead of the anticipated 10:00 a.m. This overnight bus ride wasn't quite as bone-chilling as the previous one, but the movie was laughably terrible. Some Nicolas Cage flick where he plays, well, Nicolas Cage. Saving the world. Again.

But this is about Salta, an enchanting colonial city surrounded by mountains. It's at about 4000 feet above sea level, and has a high desert climate. This picture shows the Cathedral of Salta, which seems typical of the architecture in the city center. Salta was founded in the 16th century, and was for a long time more aligned with the more populated Andean Chile and Peru than with Buenos Aires (BsAs), as BsAs was something of a backwater for years and years. More on BsAs in another post--we were there for a week at the beginning of our trip.

Jul 24, 2009

Jaw Dropping Murals in Corrientes

We spent several hours in Corrientes before getting back on a bus for an overnight ride to Salta. Corrientes has a nice riverfront, on a very broad part of the River Paraná, not far downstream from the border with Paraguay.

These murals were beautiful and arresting. Actually it was one long mural, covering a wall that spanned a city block on a broad sidewalk.
I put these in here in order, so you can see some of the wall from left to right. It is, as many Latin American murals, a history lesson via art. This one is a history of the continent. There were numerous other murals throughout the city, all done by the same multi-media method of colored, carved concrete, often with object implanted in the piece.
This close up below shows detail; specifically, that these are not painted murals, they are colored concrete. Somebody at the cultural center explained to us that the concrete was put on in layers, and then carved while still wet enough to carve! You can see the layered colors on the underside of the hand, and then the last picture is the the mural in which the hand appears. The results are gorgeous.

I am so taken by it because of the three dimensional nature of the murals. I couldn't take my eyes off them.

Cold in Corrientes

We took the bus from Puerto Iguazú last night in the coldest bus ever. We landed in Corrientes, a large city in northeastern Argentina, at 6:30 in the freezing morning. The temp was right about 1 degree celsius, which is just above freezing. We sought shelter in the little coffee shop in the bus terminal, dreary as it was, because we were purt near hypothermic. I think they had the air conditioning on in that damn bus. After 2 hot drinks, we ventured out, only to find that it was still freezing. I commenced to walking for the next hour and a half, while Elizabeth returned to the cafe in order to tuck into her book and another cuppa joe.

The headlines shout about this "Ola Polar," or Polar Wave, that is causing all of Argentina to put on every last layer they have. As most buildings do not have central heat and must rely on space heaters, a cold wave is no small event. The computer tells me it's 84 degrees in St. Paul! While typically heat makes me wilt and suffer, warmth sounds really good right now. In any case, it is now past noon and has warmed up into the high 40's.

We are here less than 12 hours. We catch a bus tonight for Salta, a colonial city in the dry Andean northwest. We had yet another cafe con leche (strong coffee with hot milk. Yum.) in a classy cafe/tea room in the city center. Argentines often seem to identify more with Europeans than with the rest of Latin America, and this tea room reflects that: fabulous pastry counter, tasty espresso, waiters in ties. Here most table service is provided by men, for whom it is a profession. Another note about that European leaning: 70% of all Argentines have Italian heritage, and those of German descent maintain a German language newspaper.

Jul 23, 2009

Passing Time in Puerto Iguazú

This is a completely inadequate photo that shows a small portion of Iguazú Falls, or Las Cataratas de Iguazú in Spanish. They are stunning. They span 2 km, which is over a mile.

It is an Argentine National Park at the intersection of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and while cars are not allowed, it is Disneyfied in many other ways, complete with a cute little train to ship the crowds in closer. We both tired of the multitudes quickly, and left sooner than we might have. The best part of my day was a hike on the only nature trail in the park, which was topped by a lovely serendipitous siting of a group of Caí Monkeys. They travel in groups so it provided a fabulous opportunity to watch them watching us, though they mostly fed and groomed themselves.

That was yesterday. Today we went to an this, well, Wood Museum. Not that it's called that, but it is this big ole collection of trippy buildings made out of the stumps of the old growth rain forest that is long gone from this region. So, while fantastic, it is also sad and sobering. The picture at the left here is a roundhouse made out of tree trunk slabs. To give you an idea of scale, you can see the chairs perched on the table in the center, while each dark section of the wall is a slab of a tree trunk. Really enormous. The guy who built the place managed to get all these huge stumps out of the clearcuts before they were burned to make way for tobacco plantations.

Jul 22, 2009

Los Esteros del Iberá

The Esteros del Iberá are a large, important wetland complex much like the American Everglades in that the water is shallow and moving slowly, in this case in a southwesterly direction. There are gobs of bird species and as I noted in a previous post, lots of large mammals and reptiles. The picture below shows the ubiquitous epiphyte in bloom. So pretty! The other pic is on the road (note the red color) that bridges the biggest lake in the wetlands, Laguna Iberá. In the center you can just make out two figures, Erika and Elizabeth. If you click on the photo, it will reappear in a much bigger format, which allows you to see a great deal of detail.

The red soil is everywhere from this point north: we saw it all over the province of Misiones, the location of San Ignacio and Iguazú, both subjects of other posts. Everything, it seemed, aquired this burnt red color.

San Ignacio Miní: Jesuit mission ruins from the 17th century

Jesuit mission ruins of San Ignacio Miní in the province of Misiones.

Elizabeth peering out from some moss covered ruins as yet not restored.
These ruins were magnificent. Red sandstone that had been carved in gorgeous detail. And the history was not as horrendous as I had imagined. The Jesuits came to evangelize, as usual, but they did something differently, which was to collaborate quite respectfully with the Guaraní, the people whom they hoped to convert. The Guaraní and the Jesuits created settlements together and one of the fruits of their labor, in addition to marvelous buildings, was a great flowering of art: music, woodcarving, stonework. This art was very much a hybrid of Guaraní and European traditions. The Jesuits were eventually ordered back to Europe, as part of a much larger political event, and the missions declined, and then destroyed. The horrendous part of the history had more to do with the Portuguese slavers who kidnapped the Guaraní for slave labor.

Click on this link for some more details about the Jesuit missions in this part of the Americas:

Wildlife in the Esteros del Iberá

What a fantastic place this was! We were here on the 18th and 19th of July with friend and former Corvallis soccer teammate, Erika. (More pictures of people to follow!) Top picture is of a group of capybaras, whose claim to fame is being the world's largest rodent. They are placid creatures who seem to be walking (and napping) advertisements for zen meditation. They are the same size and shape of small sheep, and we observed them grazing and resting, sometimes both at the same time. As far as we could tell, the adults had no large predators to worry about. The young capybaras, well, they have to keep an eye out for the yacaré, which is pictured below. Honestly, I never thought I would see an alligatory type of reptile outside of a zoo or a Florida golf course.

But there they were, yacarés (pronounced sha-ca-RAYS in Argentine Spanish) in spades, also seemingly without any worldly cares. Maybe just thinking about their next meal of baby capybaras. It was marvelous to pull right up alongside them in the boat and take in these majestic creatures. They are not the lunge-out-and-devour-you kind of caimans, so observing them is not risky. The guide was skillful in maneuvering the boat and quite respectful of the wildlife.

Full disclosure: while I did get many excellent pictures, these ones are cut and pasted from the internet. I know, I'm a cheater. I just don't think I can get the pix from my camera uploaded here. Well, and I'm feeling a bit lazy. We stayed in an inexpensive and clean little hostel called "Hostel Iberá." For 35 pesos a night (a little under US$10) we had clean beds, a hot shower, and coffee and bread with butter and jam in the morning. There was marvelous flowering vine outside our room on the veranda that attracted hummingbirds, and in the ditch just down the block I spotted some kind of rail (a water bird) that I'd never seen. Not that I keep a life list, but I do know virtually every bird I've seen here so far is a new one for me. Pretty exciting!