Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bulletins From BA #19

Bulletins From BA #19
16 noviembre 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.


A.J. and I were keen to return to Salta Province in northwest Argentina, having visited briefly during the triumphant BNC Tour (Bulletin #14). So when my best friend from high school and his lovely wife (W&E) decided to visit Argentina for the first time, we determined that a return to Salta would be just the ticket.

With the invaluable assistance of Ricardo, our go-to tour operator, we booked a car and driver to shlep us around a circuit that began in Salta and proceeded west to Cachi, south to Cafayate, and finally north back to Salta: 6 days/5 nights. It was a great trip. Cue the highlight reel.

Altitude - Varied from Salta (1187 m/3894 ft.) to Piedra del Molino (3347 m/10,980 ft., where we saw Andean condors at close range. At the higher altitudes, I had to occasionally remind myself to actually, you know, breathe. But the use of coca leaves really did make a difference.

Ruta 40 - The longest road in Argentina, running 5140 km/3194 mi., parallel to las montañas de los Andes. In many places, the road is paved; where we travelled, not so much. We found ourselves mostly on dirt surfaces, often wide enough for only one vehicle. (Our reliable driver helpfully informed us that the biggest hazard we faced was the possibility of encountering a reckless Israeli tourist in a rented 4x4.)

Scenery - Looks much like areas of the American West, and is fraught with spectacular geological formations with colorful names such as Los Castillos (The Castles), Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), and Quebrada de las Flechas (Gorge of the Arrows). We also saw muchos cactus in bloom, especially in the Parque Nacional Los Cardones.

Commerce - Local artisanos set up shop along the way, selling all manner of goods, much of which is of very high quality. Particularly memorable was a side trip to Seclantás to visit the familia Guzmán compound. The Guzmáns are renowned weavers, specializing in cubrecamas (bedspreads), chales (shawls), and ponchos (ponchos), including a magnificent red numero made expressly for el Papa (Pope) Francisco. We saw the photos; he looked good in it.

Los Niños de Llullaillaco - Five hundred years ago, three Incan children journeyed to the 22,000 ft. summit of a volcano near what is now the Chilean border. From The New York Times:
“The children were sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as capacocha. They walked hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco and were then taken to the summit of Llullaillaco (yoo-yeye-YAH-co), given chicha (maize beer), and, once they were asleep, placed in underground niches, where they froze to death. Only beautiful, healthy, physically perfect children were sacrificed, and it was an honor to be chosen. According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops like angels.”
Their mummified remains are on display and their haunting story is told at the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) in Salta. One wonders what the Incan gods make of that.

Los Niños de Autobús Tourístico - We found ourselves on the same tourist route as a group of about a dozen very nice 5th graders and their chaperones. Turns out that one of the muchachos had won a logo design contest for a Salta tourism campaign, “Una Sonrisa para un Turista” (“A Smile for a Tourist”). As a reward, he and his whole class were treated to una gran excursión. Muy cool.

For us, this was the last major Argentine aventura until 2014. But W&E will be staying on for another week, all the better to explore Buenos Aires. Anne and I also have plans for a modest Thanksgiving that includes neither turkey nor “Black Friday.”



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