Friday, August 7, 2009

And then I went north!

I am returning from spending the last 6 days traveling up to the north of Argentina (the Salta and Jujuy provinces), where we rented a car and drove through many dramatic landscapes. Because this area of the country is closer to Bolivia, you notice a clear influence and it felt much more “Latin American” than Buenos Aires. There is an energy in the street, people eat at the outdoor vendors, and stores and restaurants are always closed for the siesta hours. The landscape is mainly dry, filled with cacti and very dusty, but the colors of the mountains are stunning—there is a Hill of Seven Colors and it truly lives up to its name. The houses are built out of adobe and it appears that the people continue to sustain themselves using artisan crafts and through tourism. In the southern part of the north (confusing, I know), the main industry is wine and there are vineyeards, both large and small throughout the region. They specialize in a type of wine called “patero” which is made once a year when they bring in many people to stomp the grapes.

We drove on dirt roads most of the time and went through a part known as the “camino de los artesanos” (road of the artisans). The people here weave using enormous looms and they specialize in bright red ponchos with black trim. A claim to fame is that the last Pope wore one of the ponchos at an event. You stop along the road and people invite you into their workshops, where you can see their wares and watch them do the actual weaving. The first people we saw were a sweet old, couple who were very happy to chat and share about their work. On one hand, it felt contrived to me for us to be enter their space when we all know the real point is to sell a shawl or blanket, but on the other hand, it is probably very nice for them to have people come through and they get to actually keep the profits of their labor without using middlemen. Those situations are always hard for me to read.

We drove the salt flats and took many pictures, playing with the lack of depth perception. As a salt lover, I enjoyed tasting the salt and being surrounded by it. The roads in the north took us up mountains, twisting and turning, oftentimes around blind corners and close to the rocks. One road in particular was amusing because it was a one lane highway (I mean one lane in total!) and it took us around mountains and because it was dark, we couldn’t see anything, but we could sense that we were surrounded by a jungle. Every once in awhile, we would have to stop because the lane was blocked by loose cows and horses. It is unclear whether these animals had owners and were wild or if they were simply let loose to graze. It was incredible to come across these beautiful horses in pitch-black night and just wait to let them cross. On this road, there would occasionally appear a line painted in the middle, indicating that it was two lanes, however the road did not widen in any way. We deduced that there must have been some policy around certain kilometers being two lanes, so they simply added the line, took some clever pictures and voila! Two lane highways! However, since the space itself did not increase, it was simply amusing and not very useful.

Coming back to the city, I now have one week before I leave Buenos Aires. I find myself sad to leave the city. It has been an incredible experience filled with huge life lessons.

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