Thursday, February 4, 2010
ARGENTINA: INTO THE CACHI GORGE!
So far we'd been traveling on our own. But our excellent travel agent, Pablo Kesselman of Carlson-Wagonlit/Clarke-Way Travel -- who's originally from Buenos Aires and whose life story would make a great novel -- hooked us up with a company called Argentina Activa for our mountain trek. And they in turn hooked us up with Pablo Sancho Perez, who in addition to being funny and insightful was actually able to drive the treacherous hairpins without getting us killed. We went in a 4 x 4 -- just us, so no tour stops in junky souvenir places!
The mountains are the Eastern rage, just east of the Andes and reach almost as high -- 4,600 meters above sea level: we started at 2,000 meters.
After every other hairpin turn there is a stone memorial with a cross for each car that´s plunged over.
Pablo says some (like a bus with 40 passengers) have had bad brakes. Here he shows Daniel the memorial to the tragedy --
Others have run-ins with stray bulls -- note the missing guard rail.
But most accidents happen when locals simply fall asleep at the wheel. One blink and it´s yippee-ai-o-kay-ay!
We passed a small chapel used by locals. A lot of cigarettes lit and left to burn down as burnt offerings. (Here as in Afro-Latina religions like voodoo and santeria, gifts of tobacco to Mother Earth are common, and the clever Jesuits allowed the local Incas to synchretize their religions with Catholicism. Those traditions still strong.
(FYI: The theory is that Incas and previous waves of indigenous peoples came across the Bering Sea and moved south -- i.e., that they are directly related to our Inuit. Indeed the resemblance to the facial bone structures of the people here are striking.)
Oh, above is another example of local tradition. The cross behind me isn't for a dead person. It marks a cache. Travelers on the mountain trails leave things they don't need and take things other travelers have left behind. The Incan and pre-Incan peoples created the piles. the Spaniards added the crosses.
And Pablo told us of another old tradition to do with funerals. It still goes on in rural areas where they have wakes like the Irish. (No embalming but they wait a day before burial to make sure you´re really dead. Kinda thoughtful.) Anyway, the cool thing is ¨the weepers¨-- old women in the community who make sure things don´t get too glum or out of control. So when the drinking leads to boisterous behaviour they start beat their chests and wailing, then if things are too serious they crack jokes and pass out the booze.
We interrupt this text to bring you a few photos:
We pass giant sculptures of garishly painted 14 foot crucified Christs at the entrance to various villages. The limbs are extended like an El Greco preying mantis; the paint makeup looks like the Joker. Truly nightmarish. But time to sign off. Next post I'll show you Pablo "Look Ma No Hans" Sancho Perez and his fun approach to hairpin turns.