ARGENTINA

THE ALTIPLANO: LA PUNA-.

San Salvador de Jujuy, both its name and its people is a lively example of the miscegenation of races and cultures. It is a nice city which lies almost 1300 meter high among mountains and watered by two rivers. It was founded by Francisco de Argañaraz y Murguía in 1593 and it still keeps a traditional look: big houses with balconies and patios full of flowers. There is an important commercial activity: Jujuy is the right place to get to know all the typical handicrafts of the region: clothes of spinned thread, kilim of sheep wool or of llama, pottery, etc.. These products can also be found in the local markets of the towns on La Puna. The shopping area is placed among Lavalle street (market), Alvear street and Belgrano. Some interesting buildings are: the Cathedral, Spanish baroque style, with neoclasic front and tower; St. Francisco Church and St. Bárbara Church; The Government House, The Colonial Headquarter of the police (former Town Hall); and the Museums: Charles Darwin ( somehow unexpected for the visitor), The Museum of Mineralogy and Paleontology, The History Museum of the region and the Sacred Art Museum.

 

La Puna is a high plain above 3.400 meter high among Argentina, Bolivia and Perú, South of the former Inca empire with a tough and dry weather. Its inhabitants are: llamas, vicunas, suris, condors... and the collas, who have inherited both the quechua and the aimara culture. A land of amazing landscape, of rites and customs that suprises Western citizens. On the one hand it is a quite particular town, but on the other hand, very socialized in its rituals with hundreds of festivities and markets that take place all along the year and dress the roads and paths with colourful parades, where the outsider is welcomed. Here it is deeply showed the sorrows and joys, worries and hopes of a town, singular mixture of the Indian and Christian culture.

La Puna: loneliness and joy. A place where sky and land comes together, different to any other one may have visited, an alternative way of living, even for the tourist himself, where the typical holiday activities fit the landscape. Nature, light, height, people and habits overwhelm the visitor to such an extent that in a few days one takes notice of a change in one´s innerself. Do not try to bear the altitude sickness, the headache or the tiredness and go ahead and take the natural and traditional solution that has been working for centuries in this country: a tea, a maté of coke. Its secundary effects are just fiction and it is legal around here. This is La Puna and merging oneself into the landscape is an experience: neither better, nor worse, just different.

On the route 9, leading North, 20 km away from Jujuy, turning to the left, lies Termas de Reyes, a spa with water above 50 degrees. It is a nice place where one can have a sleep and a thermal bath before climbing to the top of La Puna. From Termas one can go on towards the hillsides of the "Nevado del Chani" with lakes, rich in fishing pejerey and sorrounded by woods. But, beyond this place, the green of the landscape dissapears, even the water and the lakes get dry. This region, that covers an area toward Chile, has always been such an important natural resource that it was a passing point on the Road of the Inca.

Let us return to the route 9, north direction. The whole route is a surprising variation of the landscape, parallel to Rio Grande, and driving up progresively. In fact, from Jujuy we are coming along the long "Quebrada de Humahuaca", nearly 150 km up to the city of the same name. A successive small and fertile valleys, divided by canyons where Nature has formed capricious, multicoloured shapes.An unavoidable stop leads us to the left towards Purmamarca, a valley and a town with a surprising natural strengh, next to the "Cerro de los siete colores" (Hill of the seven colours) which was a former stop on the Road of the Inca, trading in salt. The conqueror kept the name of the town: "town of the lion".This is a quite peaceful place, surrounded by multicoloured mountains and poplars, only disturbed during the celebration of its traditional market and on August 30th, when the festivity of Santa Rosa de Lima takes place around a curious chapel and the square with its huge carob tree, about 800 years old. The walls of the chapel are made of adobe as all the buildings in the region; the roof is made of "cardón" with girderwork and the choir is covered with the same material, which could seem a little "kitch" for this place as well as the first hotels that announce the arrival of a modernity impossible to stop. From this place, following the road towards the West, going up the hill of Lipán, we arrive to the large salt marsh, a dessert-like place surrounded by summits. Across the pass of Jama, we get to Chile: 250 km to the border and another 165 km to St Pedro de Atacama, the first important city in Chile.

Coming back to route 9, a few kilometers away, we get to Tilcara ("shooting star" in Quechua language). It is an important historical center with some of the essential museums to get to know the culture of the region. The Archaeological Museum has important local collections as well as some ones from Chile and Bolivia:such as funerary urns and indian mummies. To get a more complete view one can also visit the Museum of the Folklore and the Botanic Museum of Altura. One must also visit: The Pucara of Tilcara, some ruins, partially reconstructed from a former fortress-town where remains of different periods have been found. It lies on the hill in the north of the town. It was the last place conquered by the Spaniards in 1594 as the local cacique, Viltipoco, was taken prisoner. The inhabitants were farmers and used to take care of llamas and also used to hunt vicunas and guanacos. They made pottery: plates and vases to store food; knew how to salt meat, the way the Collas keep on doing nowadays; and they used to dress themselves with clothes made of handmade threat of wool of vicuna and llama with a spindle and dyed with bright colours as they do nowadays. In 1948 excavations in this place began with a first restorarion and have been completed to the present state by the team of Dr. Casanova since 1948.

The strengh of the local traditions can be found not only in the Museums but also in the landscape and the people. Tilcara may be the best way-in to this expressiveness, strengh and at the same time quietness of the altiplano. Here it comes together the Indian features and that ones provided by the conquerors, which is clearly observed in the festivities and religious ceremonies; carnivals celebrated day and night for a week or the flowered panels at Easter.

The road leads us among singular landscapes in the valleys of the gully, the farms of adobe and straw, llamas and small gardens before we reach Humahuaca, about 3000 meter high. It was founded in 1591 by Juan Ochoa de Zárate and given the hispanicized name of the indians that used to live here: the Omoguaca. The streets are organized in a tidy way between the hill, the outskirt road and the railway, covering an extension as big as it could be understood under an urbanistic and didactic point of view.
The low houses, made mainly of adobe, form block of houses with nice patios, that allows a public life outside and a private one, inside. The scheme of the city is broken in the central square, where we find the "Iglesia de la Candelaria", a church with a neoclasic look, but baroque altarpiece and paintings. On the other side of the square, decorated with trees, is the town hall, built in 1935, with a curious mixture of local decoration and volume that reminds us pictures from the European Secession. Both the image of St. Francisco Solano, giving blessings at angelus time from the clock of the town hall and the monument to the Indian on the staircase that comes out to the square, are made by Ernesto Soto, whose museum we could have visited in Tilcara.

Humahuaca has taken the role of a small capital in the area. It is obvious due to its trade business, the number of hotels, the new opening of alternative business, some of them managed by young people who decided to leave the great city. The restaurant of Fortunato Ramos is a local institution with good service and better grill, and we cannot leave apart his "tellings". In front of it, the shop with knittings and pullovers made of wool of llama, is also an institution around here. The hostel Humahuaca needs somehow a young spirit to cheer it up, although one can enjoy oneself with the humor of the young couple that runs the bar and meanwhile try the cheese and the excelent apple cake. The huge "Hotel de Turismo" seems quite atractive outside, but once inside, one feels disappointed with the sight, due to a wrong management.that needs a bigger effort.

 Around Humahuaca, we can choose among many places to get lost in a region that gathers the best of the precolombinian arqueology: The unexplored site of Coctaca, about 10 km away; "Tres Cruces" (three crosses), 45 km away with its Cave of the Inca and its paintings. Iruya and its sorroundings is pure ethnography with Titiconte and S. Isidro, 75 km away from Humahuaca on the RP13. The difficulty in reaching some ways makes necessary to have a guide, as sometimes we may even need to ride a horse. But the sight of the most pure traditions and the landscape is worth the time.. One must have just time and like adventure.

"Abra Pampa"is easier to reach. It is a city, raised in 1883, on our way to the North, about 3.500 meter high. It is also called: "Siberian Argentina", which give us the idea why the founders run away to a more appropiate climate and the native people took the chance to have the place back to them. We are definitively in an aboriginal area, one can feel it in the streets, among the people or in the local market, that takes place on the fields on the right of the road. It is hard impossible to pass by without seeing it, as the indians come along with their colourfulness, their animals (dead,but really dead, or alive).It all makes the camp a show one can see from the distance. Here one can buy and sell, and barter. Sitting down next to them to watch and listen, although we may not understand their language, is a good alternative to enjoy oneself.

 

From Abra Pampa, we arrive at Casabindo (also by local bus, if we don´t want to risk our own vehicle). It a place, lost in the distance, where any Spaniard could not have imagine that here (but just on 15th July) a local version of a bullfighting takes place. On our way to get here, we may visit The "Estación Zootécnica del Inta", an experimental Center about animals, where one has the chance to know the four kinds of Sudamerican camels, from the most known ones like the llama, to the guanaco and vicuña, and also the alpaca, this last one, a species proper of Chile and Peru.

At the end of the Route 9 Argentina, is "La Quiaca", a border city and capital of the puneño carnival. On the third sunday in October a great fiesta takes place, it could be considered the national festivity of the Collas, both Argentinian and Bolivian. The city is full with their colour and handicrafts.One can feel lucky if one finds oneself around here on these dates, as one can get to know and adquire the best and the biggest choice of pottery, cloth, musical instruments, etc. By the way, the "Hotel de Turismo" here is a treasure: neat, cared, with good cooking, even internet is available. And it is not an illusion.

Yavi lies 15 km away from the border on the East.At the time of the colonization it used to play the roll of the capital of the Puna and south of Bolivia, a settlement of the Marquess of Tojo, whom Philip V of Spain gave this land. Nowadays, the house of the Marquess is in dreadful conditions. Here it was kept an incunabulum of "Don Quixote", but, no wonder, it has been recently stolen. On the other hand, the Church of S. Francisco is in good state thanks to the local people, who take good care of it, and it is original as the palace it used to serve at the end of the 17th century. It is probably one of the best Baroque churches in Argentina. It has got a central nave with the choir painted, and girderwork made of wood, as the chapel on one side (both of them have got a rich baroque altarpiece); and the pulpit, all of them gold-plated.
Just in case one may have a special vehicle or can contact with specialists. one can carry out with the impressive adventure of the route of the Abras. It is impossible to get there in the rain period: summer, from December to April. There are up to 5 "cuts", "cortadas" or "abras" more than 4.200 meter high, and the also impressive way down to Santa Victoria West, in the region of Salta.

Villazón, first city in Bolivia, is a place as good as any other to come inside the so called third world. Even before the proper border, in the parking, the children will run to you and you may not know exactly how to react: whether giving them anything you may have with you: a pen or a coke, or promising a few coins if they take care of your car. One piece of advice: give him the money when you come back, he will be waiting for you as he has no other thing to do.

 

Villazón is linked with the Quiaca by the international bridge of the Panamerican Route, and the train. This city lives from the trade with the neighbour-cities, a camp city, with such an amount of stands and shops that it is hardly impossible to guess how long it is. One can imagine without a big effort that most of the articles, that are on sale here, have doubtful origin. Some permisive movements, and not free ones, take place even on the Bolivian frontier itself. Most of the articles, that are offered here, are similar to the european: " one-pound"-shops. But here, we may also find the collas knitting and handicrafts mixed with Bolivian silver handicrafts and dozens of stands that offer the coke, large-scale grown grass in Bolivia and from here out it goes to the neighbour places, where it is taken in but not produced, as in Argentina.
Villazón is also the end-station of many old buses that lead to the capitals towards the North: La Paz, Potosí, Sucre... and of the railway, whose station is one kilometer away from the city. The railway track runs across the city, waiting for the day, when the Argentinian route is recovered and the train can go on southwards. Both means of transport are a strong experience by themselves due to the route, the landscape... Now Bolivia welcomes you. Here we must say farewell to the last hints of the western world.

 

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