Posts Tagged ‘Northwest Argentina’

Culture comes alive on day of dead

November 2, 2008
Man paints cross on family grave in preparation of All Souls` Day

Man repaints cross on his parents' grave outside of Humahuaca in preparation for All Souls' Day

Because Wessel and I had only one week and many miles to travel when we were in indigenous Northwest Argentina two years ago, I had plotted our trip out pretty carefully. Then, true to the wonders of travel, the event I hadn’t been aware of ended up being one of the most interesting and meaningful part of our trip — All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2.

Sugar baby heads for sale on local market

Sugar baby heads for sale at local market

A couple days before the Roman Catholic day of remembrance for loved ones who have passed away, we started seeing ceremonial supplies on sale at the many outdoor markets. These included bouquets of cut flowers and also plastic coronas — rings of brightly colored flowers. (I still have the two I brought home with me.) Also popular at the market were ghoulish sweets, including sugar skulls, crosses, and baby heads. And there were carts of “pan de muerto,” or bread of the dead, sweet bread baked in various shapes, including crosses and llamas.

We learned through various innkeepers we stayed with that this was a very special time, marked by offerings to the gods and festivities, including town parades. As the day approached, we strategized a new activity — cemetery hopping in our rental car.

Graves colorfully decorated in Abra Pampa, Argentina

Colorfully decorated graves in Abra Pampa

By the end of All Souls’ Day we had visited seven cemeteries, from Yavi, the small town we woke up in, to Purmamarca, which is flanked by the stunning Cerro de los Siete Colores, or Hill of Seven Colors. Each town we passed had cemeteries of varying sizes. For at least a mile away from each one we could see people walking toward them, carrying flowers and gifts. (Most people in this region do not own cars.)

Man decorate large cross on the La Quiaca cemetery

Locals add wreathes to a large cross at La Quiaca cemetery

We stayed the longest at La Quiaca cemetery, near the Bolivian border and one of the liveliest. It was easy to locate — we followed the crowds to the main gate, flanked by ice cream and empanada vendors. A 10 a.m. Mass was wrapping up around noon, and a second two-hour Mass was scheduled for 4 p.m. Families and friends clustered around gravesites bursting with color from flowers real and fake. People lined up at water hoses to fill vases. They also lined up at grain-alcohol vendors to fill their cups.

All around the cemetery, hundreds of people swept, wept, drank, prayed, and sometimes sang. We were very grateful that none of them paid much mind to us, as we were the only outsiders there. We took photos while holding our cameras at our hips, not wanting to show disrespect. We felt a profound gratitude to have an opportunity to share in this wonderful culture that honors the deceased not only with the sorrow of death but with the celebration of life.

For more photos, here’s a link to the Boston Globe slideshow of Wessel’s photos. 


An Argentinian odyssey

April 2, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published  March 30, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: In her short time in Argentina, Nicole traveled to almost every region of that vast country. I can’t imagine that many exchange students do the same. Very impressive, Nicole!

WHO: Nicole Falzone, 22, of Stoneham, Mass.

WHERE: Argentina.

WHEN: Six months, July through December.

WHY: “I’d studied abroad in Spain in my sophomore year and didn’t think I was going to go overseas again,” Falzone said. “But in my junior year I switched from Spanish to international relations and I wanted to do a study abroad and focus on Latin America.”

NEW PERSPECTIVE: “I wanted to live in a big city because in Spain I was in a small city,” said Falzone, who is planning to graduate this spring from the University of Connecticut. She stayed with a host family in Buenos Aires and took classes at several schools. “I took one class at the University of Buenos Aires with all Argentine students. That was kind of scary. My other classes were all in Spanish but with students from all over. In the US, maybe they cover like a week of Latin American studies, so it was interesting to see things from Argentina’s point of view.”

Nicole Falzone at Salt flat in Jujuy, ArgentinaFAR-FLUNG: Along with exploring Buenos Aires, Falzone covered much ground away from home, traveling either with friends or on a tour with other US exchange students who were in the same program, the Council on International Educational Exchange. “My host family joked with me, ‘You’ve seen more than we’ve seen.’ The first tour we did was to Jujuy [province], in the northwest. There are several small towns with native people, very different than the city, where it’s very European. All the towns had little markets on the plaza with sweaters and jewelry. The landscape was almost like a desert. We went to the salt flats. You can see them for miles and it’s just flat and white. It’s difficult to get the concept that it’s salt settled there and you’re walking on it.”

Nicole Falzone (left) and Megan Carey at Iguazu Falls, ArgentinaTRIP TO FALLS: With a friend she visited Iguazu Falls, at the Brazilian border. “I didn’t even know they existed, but my host family said I had to go. We took an overnight bus, where the chairs recline. The falls are just incredible. We stayed at a hostel with a big pool. It’s a national park and there are trails that you take all around.”

Nicole Falzone (right) and Michelle Kuecker taste wine in Mendoza, ArgentinaWINE COUNTRY: With three girlfriends, Falzone went to Mendoza, in western Argentina. “It was the end of August so it was still cold. It’s near the mountains, and we did some things from the hostel we stayed at. They took us into the mountains for horseback riding and then we went on four-wheelers all around. The other day we did a wine-tasting tour. A lot of people don’t realize how much wine comes from Mendoza.”

Nicole Falzone in Ushuaia, Argentina in the Beagle CanalSOUTHERNMOST: Falzone even made it to Patagonia. “I went with another girl. We flew to El Calafate, where all the glaciers are, and went to Perito Moreno, the most famous one. I’ve just never seen anything like it. The glaciers look like mountains of ice and are this light-bluish color. Parts will fall off into the water as you’re watching, and it sounds like this huge explosion.” They went as far as Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. “That’s where we saw the penguins,” she said. “A little boat took us to an island and you get off and the whole shore is just lines of penguins.”

Who is that man in red? Ask an Argentinian

January 9, 2008

Yesterday [Jan. 8] in Argentina, tens of thousands of people celebrated the life of “Gauchito Gil” (“little gaucho Gil)” on the 130th anniversary of his death. He is a thing of legend, the country’s Robin Hood. As Argentina’s economy has plummeted, Gil’s fame has soared.

In the fall of 2006, when Wessel and I traveled in Northwest Argentina, which is populated by mostly poor, indigenous people, we were intrigued by the mysterious red roadside shrines we saw. Wessel, of course, had to stop for a photo session at about 30 of them until Diane finally said, “enough already!”

Here is Wessel’s report:
I was fascinated by the red shrines along the highway. Roadside chapel for Gauchito GilA typical shrine consisted of a little house with a male saint inside dressed like a cowboy. Usually the house was painted red and surrounded by red flags and red banners with a text like “Gracias Gauchito Gil.” Sometimes it was tiny and very basic, a foot high, painted red and with a little cowboy statue inside. Other times it was elaborate, with a load of red banners. Clearly he was revered for something.

After we got home, I read up on this Argentine cowboy saint. The following is compiled from several sources, including Wikipedia entry and this interesting piece on NPR’s “Marketplace” on the anniversary of Gil’s death.

Gauchito Gil’s image on bannerLegend has it that Antonio Gil, a farm worker, was an army hero in his village. But when forced to return to battle, he deserted and fled to the mountains. He lived there as a gentle bandit, stealing from the rich and redistributing goods to the poor. In the end the police caught him. When he was about to be executed, he told one of the police officers his son would soon fall ill and that the father would pray for Gil’s forgiveness. The day Gil was executed, the police officer returned home to find that his son dying. He begged for Gil’s forgiveness. His son made a miraculous recovery, and Gil became a national hero.