Friday, May 11, 2007

A Mendoza! A Jujuy!

So the past couple of weeks have been a little crazy: it’s getting into midterm time here so I’ve been swamped with schoolwork (yes, there is actually schoolwork here!). But the best part of the past four weeks have been the two trips I took with my program, one to Mendoza and one to Jujuy. They were both amazing – it was so nice to get out of the city for a while, breath some real, non-polluted air, and see some completely different parts of Argentina.

Mendoza (18/4 – 22/4)

Mendoza is one of the provinces of Argentina, located on the western side of the country next to Chile, and also known as La Tierra de Sol y Buen Vino, the Land of Sun and Good Wine. Most people are familiar with the city of Mendoza (probably Argentina’s most famous city after Buenos Aires), but we spent our trip in San Rafael, which is a more rural part of the province. As our program staff told us, the point of this trip was to “pásalo bien” which basically means to have fun, relax and enjoy each other’s company. So even though we spent a lot of our time sleeping, getting fed pretty much every two hours, and relaxing at the hotel (which was in a gorgeous spot – right near a river at the foothills of some gorgeous small mountains), there were a few highlight activities:

Highlight #1…Wine Day!

The second day we spent in Mendoza was dedicated to wine – which is what Mendoza is most famous for. The province produces about 70% of the country’s wine and is where Argentina’s famous Malbec grape is grown. We got a little taste of both sides of the wine industry –visiting the large, more corporate Bianchi winery first and then heading to a small, local farm that makes its own wine, dried fruit and jams.

Highlight #2…Horseback Riding!

After about two minutes on the horses our guide were leading us up the side of a cliff into into the mountains near our hotel, getting gorgeous views of canyons, hills, and the river as we rode. Needless to say, it was a big step up from my last foray into horseback riding (I was probably about 10 or 11, with my girl scout troop, and had to ride a Shetland Pony because I was too small for a real horse).

Basically the Mendoza trip was a weekend of eating, sleeping, drinking delicious Malbec wine, hiking, and enjoying nature for a change. After living in an urban jungle like Buenos Aires for a while, you can start to forget that there’s an actual world out there with trees and rivers and clear skies.

Jujuy (2/5 – 6/5)

The second program trip took me to Jujuy, one of Argentina’s poorest and most traditional provinces, in the Andean northwest on the border between Chile and Bolivia. Even though we were still within Argentine borders, it felt like we had stepped into a completely different country. Everything, from the food to the people to the culture to the scenery, was nothing like what I’ve been experiencing here in Buenos Aires. Our trip was spent mostly in the Quebrada de la Humahuaca, a huge mountain canyon stretching from north to south, filled with small towns and tiny farms.

We were told that the area had been inhabited for over 10,000 years, first by indigenous groups and then by the Incans who conquered the area in the 15th century and used the Quebrada as a caravan road between Peru and Argentina. We spent most of our trip in the Quebrada, stopping in the towns of Tilcara, Humahuaca and Purmamarca where we visited archeological sites with pre-Columbian indigenous and Inca ruins, explored ancient agricultural terraces, and shopped at local fairs filled with carved handpipes, scarves and hats made out of alpaca hair, and bags of coca leaves.

The last day was probably the most amazing of the trip. We spent the morning at Las Salinas Grandes, a former lake that had turned into a huge stretch of salt flats over the years. Standing in the middle of the flats, all you could see was white all around you, contrasted with the clear blue sky and the Andes in the background.

After the Salinas, we headed to Purmamarca, where we hiked around the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven C olors), an absolutely gorgeous and colorful area of mountains and valleys which, as someone commented, looked like a scene straight out of A Land Before Time.

At night, after a huge asado feast, we got to listen to an amazing indigenous music group – complete with horns, drums, and handpipes – that quickly turned into a huge dance party with everyone in our group, our program staff, and the musicians.

The trip was absolutely amazing, mostly because it was a completely different Argentina from what I’ve been experiencing. The poverty was much more visible, the scenery made me feel like I was in Bolivia, and the indigenous influence was so much more prevalent. I hardly ever get to see the indigenous side of Latin America in Buenos Aires. For one reason, most people here come from European descent, since Buenos Aires was a huge center of immigration in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Also, in the late 1800’s, the Argentine government embarked on the “Campaña del desierto,” a military campaign in the southern Pampas and Patagonia region that essentially wiped out most of those areas’ indigenous populations. Nowadays, the indigenous populations are concentrated in areas like Jujuy, in the northwest of the country. Those who do live in Buenos Aires are usually immigrants from Bolivia or Peru and live in poorer areas in the outskirts of the city. Indigenous culture is such a huge part of Latin America, and it was really interesting to be somewhere where it was THE dominant culture, not the one pushed off to the margins.

The other thing I loved about Jujuy was the food. I’m getting sick of the bland porteño fare (you can only eat so much pizza and empanadas), so the Jujuy cuisine was a nice change. I ate tons of tamales, locro (a traditional corn stews), and even tried llama meat. The food actually has SPICE there, which was a welcomed change, since porteños are notorious for having really bland palates.

All in all, Jujuy was an amazing trip. Now it’s back to Buenos Aires and my regular life here. I can’t believe it’s halfway through May already!


Joni said...

I had SO much FUN reading your Mendoza and Jujay update. I'm so glad you got to go horseback riding on a REAL horse!! And the fabulous wine!! Go Girl!!

Anonymous said...

Kellie, I really enjoyed reading this update, and the pictures are getting better and better!! Mom

Carol said...

Wow what an experience you're having! Were you nervous up on the horses, going along the canyon?

The picture of you at the "lake" reminded me of the book Holes!

Your blogs are so informative. I'm learning a lot through you!