From The Desert to the Tropics. And A Birthday Toast — Or Not.

Bidding casual Cafayate farewell I made my way southeast through the Calchaqui Valley and up over the Sierra Aconouija mountains to Tafi del Valle a tiny fertile oasis. Stopping for a bit at Quilmes – which for better or worse is the national beer – but also is also the site where ruins from the Quilmes Indians were discovered about a hundred years. Making this valley home from about 1,000 AD, the Quilmes successfully held off the Incas whose numerous efforts to dispose of them were unsuccessful. The determined bunch though couldn’t stand up to the Spaniards who in 1667 marched the remaining Indians to 1500 miles from the high Andes where the tribe was essentially extinguished. In 1992 native Hector Cruz constructed a small museum and hotel on the site of the Quilmes Ruins as an effort to pay tribute the valley’s history and to the most important pre-Colombian fortress in Argentina.

Quilmes Ruinas

The ruins of Quilmes cling to the mountain side.

Before climbing the summit of the Aconouija in Amaicha del Valle I had a chance to spend time in Hector Cruz’s amazing monument to “Mother Earth” and the indigenous people of this valley. At first it appeared to be nothing more than an attempt at attracting tourists, but once inside the Museo Pachamama my jaw dropped and eyes popped out. It took Cruz and a crew of 70 craftsmen 6 years to build this amazing museum where Cruz expertise in working with the native black and white stones shines. It’s maddening to think of the amount of work that went into the museum’s construction. The museum itself features four rooms dedicated each to geology, cultural ethnicity, tapestries and paintings. Objects of Indian adoration: the Moon, the Sun, the Pachamama, are monumentally represented in the courtyard.

When I inquired as to the financing of this project, my weak Spanish surfaced as the only answer I could extract was “a bank.” Yet there are no overtly commercial “sponsorship” signs. A son of a shepherd Cruz’s complex consists of a large courtyard, several museum buildings and a gallery complex where artwork from Cruz and others is elegantly displayed. The museum showcases the cultural heritage and history of the indigenous Amaicha people of this valley. The displays are equally as fascinating and constructed as the museum itself. Though in Spanish, I found this interview with Cruz that you might find interesting.

Pachomama Courtyard

Pachomama Courtyard2 Pachamama Courtyard4

Pachamama Courtyard3

Leaving the monument to Pachamama we were warned about the possibility of fog or even rain on the pass out of this valley. Though the road is paved, it’s in treacherous condition and at the summit pushing 10,000 feet the fog made visibility impossible forcing me to slow to a crawl and even stopping to add layers to fight off the chill and damp weather. But it didn’t last long, soon we were descending to the other side where we were treated to vistas of a fertile green valley, huge lake and gentle rolling hills complete with grazing cattle and goats until finally resting into the tiny mecca of Tafi del Valle.

Tafi Del Valle

Coming out of the fog and into Tafi del Valle, Argentina

The next morning on our way to Tucuman we stopped in El Mollar, another small town just off the damned lake that makes Tafi del Valle so scenic, El Parque de los Menhires (Long Stones). Though Jeremiah decided to take what turned out to be a wrong turn where he thought the park was located. By the time I tried to catch him he was off down some dirt road leading nowhere. Though he claimed I missed out on a very cool archaeological site, he was a bit ruffled when the guide at the “real” park told him that what he discovered was simply a fabricated site to draw tourists deeper into this small town. While not in their original locations, this park has an accumulation of prehistoric carvings once hidden throughout the Calchaquíes Valley. While some theorize that they were used as sign posts by alien visitors, but more likely they are expressions of early worship to indigenous gods. Jeremiah was further dismayed and on the offense objected to the fact that these relics were simply placed here randomly and without much thought. Though the 220 rock statues, some over 2600 years old, were moved from several places in the valley before it was flooded by a dam creating the lake.

Menhires1

One of 220 monoliths that litter the Parque de Los Menhires in El Mollar – north of Tucuman in Argentina

We spent the rest of the day riding over the mountains along a river. The terrain turned sub-tropical and finally down through agricultural farms and finally into the city of Tucuman. A small bustling busy city of about a million people. It’s compact and condensed size gave the impression of more population than actually resides here. Narrow side walks and wide pedestrian walkways were constantly crowded and busy. Amazingly enough, I ran into a group of foreign exchange students from the USA who I’d met days earlier in Cafayate.

Calzada Angosta

2Tucuman

A striking contrast from the desert valleys of Cafayate and Calchaqui, we wind our way to the tropics and the city of Tucuman



Con Cuidado

Three’s a crowd in Tucuman.

I celebrated my birthday at a Setimio, a fantastic restaurant nestled in a wine store. When I asked for the wine list, the simply directed me downstairs and I could choose anything on the shelf. Splurging on my day I chose a 2005 Reserva Viña Hormigas Malbec from Altos Las Hormigas for about $28. Even on this occasion with a spectacular wine the minute the waiter showed up wiht the bottle Jermiah quickly grabbed the wine glass at his place setting and slammed it down on the table — upside down — an in your face directive to our waiter. Not even a toast. Oh well. His loss. The wine? Delicious.

No Wine4Miah

Jeremiah’s Journey — sin vino.

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