Saturday, 5 February 2011

Colalao de Valle

Colalao e Valle

Roughly the same distance away from Quilmes as Amaicha but to the North, Colalao de Valle had none of the exuberance and spirit of its neighbour. Senora Gallega’s house and garden where we stayed was a bucolic bower of vines and ripe grapes, but an enclosed, private space. The rest of the village was dull with a faint sense of disquiet. We were served the worst meal we had eaten in Argentina by an unsmiling indigenous couple, most unlike the hospitality we had experienced before in the region.
             Later I saw a crowd of children and adolescents being led by young people with the European looks of Southern Argentineans’ carrying guitars and singing evangelical songs. It seems the missionaries have not given up their business of convertion, except rather than Jesuits backed by conquistadors, it is the North Americanised version of this old tune. It had been pleasant in Amaicha not to see the buildings with banners advertising salvation, which have become a new epidemic in South America, but instead together with the town church a cairn of stones, altar to Pachamama in the main plaza.

Sacred City of Quilmes

Sacred City of Quilmes

We took the bus to the nearest point on the Road to Quilmes and walked the 6km along the track that winds its way through the desert to the entrance of the sacred city. It seems strange that the conquisadors should have had any interest in this dry unfertile land let alone enough to spend 150 years before taking it.
            Only parts of the buildings and fortifications remain today. The low dry-stone walls marking where structures were rise in tiers up the slopes of the semicircular ring of hills that is the backdrop to the city.
            I took the fortification route, a path that circle around the city and along the ridges behind, which include fortified vantage points from which defenders could hurl missiles down on intruders. From above, the layout of the city looked like a strange alphabet with different shapes of oblongs connected to a few circular constructions by slender walkways. The meanings of these shapes eluded me. It was difficult on the whole to perceive what use each area might have had.
            I made my way back down the hill to meet up with Paola and to hear how her route through the centre of the city had gone.

Amaicha de Valle


We have been in Amaicha de Valle for a few days now. Reaching this town of 5000 in the middle of an arid valley 2000 metres above sea level you follow the mountain Road through what is known as ‘El Infernillo’, inhabited by liitle more than goats.
            Amaicha is the oldest indigenous community in Argentina, having been granted the, land through a government charter in 1953. It is a short distance from the ruins of the sacred city of Quilmes, which resisted occupation by the Spanish conquisadors for 150 years before the remaining inhabitants were shipped to Buenes Aires. Now days, the feeling is that this defeat is being reversed. In fact, Amaicha has the feeling of a victory being celebrated. The bright patchwork ypala flag of the Pan-American indigenous movement flies proudly from commercial establishments and private house all over town.
            The town’s proximity to Quilmes has allowed tourism to flourish, adding an extra income to the traditional ways of making a living, but unlike similar places that attract tourism, there is no encroachment by large hotels and other big money. The ubiquitous blandness of corporate cultural sanitation has been kept at bay and the energy of community enterprise and individual creativity has been allowed to grow unchecked. It is illegal to buy or sell the land, a situation, which has prevented the dubious benefits of large outside investment. The town is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, but word of mouth brings plenty of visitors.
            The place has a strong feeling of soul. The combination of a nearby sacred site and a large whiff of freedom and self determination has made the town a minor mecca for bohemians, artists, romantics and a young Argentine hippy set. A large museum of indigenous art dedicated to the earth-mother goddess Pachamama is being built at entrance to town, an ambitious project of the sculptor Hector Cruz, which may catapult the town into being a major artistic centre. A sizable part is already open to the public. It is a maze of terraces built with traditional stonework embellished by Cruz’s own work. It is impressive on the outside like an indigenous Gugenheim, if -at least for the time being- a little lacking in exhibits on the inside even more so than its counterpart in Bilbao.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

El Mollar continued..

I took Lucho’s advice and walked the 9 km to El Rincón, ando n arrival set off up the side of the ridge following the quebrada Português. On the way I passed three circles of Stones. Following a hunch, I continued to the top. On the top of the ridge, I found another of the circular constructions in much better condition than the others, with a dry stone wall still to great extent intact, as IF some efforts had been made to maintain the structure in the relatively recent past. At two points on the circumference it had larger Stones. This was a place with a strong resonance. There was a feeling of calm. I rested and looked down on the deep valley below on the other side. I felt sure that this was one of the places Lucho had talked about.
It seems a happy coincidence or perhaps a with a little serendipity that I met Leiliana the next morning, who gave me a little more information. She is a very enthusiastic lady in her fortys with a broad indigenous face and an even broader gapped smile. She seems like someone you might meet at a healing gathering in Wiltshire. She runs one of the stalls selling local craftwork and hás the title of shaman. She is from El Rincón, her land being one of thge places that one of the more important standing stones with a craved shaman’s mask was removed from. 
She told me a little of her people’s history, how the survivers of the Spanish conquest had hidden from the conquisadors in a deep gulley in the general area of the place I had climbed to above El Rincón.
She also told me how the Spanish estancia owners had cut the indigenous workers’ tongues off. I took this to be at least partially metaphoric perhaps for the loss of their language. She told that there was however a small group Who spoke this language living in Atacama, and told me that if I passed that way I should tell them about the monoliths in Tafi valley.
She was interested that I came from Britain and knew about standing stones there and wanted to know the approximate size of them. She told me that there was a belief that the original builders of the valley’s stones had perhaps come from overseas. The unearthed remains of the ancestor builders had revealed an abnormally tall race of people up to 2 metres in height. Many of the more recent generation, she told me, were also tall, for the reason she believed that they would need strength and power like the ancestors to deal with times of big changes.
I bid her farewell and promised to send her a photo of Avebury stone circle. She gave me the name of a shaman at Quilmes acarving moving aroundnd asked me to say hello.
The night before leaving El Mollar, we spent the evening sharing a bottle of wine with Lucho. He was in conversational mood and recounted more stories about his experiences with the stones. Many of the stones, he told us, were partially or wholly submerged, and that it was not unusual for people, especially when tending cattle in more remote mountain places, to excavate a little.He went on to retell how a friend of his had dug up a rock with four carved faces and had left it in Lucho’s house. The rock had stayed there three nights, during which time, the family had been unable to sleep due to the noise of what sounded like the carving moving around. In the end they took it back and buried it in the exact same place it had come from

shaman's mask carved onto standing stones

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Casasa Viejas and standing stones continued

 19th Jan 2011
It always seemed unfeasable that the story of the monoliths with the archelogical park in El Mollar. There is a fair bit to catchg up on.
            The other evening, I found an opportunity to chat to Lucho our host and Estela’s husband. He had come across us strolling down to the lake to see the sunset on his way to his herd Astride a horse and with the usual gaggle of dogs of different shapes and sizes in tow. He offered Paola a ride on his horse and walked along with me.
            I was interested to hear his opinion about the menhir park. The Stones, he told me, had been ‘robbed’ from various locations in the valley and put above the main Road, and then moved again to the archiological park. He echoed my sentiments about the lack of any feelingf of presence in the park. ‘It is the place that is important’ He Said. He advised me to Go to El Rincón where He assured me that there were places where you could ‘really feel something’ El Rincón I knew was where a great deal of the monoliths had been removed from.
            Lucho also confirmed something I had already discovered, that there were important archiological sites near his house including standing Stones that had not been removed.  The name of the indigenous community ‘Casas Viejas’ of course means ‘old houses’ in Spanish. The land on which Casa Viejas is strewn with boulders, perhaps I had thought cynically why it had been set aside for the Indians ; ‘rock growing country’as Paola put it referring to her family’s in joke about their ancestral land in Northern Italy. With some time and observation however, the land becomes more than ajumble of rocks and reveals the remenents of human constructions – ancestral dwellings, the most striking being the two or three circles of Stones of about ten paces in diameter. One had a large upright Stone placed at what seemed to be the entrance. We found a cluster of three on the mountain side off the Road to Tafi, the next town. There is also one in Lucho’s garden, where I am sitting writing this with a pear tree planted in the centre, whose shade I am enjoying very much in the heat of the afternoon.

 upright stone . Part of a circle of stones at Casa Viejas

 circle of stones, remnants ancient building , Casas Viejas

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Travelogu: Argentina, menhirs, tribes and Shamans

Archeological park El Mollar
                                                        detail of standing stone
                                         casas viajas indigenous community