When Time Stood Still in Argentina


PurmamarcaWhen Time Stood Still in Argentina.
It has been said that while travel may empty your bank balance, it fills your life with new enriching experiences and that is priceless. I have no regrets about my time spent travelling.

Salta – known as “la linda”, the beautiful. This is true of this city in North West Argentina, the starting point to explore the different routes that take you west towards the Andes and south to the wine region of Cafayate. I will choose the road leading north towards the Bolivian border.

The Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a valley carved out by the Rio Grande and has been a major cultural and trade route for 10000 years. It was part of the Incas efficient road system built with switchbacks, bridges, causeways and rest stations for weary travellers and the relay runners (chasqui) transporting goods and post. Wheeled vehicles were unknown to the Inca so foot traffic accompanied by llamas as pack animals traversed these stone cobbled roads. This spectacular valley runs for 155 km from its source in the cold High Andean desert plateau (Altiplano) to its confluence with the Rio Leone in the south.

I was transported from the lush farmlands in the plains of Jujuy to the thin clear air of the Andes Altiplano and, in my imagination and senses, through 1000’s of years. We stopped at villages of adobe houses, archaeological sites, churches with paintings from the original Cuzco school of art, and fortresses where battles raged as they fought off their Spanish conquistadors for as long as they could. Ancient customs still prevail. Although we could not understand their native Quechua, we interacted with lively children and old folk whose weather beaten faces told a story.
Mountainous splendour surrounded us. A highlight for me was the vista that greeted us as we rounded a corner to the village of Purmamarca. The Cerro de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colours). It is exactly that… and not as I had thought that photographs had been digitally advanced. Informative posters explain this geological phenomenon. Amazingly beautiful.
At the town of Humahuaca, not far from the Bolivian border, we had to descend back to civilization and city life. But stay in ancient mode as there is more to come …
The next day I walked out of sunny Salta into the Inca world of 500 years ago as I entered the M.A.A.M (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology). To the haunting sounds on Andean pan-flute music, I was captivated by a video of the research team’s expedition to the 6730m summit of Mount Llullaillaco in March 1999 – the world’s highest archaeological site. Earlier explorations had revealed that this was a one of the
many sites where Inca religious rituals took place. Imagine when Dr. Johan Reinhard and his team’s excavations on this bleak and frigid mountaintop revealed the entombed bodies of 3 perfectly preserved children! For 5 centuries these witnesses had kept the secrets of their culture and important religious ritual called “capacocha”.

Subdued lighting and colours led me to the special climate controlled display collections of the treasure troves buried with them. I approached a room which centred on an acrylic cylinder inside a triple-paned glass box. And there, sitting cross-legged in a brown tunic, striped sandals, long hair woven into fine braids, a crease on her cheek as she fell asleep on her shawl and traces of coca leaf on her lip, sat “La Doncella” (the Maiden). This was where time stood still for me. I was transfixed. Heart rending emotions swept over me. I could not comprehend a belief that chooses beautiful, healthy and physically flawless children to offer as sacrifices.
I entered the sunshine again inspired to live every day wisely with a grateful heart.
About the Author: Moira Smart from South Africa. I have not had much overseas travel experience but my 3 trips to 3 different areas of Argentina and Chile over the past 3 years have been amazing! A senior citizen, working full-time. I am not part of a social media site nor do I have a website.

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