Just about the only attraction in the tiny town of Maimará is its graveyard, which sprawls up and down two hills on the edge of town. Personally, I couldn't even figure out how they bury people at such a steep angle - the coffins must be practically standing up! It was a pretty little cemetery, though.
Up in the town of Tilcara today, where we visited some pre-Incan ruins. They were quite extensive and impressively conserved. Archeologists were even able to reconstruct some houses and buildings, so we could go inside and see what their dwellings would have felt like. (Dark.) This here is the cemetery, where they buried people in these pits (adults in the fetal position, children buried inside of a very specific kind of urn), along with all kinds of food and everyday items that might be useful in the afterlife.
The first place we visited in the town of Cachi? The graveyard - go figure. We're getting enough pictures of South American cemeteries to publish an entire book about it! But these little graveyards up in the mountains are often so peaceful and pretty, they really are a neat and representative place to see in any region.
We arrived in Cachi today, a very small town a couple of hours away from Salta. The bus ride through the mountains is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Argentina. Unfortunately, for most of the ride we could see nothing but white out of the windows, due to fog. It was a little frustrating, but it certainly made for some amazing views once we got back down into the valley!
Ryan and I tried some "empanadas de vigilia" today, which ended up just being empanadas without meat in them, because it is a Friday during Lent. Later, as we were sitting in the square enjoying a glass of beer and a game of cards with some local kids, hundreds of people start streaming out of the church, headed by this cross, "El Señor de los milagros." They were going around the plaza doing a stations of the cross. It seemed a little early to me, but I guess they do it every Friday during Lent. There were probably a couple hundred people, and they stuck around afterward to try and touch the statue of Jesus.
In the cathedral in the city of Salta, you can find this sign by all of the fonts of holy water. It says that holy water is sacramental, and a sacred thing. The first two ask you not to throw in on the floor and not to use it as a means to something else (that translation is a little iffy, though). Okay. But the third tells you not to use it for witchcraft. I wonder if they have much trouble with that kind of thing around here . . . ?
We visited the Museum of the Chaqueño Man today, a museum celebrating the indigenous, gaucho, and gringo influences in this part of the continent, the Chaco. It was a neat museum, and the slightly different second floor was by far the neatest part. They had these little statues of characters from Guaraní mythology, and played a recording explaining their importance, telling little stories. This guy is called Pata de Lana, or Wool-Foot, because he wraps his feet in wool in order to be able to walk silently. He is a little dwarf who takes advantage of fights between couples to seduce the woman. Because of his silence, however, he is never caught by the jealous husband!
Back in Argentina! We came down to the town of Resistencia today, which is known as the "City of Sculptures." There are hundreds upons hundreds of statues dotting the city, of all different styles and sizes. They pride themselves on being an artsy town, and hold a sculpture competition every year just to celebrate this. We did a walking tour around town today, and found over a hundred statues! It was really neat. This one was outside the church. We saw it in the afternoon, but it was so much more impressive at night!
A Mennonite cemetery - considerably different from the other South American cemeteries we've seen so far! I guess they just don't go in for anything quite so showy . . .
Ryan and I attended mass this morning before heading out of town. It was hot (this town is the hottest we've experienced on this trip so far - broiling), crowded, long, and in Low German. Yet despite all this, it was really neat to see. Especially from the point of view of someone who grew up Catholic - this was a whole different kind of mass. A little singing, the preacher talked for an hour, and then a little more singing. And that's about it. Yep, a simple life for the Mennonites.
Up into another corner of Paraguay! Ryan and I arrived in Loma Plata today, a tiny town in the northwestern part of the country called the "Chaco." It was founded about 80 years ago by a group of Mennonites from Canada looking for a quiet corner of the world to farm and pray and raise their kids how they want to. They speak Low German, a dialect from the 1500's, live mostly simple and religious lives (although this particular group does allow modern technology, they have cars and cell phones and whatnot. There are other colonies that do not), and keep pretty much to themselves. They do, however, produce 40% of the nation's beef and dairy products. Pretty good for a colony of a few thousand people living in the middle of nowhere!
We sat and chatted with Walter, a member of the colony, on just about everything from how the town was founded, his family's history, their farming techniques, to their relationship with the local indigenous peoples (which he says is friendly, although there are such big differences in race and economic status that it seems to me there is a bit more friction than he was telling).
I rather liked this picture, as this sign has English, Spanish, and German. A lovely mixture that seems to fit right in in Paraguay, a country full of immigrants.
In Yaguarón, another small town outside of Asunción, you can find the Fransiscan church of San Buenaventura. The outside is white, plain, and unadorned. This is the altar. Pretty impressive, huh? There were little angles painted around the top of the sides of the church, who are said to have Guaraní faces. They still had blond hair, though, so it was a little hard to recognize.
A little way out of town we found the Museo Guido Boggiani, which is another excellent collection of Guaraní artifacts. The first room was completely full of feather works. (This area of the continent is known as one of the best bird-watching spots, or, if you're a shaman looking for new accessories, feather-gathering spots.) It was really neat. Also of note where the photographs of modern Guaraní people. They were respectful and thoughtful portraits that made me smile.
Just outside of Asunción there is a little town called Itauguá, where this colorful lace is made. (Usually it is way more colorful than this, in fact, with each piece using six or seven different bright colors. But I really liked this yellow one.) It is called ñandutí, and is a craft passed down from mother to daughter. We met a woman who has been doing it since she was seven, who told us that a piece like this would take about 15 days to complete.
We left Concepción early this morning, and are on our slow way down to Asunción, the capital. Instead of the normal, boring old bus, however, we decided to take a riverboat! It was a nice, relaxing trip, and although we didn't get to spend much of it on the deck (it was cold and rainy all day) it was a much more pleasant way to travel.
Here's Ryan in our cabin, which we were quite lucky to have. Most people had hammocks slung near the engines, and some just had hard plastic chairs for the 22-hour journey.
Ryan and I visited the town's history museum today, a small house with some memorabilia from the Chaco War. I am not going to explain the Chaco war here, partly because it would take too long, and partly because I only know basic facts myself and would not be a competent teacher. Suffice it to say that in the 1930's Bolivian and Paraguay went to war over a patch of desert (supposedly over oil, but there is no oil there at all. Probably mainly over national pride.) Hundreds of thousands of soldiers marched into the desert, fought a brutal war, and mostly died of thirst. There was no clear winner in the end (unless of course you talk to either Paraguay or Bolivia, who will both tell you that they won) so they signed an agreement and everybody that was left went home. Paraguay did gain a little more desert, but to date there isn't even a paved road all the way through it.
The best part of the museum were the pre-war propoganda, portraying Bolivia as a vulture and Paraguay as a lion, etc., etc.
We arrived in the town of Concepción late last night. It is not completely off the beaten track, but certainly rarely visited by any foreigner other than Peace Corps volunteers. The people are friendly, though, and it's nice and quiet. (Siesta is strictly adhered to!) I think we're going to enjoy it.
We are staying across from the river, so we went down to watch the sun set today. Half the town showed up, too, to cool off in the river after a broilingly hot sunny day.
I'd like to wish everyone a very solemn Ash Wednesday today, as well as a very happy Chinese New Year! Xinnian Kuaile!!!!
Taiwan does not have too many diplomatic allies, as countries tend to side with the bigger, richer, more powerful China. (You really can't be friends with both.) But, thanks to some careful aid programs, Taiwan does have a few friends, and Paraguay is one of the very few countries that officially recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. Therefore, you see Taiwanese/Paraguayan organizations, research centers, and cultural programs everywhere. We even found a statue of "Generalismo Chiang Kai-Shek"!
In Ciudad del Este, there is a very strong Taiwanese community, it seems, and we stumbled into Chinatown (umm . . . Taiwantown?) This is a sign we used to see in Taiwan all the time: "to run business." This was so clearly brought from Taiwan and altered to fit a Spanish-speaking neighborhood ("abierto" means "open" in Spanish) that Ryan and I had to stop and have a laugh when we saw this.
We took the bus north to the town of Ciudad del Este this morning. Ciudad del Este is right on the Brazilian border, and is mostly known as one of the smuggling hot spots of South America, rife with crime and drugs and trouble in general. We found none of that, luckily. Instead, we visited Ciudad del Este's other claim to fame - the Binacional Itaipú dam. It is the largest hydroelectric producer in the world (at the moment - the Three Gorges will be bigger) although I won't bore you with megawatt and turbine size statistics here. It's just really big.
We took a whirlwind tour provided by the dam, which was a half-hour bus ride during which the guide mumbled continuously, trying to fit his whole schpeal in, and three stops were made to take pictures. It was really cool to see, though, and an interesting little afternoon trip!
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to the list! These are the ruins of a Jesuit mission in Trinidad, Paraguay. Nearly 400 years ago the Jesuits came and established what has been called a utopian society, where the monks adopted the language and customs of the local Guaraní Indians while bringing them advances in technology, agriculture, and of course, religion. These "reduciones" offered a refuge from harsh Spanish colonial rule, and are often considered some of the most successful and humanitarian missionary work in the history of the Catholic church. In the late 1700's, however, the Jesuits were forced by the Spanish government to abandon their reduciones. The territory was being divided: Portugal got that part of Paraguay, while Spain took Uruguay.
It was a really neat place to visit. Tranquil and sunny.
A typical Paraguayan sign: We have ice. People here love mate just as much as, if not more than the Argentines, but with one vital difference - they drink it ice cold. The cups are a little taller, usually made of cow horn, and the thermoses are much bigger, to provide a constant supply of ice water. They call it "tereré." It's funny, everywhere around Argentina and Uruguay you see signs advertising the availability of hot water, and here you see all kinds of signs for ice.
We arrived in Paraguay today! And what better welcome into the country than a giant party? We are in the small southern city of Encarnación, which also happens to be the carnival capital of the country. The parade itself was very Brasilian-style, similar to the one we saw in Argentina. Lots of women wearing a total of about 12 sequins on their bodies and about 500 feathers on their heads, with an extraordinary amount of booty shaking.
Something the Paraguays add to the celebration, however, is a love of getting wet and sticky! All day long there were people throwing water balloons off balconies, trying to soak passers by. I myself got hit once - girls seem to be targets much more often than guys. We also saw people throwing buckets on water on each other and off balconies. Once the sun went down and people started heading over to the "corso," however, the weapon of choice became soap foam. Everyone bought dozens of bottles of the stuff, crammed into some very crowded bleachers, and just sprayed each other silly. We were amongst this foam-happy crowd, defenseless. I got more than one shot in the eye, every inch of my clothing had to be washed afterward, and I had to wash my hair three times before it all came out. (I didn't want to have my camera out too often in this, hence the quickly-grabbed photo.) But it was a ton of fun, and made for a much friendlier . . . well, more open and crazy atmosphere, anyway.
I began taking a photo each day on the day I moved to Buenos Aires in August 2006. It's been over five years now, through normal working life in Argentina, a trip all around South America, a long visit home to the US, teaching in Taiwan, traveling around the Middle East, living in Vancouver, and traveling around Canada.
I have a few lapses, but I decided that it was better to feel good about the blog instead of feeling like a slave to it.
These photos are the things that I see - things that are common or interesting or odd or delicious or beautiful or terrible - things that catch my eye in some way. This blog is a way for me to keep in touch with family and friends so very very far away, an extended photography lesson, and a kind of daily journal of my own impressions of places both new and well-known.