Salta, Purmamarca & Tilcara

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien. Click here for photos of there.

A colonial city and child sacrifices

“The child sits upright, knees bent, wearing woolen garments and a black, four-pointed, finely woven hat topped with a small feather. Alongside lie a basket of small corncobs, a knotted string bag, and a grub hoe carved from a llama jawbone. Brown braided hair peeks out from behind a metal mask that was meant to ward off evil spirits in the afterlife.” ( extract from “Atacama Desert” by Priit J. Vesilind, National Geographic, Aug 2003).

This is the description of an Inca child, sacrificed along with two others on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano located on the Argentina-Chile border. According to archaeologists and cultural historians, the children were victims of a sacrificial ritual called capacocha. Their bodies remain in state of near perfect preservation as a result of the incredibly arid, cold conditions of their high altitude tombs. Images of these mummies are available here (Warning: disturbing content).  Macabre and yet fascinating, the story of these children who had traveled all the way from Cuzco, Peru only to be drugged and placed in burial niches in the exposed side of the mountain and left to die intrigued me. Having already decided to go trekking in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, we decided to push a little further south in order to visit the controversial Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana, where the mummies are exhibited. However, when we actually stood outside the museum getting our wallets ready to pay the entrance, a wave of definite uneasiness struck us. It suddenly seemed entirely ghoulish to us. We were, in essence, about to pay to view some dead children. Unthinkable. We turned around and walked away. Undoubtedly, these mummies are extraordinarily valuable in terms of history, culture and archaeology but as we were, basically, just curious, visiting them didn’t seem right. Interestingly, the museum has stirred up alot of emotion in the area with many locals arguing that the remains of children should be laid to rest. It really is a question of intellect vs. emotion – and for us, emotion won out.

We instead spent the rest of our day in Salta wandering through its cobbled streets and leafy squares, soaking up the sunshine and admiring its beautiful colonial architecture.

The corner of the main plaza, Salta

The corner of the main plaza, Salta

A Hill of Seven Colours

The next day, we hopped back on the bus and retraced our steps back to Purmamarca. We had had a slightly rough run of things in terms of accommodation and my inner princess (no, I’m not proud of her) was starting to stamp her feet.

We decided to treat ourselves to a night in the wonderful Don Faustino at the foothills of the Cerro de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colours). We hikked through the Paseo de Los Colorados, counted the colours (satisfyingly, there are indeed 7!), watched the mountains light up, change colour and darken in the sunset, and savored glasses of delicious Argentinan Malbec. It was bliss!

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Paseo de Los Colorados

Fortresses and cowboys

We then headed on to Tilcara, a small village a little further to the north, where we visited its botanic gardens (You have to love the cacti…and the giant volcanic stone that rings when you hit it with another stone! Look look!! ) and the restored remains of a pucara, an Incan fortress.

Pucara de Tilcara

Pucara de Tilcara

As we wandered back to our hostel, we struck culture gold! We could hear whoops, music and cheering and, like moths to a flame, we were drawn in. It was a rodeo – an actual, real life rodeo! Irresistible! The style of the gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) was fabulous – shiny, clinking spurs, bandannas, knives on their belts and hats… oh the hats. The whole village was there in their wrangling finery and again I cursed my practical trekking pants – sometimes they just don’t cut it!

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