After spending the previous 3 weeks moving between small towns a bit off the “tourist trail”, arriving in Salta was a little shock to the system with its bustling city life. We planned to have an extended stay there as this was going to be our last main stop in the beautiful Argentina which we had grown to love so much over the past 2 months. We also wanted to chill a bit and get ourselves organised before heading north in Bolivia so we checked into an apartment, Apart Illusion, for a week. That week turned into 2 as we were reluctant to leave the lovely sunny city and we still had to make up our minds on where to head next. This also gave us some time to get our clothes cleaned and get in some of our own healthy, home cooked meals…
The city centre of Salta is quite amazing with its many old colonial style buildings, cathedrals, churches and missions and it was a pleasure spending the days wandering around the markets and old street in the warm sunshine. The Salta Cabildo in the main Plaza 9 de Julio, built in 1626 as the town hall (but is now a museum) is one of the oldest and best preserved colonial buildings in northern Argentina and you couldn’t help but sit and imagine how different life was back in the 1600s.
After the cold snap we experienced in Tafi del Valle we realized that our clothes weren’t quite warm enough for the mountains of Bolivia so we bought some nice thick jumpers and long socks made from llama and alpacha wool in the street market in Plaza San Martin. The park always seems to be busy but on one Sunday there were two open music stages setup with one band playing all sorts of cover songs from Ace of Base to Roxette and No Doubt! The other smaller, and strangely more popular, stage had a weird old guy dressed in drag singing folk songs in Spanish. Interesting to say the least…
On the following Saturday there was another concert in the main 9 de Julio square but this was a more professional setup to raise funds for a children’s charity had a massive crowd singing along with the different band’s popular songs and the girls screaming every time some of these guys opened their mouths… those Saltans really do enjoy their live music.
An added bonus is that Salta is also a vegetarian friendly city with lots of veggie restaurants and other restaurants offering more vegetarian options on their menu other than soups and salads. The pick of the bunch for lunch was Cirimoya on the corner of Espana and Vicente Lopez, a couple blocks from the main plaza.
Tributes to Pachamama
Every year during the month of August the indigenous people of the Andes hold offering ceremonies to Pachamama, or Earth Mother, in order make various requests for things such as good health and prosperity, abundant crops or just for a little help with a personal problem. On the 1st of August the first ceremony is held in Salta and is carried out in other towns in the region throughout the rest of the month. That morning the owner of our apartment, Sonia, had to walk around our room (and all other rooms in the complex) burning incense and saying prayers as part of the day’s celebration.
We attended the festival in Salta at the grounds of the Mercado Artesenal about 15 blocks away from the main plaza. The ceremony was held by 4 traditional healers with a main “chief” conducting the ceremony, 2 female assistants, and a junior responsible for looking after a little statue representing Pachamama and keeping a thick green shrub burning to create a dreamy, smoky atmosphere. Next to the man were 2 clay pots filled with wine and “Chica” (an alcoholic drink that has been brewed in the region for centuries) along with bowls filled with coca leaves and cigarettes (apparently Pachamama‘s favourites) and also some everyday foods such as fruits, potatoes, maize, nuts, candies and other sweet pastries.
In the beginning the main healer says several prayers in the indigenous Quechua language to Pachamama and then proceeds to dig a hole with his hands about 60cms deep until he reaches a the clay pot that held the remains of the offerings from the previous year. The crowd, about 200 strong, all stand around in a circle watching while, out of the hole, he pulls out about 9 bottles of wine, beer, spirits, oil and water, all the while giving thanks and praise to Pachamama for being so generous and kind over the previous year. Once finished with the digging he says some more prayers and makes several offerings of coca leaves and chica.
The “assistants” then started handing out cigarettes to the crowd and everyone, including ourselves, were encouraged to have a few puffs then place the half smoked, still burning cigarette in the soil around the hole. Soon there were hundreds of little cigarettes burning around the hole which wasn’t too pleasant on the eyes as the smoke was already thick from the incense. All the while the healer continues to make the offerings, sometimes taking a bite of fruit and putting the rest in the hole or having a sip of wine and offering up the rest of the cup to Pachamama. Once he finished the assistants said their prayers and requests and repeat the ritual but putting some more coca leaves, fruits, wine etc. into the hole. After they’re done they invite the public to take turns, one by one, kneeling by the hole and to repeat the offering ritual. This part of the ceremony goes on for quite a long time. All the while the junior just sits there, without saying a word, keeping the smoky shrubs burning.
The main healer meanwhile moved through the crowd offering a special individual blessing in Quechua to people and tied a simple black and white string around their wrists. We both received his blessing and it was a very special feeling to have been part of the ceremony that day. A few weeks later I met another traveller who had been at the Pachamama offering ceremony in another town 200kms away and he was wearing the same black and white wool string around his wrist as we still are. Once everyone had put in their offerings and said their prayers the chief healer took over and said some more prayers in his native Quechua while covering up the hole to allow Pachamama to receive her gifts and grant her generosity, protection and love for the following year.
Change of Plans…again.
Our initial travel plan was to head north from Salta up through Jujuy and into Bolivia but after a bit of reading and research we thought we’d take a slight detour to the west and head into Northern Chile and make our way into Bolivia from there. And what a great decision that turned out to be…