Posts Tagged With: Indigenous

Amaicha Del Valle celebrates Pachamama


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Remarkable are the moments when you look back in the past and realize you were there in the right place at the right time but even more extraordinary is when you realize it at the very moment.  A quivering of excitement runs through your veins, a strange tickle runs through your spine and ultimately every hair on your skin rises by the overwhelming feeling.  Amaicha Del Valle  is for us this place at that very moment.  We are lucky and arrive at this small indigenous Calchaquí community the day before the locals celebrate and honour Mother Earth.  Pachamama is a concept we have seen along our travel since the north of Colombia getting closer to the border, also in Ecuador, Peru and undoubtedly in Bolivia.

Pachamama is a goddess honoured by the indigenous people of the Andes.  She is also recognised as the earth/time mother and as nature itself.  She is an ever present and independent divinity who has her own liberating and creative power to sustain life on this earth.  She is basically the core of a belief system of eco-social action among the different Andes tribes.


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At the central park San Martìn a pile of stones (Apacheta) that represents Pachamama is attracting more people as the morning grows old and the sun gets higher in the sky.  Primitive rhythms of drums and ancestral chants are gathering the crowd while locals and especially the folklore dressed women make their offerings to Pachamama.  All listen very carefully to the outing of gratitude of what Mother Nature has given them and the wishes they have for the future of mother earth.  Their closeness to the heart discourse is as old as the mountains surrounding us but in between the lines filled with modern, up-to-date ‘climate-change-problems’ and harvest difficulties.  We witness a dialogue between an agrarian community and their land they work so hard on.  Pachamama listens to their orations while she receives the offerings such as flowers, grapes, corn, water, wine and liquors.

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Stands offering local self-made food, homemade drinks and handmade arts are filling the streets around the central square together with music that comes a bit from everywhere.  The famous Argentinean empanadas are made on location and got our attention as we notice that it is the perfect food!  Self-made with natural bio products, a big diversity with chicken, meat, ham and cheese, vegetarian, spicy,… all of them are freshly cooked and last but not least, they are cheap.  Other options are the plenty big barbeques with all kinds of meat, the open grills with tortitas filled with ham/bacon and cheese, salchipapa (fries with sausice) or even the less traditional hamburgers.  Or we can get a full dish at the improvised food court on the local football field with views on a stage where Copleras  give the best of them singing Coplas, popular songs famous for this kind of celebrations.

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Amaicha Del valle might be a snoozing town the rest of the year but now it feels like the centre of the world.  Not only for locals but we notice a respectful attentiveness and participation from other travellers from all over the world.  This hamlet build around a pile of stones covered with offerings is at this very exceptional moment the place to be.



  • Hostal Pacha Kuti  is one of the best we tried during our whole journey. A fine young open minded spirit.  No complications, basic with everything you might need for just 100 pesos per night/person.  Breakfast (with daily fresh home-made baked bread) and dinner included which are just delicious. Sitting all together at the table while eating brings the traveller in contact with others.

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  • There is a museum about Pachamama which gives the visitor a view on a wide spread Andes culture.
  • A bit outside the village (18km) you can find the Quilmes ruins. Archaeologically interesting and naturally beautiful setting.
  • If possible, go when the Fiesta de Pachamama is happening. Be respectful and enjoy every bit of it.


Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Quebrada de Humahuaca, welcome to Argentina.


Bolivia was great.  A lake as large as an ocean with a culture as old as the hills, a city fusing modern and ancestral, as dense as an anthill, mountains as high as the sky covered by eternal snow, mineshafts so deep they descent straight to the abode of the spirits of the dead and a salt desert from outer space will travel with us for the rest of our lives.  At Villazón, on the bridge over the river with the same name that separates the two countries, we leave Bolivia behind us and enter Argentina in the republic most northern village, La Quiaca.

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From there we take the bus and drop 160km down on the map to the village of Humahuaca at 3012MASL.  The rugged topography of this area determines distinct climatic zones: during the day recorded a high temperature (38 º C), while at night it can drop considerably (-10 ° C), varying according to the season.  Humahuaca has a colonial look and with its narrow cobbled streets with lanterns stolen from middle age fairy tales and adobe houses, is it worth a walk through.  The fragrance of ‘tortitas’ (flat round bread filled with cheese or ham, or both, or not) freshly baked over red glowing charcoal and the aroma of big chunks of meat roasting on improvised barbeques float at nose-heights throughout these alleys.  Cute little squares cheered up by youngsters playing music for a few coins are dispersed through the centre of the town.  At the church there is daily a celebration showing typical dances in emblematic clothing on the rhythms of folk music and ending with the twice-told ‘Carnavalito de la Quebrada de Humahuaca’.  A wide staircase brings the visitor at the feet of the ‘Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia’ which offers, apart from some history knowledge, a beautiful view over the whole area.

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 During the meeting held on 2 July 2003 in Paris, France, the Andean valley that stretches for 155 kilometers in northwest Argentina, obtained a unanimous vote of the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, who described the landscape as a “hereditary ancestral system of outstanding features”.  The Quebrada de Humahuaca possesses a cultural itinerary from over 10000 years.  Its trails are walked by different indigenous ethnic groups and continue to hold religious beliefs, rituals, festivals, art, music and farming techniques that are a genuine living heritage.  With this declaration, UNESCO is committed to support the education and sustainable development of the area as well as the preservation of the culture of the native people.  So we can state that in this region the traveller is brought into direct contact with the roots of Hispanic America, amid a landscape of valleys and ravines where indigenous and Spanish cultures merged.

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Astonished by the surroundings we feel the need to lose ourselves in the rough environment which locals are so proud of and that presents a landscape flowed through by the river Rio Grande and climaxes interesting archaeological sites framed in colourful hills.  It’s a day where a minute counts an hour, lukewarm feels hot and where a Sunday afternoon stroll turns into a daylong hike.  The views on the ravine edging the horizon as far as we can see are amazing and the wildly growing endemic vegetation with its tiny flowers has an interesting beauteous.

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We liked every inch of Humahuaca with the open hearted being of the gentle population and adored the nutritional change as we adventure ourselves in a country that brags about culinary supremacy… as the matter of fact we couldn’t imagine a better entrance in Argentina.

Our recommendations:

  • Besides the Quebrada itself, there are more interesting sites and spots around Humahuaca than first expected: the archaeological ruins of Coctaca, Uquía, Peñas Blancas, Chulín and in the city, the Independence Monument and the Regional Archaeological Museum,…
  • Humahuaca is an outstanding location for travellers with time to perambulate the North-west corner of Argentina.
  • For travellers traveling towards Argentina from Bolivia, use the banks and ATMs (most have the option for Bolivianos or dollars) to obtain dollars. As in Argentina changing a dollar on the street gives you about 25 till 45% more value for your money. Big notes of 50 and 100 are getting the best rate. Look for the right rate at twitter (@DolarBlue) or on the internet comparing the many websites.  The same story for those traveling with euros (max 200€ notes!).  We noticed that the change offices at Villazón offered a very good rate.  Humahuaca as a small village does not have good opportunities to change dollars.
  • We find the food on the streets from very good quality and with the ‘blue dollar’ change exceptionally cheap. Tortitas at 10 pesos… try it and be prepared to be amazed!
  • Different hostels are to be found in the centre of town at fair prices. The real backpackers-deal is to take advantage of the possibility that people offer.  Some of the locals rent rooms in their homes and give the traveller the opportunity to be part of the family.  We met our lovely host lady as we got out of the bus.  She explained her proposition and paid the taxi to her home.  We paid 25 pesos a night a person (around 2.25 euros) in a room for the two of us, a bathroom to share with the other 3 rooms (also travellers) and a kitchen where we cooked together with the host family.  It’s almost unnecessary to tell that instinct and a feeling of trust are very important here.



Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

La Paz, hidden metropolis in the Bolivian Andes

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Some places in the world have a natural attractive; there is something to them that makes them irresistible.  Although at first sight it’s not a top ten location, not many cities in the world have as spectacular a setting as La Paz, which offers you a first glimpse as the bus crawls over the lip of the narrow canyon in which the city sits hunched.  It’s a sight that will leave your lungs gasping for oxygen they can’t have.  A city which lies between 3250 and 4100MASL, amid a hollow gouged into the ‘altiplano’, is a scene of stunning contrasts: a central cluster of church towers and office blocks minimized by the magnificent icebound peaks of Montaña Illimani rising superiorly to the southeast.  On either side, the steep valley slopes are covered by the ramshackle homes of the city’s poorer population, tight-fitting precariously to even the harshest gradients.  It’s an area we pass through the day we decide to improve our height record of 4800MASL.  After a long ever climbing trip, passing rivers that take ice water straight from the mountains to the capital and defy the verticality of the mud tracks, we get out of the van and start a walk through the eternal snow.  Heartbeat starts to rise, respiration gets faster and deeper but step by step we wade our way through the mist and just at the moment we are about to suffer a whiteout we reach our goal: Chacaltaya at 5300MASL! A defiance worthy your considerations.

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Less difficult but nevertheless beautiful is the at 10km from downtown, Valle de la Luna (moon valley) as a feature of half day walk out of the hectic metropolis and astonishing demographic site.  It comprises an area where erosion has worn away the majority of a mountain, composed primarily of clay rather than rock, leaving tall spires.  It is similar to another zone of La Paz that is known as El Valle de las Animas (The valley of the souls).  Because the mineral content of the mountains varies greatly between individual mountains the sides of the mountains are different colours, creating striking illusions.  A majority of them are a clear beige or light brown colour, but some are almost red, with sections of dark violet.

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With a population of around 1,7million, La Paz as capital is the political and commercial hub of Bolivia.  Protected to some extent from the tides of globalization by its isolation and singular cultural make-up, La Paz feels better than it looks and is in some way surprisingly modern.  Hi-tech international banks and government offices rub shoulders with vibrant street markets , occupying each one of them several blocks, as the ‘Mercado de Brujas’ selling herbs, different remedies and  all manner of ritual paraphernalia, for pacifying the spirits and the mountain gods that still play a central role in the lives of the indigenous Aymara.

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The Aymara, in fact, make up not only the majority of the city’s population, but also that of ‘El Alto’ , La Paz’s militant, red brick alter ego, which continues to outstrip it in terms of rural migrant-boosted population.  For them, working life in La Paz is conducted largely on the streets, and at times the whole place can feel like one massive, sprawling market.

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Here everything can be found several times if you take the time.  And much more interesting even is the world’s unique Cholitas Wrestling where indigenous woman dressed in their folkloric outfit take their revenge on each other, other male wrestlers and even the arbitrator.  Different epic highly entertaining fights are served during the night and a healthy way to take pressure out of daily live as locals are shouting and empathize with one of the athletes.  We got extra lucky as surprisingly two Israelis, friends we met earlier on the journey in Guatemala, step into the ring and play along with one of the Cholitas.  We had the laugh of our lives!

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Our recommendations:

–          There are lots of hostels in a city as La Paz: as we arrived we checked El Solar (55B)for one night, a nice hostal, situated in the center close to the Mercado de Bujas, low prized but with the hallway as common area and a lock on the door from 11 o’clock  there is a lot of noise and music playing going on till the early morning.  The second day we changed to Hospedaje Milenio (70B) which is just the right place to be.  An oasis in between the grey city jungle with great service, nice breakfast , very clean rooms and a tourist office for all kind of information.

–          Valle de la Luna just costs 15B a person and is a nice and easy escape from the bustling urb.

–          Cholitas wrestling is a must-do!  It’s cultural heritage in any way you look at it.  At ticket costs 50B, including: transport  from and to the centre, a drink, popcorn and a gadget as memory. Fighting only on Sundays.

–          Buying bus tickets is the best the same day at the bus station, go 2/3hours before and get a discount depending on your skills.

–          Transport to Chacaltaya has cost us 65B each as there is no other way to do it in one day with public transport.

Categories: Bolivia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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