Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Carnival is still not over

Our very first day in Argentina, we received a sharp lesson in the extent that Argentinians travel for their summer holidays. We started to look forward to the start of school on Feb 28, only to find out that Carnival is a four-day weekend which falls on March 5-8 - unusually late this year - our typical luck. But the national tourist office in BsAs assured us that most carnival traffic is to the northeast towards Brazil, since we were headed northwest, it should be no big deal.

We edged by the four-day weekend with only one night in a dump though private ensuite. When Ash Wednesday finally came, I felt like celebrating -- all the good Catholics should be retreating for Lent. Was I wrong! Here in the Quebrada de Humahuaca (unremarkable for a UNESCO WHS), this is the time they celebrate their indigenous tradition of Pachamama (Mother Earth).

The first town we visited, Tilcara, was full of tourists and overpriced lodging, yet the town is dusty and the streets are mostly unpaved. On our second day electricity was out for a large part of the day. The Pachamama celebration seemed erratic; random costumes, spraying of foam, throwing of flour, and general drunkenness. Instead of being drawn to it, we avoided. We made the obligatory visit to the reconstructed Pre-Columbian ruin of Pucara and had a hot walk in the canyon.

When we arrived in Humahuaca, 40 minutes north of Tilcara by bus, on Sunday 3/13, the final day of Pachamama, the streets were full of costumed and masked kids, small and big, each carrying around a wire ring about a foot in diameter threaded with fruits and vegetables, going from door to door, occasionally making scary sounds. We immediately related to it -- this is like Halloween.

Later in the afternoon in the courtyard next door to our guesthouse, we watched a ceremony where the fruits and vegetables that were gathered by the kids from the community were buried into a hole in the ground -- feed the Mother Earth that blesses us with such harvests. Not everyday one comes across rituals that are rooted in such simple yet profound ideas.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town, watching a few comparsa (costumed groups or clubs followed by a band consisting of drums and brass) parading through the streets, munching on street food, e.g. empanadas, grilled tortillas, and soaking in the holiday atmosphere. We were surprised how the same celebration in two different towns can appeal so differently to us -- that's why we are traveling.

P.S. With no TV and little or no Internet, we were unaware of the extent of the Japanese disaster for several days.

Some photos from Pachamama in Huhahuaca, Argentina.

The parading comparsa.
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Children burying gifts for Mother Earth. That's flour and confetti in their hair.
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