Design Month in Buenos Aires

A good excuse to go shopping.

Marcelo Imbellone /FST
Buenos Aires has triumphed in design after consecrating itself in contemporary art. In 2005 it was designated as the first City of Design within the UNESCO Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity’s Creative Cities Network, created in 2004. It now shares this distinction with Berlin, Montreal and Kobe. The cities that receive this honor are those that have made creativity part of their development strategy.
The Argentine capital is the third largest city in Latin America. It has a cosmopolitan population, thanks to the arrival of many European and Middle Eastern immigrants during the 20th century. The cultural sector provides 4% of local jobs. Public and private investments have encouraged the development of modern architecture, new urban design, and public spaces. Different groups of designers contribute to a constant renovation of creativity, and several design-related events take place in the city every year.

In response to the distinction awarded by the UNESCO, the Buenos Aires city government’s Metropolitan Design Center (CMD) has declared October a “Design Month.” The program includes more than 100 activities, among which are lectures, workshops, shows, open studios and presentations of new products for people in the business.
The part of the program that appeals to tourists is the “Shop Windows Circuit” of the businesses that sell creative clothing, footwear, jewelry, objects and graphic design in the neighborhoods of San Telmo-Barracas, Recoleta and Palermo. How do you know which is which? The program member exhibits a CMD logo. The products and prototypes displayed in shop windows are “responsible design” items made with recycled, environment-friendly materials. The best shop window will receive a 5,000-peso prize.

With a single exception, the design shops that appear on the CMD’s “Circuito de Vidrieras” map are not on the big commercial avenues, but rather on the side streets where there are a lot of small businesses. The 12 listed for Palermo are on Gurruchaga, Armenia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Humboldt and Thames streets; the five in Recoleta appear on Uruguay, Quintana and Juncal streets; and the seven mentioned in San Telmo are on Defensa, Balcarce, Perú, Carlos Calvo and Humberto Iº streets. The only one in Barracas is on Av. Montes de Oca. You can’t get the map off, however; you have to stumble on a shop with the logo in its window and ask the clerk for one.
But those who are interested in shopping in San Telmo can get a map off the Internet by visiting the neighborhood website and clicking on “Guía.” There they will see a list of 25 participants that is much longer and more representative than the one in the CMD folder.

PHOTO CREDIT: Interior and display window of one of the L'Ago art and design shops in San Telmo Marcelo Imbellone.

A party for the dear departed

An All Souls’ Day in two installments.

In Jujuy, the northernmost province of Argentina, dying is not forever. Even though you are no longer alive, you are expected to return home to dine with your family and friends once a year, on the night of November 1. On this occasion, a special table will have been set with your favorite food and drinks. In addition to the offerings of the wine, locro stew, barbecued meat, or any other morsel that took your fancy during your lifetime, the table will be decked with the special little Day of the Dead breads shaped like crosses, ladders and other figures. At 12 noon the next day (Nov. 2) the offerings that you did not consume will be eaten by your family, friends and neighbors, who will later go to the cemetery to leave flowers and more figure breads on your grave, and hear one of the Masses that are said there during those two days.
The idea of having a party with one’s dear departed is imbedded in many Latin American cultures, especially those with strong indigenous roots. It implies accepting death as part of life, and defying it at the same time. It also makes the loss of a loved one a bit more bearable.
In Jujuy, people remember with nostalgia what it was like 20 years ago, when everyone left their doors open on the night of November 1 to make it easy for the souls to enter. Nowadays doors are kept locked every night, as elsewhere in a country where many people fear what in the past few years has begun to feel like a growing wave of social strife, crime and violence.
And to add insult to injury, local kids have of late taken to aping the US Halloween tradition of donning disguises and taking to the streets to beg for “trick or treat” candy on the last night of October – the eve of All Saints’ Day (which in Jujuy is celebrated as an All Souls’ Day in two installments). It is doubtful that the new Halloween kids think of the dead.

PHOTO CREDIT: Day of the Dead figure breads.

The Chubut Eisteddfod

A poetry and Song Festival.
The Welsh community of Chubut has been celebrating the Eisteddfod, a poetry and song festival, on a yearly basis since 1965, their centennial in Argentina. The first such festival took place in Rawson in 1865 a few months after the first group of settlers disembarked in Puerto Madryn. In the 1930s the Spanish language was incorporated into the festivities, and a separate festival was established for youths. The official competition for young people takes place in September in Gaiman and the one for adults (the “Eisteddfod del Chubut”) in October in Trelew. Eisteddfodau are also staged in Puerto Madryn, Trevelin and Dolavon.
The festival harks back to the Middle Ages in Wales, when bards won a place of honor in the courts of the princes with their poems about the feats of the heroes.

Whoever won the poetry competition was awarded a chair in which to sit at the table of the lord. For this reason, “eisteddfod,” the name of the festival, means “being seated.”
Later, in the 16th century, the prizes received by the poets, singers and musicians who won such contests were miniature silver objects referring to their specialties: a chair in the case of the poet, a tongue in that of the singer, and musical instruments for the musicians.
The Chubut festival includes competitions in art, crafts, photography, dance and choral singing, but the main ones center on poetry. There are important prizes for poems in Spanish, but the most prized award of all – the Bard’s Chair – goes to the winner in the Welsh Poetry category. The prize is a simple wooden chair with arm rests.
People come from all over the country, and sometimes even from Wales. This year the Chubut Eisteddfod will take place from October 29 to 31 in the Racing Gymnasium in Trelew. See the program at

PHOTO CREDITS: Eisteddfod del Chubut.

Soccer, passion of multitudes

Platea and a tour are the best bets for tourists.

Sergio Capurso / For FST
Almost all porteños are fans of one soccer club or another, and they anxiously wait for Sunday to roll around to be able to watch their team play. So it is not surprising that during the past few years the experience of watching a soccer match has risen steadily on the “must” lists of tourists who come to Argentina.
During the two to five hours before the beginning of the match (according to its importance), street vendors sell flags, caps and team shirts in the vicinity of the stadium, enhancing the feeling of expectation.
The ideal place to really live a soccer match is the “Popular” sector (the cement bleachers behind the goals at either end of the stadium), which at the ticket office is listed as “General.” It is the cheapest ticket; it costs around 30 pesos and is unnumbered. No sooner do you enter, you see the team’s supporters and hear their team songs.

If the game is considered important, the team song is deafening, and if there is a goal, the supporters climb the wire fencing or bang on the safety glass panels that separate them from the field.
In Argentina, soccer clubs do not enforce seating room in the popular sectors of their stadiums. In this sector fans always end up watching the match standing up, because even though they can sit before the start of the game, the sector fills up as more supporters arrive, and when playing gets under way people stand up in front, obliging everyone behind them to get to their feet as well in order to watch the action. The soccer clubs don’t bar entrance to hooligans either. These types always hang out beneath the banners that run down the middle of the popular sectors behind the respective goals.
Tourists who want to go to the Popular without having a bad time of it should keep as far away from them as possible, and sit toward the sides of the sector. And never cheer when the rival team makes a goal, or refrain from cheering when the team of the “Popular” makes one.
When the first half is over, I suggest that you go to one of the food stands to eat a delicious choripán (a sandwich featuring a sausage of River Plate origin with chimichurri sauce). Don’t miss it!The part of the stadium where you can watch the match comfortably seated, without supporters who stand up and shout like in the Popular, is called Platea. Here tickets cost from 60 to 80 pesos. The seats are numbered and you can go without having to worry so much about your camera or cine camera, or having to hide it so they won’t realize that you’re a tourist.

Boca Juniors and River Plate are the two most important teams of Argentine soccer, and imagine what happens when they play each other in the Super Classic match which, if you happen to be coming to Buenos Aires, will be played Sunday October 25.
Other important teams are Racing, Independiente, San Lorenzo, Estudiantes de La Plata, and Argentinos Juniors, which represents a Buenos Aires neighborhood called La Paternal, whose stadium is named after Diego Armando Maradona, as it is there that the most important player of Argentine soccer began his career.
In case you don’t want to go alone, several companies organize excursions to soccer matches; they pick you up at your hotel or hostel and take you there.
This is a really unique show that cannot be compared with other classics played elsewhere in the world. You have to come and experience it.
This is why Argentine soccer cannot be explained; it must be lived and felt, like porteños do every Sunday in a soccer stadium.

PHOTO CREDITS: The Boca Juniors popular sector, Club Atlético Boca Juniors. The River Plate popular sector, Club Atlético River Plate

Patagonia’s mysterious carved stones

¿Phoenecians and Knights Templar in Chubut?

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The arid, windswept steppe in Argentina’s part of the Patagonian region has inspired some colorful legends and theories. Consider, for instance, the notions that the medieval order of the Knights Templar established a fort atop a mesa near the coast south of Las Grutas in the province of Río Negro, and that the Chubut River is the Biblical River of Canaan.
Such hypotheses arise from ancient travel diaries and world maps, as well as several carved stones covered with Medieval-looking figures and Aramaic-looking script that were found in different places on the coast and along the major river of the province of Chubut during the past century. Some are part of the collection of the Regional Museum inside the Salesian School in Rawson. At present, the museum is closed to the public.
Some of the stones were taken from ancient Indian burial mounds and others were brought to light by excavations done during the construction of a gas pipeline. The figures carved into their surfaces – hearts, chalices, arrowheads, snakes, turtles, suns and Indian faces – set them apart from other Argentine rock art. Aramaic, the precursor of all Semitic tongues, was the lingua franca of the Middle East until Arabic replaced it in the 9th century AD, when Islam had become the dominant religion in that region.

Until its closure a couple of years ago, the Salesian Regional Museum had 32 of these carved stones on display. Beside each was a tag giving the place where it was found. All had been donated or acquired from third parties.
When I was in the museum in December 2003, I photographed 15 of the most interesting ones in their display cases. Of these, three of the most striking feature (1) a Semitic-looking script; (2) a mass of writhing snakes, and (3) a cross, a sun and a crescent moon. The latter is the only one in white marble, a type of metamorphic rock that doesn’t exist in the region.

The stones seem to have been carved by different people at different times. The intertwined snakes in low relief look Celtic. The profile of a native chieftain or warrior, also carved out in low relief, is the sort of thing that an Indian who had learned rock carving from a European master could have dreamed up. A man on horseback faced by a big arrowhead looks post-Conquest, considering that horses were re-introduced in the Americas by the Spaniards. … Or were the Spaniards the ones who brought them?

I had wanted to see these stones ever since the late 1960s, when Juan Foerster, a German naturalist with a private museum in Dos de Mayo, Misiones, showed me an old scientific journal with photos of the display cases in the Salesian Regional Museum of Rawson and a text speaking of "rune stones" in Chubut. So when I was invited by the province to write travel articles in 2003, I put the museum on my request list.
Looking at these stones in Rawson, I thought (and still think): "Either some scholarly priest or sculptor whiled away long Patagonian winter nights carving these stones, or … there’s something to them."
The stones have drawn numerous researchers from around the world, and have inspired as many interpretations of their symbols. Some people point out that the ancient Egyptians and Asians associated snakes with fertility. There are those who link the crescent moon on the white marble stone to Islam, and the hearts to medieval Christian symbolism. But one should not forget that the half moon is also a Mapuche image.
After doing some quick comparisons of ancient alphabets on the Internet, I would say the characters look more like Aramaic (a language spoken from 700 BC to the present) than the runes used by the Germanic peoples from the 3rd to 13th centuries AD.
The characters do not correspond to an indigenous language. Neither the Tehuelches (who inhabited the land 12,000 years before the arrival of the Spaniards) nor the Mapuches (an ethnic group from Chile that absorbed the Tehuelches and other indigenous groups of Argentina in the 19th century) developed writing. In the 17th century, Jesuit priests developed a Mapuche alphabet with Latin letters to facilitate evangelization; now there are more than 10 different alphabets with similar letters in use in Argentina and Chile. The Mapuche people adopted their national flag in Chile in 1992. Before that, in 1987, Julio Antieco (1929-1993), an Argentine Mapuche, had invented a Mapuche-Tehuelche flag with blue stripe above, a gold stripe below, and a blue arrowhead in the white stripe in the middle, despite the fact that the Tehuelches’ traditional flag, the one they used in the 19th century, was plain white.
The Salesian Regional Museum was closed as part of an official plan to put the collections of Rawson’s three museums under a single roof. The plan did not materialize, but the museum inside the Salesian school remains closed, and some of its stones were lent to the municipal museum next door.

Early explorations
The Chubut stones came to light at about the time that international scholars were beginning to consider the possibility that the New World had been explored long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
When Columbus set out from Spain, he thought that the land west of Europe was the East Indies because the maps in use at the time showed South America as a gigantic peninsula of China. The problem was that those maps were based on one by an Egyptian that altered an earlier map by a Phoenecian that had shown South America as a continent.
Throughout the 20th century, various scholars, such as Paul Rivet in France, António Mendes Correa in Portugal and Dick Edgar Ibarra Grasso and Paul Gallez in Argentina, among others – published books and papers about ancient maps and written references to trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic voyages that seem to have taken place several centuries before Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America. Thus we not only have the Phoenecians (from today’s Lebanon and Syria) arriving in England in 1103 BC to mine tin, but also the Chinese discovering North and South America in 400 AD, and Columbus sailing to the New World with copies of maps made by Middle East cartographers who registered voyages that were made 2,000 years before 1492. A leading Argentine exponent of these theories was anthropologist Ibarra Grasso (1914-2000), who wrote many books on the origins of the peoples of Latin America based on his excavations and findings and those of colleagues during the second half of the 20th century. Of particular interest is his book Los mapas de America 2000 años antes de ser "descubierta" (Maps of America 2,000 years before it was "discovered"), published in Buenos Aires in 1997. One ends up thinking: if maritime charts and copies of them made the rounds of Europe and Asia over such a long period of time before Columbus’s voyage, and Greek, Arab and Asian mariners accepted that the earth was a sphere long before the Europeans admitted that is was not flat, why couldn’t Christians fleeing the Holy Land invaded by Muslims have got as far as southern South America on the same maritime routes that the Spanish and Portuguese explorers would take several centuries years later? The main question is: why would Europeans want to go so far south in 800 or 1307 AD?

The Templars craze
The Knights Templar have fascinated common mortals ever since their order of Christian warrior monks (the Order of the Temple) was established to defend pilgrims from Muslims in the Holy Land in 1099. The knights started out so hard up for money that their seal depicts two men sharing a war horse, but they ended up with their own navy, and as the bankers of many people, including kings.

The treacherous way in which the Order was disbanded in Europe in the early 14th century adds to its aura, and it has numerous fans around the world today. In the US best-selling detective novel The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003, the Priory of Zion (suggestively founded the same year as the Order of the Temple), the Opus Dei, and, in consequence, the Vatican, are portrayed as villains out to keep the world from knowing that Jesus left descendants capable to reminding people of the importance of his teachings. In so doing, it reflects the feelings of many Templar fans about the way in which the Church hierarchy abandoned the leaders of the Order to their fate. And it is an indication of the interest that the Templars are drawing in this digital age, which is also a period of history marked by the rise of violent Islamic fundamentalism. For an example of this adulation in the United States, complete with merchandising, see For the order’s local version, see There are those who go so far as to say that the source of the Templars’ wealth was the gold they brought from North or South America during their two centuries in the Holy Land. This theory arises from a Biblical reference to three-year voyages in search of riches that were made to and from Ophir by a Phoenician King’s navy on behalf of King Solomon around 1000 BC, and the fact that the French founders of the Order are believed to have discovered the famous Hebrew leader’s maps during their excavations at their headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years later.
However, the most popular legend of all is that just before the arrest of the French leaders of the Order of the Temple in 1307, the Order’s treasure disappeared from its headquarters in Paris and its fleet set sail from La Rochelle, never to be heard from again. The leaders were tortured by the Inquisition, forced to sign false confessions to heresy and other crimes, and finally burned at the stake in 1314 in Paris by a French king who owed the Order money. It was in Scotland, one of the places in Europe where escaped Knights Templar found refuge, that Freemasonry arose at the end of the 16th century.
In Buenos Aires, the Delphos Foundation holds that a group of Celtic Christians established a fort atop the seaside mesa that is known locally as El Fuerte, and that the knights who escaped from France brought the Holy Grail to this part of the world when the Order was disbanded in the 14th century. They claim that the mesa appeared on maps as the site of an abandoned fort as late as the 19th century.

The sea used to reach further inland, and at that time probably reached the mesa, which is now 1 km from the water. The Delphos people, who spend a lot of time talking with locals, say that Indian legends refer to white men with cannon on the mesa before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The group claims to have discovered ceramic mosaic shards atop El Fuerte. Delphos is now seeking vestiges of a second city founded by the former crusaders on the Somuncurá plateau. Since 1997, their members have made more than a dozen sorties into the coastal areas of Río Negro and Chubut, and to the Somuncurá Plateau, shared by both provinces.
See for their studies.
See also: and
PHOTO CREDITS: The El Fuerte mesa, Fundación Delphos. Five carved stones from the Salesian Regional Museum of Rawson, Chubut, Bonnie Tucker. Map drawn by German cartographer Henricus Martellus Germanus in 1489. Templar seal. Templars in an old engraving. Detail of a map attributed to French cartographer Jean Antoine Martin de Moussy, published in his atlas of 1869, and a Fundación Delphos expedition, both from Fundación Delphos.

Creative adventures in Las Grutas

History and outdoor life can be fun for young and old.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Located in the Gulf of San Matías immediately north of the Valdés Peninsula in Chubut, Las Grutas in Río Negro is a diving resort that has several things going for it. Among them are the warmest water on the Argentine coast, nice protected bathing beaches, and a creative travel company that offers a wide variety of soft adventure excursions that bring the local environment and history home to visitors in a fun way.

Between December and February, the average temperature of the water of the Gulf of San Matías is 20ºC, thanks to the Valdés Peninsula which deflects the cold southern sea current away from it, cliffs that protect fine sand bathing beaches from the wind, and a wide tidal range that leaves large expanses of sea bottom under shallow water exposed at the sun’s heat several hours a day. In addition, the town’s location in the gulf gives it 11 hours of solar exposure a day in summer.
The transparent water, which is blue in some places and turquoise in others, draws divers and snorkelers like a magnet. Tide pools in the "marine gardens" exposed by the low tide harbor fish, octopi and mollusks of the type that make the town’s restaurants attractive to seafood lovers. Near town are sea lion and Magellanic penguin rookeries.

But the desert that embraces the gulf is also interesting, with its native wildlife, fossil beds, octopus fishermen and the local legend about the fort allegedly established by the Knights Templar on a seaside mesa south of town.
So when a wildcat devaluation blew a hole in the pocketbooks of most Argentines in 2001, but made the country more attractive for tourists as well, Buenos Aires-born photo journalist Fernando Skliarevsky moved to Las Grutas and established an adventure travel agency called Desert Tracks. Drawing on the experience gained during his 20 years of globetrotting, he designed a series of excursions that enlist the town’s surroundings and history in providing both knowledge and action. In so doing, he put Las Grutas on Argentina’s tourism map.
At present, the town is Río Negro’s second most visited tourist spot, after Bariloche. During the high season months its 5,000-strong stable population swells to 200,000.

Fernando specializes in overlanding excursions. He takes tourists to see and touch the best the sea and land can offer in US army surplus jeeps and troop carriers with trailers for the water tank and kitchen that allow him to serve meals in the wild. These vehicles are used for his popular full-day Fuerte Argentino excursion and the four-day multi-adventure overland expeditions that involve sleeping in tents and diving.

The Fuerte Argentino excursion – Fernando calls it an expedition – includes sandboarding on the dunes; a stop at the octopus fishermen’s village; an explanation of how and why tides are produced, in the place with the country’s greatest tidal range; a canyon where thousands of oysters became fossils 13 million years ago; the marine gardens (if the tide is out), and snorkeling in a lagoon within view of the Fuerte Argentino mesa while the chef prepares the barbecue lunch. After dessert comes the guide´s talk about the Knights Templar, and a crossbow contest to get into the feel of things medieval.

The excursion to the Gualicho salt flats, located in a big depression 72 meters below sea level 60 km west of Las Grutas, combines instruction on salt mining with stargazing. It is done in a new air-conditioned bus. Gualicho is the biggest salt deposit in Argentina in terms of industrial production. During the summer, tours begin in the late afternoon to avoid the daytime temperatures, which can reach 50ºC at noon. Mining activity is observed until it is time to watch a spectacular sunset, with a glass of champagne in hand. Then a long table and chairs are set out on the salt and a sumptuous dinner is served under the stars.

Later, everyone takes turns looking at the moon’s craters and diverse constellations through the telescope, and seeing for themselves how night becomes day through an infrared viewer as the guide spins spooky tales about the salt flat.
One new excursion takes tourists to photograph penguins and sea lions. Another introduces them to the "Retorno del Condor al Mar" (Return of the condor to the sea) project whereby condors hatched and reared in captivity by the Buenos Aires zoo and the Fundación Bioandina are released in Sierra Paileman to repopulate the coastal area where they had become extinct. Yet another combines a petrified forest and a private paleontological museum in Valcheta, with a trip to the Somuncurá Plateau for a look at endemic prehistoric-looking little fish in a stream in Chipauquil and lunch with the French administrators of a nearby ranch.
Desert Tracks also offers excursions to the ports of San Antonio Oeste y Este (72 km), the Valdés Peninsula (230 km), Puerto Madryn (263 km), and Viedma-Carmen de Patagones (190 km).
For further information on excursions, visit

PHOTO CREDITS: The beach in front of Las Grutas, Las Grutas Tourist Office. The underwater scene in Las Grutas, Cota Cero. Penguin watching, jeeps and troop carrier, sea lion pup, snorkeling in front of Fuerte Argentino, crossbow practice, and infra-red viewer on Gualicho salt flats, all by Desert Tracks.

Enjoying the back-room

The Expotrastiendas art gallery fair has something for all tastes.

In Buenos Aires, the 9th edition of the Expotrastiendas art gallery fair is presenting works of the artists of more than 70 art galleries along an open zig-zagging course that takes paintings, sculptures, installations and audiovisuals out of the cubicle stalls typical of such exhibitions and puts them into a network in which all are be seen by all visitors. The objective of this art fair, organized by the Argentine Association of Art Galleries, is to exhibit works of all styles and tendencies by artists of all ages for the benefit of collectors and buyers as well as the general public. During the five days that the show will be on (Oct. 16-20 this year) at the Centro Municipal de Exposiciones (City Exhibitions Center) at Figueroa Alcorta and Pueyrredón, there will also be seminars, book presentations and lectures by people from the art and cultural scene. Information:

PHOTO CREDITS (from top to bottom): "Argentine Art in the 1920s," a retrospective exhibition in the 2009 Expotrastiendas’ Institutional Presentation sector; Paintings by Berta Goldwaser, from the Norma Duek art gallery; and Paintings and sculptures from Renata Schussheim’s "Epiphany" show, all by Marcelo Imbellone.

Manca Fiesta

The Puna’s big barter fair.

On one day of the last fortnight of October, merchants and residents of the Puna highlands gather in the Jujuy city of La Quiaca to hold a big barter fair known locally as the "Manca Fiesta" or "Pots Fair".
The objective of this yearly regional festival on the frontier between Argentina and Bolivia is not for everybody to make a lot of money, but for people to socialize and have fun. Among those who take part are Bolivians who bring pots, jars and other earthenware items; residents of the Jujuy Puna with hand-knit items made from llama or sheep wool, potatoes, chuño (dried potatoes), and chalona (sun-dried salted mutton); and farmers from the valleys who come with dried fruit, seeds and baskets, among other items.
Buying is allowed, but the object of the get-together is to barter, be it in Spanish or Quechua. There is plenty of regional food, music and dancing. The fair lasts several days, until all the goods are exchanged.
This year, the fair began on Thursday October 15, and it will surely continue until the weekend.
La Quiaca lies 295 km from San Salvador de Jujuy, at an altitude of 3,442 meters above sea level. If you want to go next year, get the date from the province’s official site ( the month before. It is recommendable to go a couple of days ahead of time in order to be able to acclimate to the altitude. If you don’t want to stay at one of the ten hotels and other forms of lodging in La Quiaca, you can do so in Yavi, an old town 14 km away, where there are inns and various things to see. Take bottled water.
This area is very rich in history, rock art, nature, handicraft, local color and photo opportunities. Whoever is interested in these sorts of things should go for five days, and with a competent guide so as to not miss out on anything. Take bottled water.

Experiences in the region
See the petroglyphs at Sapagua on the way to La Quiaca, and the ones at Cerros Colorados near Yavi. In the latter town, don’t miss the house of the Marquis of Tojo, the former owner of a good part of the Puna, and his chapel with onyx windows and gilt woodwork.

Cross the bridge from La Quiaca to the Bolivian city of Villazón to see what a market looks like in the bordering country.
Birders should take advantage of being in this area and head for Laguna de los Pozuelos, an important sanctuary for migrant birds at 4,230 meters above sea level, 90 km from La Quiaca.

Among the 44 species of water birds that live in or stop at the enormous saline lagoon of the reserve, there are three species of flamingoes, which are native to the Puna.

PHOTO CREDITS: Manca Fiesta, Tourism Secretariat of Jujuy. Yavi chapel, Bonnie Tucker. Laguna de los Pozuelos, Tourism Secretariat of Jujuy.

29th National Columbus Day by the Seaside

October 9-13 in Villa Gesell.

Every year around October 12, the Spanish community of the Buenos Aires Province sea resort of Villa Gesell regales popular festival fans with an event-packed national Columbus Day festival that includes an immense paella served to 1,000 locals and tourists; processions of floats and “big-heads”; and several sporting and cultural events. Celebration of this holiday in Villa Gesell began in 1967 with a paella party and dance organized by and for the local Spanish community. Since then it has grown into a big event for all townspeople, becoming a municipal festival in 1981 and achieving provincial and finally national status in 1984 and 1993, respectively. During the four or five days the festival lasts each year, there are free concerts, films and tours of the first home of resort founder Carlos Gesell and the nursery that provided the trees with which he fixed the dunes and forested the town. On Saturday Oct. 10 a big barbecue is scheduled for 1pm and a parade of floats for 3:30pm. On Sunday Oct. 11, the morning hours will be dedicated to a kayak regatta, an inter-provincial volleyball tournament, a marathon on a 6,500 meter course, a surfing and body boarding tournament, and a jet ski championship. Before noon, people will gather around the gigantic paella pan to watch how some ingredients are added with the help of a crane, and others through nozzles in the sides of the pan. The paella will be served at 1pm. The parade of “cabezudos” is scheduled for 3:30pm.
Taken from the “gigantes y cabezudos” (giants and big-heads) procession tradition that originated in Spain in the Middle Ages and later spread to the rest of Europe, the “cabezudos” of Villa Gesell are the gigantes used in Europe, as they are hollow figures several meters tall comprising a head with flailing arms. Beneath the long skirt of each gigante is a strong man who is fitted with a harness that bears the supports of the structure, and makes the figure “dance” to the music of a marching band. In Europe the gigantes represent village archetypes, while in Villa Gesell they symbolize the different communities. The Spanish cabezudos are large head masks held in hand by disguised revelers. For the full Columbus Day festival (Fiesta Nacional de la Raza en el Mar) program, visit

Other experiences nearby: In Villa Gesell, an excursion along the beach and across the dunes in a 4x4 military truck to the Querandí lighthouse. A drive around the nearby posh resorts of Mar de las Pampas (10 km), Cariló (10 km) and Pinamar (19 km). The oceanariums in Mar del Plata (103 km south) or San Clemente del Tuyú (100 km north).

PHOTO CREDITS: The cook seasons the paella with the help of a crane. A procession of “giants” posing as “cabezudos.” Both from Casa de Villa Gesell in Buenos Aires.

43rd National Black Drum Fish Festival

October 10-12 in San Clemente del Tuyú.

In Spanish, this big sea fish that hangs out around crab flats in estuaries is known as corvina negra, and nowadays it seems to be present just about everywhere along the coast of the province of Buenos Aires except San Clemente del Tuyú, the only town that has achieved national status for a fishing tournament dedicated to it. San Clemente is the town nearest Samborombón Bay at mouth of the huge River Plate estuary, and in the good old days (during the early years of the fishing tournament) people caught black drum fish that weighed as much as 40 kilos and were as long as 1.20 meters in this area. Nowadays few fish make it to 30 kilos. As a result of overfishing allowed the fleets of Mar del Plata and neighboring Uruguay (thanks to a 1974 binational treaty on resources in the River Plate), and quite probably the daily takes of the two fishing boats that feed the marine animals of the local Mundo Marino oceanarium) as well, artisan and sports fishermen say that nowadays black drum fish can’t be caught by casting from the beach of San Clemente.

You have to go out in a boat in the Samborombón Bay, or in front of other towns further south. But the town’s traditional fishing tournament still takes place under the name of this drum fish, even though the fishing done during it is for any species that can be hooked from the pier or beach. The biggest fish wins.
During the festival there will be a float parade and a beauty queen contest. On Sunday Oct. 11, those present will enjoy a big corvina barbecue – presumably done with fish caught elsewhere along the coast.
For more information, try

Other experiences in San Clemente del Tuyú: See the orca and dolphin shows in the Mundo Marino oceanarium. In the Bahía Aventura seacoast theme park, float in one of the marine thermal pools, learn about the local ecosystem during guided nature tours, and enjoy the views of Punta Rasa point and the surroundings from the top of the San Antonio lighthouse, built in 1890.

PHOTO CREDIT: Black drums.

The essence of the Patagonian steppe

Small ranchers take travelers to the Somuncurá Plateau.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The best new culture-and-nature excursion presented at the Expo Patatonia show in Buenos Aires was that of Meseta Infinita, an organized group of small ranchers and artisans from a town in the middle of the Río Negro steppe who receive travelers who are interested in the real thing in Patagonian places and lifestyles. AVINA, an international NGO that advises small entrepreneurs and helps them launch undertakings based on sustainable activities, is one of the sponsors.Many of the group’s excursions take visitors to the Somuncurá Plateau, a basaltic formation that occupies more than 23,000 km2 of central southern Río Negro and part of northern Chubut – an area similar to that of the province of Tucumán. Its average elevation is 1,000 meters above sea level, but its relief is by no means flat or monotonous. Its landscapes include volcanic cones, canyons, mountain ranges whose highest peak reaches 1,900 meters, and more than 300 lagoons, many of them ephemeral.
Proof of the marine incursion that covered the region 65 million years ago is the large number of fossil beds in the dry gulfs, capes and bays that can be made out atop Somuncurá and the neighboring Central Plateau.

Somuncurá has very few inhabitants and several endemic plant and animal species. Most people are small sheep ranchers, and some also raise guanacos and rheas.

Some Meseta Infinita members are Mapuches, members of the major indigenous ethnic group whose ancestors came to live in this area at the end of the 19th century. Today their women are willing to give visitors a hands-on seminar on washing and dying wool and weaving rugs on traditional looms.

The group offers all-inclusive packages of three or four days that begin in Los Menucos, a town of 3,000 inhabitants at the foot of the Somuncurá Plateau halfway between San Antonio Oeste on the coast and Bariloche at the foot of the Andes in the province of Río Negro. You can get there by bus from Bariloche (360 km) or Viedma (500 km). Activities can be arranged in accordance with the visitor’s interests: sheep farm activities including droving and shearing; the ins and outs of rhea and guanaco raising; slate mining; traditional Mapuche weaving techniques; fossil deposits, and rock art sites that are more than 10,000 years old. Accommodation may be in ranch houses, outposts, or tents if excursions range very far afield on the Somuncurá Plateau. Travelers eat with ranch families.

I haven’t done this yet, but it sounds good and I am passing on the information. For more details, see , and e-mail or call (02944) 15-613-100 or (02940) 492-051.

PHOTO CREDITS: Lagoon in a volcano crater; fossilized sea shells found on the plateau; rancher with guanaco; weaver; cooking on a plow disc; a ranch house living room. All courtesy of Meseta Infinita.

Iruya’s feast day

A colorful, authentic popular festival.

Hidden in a deep canyon of the Prepuna region, the little Salta town of Iruya is the prettiest of all the high-altitude villages for its natural setting, and the cornice road that must be driven in order to get to its steep cobbled streets offers some of the most spectacular views available in this part of the world. It lies at an elevation of 2,780 meters above sea level, and to reach the peace and quiet that it has in store, you have to ascend to the Abra del Condor ridge at 4,000 meters and then descend more than 1,000 meters on a hairpin road whose tight curves dazzle you with a long series of landscapes in unforgettable colors and textures.

Every year, the town’s feast day in honor of the Virgin of the Rosary takes place on the first Sunday of October. Hundreds of people from the Puna come to take part in the processions and exchange their products in a fair that harks back to pre-Columbian times. This is when baptisms and marriages take place, and it is a time to enjoy religious processions whose protagonists are “cachis,” a group of disguised people with masks that are used only in this festival and kept in the church the rest of the year. The group, comprised of 10 people who for the most part are pilgrims from Iruya itself, symbolize a family who with their possessions and livestock entreat the Virgin for her protection against the temptations of a black man who also acts as a buffoon, but is really the group leader. The characters they play are the young and old members of the family, a bull and two horses. They dance in front of the Virgin whose image advances with the procession through the streets to the accompaniment of musicians who play traditional instruments such as the erke and the sikus.

This year, the festivities will take place on October 3 and 4. There will be processions at noon and in the evening on Saturday, and at noon on Sunday.
Iruya is 307 km from the provincial capital, and you have to drive through the Humahuaca Valley in Jujuy to get to the road that communicates the town with the rest of the world.
For more information, visit and

PHOTO CREDITS: Iruya, and an erke player who precedes dancing cachis during the feast day. Salta Tourism Ministry.

Buenos Aires recovers the Barolo beacon

A luminous preview of Argentina’s bicentennial.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
At 8pm on October 3, the Palacio Barolo, Buenos Aires’ first and most eccentric high-rise, will give a luminous preview of Argentina’s bicentennial festivities when a beam from its recently repaired beacon will briefly illuminate the sky.
In front of the tower at Avenida de Mayo 1370, pianist Horacio Lavandera will play three sonatas by Beethoven that evoke the theme of the building, whose floor plan illustrates the Hell, Purgatory and Heaven of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
In 1919, wealthy textile merchant Luis Barolo commissioned Italian architect Mario Palanti to build the 100-meter tower because both were admirers of Dante. Unfortunately, Barolo did not live to see it inaugurated in 1923.

Its beacon, whose 300,000 candle-power beam was visible as far away as Colonia in Uruguay, was used to announce matters of importance to the population, of which the most famous was the result of the Dempsey-Firpo prize fight that took place in New York shortly after the inauguration. Porteños knew that a green light would mean a victory of the Argentine favorite, and red defeat. That night began with jubilation inspired a green light, but ended with bitterness when the color unexpectedly changed to red.The beacon was repaired thanks to a campaign by the City Hall’s Doors to the Bicentennial Program, which obtained contributions from the owners of the 240 offices in the building, the Italian Embassy, and private companies. From now on, the Barolo’s beacon will be turned on for a half hour on the night of the 25th of every month to commemorate the revolution of May 25, 1810.

PHOTO CREDIT: The top floors of the Barolo building, crowned by the beacon. Bonnie Tucker.