Holy Week in Argentina

Four consecutive days of rest.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
For many Argentines, the four days of Holy Week that run from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday are the longest and most attractive non-workday break of the year. In most cases, the tourism possibilities that they offer those who can afford a getaway are more important than what these dates mean for Christianity. This year they extend from April 1 to 4.
During Holy Week (which to be exact begins on March 28, Palm Sunday), the prices of everything from fish to hotel rooms shoot up in all the country’s vacation spots. And if you don’t like crowds either, give this time of year a miss in your travel schedule. But if you don’t mind either of these inconveniences, there are many destinations from which to choose. Only some offer activities related to religion; most don’t.

Religious tourism
Of the religion-related destinations, what better choice than one of the many Catholic churches of Buenos Aires, or whatever major Argentine city you happen to be in at the time?
Those who prefer a more theatrical approach to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection will be happy to know that the Argentine capital is also home to Tierra Santa, a religious theme park near the city airport that is open on weekends and holidays. Here visitors mingle with groups of life-size statues in Holy Land attire, eat Arab food in restaurants, observe a potter and other artisans at work, watch a belly dancing show, and see an 18-meter Christ arise from behind a mount several times a day. Check the open hours and Holy Week program at http://www.tierrasanta-bsas.com/.
… Pascua Tierra Santa BLOG …

Argentina’s most famous Way of the Cross is not in this theme park, however. It is 350 km south of Buenos Aires, on “Mount Golgotha,” a forested hill in the Buenos Aires Province city of Tandil, which in itself is a delightful year-round vacation spot (see our May 2009 story). Installed on the hillside during the 1940s, the statues of the Stations of the Cross recalling Christ’s ordeal appear beside a path that winds its way amid the trees and ends at a plaza in front of a 15-meter high cement crucifix . This year there will be torchlight processions on the hill the nights of March 30 and April 2, in addition to similar events during daylight hours throughout the week. See the full program at http://www.cultura.tandil.gov.ar/.
… Pascua Tandil BLOG … During Holy Week, the Tucumán town of Tafí del Valle, located 1,300 km northwest of Buenos Aires, stages an outdoor passion play that is watched by a multitude on a hillside just outside town. This play, inspired by the one that takes place every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany, was the idea of a well-traveled Tucumán oculist who thought it would be a good way to raise funds for the hospital of Tafí del Valle. The cast includes amateur actors from the town and professionals from the provincial capital. The spectators follow them from one stage set to the next. The first play, staged in 1992, featured 70 actors and was attended by a few hundred spectators. Now there are nearly 200 actors and their audience runs into the thousands. There are two 7pm shows: one on April 2 and the other on April 3. Proceeds go to the local hospital. At 8:30pm on April 1 and 3, the La Banda Jesuit Museum at the opposite end of the valley from Tafí will be the venue of free concerts of jazz and classical music, respectively. More at http://www.tucuman.gov.ar/.
… foto Pascua Tafí BLOG … The department of Arauco, the major olive-growing area of the northwestern province of La Rioja, is home to a natural shrine known as El Señor de la Peña (the Lord of the Rock), a solitary 12-meter-high granite rock with an unmistakably human profile in the middle of a plain between two mountain chains. Evidently, at some unknown time in the earth’s history, a cataclysm dislodged the rock from some distant mountain and sent it rolling to its present location on the plain. Venerated by the Indians even before the arrival of the conquistadores, the rock’s Christ-like profile draws thousands of pilgrims who make their petitions and light candles there during Holy Week, spending one or more nights on the site. It is located some 1,300 km from Buenos Aires.
… foto Pascua Señor de la Peña BLOG … Nearby is the Barreal de Arauco, an ancient, absolutely flat lake pan with no vegetation. Recently, a cabin court was built there to accommodate kite buggying and land yachting enthusiasts who come to enjoy winds that can surpass 50 km per hour. In October the National Kite Buggy Championship takes place on the Barreal. See http://www.turismolarioja.gov.ar/.
Tilcara, one of the most famous towns of Jujuy’s Humahuaca Valley in northwestern Argentina, owes its fame to its pre-Hispanic fortress, and to the numerous music festivals that it hosts. Its residents celebrate Easter with ermitas, large painting-like (icon collages of dried petals, leaves, seeds and other items) that mark the Stations of the Way of the Cross procession that takes place on Friday night. After Easter, most of the families or groups of neighbors who made the icons donate their creations to the town’s icon museum. The icon-making custom dates back to the 1970s, when it was installed by a local priest.
… foto Pascua Tilcara BLOG … In Tilcara, which is 1,515 km from Buenos Aires, the local action sport is paragliding off the mountains behind the town; those in the know say that the air is thinner owing to the altitude and the descent is faster than in other places. See http://www.turismo.jujuy.gov.ar/.
In the neighboring province of Salta, a long agenda of all sorts of activities awaits visitors who go there to spend Holy Week. Of these, the most picturesque is the traditional parody of a Judas-burning show in Cachi, which this year will take place on April 3. Before the cloth doll is destroyed with fireworks, someone reads off a list of picaresque gossip about leading townspeople. See http://www.turismosalta.gov.ar/.
Puerto Madryn, the Chubut port city 1,375 km southwest of Buenos Aires that that offers whale watching from June to December and diving all year round, is more attuned to the sea than the desert. Not surprisingly, it has developed its own peculiar version of Easter: divers lower a cross and 12 of the 14 Stations of the Cross to the sea floor near the beach, and the meditations of a priest in a wet suit who swims the Stations is broadcast over loudspeakers to the townspeople who look on from the tourist wharf. See http://www.madryn.gov.ar/ for the exact date.
… foto Puerto Madryn BLOG … Junín de los Andes a city in the province of Neuquén 1,600 km southwest of Buenos Aires, is famed for its trout fishing (from November to May 31, and all year in some lakes), and for the spectacular Lanín volcano (3,776 meters above sea level) that also attracts climbers throughout the year. But Junín has a peculiar “Via Christi” Way of the Cross with 17 Stations whose characters present events from national as well as Biblical history; several have Mapuche features.
…. Foto Pascua Junín de los Andes BLOG … Conventional tourism
However, most tourists choose Junín de los Andes for just rest and recreation. Located in a Valdivian rain forest sector of Lanín National Park, the Lahuen Co eco-resort and thermal spa (http://www.lahuenco.com/) is open all year round, even with snow on the ground. Its all-inclusive rate per person in a double room starts at US$ 270 in high season and US$ 216 in low season. Visitors who just wish to spend the day in their spa pay US$ 100 or US$ 80. All programs are for guests older than 15.
…. Foto Pascua Lahuen Co BLOG … According to a recent press release, lodging in Junín de los Andes costs a lot less; a double room in a hotel requires an outlay of 220 pesos on average, and 190 pesos in an inn), while meals vary from 100 to 50 pesos per person. See http://www.junindelosandes.gov.ar/.
Many other hotels throughout the country attempt to lure tourists during these four days without appealing to religion. Few if any packages include wine with meals, or tips. When one calculates the cost-benefit ratio, it is necessary to take into account the time one arrives and leaves the place in order to know what meals and excursions are really included in the package. In almost all cases, Holy Week comes with high-season rates.
Among the select accommodations that seek guests during Holy Week is the Yacutinga Lodge, an eco-resort in the province of Misiones that caters to birders and hikers who like rain forests and nature in general. Children younger than 8 are not accepted. The lodge is located in a private nature reserve inside a meander of the Iguazú River 60 km south of Iguazú Falls and some 1,400 km northeast of Buenos Aires. Here, an all-inclusive two-night (three-day) package starts at US$ 410 per person in a two-person bungalow in a luxuriant palmetto forest. Hiking, birding, nature interpretation and sit-on-top kayak excursions are the activities on offer. Guests are picked up and left at a small shopping center on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazú, not the airport. More at http://www.yacutinga.com/.
… Foto Pascua Yacutinga BLOG … Another option is offered at the opposite end of the country, in El Calafate nearly 2,800 km – a three-hour direct flight – southwest of Buenos Aires. The Eolo Hotel, which is located inside a ranch halfway between the town and the national park with the famous Perito Moreno glacier, is a member of Relais & Chateaux, a prestigious international group of luxury hotels and restaurants owned and run by individual proprietors. It is considered by many to be an excellent choice for those who want to experience the best of the area´s landscapes (the Andes, the steppe or the lake), all of which are visible from the hotel building. This year Eolo is ending the season with an April 1-7 Wine Week of daily tastings at cocktail time that deal with a region, winery or varietal. Hiking, mountain biking and nature interpretation excursions are the on-ranch activities. From March 21 to April 20, the hotel is offering a two-night package at discount rates that start at US$ 590 per person in a double room, including meals, activities and transfers from and to the airport. Children older than 12 pay the same rate as their parents. More at http://www.eolo.com.ar/.
… Foto Pascua Eolo BLOG … Easter marks a changing of the guard in the country’s outdoor vacation locations. In the Patagonian region in the south, the good-weather time of the year (spring, summer and early autumn) is about to end, and guest ranches as well as many hotels (like Eolo) that are not near ski centers wind up their season after the four-day Holy Week mini-vacation. As a result, the main flow of tourists who are not keen on snow or skiing will move to the country’s semiarid or subtropical northern provinces, where the climate tends to be cooler and drier during the winter months.

PHOTO CREDITS: A corner of the Tierra Santa theme park in Buenos Aires, Bonnie Tucker. A Station of the Way of the Cross in Tandil, Bonnie Tucker. A passion play in Tafí del Valle, Tucumán Tourism Secretariat. The Lord of the Rock in La Rioja, Bonnie Tucker. A weaver at work in front of an Easter icon in Tilcara, Jujuy, Bonnie Tucker. Preparations for a watery Easter ceremony in Puerto Madryn, Puerto Madryn Tourist Office. Christ washes the feet of an old Mapuche lady in the Via Christi Way of the Cross in Junín de los Andes, Le Mot. Indoor thermal pools at Lahuen Co, Lahuen Co. A bungalow at Yacutinga in Misiones, Yacutinga Lodge. A suite of the Eolo Hotel in Santa Cruz, Eolo Hotel

Tall ships a big success in Puerto Madero

The Velas Sudamérica 2010 regatta draws multitudes.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Until late on Monday, March 8, the tall ships from eight South American countries and two European nations that are participating in Velas Sudamérica 2010 – the international regatta celebrating the bicentennials of Argentina and Chile – will be open to the public in Buenos Aires’ old port area.
… foto 2859 tres buques en Dique 4 … From 11am to 8pm, the crews of the brigs, frigates and other sailing vessels representing Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela will offer free guided tours of their vessels.
Most of the tall ships in the port are navy training vessels that bring to mind the years of the 19th century when South American countries achieved independence. They are participating in or accompanying this regatta, which began in early February in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and will end in late June in Veracruz, Mexico. More than 200,000 people visited the ships during the weekend.
… foto 2854 buque colombiano con multitud … Monday will be the best day to see the tall ships, because it is a work day and there will be fewer people queuing to see them, and there will be more time to catch details such as the figurehead of the Ecuadorian big, which features a condor rather than a scantily attired woman.
… foto 2876 mascarón de proa condor … Most of the boats are moored in the Navy sector of the Dársena Norte basin. There are three in Dique 4 and one in Dique 3 in Puerto Madero. During the weekend, the Sturla boat company offered Dársena Norte excursions that gave passengers a look at the big ships from the water.
… foto 2863 dos buques en Dársena Norte … On Saturday the crews of the sailing ships in the port took part in a colorful parade in Plaza San Martín to the accompaniment of the popular music of the respective countries played by the Argentine Navy’s Symphonic Orchestra.
… foto 2891 queche de Prefectura con pelotas de la muni en Dique 4 Before their arrival in Buenos Aires, the ships visited the ports of Mar del Plata in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay. On March 9 they will sail southwards. Their schedule has them passing Staten Island on the 18th, visiting Ushuaia from the 20th to the 23rd, rounding Cape Horn on the 24th and calling in Punta Arenas from the 27th to the 30th. April will see them in ports of Chile and Peru, May in Ecuador and Colombia, and June in the Caribbean.

PHOTO CREDITS: Behind the stern of Colombia´s brig Gloria appear Uruguay’s schooner Capitán Miranda and Ecuador’s brig Guayas; people queue up to see the Gloria; the figurehead of the Guayas; Portugal’s Sagres frigate and Mexico’s Cuauhtémoc sailing ship in Dársena Norte; the Argentine Coast Guard ketch Dr. Bernardo Houssay and floating spheres allusive to the Bicentennial celebrations in Dique 3, all by Marcelo Imbellone.

Mendoza’s Harvest Festival

Days and nights of wine and beauty queens.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
In early March, Mendoza in central western Argentina celebrates its grape harvest with two big parades and three evening shows in which the election of the beauty queen who will represent the province and its most important crop during the next 12 months takes priority. The National Harvest Festival, Mendoza’s biggest annual event, is a great party for locals and tourists alike. This year the festival will officially get under way on February 28 with the Blessing of the Fruit ceremony conducted by a priest in the department of Maipú. (Every year this ceremony is held in a different department so as to not center everything in the capital).
However, the events of most interest to tourists are the two parades that take place in the city of Mendoza. Each is seen by around 300,000 people, and admission is free. The Via Blanca of the beauty queens of the province’s 18 departments will take place in the streets of the capital the night of Friday March 5. The parade starts at Colón and San Martín, continues along the latter, heads down Las Heras and Chile, and ends at Paseo Sarmiento and Av. Belgrano.
… foto Vendimia Via Blanca BLOG.jpg
On the morning of Saturday March 6, the Carrusel – featuring the royalty of the night before as well as various dance groups and other performers – leaves from in front of the entrance to the General San Martín Park (Boulogne sur Mer and Emilio Civit), and proceeds along Civit, Chile, Las Heras and San Martín to Colón.
If you want to watch these parades, get the route maps from http://www.vivivendimia.com.ar/ and stake out a place in the front row well in advance. Call (0261) 413-2103 or 449-5800 for the start times.
The parades are a lot of fun. During both, the pretty girls atop the floats toss bunches of grapes, sachets of olives, apples and even melons to the adoring crowds packed behind the barriers. The crews of some of the floats hand out bottles of fine wine as well.
… foto Vendimia Carrusel BLOG.jpg The fruit throwing is a symbolic act of sharing the bounty of the harvest after a year of hard work. But not to worry: the fruit isn’t thrown at you; it is tossed only if you look receptive.
… FOTO NUEVA Carrusel gaucho BLOG.jpg Horsemen from gaucho tradition clubs and performers such as caporales dancers provide added color to the Carrusel parade.
... FOTO NUEVA Carrusel caporales BLOG.jpg
(Energetic male caporales dancers with sleigh bells on their boots represent the hated mulatto work gang foremen who mistreated black slaves on the tropical plantations of colonial Bolivia. Many of these dancers are transient Bolivian farm workers who harvest grapes and other crops in Mendoza.)
That same night, the province’s Harvest Festival Beauty Queen is elected during the Acto Central (Main Show) of the festival, which takes place in the Frank Romero Day Greek Theater in the General San Martín Park. This theater, built in a natural hollow behind the Cerro de la Gloria hill, seats more than 19,000 spectators. During the Harvest Festival main show, the additional thousands of people who sit on the hillsides around the theater may bring the total spectator count to 40,000. The light-and-sound performances feature hundreds of dancers and actors on the stage at a time.
… foto Vendimia Acto Central BLOG.jpg The entire Acto Central show lasts three and a half hours on average and ends with a big firework display. Repetitions of the main show will take place the nights of March 7 and 8, and cost a lot less. Admission to the different sectors varies from 120 to 20 pesos for the Acto Central, and 30 to 10 pesos on the repetition nights.
If you are going to Mendoza to see one of the night shows, let a travel agency arrange transport to and from the Greek theater. The park is huge, it is difficult to find parking space amid the overwhelming congestion of vehicles, and it is impossible to walk out before it closes.
The park’s normal open hours are 8am to 5pm in winter and 8am to 6pm in summer. However, the free recreational activities that are offered there on weekends don’t begin before 9am or 10 am.

A few hours in the city
If you have made the mistake of giving yourself only a few hours in which to see Mendoza City, I humbly suggest that you dedicate at least part of the morning after the show to sipping a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafés on the Paseo Sarmiento pedestrian mall that stretches three blocks from the Plaza Independencia main square to Avenida General José de San Martín, and to having a look at Plaza España a couple of blocks from there.
…. Foto Peatonal BLOG.jpg All the tall shade trees with their roots in the acequias (irrigation canals) that line every street, and the city’s five downtown squares themselves, speak eloquently of the spirit and character of the mendocinos. In the summer, the downtown area is clean, neat, pretty and protected from the sun’s rays by the foliage of hundreds of trees. It was built with those characteristics in mind after the big earthquake of 1861 destroyed the first city, the one that was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro del Castillo in 1561. The trees are the result of 150 years of hard work by several generations who wanted to live in an oasis in the face of the desert around them. And the squares have two functions: they were built to serve as pleasant, shady outdoor living rooms for reading and chatting in the summertime, and as open areas in which to take refuge from aftershocks in the event of another quake like the one in the 19th century.
… Foto Plaza Independencia BLOG.jpg Plaza Independencia, which occupies four city blocks, houses a modern art museum, a theater, and a large crafts fair. It is surrounded by four smaller squares, each of which is located one block diagonally from each of its corners. Plaza Italia and Plaza España bear the names of the major immigrant communities that have made Mendoza an important agriculture-centered province. Plaza Chile and Plaza San Martín are dedicated to the Argentine-born general whose army freed Argentina and Chile from the Spanish yoke with the help of forces from the neighboring country in the second decade of the 19th century.
Foto Plaza España BLOG.jpg Of the four squares, the most beautiful is Plaza España with its blue and white Sevillian tile benches and fountain, and its impressive central monument to Spanish-Argentine fraternity. Inaugurated in 1949 with funds provided by Spanish residents in Mendoza, this square looks and feels like a spacious Andalusian patio, and houses some quality crafts stalls.
For more information on what to see and do in the city, visit www.ciudaddemendoza.gov.ar.
The schedule of free weekend activities in the General San Martín Park is at http://www.parques.mendoza.gov.ar/.

PHOTO CREDITS: The Via Blanca and Carrusel parades, Bonnie Tucker. Members of a gaucho tradition club and Bolivian caporales dancers in the Carrusel parade, Bonnie Tucker. The Acto Central show, Mendoza Provincial Tourism Secretariat. The Paseo Sarmiento pedestrian mall, Plaza Independencia and Plaza España, Bonnie Tucker.

Carnival in La Rioja

A festival that brings people together.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Of all the Argentine carnivals with pre-Hispanic folk roots, the “Chaya” that is celebrated in the province of La Rioja in February is a perfect example of modern-day syncretism. It combines Catholic and pagan elements in a cultural product with theatrical and show biz additives. A homegrown myth differentiates it from other carnivals of this type. Here, Pachamama (Mother Earth) of the Andean Carnival celebrated in the northern provinces is Chaya, the dew goddess of the local Diaguita culture who provides the moisture necessary for life in the desert. The festivity that bears her name and delights thousands of locals centers on the unhappy love affair of the girl who became Chaya and the demigod Pujllay, who met a sorry end for not having wanted or known how to requite her love.
The Chaya is celebrated in the neighborhoods of the capital and other towns in the province. In each neighborhood, a life-size cloth doll representing Pujllay is disinterred to signal the beginning of the revelry. On Carnival Sunday, two people representing Chaya and Pujllay go through a symbolic marriage ceremony. But later, during a lively event that is reminiscent of the burning of Judas festivities so dear to old towns in Spain, revelers set fire to the Pujllay doll to free themselves of bad thoughts. In some neighborhoods the singed remains of the doll are buried afterwards. Later, partiers wash down pieces of a Guagua (a bread doll) with a glass of wine.
… foto Chaya 1 BLOG.jpg During the Chaya, riojanos also enjoy a folk music festival in the capital that lasts several nights, just like in the neighboring province of Córdoba, the national leader in the organization of such events. But this festival comes with flour. Every night, some people dance to the music, others sit and watch, and most engage in flour games. As one musician once complained: “They’re more interested in the flour than the festival!”
There are different versions as to how the mythological Pujllay burned to death, but the festival itself dates back no further than 1968, when José Jesús Oyola, a poet and musician, and later the founder of the La Rioja Folklore Association, decided that riojanos needed to be brought together in a yearly festival that sets their province apart from others. The festivity’s distinguishing features are the sprigs of fresh sweet basil that people tuck behind their ears, the rivers of wine that flow, and especially the kilos of flour and buckets of water that they throw at each other at this time of year. The performers on the festival stage also get dusted with the clouds of flour that fill the air.
… foto Chaya 2 BLOG.jpgOne way to protect your hair from the paste produced by the mixture of flour and water is to wear a wide-brimmed hat, as did former Argentine President Carlos Menem and his then wife Cecilia Bolocco several years ago.
This year the Chaya festivities took place from February 13 to 21. The folk festival, held from Feb. 19 to 22 in a stadium near the center of the capital, was attended by more than 10,000 people every night.
On February 27, the “24 Hours of Chaya” marathon talent contest for new singers and folk music composers will take place in Plaza Facundo Quiroga in the capital. As always, the winners will be chosen by the public.

PHOTO CREDITS: Youths in La Rioja pose with a Pujllay doll and a Guagua cookie. Two revelers enjoy their floury faces. Both images courtesy of Sandra Bonetto.

Argentina’s Andean carnival

An ancient harvest festival with its own devil.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
In Argentina’s northwestern provinces, and in Jujuy and Salta in particular, there is an annual festivity that is more eagerly awaited than others. For the Andean peoples of the Puna highlands and the canyons and valleys that are still rich in pre-Hispanic traditions, that festivity comprises the carnival days and nights they dedicate to the Pachamama, or Mother Earth.
For more than a week in February, from the moment that a little doll representing the devil is enthusiastically retrieved from beneath the Pachamama’s stone altar on Carnival Saturday, to the following Sunday when it is reburied until the following year, everyone has permission to do whatever he or she pleases, including run off with somebody else’s spouse. Hiding behind a mask, a costume or a covering of talc or flour helps maintain anonymity. Some people will see this as an incitement to sin, and others as freedom to be oneself for a few days. Whatever one’s feelings about the matter, the enjoyment that the Andean peoples associate with the fertility of the earth has long been one of the major attractions of Carnival in northwestern Argentina and in certain regions of other countries that underwent Spanish colonization 500 years ago.
… foto CARNAVAL trajes BLOG. jpg …..
As opposed to the European-inspired festivity of large groups of well-trained dancers who parade with impressive floats in front of crowds in many Argentine cities, Carnival in the rural and mining communities in the northwestern corner of the country is a harvest festival in which common people dance; they do not perform for an audience. They don’t even rehearse; they dance to have fun and honor the Pachamama. The carnival dance groups, or comparsas, do not compete with each other for status or money. Each town has two or more of them, and each has its own altar with its respective "Devil."
Although some provinces are attempting to attract tourists to these community events in an organized manner, Carnival in this part of the world is still a basically religious event that thanks Mother Earth for a good crop year and asks for happiness and health for all in the future. For a few days, people leave their drab everyday lives and get together to have fun in towns.
In Jujuy, the most important carnival festivities from a tourist’s point of view take place in Humahuaca, followed by Tilcara, Purmamarca and Uquía in the Humahuaca Valley, and in Abra Pampa and La Quiaca in the Puna highlands. In Salta, a relative newcomer to the divulgation of this type of carnival, the places to go are the mining towns of San Antonio de los Cobres and Tolar Grande in the Puna.
In the indigenous community of Amaicha del Valle in Tucumán just over the border from Salta, Carnival takes place within the framework of the National Pachamama Festival, held in February.

The Fortines
During the nine days of Carnival, several families establish fortines ("forts") in their homes; i.e. they provide a place for all and sundry to eat, drink and be happy. A big lunch is followed by a party with dancing and more drinking. Actually, it’s a potluck lunch, with guests contributing different victuals to be shared. But it is free, and a tourist can join the party in a fortín. Just enquire in the street about the location of the nearest such place, and state your desire to the host. And be prepared to be received with talc and streamers, and be offered lots of alcohol. The only requirement is that you enjoy yourself and show it. Upon arrival you will be given a "vacuna" (vaccination), a cocktail of sweet alcoholic drinks that wards off bad feelings like envy and jealousy. Immediately thereafter, the fortín rules will be read to you: worry is a no-no and diversion is a must. If you infringe the rules you will undergo a fusilamiento (execution by firing squad), consisting of being given a glass of wine and seated in a visible place until you drink it.
… foto CARNAVAL comadres BLOG.jpg … The Andean Carnival has four stages – two warmer-ups, the main event, and the last act. First there is a Jueves de Compadres (Mens’ Thursday) during which the menfolk get together and sing or talk about the good and bad things that happened to them during the past year. This year, it took place February 4. The Jueves de Comadres (Women’s Thursday), February 11, is considered an even bigger attraction, perhaps because females are cattier than men and are often wont to say what they really think of their neighbors on this occasion.

The Desentierro
The main event is the Desentierro (Disinterment) when the "Devil" is unearthed from where he was interred the previous year, and the aforementioned carousing begins. This year, the date is Saturday February 13. The procedure is the same everywhere. Each comparsa walks from their headquarters or meeting point to a pile of stones, (mojón, or altar), which is usually located on the outskirts of town. Each member of the group takes a stone to leave on the pile. The stone is an offering to the Pachamama. (A stone left on one of the many similar piles (called apachetas) along drovers’ trails in the mountains is also an entreaty for safe passage.)
… foto CARNAVAL apacheta BLOG … Everybody decorates the altar with sample of their agricultural produce or various other trimmings. At the base of the altar they dig a hole into which everybody places a bit of food or drink, or perhaps a lighted cigarette to share with their nature deity.
… foto CARNAVAL corpachada BLOG … Finally, the devil doll is unearthed from beneath the altar, a large group of howling youths dressed in devil costumes comes rushing in, and everybody joins hands to dance around the altar.
…. foto CARNAVAL público BLOG … Quite a few use spray foam aerosols instead of four or talc, and some visitors don sieve masks for protection.
… foto CARNAVAL colador BLOG … That evening, the comparsa people go from house to house, where they sing and dance, and are served drinks.
Many will cry real tears during the final act, when the Devil doll is buried Sunday February 21.
(Ideally, tourists who wish to accompany, watch and/or participate in the last two activities should ask the comparsa leader for permission in advance.)

Who is that devil?
Like many other popular festivals in the Andes, Carnival is a product of religious syncretism in which ancient local deities became Christian virgins or the devil during the colonial period.
The harvest festival thanking Mother Earth for the multiplication of crops and livestock, which forms the core of the Andean Carnival, was celebrated long before the arrival of the conquistadores, who enslaved indigenous people in mines in the Puna and on plantations in the jungle areas of the region.
Given the nearness of northwestern Argentina to the major Bolivian mining cities and the constant movements of transient workers across the border, the Andean Carnival in Argentina is influenced to a certain extent by Bolivian carnival characters, in particular the figure of the devil presented by the showy Diablada dancers of the Oruro Carnival, famed for their devil masks and costumes.
However, the role played by the devil in carnival festivities appears to change according to the dominant economic activity of each area.
The Bolivian devil character harks back to Huari (Wari), an Andean god of who lives in mountains and mines. He is the guardian of mineral wealth and is associated with earthquakes and volcanoes. He is good to humans if propitiated, and very mean if he isn’t.
After the Conquest which imposed large-scale gallery mining, Huari became el Tío (the Uncle), the owner of the ore veins who must be placated with alcohol, coca leaves and cigarettes in a special place in the mine shaft. According to Bolivian mining tradition, priests are denied access to the place assigned to the Tío.
The characters played by the Oruro Carnival dancers represent figures from Bolivia’s pre-Hispanic and colonial past, and several of them are villains.
In Bolivia Huari/el Tío is a fearsome character, but in the Humahuaca Valley, where the climate is more favorable to agriculture and life is easier that in the mining towns of the Puna, his resurrection in the form of a devil doll once a year brings joy, and his burial draws tears.

PHOTO CREDITS: The pictures that illustrate this article were taken by the author during carnival in Uquía, Jujuy in 2001.

Uruguay’s Rocha kaleidoscope

A coastal area with many landscapes and stories to tell.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
For residents of the Argentine capital who want to beat the summer heat on an ocean beach, distances to Uruguayan destinations are comparable with those to the Argentine resorts in terms of travel time. Flight time from the Argentine capital to Montevideo or Punta del Este is a little over one hour. And a mere 340 km separate Chuy on the border with Brazil from the Uruguayan capital, where Buquebus ferries disgorge over 3,000 passengers and 500 cars from Buenos Aires a day during the summer high season. The direct ferry trip takes 3 ½ hours, during which passengers doze, read or watch a video, and arrive rested for the drive north in a comfortable air-conditioned bus or their own means of locomotion.
… foto Cabo Polonio FARO blog.jpg …
In January, some Buenos Aires vacationers head for Punta del Este and steep high-season prices, but others continue on to one of the little fishing towns that dot the spectacular 170 km of coastline of the Department of Rocha further north. In these towns prices are lower, crowds are somewhat sparser, and contact with nature and local culture is more direct for people who value rest and subscribe to the adage about Small being Beautiful.
In February, prices begin to drop everywhere along the Rocha coast, and in March they are affordable for many people who had to spend the hottest months in Buenos Aires. March is also less windy than January and February.
… foto Santa Teresa BLOG.jpg … Uruguay’s portion of the Atlantic coast is full of rocky capes and peninsulas that separate bays and beaches which provide options of surf or quieter waters. The prevailing easterly winds that make the rocks offshore a danger for navigation led to the construction of lighthouses in Punta del Este, José Ignacio, La Paloma, Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo more than a century ago.
For tourists, the Rocha coast is a world of dune-protected fine sand beaches, several of which are good for surfing and kite surfing. Other attractions are restaurants that serve delicious fresh seafood caught by local artisan fishermen, cozy bars and restaurants, inns and hotels of trendy or atmospheric style, two well-restored 18th-century forts, wetlands full of birdlife, and a guest ranch that puts visitors in touch with an adventurous past and comfortable, easily adopted local customs. All this occupies a 60-km-wide fringe of land between the sea and a range of hills.
… foto Mapa Rocha BLOG.jpg …
Heading north from Punta del Este (which is 138 km north of Montevideo), one comes across the former lighthouse village of José Ignacio, (in the Department of Maldonado). Its stone lighthouse with three white bands, built in 1877, is very similar to the one in Cabo Polonio, which went into service four years later. The kite surfing craze has one of its bastions here, with a school for surfing as well as this extreme sport located on the nearby Garzón Lagoon.
… foto José Ignacio BLOG.jpg …
In José Ignacio, Argentines as well as Uruguayans who fled crowds in Punta del Este 10 or 20 years ago are fighting to keep the look and lifestyle of their chosen spot as untouched as possible by developers intent on building mansions and luxury hotels, and travel agencies that bus in tourists for a day on the beach. The recent construction of wooden stairs down to the beach and a boardwalk beside the part most frequented by visitors has increased comfort and improved safety, although some locals feel that the structures mar the view and feel of the place.
… foto José Ignacio ANTES BLOG.jpg … foto José Ignacio DESPUES BLOG.jpg Each of the towns on the Rocha coast has stories to tell. But they deserve a book, they won’t fit into a blog article.

LA PALOMA. Located a little over 240 km north of Montevideo, this city of 5,000 inhabitants grew up around its stately white lighthouse, which Italian stonemasons constructed on Cape Santa María in 1874. In addition to being the department’s biggest and best-equipped seaside resort, it has its largest fishing port, which has a sector reserved for yachts and sailboats.
… La Paloma BLOG …
The lighthouse provides tourists with a 42-meter-high vantage point from which to take pictures of the town. Many houses in the picturesque old quarter around the lighthouse have been recycled.
The abundance of fish around the cape makes it possible to catch something on practically all the area’s many fine yellow sand beaches.
La Paloma’s quiet beach, preferred by families with children, is El Cabito. The Los Botes beach is where artisan fishermen leave their boats and show their catch to visitors.
… foto Surf 1 BLOG …
The beach favored by surfers is La Balconada, where people also go to thrill to sunsets.
Of late, La Paloma has become a favorite of adolescents because of its night life and numerous cheap camping grounds.
In addition to its discos and a casino, the city has several good seafood restaurants and around 50 hotels, cabin courts, rental houses and other accommodations in forest and beachside locations.

LA PEDRERA. Ten kilometers further north, La Pedrera appears as a smaller, more exclusive and quieter place. There are no discos; they were sent packing to nearby La Paloma several years ago. The town is set largely atop a low cliff between two broad, fine yellow sand beaches. The quiet beach preferred by families is El Desplayado, the one with big surfing waves Playa del Barco.
… foto La Pedrera BLOG …
The rocky point that gives La Pedrera its name is home to Costa Brava, the most famous of the town’s renowned seafood restaurants.
Fewer than 3,000 people live there all year round, but in summer the flood of tourists multiplies the population tenfold, so it is better to go in March. There are 14 hotels, cabin complexes, apart-hotels and other accommodations.

CABO POLONIO. A rustic and definitely unique fishing village that lives more off bohemian tourists than fish in the summer. Locals do everything possible to discourage mass tourism. To get there, you have to leave your car in a parking lot near the highway and contract one of the several 4WD truck or pickup transfer services available, or ride a horse. The 50-minute drive takes you through forested dunes and along an immensely broad beach to a sandy clearing in the village on the cape.
The cape is hammer-shaped but looks like a peninsula from afar. It harbors a large sea lion breeding colony. The beaches on either side of it are sprinkled with scattered huts used by fishermen or rented to tourists who range from hippies to professionals. The mobile dunes behind the beaches change the landscape all the time.
foto: Cabo Polonio 1 BLOG.jpg … (bahía desde península)
Cabo Polonio has both agrarian and seafaring sides to its personality, and fewer than 200 year-round residents. There are no streets, just paths amid the houses. Apart from the inns that have electrical generators, the town has no electricity; at night, people make do with the light provided by the revolving beacon of the lighthouse. There is no drinking water or telephone service, either. The treelessness of the cape makes all the sand, rock and sea expanses around you feel very broad indeed. The beaches are good for swimming, diving or surf, and the rocky areas are good fishing spots.
Foto: Cabo Polonio 2 BLOG.jpg … (pueblo) The cape is so low on one side that the ocean’s waves appear to rush past beside you on their way to the beach.
For many years there were only two inns, but now they are seven. None of them are what you would call upscale, but the Perla del Cabo has a great seafood restaurant.
You can get to Cabo Polonio with a day tour booked in Punta del Este.

GUARDIA DEL MONTE. Thirteen kilometers inland from Cabo Polonio is the Castillos Lagoon surrounded by butiá palm groves, marshlands full of native vegetation and wildlife, and a large forest of enormous ombú trees.
On a rise facing the lagoon is the place that best expresses this part of Rocha: the main house of the Guardia del Monte ranch, which grew up around an 18th-century Spanish post house and was acquired by the Servetto family in 1910.
… foto Estancia Guardia del Monte 1 BLOG.jpg (en carro)
Alicia Fernández de Servetto, the owner, raises sheep and cattle, and offers a distinctive Uruguayan ranch experience to travelers who are genuinely interested in the area. For her, the tourists to whom she divulges ombú lore are "not tourists, but visitors." They hear, for instance, that botanists tend to classify the ombú more as a shrub than a tree.
In the evening, she offers newly arrived guests a sweet golden liqueur made from the macerated fruit of the butiá palms that distinguish the Castillos area and give locals their butiasero moniker. …. foto Estancia Guardia del Monte 2 BLOG.jpg … (con ombú) A retired schoolteacher, she enjoys telling visitors how survivors of shipwrecks on the Rocha coast became leading butiaseros during the 19th century.
… foto Estancia Guardia del Monte 3 BLOG.jpg … (Alicia con mapa) In the main house two recycled rooms with private bathrooms are available for guests, who are shown local flora and fauna during horseback rides or cart rides. Fishing and canoeing on the lagoon are additional options.

VALIZAS. Too small to figure on most major tourist maps, this small fishing village just north of Cabo Polonio has high sand dunes. And it doesn’t have electricity, either. It is good for fishing and walking the beach in search of remains of the shipwrecks that dot the Rocha coast. The Aguas Dulces resort a big further north has cabins and huts.

PUNTA DEL DIABLO. This picturesque little shark fishing village is blessed with a beautiful setting, a distinctive small-town life and a special existential energy. A long rocky point separates two beaches with different personalities. The one called Los Botes is where artisan fishermen unload their catch and leave their boats. The other, suggestively named La Viuda (the Widow), is good for surfing and kite surfing.
…. foto: Punta del Diablo 1 BLOG.jpg … (botes en playa)
The main pastimes are walking on those beaches and watching the local fishermen bring in their catch. The place fascinates everyone from backpackers to the bohemian bourgeois set.
… foto: Punta del Diablo 2 BLOG.jpg … (gente bajando a la playa) While the thing to do is rent a rancho (hut) with few if any amenities for a week or a month, there are also 27 more conventional accommodation options, of which only two are inns, one is an apart-hotel and the rest are mostly cabin courts.
… foto: Punta del Diablo 3 BLOG … (ranchos) There are several good seafood restaurants and other eateries, a couple of pubs, and a cybercafé. The stable population is 600, a number that increases twentyfold during the summer high season. More information at: http://www.portaldeldiablo.com.uy/.

SANTA TERESA FORTRESS. Punta del Diablo is very hear the large Santa Teresa Fortress, which in colonial times was disputed by Portugal and Spain, and finally by Uruguayan patriots and the Brazilian Empire until the independence of Uruguay in 1828.
… foto: Fortaleza Santa Teresa 1 BLOG.jpg … (exterior)
Set on a rise within view of the coast to the east and overlooking the Laguna Negra marshlands to the west, the fortress was well restored in the 1930s. It occupies an area of one hectare. Its buildings house interesting displays that illustrate life in the garrison, as well as scale models of all Uruguay’s colonial forts. It is open daily during the summer high season, and on weekends only during the low season.
… foto: Fortaleza Santa Teresa 2 BLOG.jpg … (plaza de armas) The Santa Teresa National Park that surrounds the fortress has an area of 3,000 hectares. Its 2,000 native and exotic trees were planted to fix the dunes, which were threatening the fortress when restoration work began. There are a hot house, a cool shady area formed by shade trees and a museum that shows the restoration of the fortress and the design of the park, as well as cabin courts and campgrounds. The park extends down to four of the country’s most beautiful, pristine beaches, which offer good fishing and excellent waves for surfing.

CERRO DEL INDIO. Located on the edge of the Laguna Negra nature reserve near the Santa Teresa Fortress, this sheep and dairy farm is an ideal place for birders, skilled riders and people who are interested enough in archaeology to chat with the owners about the enigmatic 3,000-year-old Indian burial mounds that are being excavated in the region.
… foto Cerrito de Indio BLOG.jpg …
LA CORONILLA. This modest little town 25 km south of Chuy consists of three loosely connected neighborhoods and the traditional Hotel Parque Oceánico, recently refurbished.
… foto Hotel Parque Oceánico BLOG.jpg … Surrounded by a big seaside (or "oceanic") park of butiá palms and eucalyptuses that links it with the beach, the hotel is a pleasant, self-contained refuge for older people and families with small children who don’t want crowds, noise or night life. Open all year round, it is near the Cerro Verde and Coronilla Islands nature reserves, as well as the Santa Teresa Fortress in the national park of the same name.

SAN MIGUEL FORT. Like the Santa Teresa Fortress, the San Miguel Fort in the hills of the same name was disputed for more than 60 years – first by the Spaniards and Portuguese, and finally by Uruguayan patriots and the Brazilian empire until Uruguay’s independence in 1828.
This fortification in the San Miguel hills sent smoke signals to the fortress 40 km further south to warn of enemy troop movements on the plain below. An interesting folk museum is within sight of the fort. Both are a kilometer from the Hostería Fortín de San Miguel, a replica of a Spanish parador surrounded by the native vegetation of the San Miguel National Park.
…. foto: San Miguel 1 BLOG.jpg …. (entrada)
Dark but homey like an old castle that smells of fireplace wood smoke, the inn is the right base from which to explore both the fort and the museum. It is a favorite of esoteric groups who say it has good vibes because the San Miguel hills lie atop one of the positive energy lines that emanate from Mount Uritorco in the province of Córdoba in Argentina. It has two good restaurants and a swimming pool that is ideal for relaxing for a few days in a setting very different from those of the nearby sea resorts, and a world away from fast-paced big cities.
… foto: San Miguel 2 BLOG.jpg … (pasillo externo hostería) The fort complex is located less than 10 km from the city of Chuy, and it is easy to get there directly from the Montevideo bus terminal. Of the many buses that go from the capital to Chuy every day, several return on a different route that leaves you on the inn’s doorstep.

CHUY. This binational city is no beauty, but the fact that the frontier between Uruguay and Brazil runs down the middle of its main avenue, across which thousands of people move back and forth freely every day, is intriguing, to say the least. Chuy attracts compulsive shoppers who are incapable of passing up bargains in clothing, luxury items, sports equipment and electronic products. Most of the big stores and shopping centers are on the Brazilian side of the avenue, and many duty-free shops are in Uruguayan part of town. As in Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este, many of the shopkeepers are of Arab descent.
… foto Chuy frontera BLOG.jpg … The Barra del Chuy is an immensely broad beach whose northern sector belongs to Brazil, and to Uruguay in the south. The Brazilians have removed the dunes from their sector. The Uruguayans, more ecological, have left them in place to renew the sand of their part of the beach.
… foto Barra del Chuy BLOG.jpg … Hot and muggy in the summer, Chuy is best visited during the cooler months. The temperature is always more bearable in the San Miguel hills.
The best way to savor the diversity of Rocha is to go straight north to the inn near the San Miguel Fort in the Chuy area and proceed south at leisure, spending a few days in each of the small coastal towns that takes your fancy.

In Rocha there are accommodations for every taste. Among them:
Beach and family life
Hotel Parque Oceánico, http://www.hotelparqueoceanico.com.uy/ , La Coronilla.
Hotel La Pedrera,
, (00598) 479-2001, La Pedrera.
Hostería Fortín de San Miguel, http://www.elfortin/ .com, Chuy.
Estancia Guardia del Monte, http://www.guardiadelmonte.com/ , Castillos.
Cerro del Indio, (00598) 47-4003, La Coronilla.

Bohemian bourgeois
Posada Rocamar, http://www.posadarocamar.com.uy/ , Punta del Diablo.
Terrazas de la Pedrera Apart Hotel, http://www.terrazasdelapedrera.com/ , La Pedrera.
Hostería La Perla del Cabo, http://www.laperladelcabo.com/ , Cabo Polonio.
Additional information:
http://www.turismorocha.gub.uy/ , 00598-479-6088.

PHOTO CREDITS: The Cabo Polonio lighthouse, Bonnie Tucker. A beach of the Santa Teresa National Park, Bonnie Tucker. Map of the Department of Rocha. A beach at José Ignacio in Feruary, 2007, Bonnie Tucker. The access to the beach beside the José Ignacio lighthouse in 2000 and 2007, Bonnie Tucker. The La Paloma lighthouse, Bonnie Tucker. A surfer defies a wave on a Rocha beach, Rocha Tourist Office. Playa del Barco in La Pedrera in November, 2003, Bonnie Tucker. Cabo Polonio’s boat beach, Bonnie Tucker. The Cabo Polonio village, Bonnie Tucker. Returning from a birding jaunt at Estancia Guardia del Monte, Bonnie Tucker. Alicia Fernández de Servetto seated at the foot of a 500-year-old ombú, Bonnie Tucker. Alicia showing her shipwreck map, Bonnie Tucker. Boats on one of the beaches of Punta del Diablo, Bonnie Tucker. Recently arrived tourists walk down to the beach at Punta del Diablo, Bonnie Tucker. Huts for rent in Punta del Diablo, Bonnie Tucker. The Santa Teresa Fortress, Bonnie Tucker. Partial view of Plaza de Armas of the Santa Teresa Fortress, Bonnie Tucker. An Indian burial mound, www.portaluruguaycultural.gub.uy. Hotel Parque Oceánico, Bonnie Tucker. The drawbridge entrance to the San Miguel Fort, Bonnie Tucker. The countryside as seen from the San Miguel Inn, Bonnie Tucker. The avenue in Chuy that serves as the border between Uruguay and Brazil, Bonnie Tucker. The Uruguayan sector of the Chuy beach, Bonnie Tucker.