Monday, October 28, 2013

Last Days in Salta

Our last week of volunteer work in Salta is now upon us, and we have a lot to do before we finish – complete our projects, write final reports, have our exit interviews, and more.

Tea on the patio with Isabel
Argentina on Sunday was again in the grip of election fever, this time for the national elections, after weeks of campaigning. Every flat surface was been plastered with posters, which were then covered over with rival posters or defaced with unflattering amendments. Interestingly, all politicking ceased, by law, on Thursday night, presumably to allow two days of quiet reflection before the vote.  It looks like the Kirschner party has lost some seats, so the prospect of a change in the constitution to allow Christina to run for a third term has receded. The local political scene is still firmly in the grip of the pro-Kirschner/Peronist party which, to the outsider looks like a family affair. The State Governor’s brother, and the city mayor’s daughter have both been elected to the national Chamber of Deputies (equivalent to the House of Representatives) – very cosy. Argentinians are compelled to vote in their elections, so many were traveling on Sunday to the place where they are registered, and many businesses were closed.

Planting herbs in the comedor garden wall
This past week we planted herbs and ornamental plants in “our” comedor garden and started work in a second comedor in a more distant and more deprived barrio in the south of the city. Our presentations are becoming more polished. At least, the audience does not wince quite so much at Sandy’s grammatical errors and wayward pronunciation in Spanish. Next week, after delays awaiting FSD approval and appropriate signatures, Lin hopes to be able to purchase the instructional books and games that she plans to donate to her before-school program.

Children at play at the ANPUY center (where Lin works)
We continue to enjoy Salta and its varied and sophisticated cultural life, with two incredibly inexpensive chamber music concerts and a trip to the ballet in the past week. The ballet – Giselle – was remarkably well performed before a very appreciative audience. The chamber concert of challenging music by Prokofiev and Shostakovitch was excellent, and the audience was mostly young people – unlike audiences at the Kimmel Center, where graying and bald heads predominate.

Ancient wine press made of leather, designed for stomping
On Saturday, we visited the excellent Museo del Norte, in the old Cabildo building -- the residence of the Spanish Governor during colonial times. It has a good collection, and explanation of the life in pre-colonial times when many stone-age tribes, and eventually the Inca, inhabited the area. The Inca, who were like the Romans of South America, were only here for about 60 years before the Spaniards came along and changed all the rules.

Rail line to Chile through the mountains

Today (Sunday) we took the local bus (US $0.30 for a 55-minute ride) to the little town of Campo Quijano at the foot of the Andes. It is particularly well known as the place where the Tren de las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) starts its ascent of the Andes, from 4000 feet to over 14,000 feet in about 80 miles. The track is used only once a week by a train designed for tourists – the rest of the time it makes an excellent hiking trail, though few people seem to take advantage of it. Incidentally, the track, which is a marvel of engineering was designed by a Philadelphia-born engineer, Richard Maury. We enjoyed a peaceful and gently rising hike along the track, surrounded by interesting birds, trees in flower, small farms, and increasingly desolate mountain slopes. We were told that condors are occasionally sighted, but we did not walk far enough into the mountains to reach their habitat.
Railway bridge over raging river

With the prospect of our work coming to an end, we are looking forward to 12 days or so of traveling round northwest Argentina. We will travel by local buses and stay in the clean, comfortable – and cheap – hostels of which every town seems to have a wide choice.

Gaucho girl in Salta's central square

Curious cow near the railroad track

Old steam engine from Peru-Chile line

Making dough for empanadas in Campo Quijano

Odd birds beside the railway line
Guaria cuckoo

Whistling heron - though it did not whistle for us.

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