Monday, March 9, 2009

Salta II - Quebrada de Humahuaca

After the 14 hour epic excursion to the altiplano Saturday, Sunday was a much needed sleep-in (relative term after 4am bedtime and 10am start) and rest day. Sundays are taken pretty seriously in this part of the world, and pretty much everything of note bar a few restaurants was closed for the day. Thankfully an exception was made for Salta's premier museum, the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM). MAAM is most famous for the Llullaillaco children, young Incans sacrificed to the mountain gods 500 years ago and discovered by a combined mountaineering/archaeological team in the 90s.

It's one thing to read about child-sacrifice but quite another to see the amazingly preserved (they were left at 6730M of altitude) bodies and above all faces of little kids, faces you could also see today in the surrounding town. My friend Brendan wrote of the impact stories of Incan child sacrifice had from the perspective of a father of two school-aged girls, also noting some of the more recent (if less physically violent) cruelty the church inflicted on young girls and their families. The impact is no less on a father-of-none ! Easily the best museum of the trip - notwithstanding the triple-priced entry ticket for non-Argentineans (grrrrr).

Monday morning was another 7am start for the second epic mini-bus tour of the area around Salta. The make up of this group was quite different from that of the Saturday tour - apart from an Irish couple, everyone else on the bus was Argentinian, all of them (apart from Salteño Fernando the guide) from Buenos Aires. I took advantage to tune my ear to the peculiar dialect spoken by Porteños and shamefully kept my nationality (and supposed proficiency in the English language) hidden from the Irish pair until quite late in the trip !

Monday's Bus is full of locals ...

The highlight of this tour was visiting the famous Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO heritage listed gorge running about 100 km from the town of San Salvador de Jujuy (itself 2 hours north of Salta) to the eponymous Humahuaca. First stop was the little market town of Purmamarca, the last stop on Saturday's tour. The light was a little better this time, showing off the towns famous backdrop, the Cerro de los Siete Colores:

Seven Colour Hill

The gorge (Quebrada) is famous for multi-coloured mountains and picturesque villages, and didn't disappoint on either count. Unfortunately though stops were in towns rather than on the roadside so photography was mostly of the through the bus window variety:

Lunch was in the village itself, where it appears a deal has been established to have tours conducted by local males. As we approached the bus was waved down and a local lad hoppped in and introduced himself to our guide - and the rest of us. You can guess which one he is in the photo below:

The town itself is a pleasant combination of colonial architecture and adobe streets - with a super-tacky memorial to the indigenous people (the vast majority of the population up here) dominating the main square.

Momumento a la Independencia

Humahuaca Markets

Remains of Iglesia Santa Barbara - destroyed for the monument

The 'up yours' cactus

Ancient Incan Photography Company

At the Artists Palette

After brief stop for the tiny but pretty one church town of Uquia, the bus, by popular vote, deviated from the planned Jujuy town tour and expressway home, opting instead for the picturesque single lane (but two way) jungle mountain road back to Salta.

As always, a few more photos from Salta, including many more bus-window snaps of the colourful gorge and mountains, are here.
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Of Engineers and Gutters

In a recent article, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farelly laments the damage caused to trees in the urban environment by 'perfect' non-leaky guttering. Her argument is that evil 'un-civil' engineers, in designing gutters that are leak proof (and root proof) are responsible for thirsty trees struggling to survive, therefore not providing shade, therefore increasing global-warming, while rainwater rattles off wasted into the harbour.

In her highly enjoyable opinion pieces, Ms Farelly often uses exaggerated imagery and colourful language to emphasise a heartfelt opinion on urban design, and this article was no exception. In blaming engineers for this problem with inflammatory language equating them to terrorists, she predictably caused a storm of protest, and may well have laid the groundwork for the formation of a new corollary to the famous Godwins's Law* - we'll call it Farelly's Law - that automatically renders any argument invalid when the object of the author's scorn is labelled as, or compared to, a terrorist.

Of course, engineers aren't actually to blame for this particular problem. Engineers, for better or worse, are given problems and asked to build solutions. If they have designed gutters that don't leak, it's because they were asked by the council or road's authority to design gutters that don't leak. Indeed, it's a common lament of the engineer that they are not engaged earlier in the process to be part of the problem definition phase, rather than receiving half-baked requirements, then copping it for the resultant solution not making everyone happy. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything ...

The fallacy of her argument is exposed by the counter-example in the same article - praising the (yet to be built I believe) gutter solution in Sydney's Green Square that makes clever re-use of storm water. Clearly, however, these gutters were also designed by engineers - albeit as a response to a more environmentally sensitive statement of the problem to be solved.

Approved Guttering

Apart from the unjustified engineer slandering, the author makes a valid point about the waste of rainwater in our cities, and the sadly missed opportunity for more thoughtful solutions. The problem, I would suggest is far greater than just thirsty trees - the waste of storm water in dry Australian cities is a problem crying out for creative engineering solutions - if only someone would ask !

One place that has a creative guttering system is the Argentinean town of Mendoza, which I visited in January. Lying in a desert at the foothill of the Andes, Mendoza takes advantage of an ancient Incan irrigation system with a series of linked open gutters running through the city.

Non leaky gutters ...

...that still let trees drink

You can see that Mendozan trees don't go thirsty. As the run-off comes from melted ice in the Andes, the result is a city permanently cooled in summer by a giant open air cooling system, that also maintains very healthy trees - so much so it's hard to believe you're in a desert.

Leafy Mendozan Streets

One downside to this solution can be gleaned from the gutters' nickname - Gringo traps, in reference to unwary (and possibly inebriated - the areas around Mendoza, also irrigated by melted Andean ice, produce 70% of Argentina's excellent wine) foreign tourists falling into the gutters. For this reason it's hard to see this particular design ever being adopted in an Australian society increasingly being dominated by litigious American style lawyers - who deserve to be the true villains in this story, rather than those poor (and definitely not terrorist) engineers :)

*PS There's an interesting article by the epnonymous Mr Godwin to mark the 18th 'birthday' of his famous law. The law initially stated (indeed still states) that as a discussion (in usenet - a proto-online-forum) goes on and on, the probability of someone mentioning Hitler or the Nazis approaches 1 (i.e. 100%). These days most people assume the law refers to the far better known corrollary, which states that the first person to resort to such parallels in a discussion automatically loses the argument.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trip by Numbers

Following an idea of Letizia's - here's a numeric summary of my trip, accompanied, for the non-numeric of you, by some vaguely relevant photos.

Planes Trains and Automobiles ... and bloody busses

Total hours spent in a bus: 86
Number of nights 'slept' on a bus: 3
Longest bus trip - 22 bum numbing hours. You could fly from Sydney to London in that time.

Elapsed hours flying home: 52 - as part of a total of 120 + hours spent flying or in transit.
Number of flight legs: 12 (Sydney - Auckland - Buenos Aires - Bariloche - El Calafate. Ushaia - Buenos Aires. Puerto Iguazu - Buenos Aires - Lima - Cusco - Lima - Buenos Aires - Auckland - Sydney).

There were also 30 hours spent in mini-bus tours - around Salta alone. Throw in another 20 in Mendoza and 20 or so in Patagonia. And finally, there were 4 boat trips - 3 in Patagonia (including the Beagle Channel and the Magellan Strait) and a cruise on the brown waters outside Tigre.

Magellan Strait

Kilometres hiked: 80 odd (42 Inca Trail, 40 or so in Patagonia)
Maximum altitude reached of 4200 metres - in the Andes near San Antonia de los Cobres, on the Chilean - Argentinean border (RN40), and at the delightfully named Dead Woman's Pass on the Inca Trail. I know which one I'll remember getting to the most !

4170M up the Andes

Dead Woman's Pass - 4215M

Christ the Peacemaker at 4200M on RN40


Days - or nights - camping: 6 - during which it rained: 6 (maintaining what seems like a life-long record, but there might, just might, be a dry night there I've forgotten)

88 (ochenta y otto) is the name given to this butterfly, although this particular one looks more like an eighty !

Number of public chunders: 2 - caused by dodgy Pisco Sours: 2.
Number of lessons learnt regarding raw egg: 0.
Number of guinea pigs eaten: 1. Number of guinea pigs I want to eat in the rest of my life: 0.

Number of bees who missed a golden chance to sting me: 100s.

Bee Ware !

Pairs of dorky hiking pants bought in Buenos Aires 2 - pairs of which left in a hotel who then denied all knowledge: 1. Number of times I looked like a fisherman on tour: 4

Fisher D

And while we're on fashion, number of days unwisely impersonating Axl Rose: 2.

Value of belongings nicked: $0, despite all warnings - or because of all precautions. This not counting the money spent on outrageous ATM fees: ~$150 (roughly AUD7.50 a pop - with a $100 withdrawal limit)

I took 2020 digital photos - and 12 rolls of slide film - another 430 odd photos. 1 camera battery died - conveniently on the eve of the Inca Trail. Number  of power points on the Inca Trail, to recharge remaining camera battery: 0.

1 tour led by a lady carrying a flag (my first ever) - with an outrageous Peruvian/Russian/Chinese accent. Visiting, appropriately enough, Saqqsaywamman (say it out loud).
Who am I, the red teletubbie, to laugh ?

Nights on the road: 42 (or 43 if you count December 23rd twice).
Best not to ask how many kilograms of steak eaten, but the first night (and second 23rd of December) there were 1000 grams consumed in a single sitting.
8 kilograms left behind in South America - of which only 2 have come back after a month (notwithstanding the above, but see also food poisoning and kilometres hiked !)

Number of comments on this post: surprise me !