On my way to Bolivia

‘In the time of our old ancestors a powerful and prosperous tribe of Indians lived on one side of the valley , and on the opposite mountain slopes an equally strong and well-organised tribe had settled. At first these two tribes were the best of neighbours and traded honestly and freely, but, as time went on, ambition and jealousy had converted them into bitter enemies, and many fierce battle were fought between the two. The cacique (chief) of one tribe had a son, and his enemy on the other side had a beautiful daughter, and one day the two happened to meet and immediately fell in love with each other. The cacique’s son often disappeared quietly during the night, and after following perilous trails he would meet his beloved. However, soon they arose suspicion, and the father of the girl sent a messenger to the young man’s father, threatening to execute his enemy’s sunshield he ever catch him. Even this threat was not enough to frighten the young lover, who continued his visits during dark nights. On one occasion he was waylaid, taken prisoner, and brought before his father’s enemy, who ordered the young man to be beheaded at once. Once the head had been severed from the body it was taken to the girl who historically caressed it, and according to the fable the eyes of the still warm head opened wide and tears began to flout of them, and ever since this valley has been called Humahuaca, which means again “Weeping head”.’ (A.Tschiffely) 

I have been reading this book about a man travelling from Buenos Aires to Washington on the back of his two horses, during my trip to Bolivia. It was very interesting to see the same places through his eyes. With the excuse of renewing my visa, I went back to the Quebrada the Humahuaca on my way. As I had missed its atmosphere and the sounds of Tilcara, the night I arrived I went to refuel my soul with wine, empanadas and the music of Tomás Lipán, a very famous folklore music author, who was playing that night.


The following day, after visiting a photography museum with Alessandro, an Italian exchange student in Salta, I got on a Panamerican bus which drove for hours coming across nothing but dust and llamas. Eventually, nestled in the mountains, a village with a colourful church appeared: we had finally reached Iruya. 


After having explored the few streets of this place and having talked to various locals for accommodation, I left my backpack at the hostel and decided to go for a hike around the village. Before doing so, while sipping a coffee I heard a very familiar accent: I couldn’t believe we were going to meet another Italian! Marco was from Turin, like Alessandro, and was heading east towards Brazil.


For the hike we had a guide called Alcides. Born and raised in Iruya, during our walk he explained us how to recognise and how to use many plants we bumped into, he narrated all the stories and legends linked to this place – his passion when talking about his land was incredible. We sat for a while at the top of a mountain chewing coca leaves and talking about the sound of the wings of a condor and what these incredible animals, which were flying over our heads, were able to do if hungry.

After the only night spent in Iruya, we got an early bus to Humahuaca where we had a connection in order to get to La Quiaca, the last Argentinian town before Bolivia. When travelling through places like this, I often find myself thinking about the life of these people, who live far from everything. This ‘everything’, that for me and many others is so necessary, is something that locals of these remote places don’t even know. This continuous research of what makes us – sons of modern era – happy, are nothing but “things”. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who recently passed away, stated: our happiness always ends up in a shop.


Before crossing the border we decided to make a small detour to go to Yavi, a tiny village completely made of adobe. A local family insisted to give us a lift there and we gratefully accepted. We were admiring this lunar landscape from the back of a truck sitting on bags full of potatoes. It felt like we were the only people in this place, everything was shut apart from a shop selling very sad vegetables and there was no signal what so ever so. We didn’t have to wait long before bumping into Hubert, a guy from Quebec who we had met in Tilcara and decided to continue his trip with us.


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