Argentina : Pampas, animals and prehistoric art

If you ignore the occasional palm trees, driving from Buenos Aires to Cordoba looks like driving in Southern Ontario in the middle of the summer. There are long stretches of corn fields and hay balls next to the straight road.

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In Cordoba I started to understand the Argentinian culture a little better. A local boy told us: “We, Argentinians, actually are Italians, speaking Spanish and trying to be French.”  The historic center of the second largest Argentinian city shows French influence in its architecture. Contrary to Buenos Aires, Cordoba has some beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, mingled with aristocratic palaces and modern buildings.

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Cordoba is very popular destination for the Argentinian tourists, but not too many foreigners visit it. The city is home to the second oldest university in South America and has huge student population.

The Jesuit Block (or Maznzana Jesuitica) is a former Jesuit reduction, built in 1615. It is one of the oldest and best preserved in South America. When the Jesuits were expelled from Americas in 1767, all other missions or reductions fell to despair, but Cordoba mission was left to the rule of Franciscans. It contains a group of buildings dating from the 17th century – church, University campus, very prestigious high school, library and museum.

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The library is the oldest one in Argentina and is a must see. It is housing some of the original books brought over by the Jesuit Missionaries, in Latin, Greek, and Spanish.

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The most impressive for me was the unbelievably well preserved huge multi volume early Bible (1645),  written in seven languages – Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldean, Greek, Syrian, Latin and Arabic.

Pampas, flats, steppes

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Lazy driving through the endless pampa

South of Cordoba, the lush corn and sunflowers fields slowly changed to semi-arid pampas with extensive grassland.

The air became hot,

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then hotter,

then even hotter.

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The land became dry and after then even dryer. The wind became strong and after a while even stronger.

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And when the conditions got really harsh and very unwelcoming, guess who loves to live there – guanaco (relatives of Bolivian vicuna) and nandu (Darwin’s rhea).

Guanaco and vicunas are my kind of animals. They never will stay where there are nice lush pastures. I think they need constant challenges, lack of water and food, never-ending wind and never-coming rain in order to be happy and to thrive. From high altiplano of Peru and Bolivia down to the dry steppes of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego they are part of our travels.  And always, they are so beautiful and gracious.

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Despite the harsh climate, southern Argentina is full of animals.

In Valdes peninsula, we saw plenty of guanacos and nandus, as well as, sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, foxes, birds, armadillos.

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Sea lion kindergarten

 

Pichi or dwarf armadillo

Parrots colony in the middle of nowhere

The people who lived here 9000 ago, left their fingerprints for us.

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The small village of Perito Moreno (not to be mistaken with the famous glacier with the same name) is literally in the middle of nowhere. It is a sleepy little place with few streets, few hotels between endless deserted steppe and constant wind. The dinner at the local pub provide us with the dissections of the town population – young courting couple, four older men playing cards and a native man, drinking alone. The pizza was terrible, the beer even worse, but the authentic atmosphere was great.

Early in the morning, the furious wind greeted my first step outside of the hotel. It was so strong, that I literally had to use Ivan for support to reach the car. Driving towards Cueva de los Manos (or Cave of the Hands) didn’t improve outside conditions even a bit. The wind was ferocious, the land forsaken and totally uninhabited. I started to wonder who in his right mind have lived here 10 000 years ago, and how do they managed to survive in these conditions. Even today, with all our knowledge and technology the place is so empty and wild. Getting close to the archeological site, I understood. The cave lies in the canyon of the Pinturas river valley and it is the only green spot in 500 square kilometers.

I didn’t have too high expectations for this place. In my travels, I’ve noticed that the pictures of touristic places are often photoshopped or enhanced to attract more people. But this was not the case here. The rock shelter outside of the cave is literally covered with outlines of human hands, animal figures, hunting scenes and more. The earlier prints are dated 7500 BC. The paintings were made with natural mineral pigments – iron oxides for red and purple, kaolin for white, natrojarosite for yellow, and manganese oxide for black – grounded and mixed with an unknown binder. Close to the floor are tiny childish hands, upper are the larger hands of adults. There are mostly left hands, but here and there you can find the right ones. The painting scenes lift the curtain of the time and allow us to have a glimpse in the life of those early inhabitants of the American continent. There are hunting scenes with guanaco and running humans, nandu figures and even imprinted nandu foot, moon pictures and more.

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