Thursday, 28 June 2007

Gira Medica - Remote healthcare

Last week I went on a 3 day health care tour to remote schools in Jujuy Province. The CEGIM clinic in Tilcara, about 300km north of Salta, is run by two Alejandra and Fani, two young doctors. It is a polyclinic including visiting dentists, psychologists and speech therapists a few days a week.

A year ago they decided to start going once a month to visit the isolated schools in the mountains above Tilcara. They run 3 different circuits visiting each school (about 8 schools) 3 times a year. Previously these places would have been lucky to get one visit a year from a government sent health team. While the clinics are focused on the schools anyone can come to see the doctor.

The team consisted of Fani, Natalia, a psychologist, Lorena, a dentist, myself and two students from the USA who are volunteering at the clinic in Tilcara for 11 months working on health education projects.

We started out walking at 5am from Hualcalera, in the Quebra de Humahuaca, the big valley running north to the Bolivian border, where Tilcara sits.

After climbing up a river gully out of the quebra, we continued along a high altitude valley (over 3500m) to reach the first school Alonso by around 1030.

Many of the children walk 2-3 hours from their family's subsistence farms to get to school. They range between 6 and 13 and live and study at school for 20 days then return home for 10.

We spent the afternoon doing checkups on all the kids and then giving dental hygiene and self image, violence and sexual health workshops.

There are solar cells to power lights at night in the rooms. The wood required to heat hot water is in short supply so most go without bathing just washing hands and maybe face.

On the way to the next school we passed one of the farms the kids come from:

Yala de Maria Carmen is in a relatively more fertile and populated valley. The school runs in a similar fashion. Here you can see our supplies arriving.

They have a vege patch and glass house that supplies fresh vegetables to supplement the grains brought in by donkey on the walking trails and locally dried meat (you can see it hanging in the background of some of the photos). The kids learn about looking after the veges so they can plant similar patches when they go home.

Locals came down to visit the doctor in our classroom clinic into the evening.

It was a great and eye opening experience. There´s more photos of the country and it´s resourceful inhabitants, who are always smiling in conditions we barely dream of, in the photo gallery.

On Sunday back in Tilcara I was woken by the drums of this procession for the feast of St John the Baptist. Cool costumes!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Photos - Torres del Paine

I've finally managed to get some photos up from Torres del Paine, the big nine-day Patagonian trek we did back in early March. This is definitely one of the top treks in the world, and the whole area is ridiculously photogenic! The photos can be found here, with some of my favorites being:

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


I've made it safe & sound to Seattle, where I'll be hanging out with Illustrious for a couple of weeks. It's a bit of a shock to the system being back in the 1st world after 6 months - everything (just) works! Though I'm learning to live with it :)

Though overcast when I arrived, the weather cleared up in the afternoon, meaning I could get out and enjoy a bit of summer after the cold weather in Salta. Here's a shot of the space needle from my hotel:

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Hasta Luego Tom

Tom is off to Seattle today for a month. As fitting farewell he cooked Asado on his pride and joy

This photo gives you an idea of how close we are to the Andes, all pretty in the fading light of the evening west of the city. I don't know if you can make it out but sometimes the clouds look like rainbows or oil on water. I hope it's not due to pollution....

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Cooking with Sol

I love learning how to make the local food when I visit somewhere. We're taking cooking classes at a restaurant called Color Mais in Salta. Our teacher Sol, is a great chef and has lived and worked in regional towns like Cachi.

She has kindly put together a program of traditional Salteño cuisine. It is truly a highlight of the week for me (not only because I get to wear a silly hat!).
I first got into blogs as an concept reading food blogs and have had great visions for a Salteñan food blog. Well, it's not exactly grand yet but I've decided to try. You can now hear more than you ever wanted to know about what I've been cooking here in Salta and the history of Salteñan food at Asado and Alfajores - Cooking in Argentina.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Pachamama Festival (and Cow Wedding!)

We really had little idea what was in store when my boss invited us to his farm for something he said "you don't see often these days". Apart from knowing it had something to do with livestock and that he and his wife put on great BBQs at their country house in the hills north of Salta we were in the dark.
Basically this day is an ancient way of marking the new calves in the herd and a ceremony to protect them that is practiced in parts of Northern Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Pachamama is the mother earth goddess worshiped since Incan times.
After a big lunch of asado, locro and tamales we all moved down to the corral. First the hole in the earth that symbolises Pachamama was opened including pulling out "cow" rocks with the lasso. Into the hole they placed offerings of food, wine, cola, cigarettes and last, but definitely not least, coca leaves. A temporary cover was put over the hole and the fun began.
One by one the calves were let into the corral from a holding pen. About 20 local guys were all standing around with their lassos and a count was kept throughout the day of who got the most. The cows were then trussed up. The first two were, to our surprise, married under a poncho. This included woolen flower garlands for their horns and confetti. They were given wine before they were branded and set free. Apparently this is supposed to signify that they will couple later in life in the herd.

The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting around chatting, drinking and watching as each calf was lassoed given woolen flower "earrings" and branded. They even had a kids run with the littlest calves which was very cute. One unusual drink they were passing around instead of standard mate was mate made with half industrial alcohol half hot water. Mate by itself is an acquired but addictive taste, the alcoholic one tasted like metho.
At the end of the day the guys were awarded a ring shaped sweet bread for each calf lassoed. The Pachamama hole was then given more food and drink before being closed and a tree branch decorated on top like a Christmas tree with the same woolen "flowers" used on the cows.
It sure was a unique experience. For more action shots see the smugmug gallery.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Hasta Luego Gg

We have bid a sad goodbye to Georgina on Friday and we now are enjoying our last BA cafe hours before returning "home" to Salta.
Not only did Gg make celebrating my birthday more fun with a whole festival of BA restaurants but also gave us a great excuse to take a holiday. We saw some amazing country up north of Salta that I hope to write about soon and shopped till we dropped in BA. What a great birthday/ holiday!
With any luck our new internet connection will be up and running like a dream when we get home so we can post more photos other than the very important giant steaks... (they were very tasty says this converted vegetarian)
see separate post re new photo uploads.
Thanks so much Gg for a great visit. Hope Europe is treating you well (and is warmer)

Friday, 1 June 2007

Steak in BA

We went to Cabaña Las Lilas last night, one of the best places in Buenos Aires for steak. I had the house special, the 'club steak'. It was nice.