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Cómo se llama?

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 23 April 2014 | Views [208] | Scholarship Entry

Even the horses know I'm not from around here. I have come to Humahuaca in the north of Argentina, far from Buenos Aires in so many ways. The people are darker and more thickset, many wear colourful dresses and straw fedoras that declare -and sell- their indigeneity. My ears struggle to tune into the Quechan-inflected Spanish. The horses -there's almost one around every corner, slumped in the shade- look different from the well-groomed mares of Southern gauchos.

There is a railway line, no longer in use, contained in the arid gorge that cuts the town in two. It follows the valley through ranges of rock, creased and ridged, pink and blue. Is there an Andean Cézanne, I wonder? The wind, often caressing my face and occasionally gassing me with its dusty force, carries a smell I can't place.

There is hardly anyone around. I can see a distant figure with a horse and cart but can't tell what he is doing. I think of the journey here: the bus from Salta would occasionally make stops that seemed to be at the end of the world (and not so far off Mars). Each time a passenger would disembark and wander into the desolate plain. Where are they going? What are they doing?

I ask myself similar questions. It is as if Humuhuaca, with its low adobe buildings and cobbled streets, emerged out of this landscape, being formed from the accumulation of high plain dust and rock. It is one of the best preserved settlements in the Andean Altiplano; but I can't help pondering what exactly is being preserved.

My hostel is on Av. Bueons Aires. As with everywhere else in Argentina the streets are named after the important figures and the great cities of liberated Latin America. Other people, other places. Visible from my hostel is the Monumento a la Independencia, a bombastic attempt at social realist sculpting that strives to extol the virtue of natives overcome by colonialism. As the corroded greenish figures jar with the elegantly uniform ocher town below it, so too does the romanticism of the monument conflict with the modern history of a neglected northern region hit hard by low levels of investment and with more than 60% of the population living below the poverty line.

Later I dine in the empty Casa Vieja, a restaurant where llama is not so much speciality as singularity. Considering the menu's variations on Andean camelid -stewed, roasted, fried- I go for the llama fillet. It is delicious grub, generously served.

What does llama taste like? Like the Humahuaca wind.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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