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    Land of winds > The land > Geography | Issue 11 (Jul.-Aug. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Carnival lands

Carnival lands

Andean Carnival takes place in different geographical scenarios along the Andes range. Humahuaca Carnival (Jujuy, Argentina) is celebrated in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley carved out by the Rio Grande, whose strategic position has engendered settlement, agriculture and trade. The valley has provided a crucial natural route from ancient times to the present day linking numerous tracks and joining the capital city of the province, San Salvador, with the Altiplano or puna.

The rocky parched landscape is flanked by high mountain ranges and stretches to the cold high desert plateau of the High Andean lands. Scattered along the valley are a number of small villages (Bárcena, Purmamarca, Maimará, Tilcara, Uquía, Humahuaca) where Carnival is celebrated every year in February. In the village of Tilcara the "enero tilcareño" (Tilcara January festival) takes place one month earlier and serves as a warm-up for the "big party".

Besides fairy-chimneys and magnificent cardones (cacti) the Quebrada displays rainbow-tainted slopes as those of the dazzling Cerro de Siete Colores (literally, "the Hill of Seven Colours") in the village of Purmamarca. The valley houses the remains of pre-Hispanic stone-walled agricultural terrace fields associated with fortified towns known as pukara/pucará (such as the Pucará de Tilcara), as well as several churches and chapels (like the Uquía church, where the famous painting of the "Arcabuceros Angels" are kept). The Quebrada de Humahuaca was declared World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2003.

Quebrada de Humahuaca, in Wikipedia.
Humahuaca, in Wikipedia [es].
Tilcara, in Wikipedia [es].
Pucará de Tilcara, in Wikipedia.

Picture 01. Quebrada de Humahuaca 01.
Picture 02. Quebrada de Humahuaca 02.
Picture 03. Quebrada de Humahuaca 03.
Picture 04. Street of Purmamarca.
Picture 05. Houses in Purmamarca.
Picture 06. Cardones (cacti) in Tilcara.

The Carnival of Arica is currently the most publicized and popular in the Norte Grande (Chilean Big/Far North), also known for its international character. Located in the province of the same name (Region XV of Arica y Parinacota), Arica is regarded as the "northern entrance" to Chile for its proximity to the border with Peru. This harbour-city extends along a semi-desertic coastal plain occasionally wet by the so-called camanchaca (sea mist that shrouds the coastline).

This region was home to pre-Hispanic peoples such as the Chinchorro, marine-hunters-gatherers who began preserving their dead thousands of years before the birth of Egyptian civilisation. The area gained in importance during the 19th century with the development of the saltpetre trade. Today industry and harbour activities are the main economic drivers. Close to the city, the valley of Azapa is a green jewel, an oasis that allows the cultivation of various fruits, vegetables, palm trees and the typically purple-coloured Azapa olives. The valley is home to the last Afro-Chilean inhabitants of the Norte Grande.

Arica, in Wikipedia.

Picture 07. Morro (hill) of Arica 01.
Picture 08. Morro (hill) of Arica 02.

Carnival lands

Oruro, in the heart of the Bolivian Andes, is said to be the cradle of the Bolivian Altiplano Carnival as well as of its most striking and distinctive dance, the Diablada. Located in the province of Cercado (department of Oruro), it is the sixth highest town in the world at 3,735 metres above sea level (13,000 feet). It is a mining town south of La Paz, in the foothills of the Andes, surrounded by the "Serranía sagrada de los Urus" (literally, "Sacred range of the Urus", a mountain range which include Mt San Felipe) and a plain of red sand whose dunes, according to the legend, are made up of the rows of ants sent by Wari to destroy the Uru people. This arid and desolate landscape turns into a colourful canvas to Carnival celebrations.

The Virgin of Socavón patronizes miners and her sanctuary is one of the most visited sites in the town, alongside the street of La Paz, where local embroideries design and produce Carnival costumes. Other attractions near Oruro include the Uru Uru Lake and the hot springs located to the east of the city.

Oruro, in Wikipedia.
Uru Uru Lake, in Wikipedia.

Picture 09. Uru Uru Lake 01.
Picture 10. Uru Uru Lake 02.
Picture 11. Uru Uru Lake 03.
Picture 12. Panoramic view of Oruro 01.
Picture 13. Panoramic view of Oruro 02.
Picture 14. Panoramic view of Oruro 03.

Carnival lands

Another point of interest when it comes to the Andean Carnival is Puno, in the south of Peru. Carnestolendas celebrations take place at the same time as the festival of the Virgin of the Candelaria, lovingly called mamacha (in Quechua, "mummy") by locals.

Capital city of the province of the same name, Puno is the fifth highest town in the world. Located in the Peruvian Altiplano or the Meseta del Collao, Puno lies on the north-west shores of Lake Titicaca, in the old Paucarcolla Bay, and is surrounded by mountains: on the one side the ones that make up the Apolabamba and the Carabaya ranges, and on the other those forming the Western Cordillera. On the way up there are viewpoints to admire the scenery and the wakes left by the "caballitos" (literally, "small horses": small totora reed boats built by the Aymara) on the lake’s surface.

More than 250 traditional dances of the region are brought together here (Puno is regarded as the "Peruvian capital of Folklore") during Carnival season. Under a clear blue sky, musicians and dancers parade through the centre of the city flanked by 17th century stone houses and churches, with the slopes of Mt Huajsapata as background, warming up the cold Andean wind with their voices, flutes, drums and dancing steps.

Puno, in Wikipedia.
Lake Titicaca, in Wikipedia.

Picture 15. Panoramic view of Puno.
Picture 16. Puno Cathedral.

Carnival lands

Finally, the city of San Juan de Pasto held the Blacks and Whites’ Carnival, the largest and most important celebration in southern Colombia. Pasto is the capital of the department of Nariño (southwest Colombia). Framed by the great massif of the Pasto Mountains (Nudo de los Pastos), the city is located at an altitude of 8,290 in the valley of Atriz, at the foot of the Galeras volcano.

Home to ancient peoples like the Pasto and the Quillacinga, this land is well-known for its museums and numerous churches as well as for its music, celebrations and traditional crafts. Many Pasto artisans are specialized in wood carving and make the most of Native American materials such as the "varnish resin of Pasto", obtained from the shrub known as mopa-mopa.

Near San Juan de Pasto lies the lake Guamez or "Laguna de la Cocha". Each year on the 11th of February the lake is the scene of a procession of boats to honour the Virgin of Lourdes or "Virgen de la Cocha", whose chapel is located on one of the islands in the lagoon.

San Juan de Pasto, in Wikipedia.
Galeras, in Wikipedia.
Laguna de la Cocha, in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 17. Panoramic view of San Juan de Pasto 01.
Picture 18. Panoramic view of San Juan de Pasto 02.
Picture 19. Galeras volcano.
Picture 20. Laguna de la Cocha.

The journey following the traces of Carnival will take travellers through a number of locations along the Andes, bringing them closer to the cultural landscapes of the range and to the many traditions that have shaped the area.

Picture A | Picture B | Picture C | Picture D

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