Monthly Archives: July 2009

Cerro de los Siete Colores

Good work Missy and Kerry! You two were the closest to solving Mystery Snapshot 4. As Missy put it, “I saw the color of the sky and I knew it had to be Argentina.” To everyone who thought the photograph was of somewhere in the US, what a good reminder of how beautiful parts of our country can be!  (And, for the record Tom, I have been to Colorado multiple times, so good guess.) But enough patriotism…

The name of the hills in the last mystery snapshot is Cerro de los Siete Colores (“Seven Color Hills”) in Purmamarca, Argentina (northwestern Argentina, very close to the Bolivian border). It is also referred to by some people as the Hill of Seven Skirts because the layers of colors mimic the long skirts that Andean women wear (I believe this is a very “unofficial” name).

Located in the Humahuaca Ravine in the province of Jujuy, Purmamarca is an indigenous village framed by the Cerro de los Siete Colores. It sits at an altitude of about 2,200 m and has become quite touristy due to the beautiful surrounding hills, which get their color from a variety of minerals in the earth. The varying pigmentation is due to the accumulation of sea, lake, and river sediments that have been deposited in the region over the past 600 million years. The mountains themselves are a result of tectonic movement over time.  (In my very first entry, “Travels with Tavel has Finally Arrived” I posted a photograph of me wandering the streets of this town.)

Sadly, most of my time in Purmamarca was spent laying on the floor of a beautiful restaurant with my then-13-year-old-brother, dealing with altitude sickness and trying not to puke. Alas, not every travel experience can be a dream come true!

Earlier that day we had climbed (uhh, in a small bus) to an altitude of 4,200 m. On the way back down, with my blood sugar low and many twists and turns around cliff after cliff, I started to see stars (it was broad daylight) and began to sink into my seat. I knew what was coming. Unfortunately, I decided to spit out the mouthful of coca (yes, cocaine) leaves I had been instructed to chew in order to help adjust to the high altitude because I thought I had conquered the mountains. Around the time I began to turn green, I realized I was wrong. During our rather rapid descent from 4,200 m (just under 13,000 feet) into Purmamarca, I blacked out. Luckily, there was an emergency oxygen tank in the back of the van for this exact purpose and I even had an ex-Staten Island firefighter on board! Convenient, because let’s just say there probably was no hospital — or convenience store —  in the mountains just outside Bolivia.

It actually happened pretty quickly. One minute, I was absolutely fine – just really, really hungry and thirsty. The next second I said “Mom, I think I’m about to pass out…” and then, sure enough, I felt my head detach from my body, my spine turn to jello, and my view went from exceptionally scenic to black.

Oops.

Now, what did my mom do as soon as I “came to” with an oxygen mask placed on my face?

1. Laugh at me.

2. Take a photo.

Thanks mom.

Besides the dizziness,  I was able to enjoy Purmamarca’s quiet existence, with its small dusty streets,  squat adobe homes,  small old church, and shady main plaza.  The clay-red village was serene against its much more striking landscape. All seven colors of the hills echoed in the clothing and pottery sold by indigenous villagers, whose toothless smiles were big and welcoming in the warm breeze.

While there isn’t much to do in Purmamarca besides wander the clay streets, admire the colorful surrounding hills, and enjoy some llama meat at one of the two surprisingly delicious and inventive restaurants, isn’t that why you (and everyone else) are there?

Here are a few more photographs of Purmamarca and the Cerro de los Siete Colores — a beautiful sight that I am more capable of enjoying now, through my photographs, since the hills have stopped spinning.

Cerro de los 7 Colores, Purmamarca, Argentina

Cerro de los 7 Colores, Purmamarca, Argentina

Cerro de los 7 Colores view, Purmamarca, Argentina

Cerro de los 7 Colores view, Purmamarca, Argentina

Street view from indigenous town of Purmamarca, Argentina, framed by Cerro de Siete Colores

Street view from indigenous town of Purmamarca, Argentina, framed by Cerro de Siete Colores

Clay pots in Purmamarca, Argentina

Clay pots in Purmamarca, Argentina

Mate gourds and bombillas, artisan market in Purmamarca, Argentina

Mate gourds and bombillas, artisan market in Purmamarca, Argentina

Car and window, Purmamarca, Argentina

Car and adobe home in Purmamarca, Argentina

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The Hills

It’s time to add some nature to the mix…

Where in the world can these colorful hills be found?

Region and country will do (the more specific, the better).  If you can come up with one of the two official names for these hills (or both) you will officially blow my mind. Guesses are welcome. Be creative!

The Hills

The Hills

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The Revelation

Wow, it appears I stumped everyone with my mysterious photo of a large, architecturally ambiguous grey church. Your observations and guesses were actually very interesting! It made me realize that we see things very differently when we alter our expectations.

Well, there are no winners today but, regardless, it is time for the REVELATION!

The mystery snapshot is of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (“Our Lady of the Angels”) in Cartago, Costa Rica! In January 2006, I spent a month volunteering at a daycare center in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. Our homebase was in Cartago, a city about 20 minutes outside of the capital, San Jose.  What makes this church so special is that it has a statue of a black Madonna, known as “La Negrita,” which is said to have magical healing powers. Costa Ricans and foreigners alike pilgrimage to the church when they or a loved one is struck by an illness or physical ailment.

Even though I was in Costa Rica to volunteer with children (I was in charge of fourteen newborn to six-year-olds and BOY was that a lot of work!), we also spent some time volunteering during our free time at a home for abandoned elderly people (with varying degrees of health issues and disabilities), and at a home for HIV+/AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families and excommunicated from their villages.

One of the most logistically challenging days of the trip was when we decided to load all the old people into a school bus (most could not walk more than ten steps without assistance), load a wheelchair for each one of them, and then help them out of the bus and into their wheelchairs so we could wheel them all around the church and over to La Negrita, who would hopefully heal them and ease any pains they might have. It was quite emotional for some, who clearly could use a little magic in their lives.  (Hey, at the time, so could I.) Towards the end of the visit, we rolled them to the front of the church, behind Costa Ricans who crawled up the aisle on their knees (this was something I had never seen; imagine an enormous church full of people with their children inching their way down the entire nave on their knees, in prayer… it was a tender thing to watch). One of the older women even got up and started dancing in front of La Negrita. Another old man tried to run away. We caught him.

Of course, I was given the largest of the elderly people to wheel through the church, up and down hills and ramps, across uneven cobble stones and around sharp turns. But when we sat him in front of the altar in a row with ten  wheelchair-bound friends, they all sat silently and still, staring at the cross, praying with the hundreds of other people who were there on this regular morning, hoping for someone or something to ease their pains and bring them peace.

Here are some more photographs of the basilica in Cartago.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Notice the beautiful angel sculptures that give the church a very ephemeral quality… Like the angels have momentarily landed there for you…

Front of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Front of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Interior of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Interior of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica

Balcony of Basilica, Cartago, Costa Rica

Balcony of Basilica, Cartago, Costa Rica

Pendants for healing

Pendants for healing

This is just a small snapshot from a wall full of pendants. If you look closely, you can see that the tiny figures represent different ailments. Every body part was represented in the glass case, and many full-body figures as well, with swelling in the abdomen, or a hand touching where it hurts on the head, or pregnant women, a heart, a finger here, a leg there… all to indicate the location of an ache or pain. Sick or injured people come to the church with the pendant that represents the part of the body for which they seek healing from La Negrita. It’s fascinating to see all the tiny pieces of jewelery, most of which are not much bigger than a coin!

Oldest Church, Costa Rica

Oldest Church, Costa Rica

For the sake of comparison, here is a photograph of the OLDEST CHURCH in COSTA RICA. Located in the beautiful Orosi Valley (see photo below), this church was originally built in 1574, but after a series of earthquakes, it was abandoned. It still stands, but mostly as ruins. And in a completely different way than the great basilica of Cartago, it’s beautiful, and maybe even a little magical.

Orosi Valley, Cartago, Costa Rica

Orosi Valley, Cartago, Costa Rica

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Mystery Snapshot 3!

Can anyone tell me where this great, grey church is located? (Bonus points for guessing the city AND country…)

Grey Church

Grey Church

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In Love in Lisbon

(That’s what I call the most recent mystery photo.)

Congratulations Dawn R., Geordie M., and Tom H…  Lisbon, Portugal is correct! But good observations everyone else, and thank you all for participating! If you look closely, you can see the Portuguese flag, which was my subtle hint.  The photo was taken during my first hour in Lisbon and was a quick reminder that I was back in Europe.  Coincidentally, it was featured exactly one year ago (I now realize TO THE DAY!) as the “Postcard of the Week” on this website: http://www.gadling.com/2008/07/18/postcard-of-the-week-in-love-in-lisbon/.

Lisbon was an interesting city. I expected a very unique atmosphere, but I constantly felt as if the real Lisbon was being protected from visitors, as if we wouldn’t understand it so why give itself away? I left  the city with more curiosity about it than when I had arrived.  Here is a little reaction to Portugal that I wrote shortly after my one-week trip in March, 2008…

Lisbon laundry

A Sip of Portugal

My impression of Portugal feels somewhat unfinished and raw, like paint that’s slowly drying in a distant room. I am not 100% sure what to make of it because I feel as if I have only been able to skim its surface. Like paint setting, the color has been chosen and the work has been completed; all I can do now is sit and wait for it to dry.

View of Lisbon
View of Lisbon

I think I needed more time to wander the misleadingly muted streets of Lisbon before I could confidently distinguish it from other cities I have seen. Maybe my trip  was a milestone in my world travels. Maybe I can no longer see one country without comparing it to another.

This seems unfair. Especially for Portugal, a country that may appear small compared to its neighbors, but it was from the beaches of this slither of Europe that some of the world’s most famous navigators “discovered” the “New World!” (Easy there, I did use quotation marks…)

A butcher casually carries a large portion of a cow to his butcher shop.
A butcher casually carries a large portion of a cow to his butcher shop.

As I walked from the hotel towards the commercial center of Lisbon in a sleep-deprived daze [note that this is when I came across the Mystery Snapshot lovers], I had trouble seeing the city as its own entity. The closer we got to the water, the more I was reminded of Spain — in particular, Barcelona. I had to keep telling myself I was in LISBON. Maybe I expected it to be rubbed in my face. The city kept unraveling under my feet, and yet I had so much trouble feeling like I was there, nowhere else.

As I walked, I was reminded of Brussels in the way the trees obscured the buildings behind them. I inhaled the sea breeze of Barcelona and noticed similar ironwork on every balcony. And in the open plazas, with their beautiful sculptures that seemed too unkempt to be European, I saw Buenos Aires. At first, I couldn’t see Lisbon without seeing one of those three cities.  But it was only day one; I still had a lot to learn.

Two equally intriguing streets to choose from.
Two equally intriguing streets to choose from.

I probably learned the most about Portugal during meals. (Hey, I’m not complaining!)

Let’s just say that I was never disappointed, and sometimes over-satisfied (unbuttoning-of-the-pants became routine at dinner, usually before even seeing a main course!). Immediately upon sitting down at a table, waiters would float around us in a choreographed dance of deliciousness. One by one, they placed dishes of sautéed mushrooms and cheese (served in its own bowl-shaped shell) beside baskets of homemade breads and dishes with olives and herbs. A circular top was always cut out of the cheese, which melted temptingly inside, and once opened, would reveal a hot and creamy, off-white bath of sheep’s milk cheese whose warm aroma came in varying degrees of sharpness. Bread basket after bread basket, we’d fill up on the heavenly cheese like it was the only food we would be served. Oh, how wrong we were…

Lisbon street
Lisbon street

The interesting thing about eating in Portugal is that we were never warned how many courses they would serve. Each meal delivered a one-two-punch of savory delicacies, from seafood and pasta to duck and pork. Much to my vegetarian younger sister’s dismay, octopus – suction cups and all – was consistently in the mix, which we bravely devoured at every meal, but I think it was only a “when in Portugal…” habit.

Another highlight was the architectural details of the palaces and monasteries we encountered, both in and outside of the city. I’ve never seen such a playfulness in the tiles and facades of regular homes. Some of the most memorable places we saw were Queluz (“what light!”) Palace, which had the traditional Versaille and Topkapi elegance, but then there was the Palacio de Pena, which was much more funky and Gaudi-esque. More on those another time…

Padrao dos Descobrimientos
Padrao dos Descobrimientos

After leaving Lisbon and the metaphorical “paint” has dried, a few characteristics now strike me as undoubtedly Portuguese. Aesthetically, I truly enjoyed the colorful tiles (mostly blue, green and white) that adorned the exteriors of numerous buildings. I found the Portuguese people more friendly and open than the average European I have encountered in other countries. I loved their pride – their constant assertion that THEY are the country from which the rest of the world was “discovered” and explored, that THEY were the ones who first began the tradition of afternoon tea (which was claimed by the British), that THEIR language is as important and significant as any other (and evident in many of the words we use today, even in America). They want to educate the world, set the record straight, and fortify the respect they so strongly believe they deserve. And, let me tell you… if you ever taste a pasteis de Belem, a custard-filled pastry that I HIGHLY recommend, you will have no problem respecting the Portuguese. Mmmm…

View from Catedral Sao Jorge
View from Catedral Sao Jorge

Maybe Portugal has a tiny chip on its shoulder. It reminds me of Cataluña, how they feel they must assert and maintain their language and culture despite the pressure from the rest of the world to make everyone’s life simpler by diluting it with Spanish, French, German or English. Lisbon seemed a little rougher around the edges than some of the more gleaming, proud European cities (like Paris, Rome and London — possibly the three most obvious ones), almost like a child who had been bullied and grew up stronger, covering up its insecurities with thick skin and a veil of resentment.

Portugues tiles, roosters, and colors
Portugues tiles, roosters, and colors

I liked that I wasn’t forced to remember that I was in Portugal every second, that it was a little bit grittier than I expected, and less obvious. Every time I turned around a nondescript dark corner and peeked down another gorgeous, narrow, cobble-stoned street, I was taken aback by the sinister elegance of lanterns shimmering against old stone walls, and homes that never tried to look pretty, but were always beautiful.

Old building, new building; typical juxtaposition of styles
Old building, new building; typical juxtaposition of styles

Lisbon has all the elements of a sophisticated European city, except it’s left the bragging rights out. And just like the delicious, burgundy-colored port wine that melts you helplessly into your heavy wooden chair each night, I found the place to be quite wonderful, and obscurely refreshing.

A rustic lantern hangs from a colonnade near the commercial center of Lisbon.
A rustic lantern hangs from a colonnade near the commercial center of Lisbon.

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Mystery Snapshot Day!

In what European city was this shameless display of public affection captured?

Ahh, amor...

Ahh, amor abroad...

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Mystery Snapshot Revealed!

Congratulations Tom H., Allison B., and Dawn R.! The mystery photo is of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. (I’m impressed!)

As an archaeology minor in college, I had quickly become familiar with its name, meaning “Holy Wisdom,” but the true impact of such a famous building doesn’t hit you until you walk through its original doors (some 1,500 years old) and look up. Only then does the color and light of a building so old become significant and real.

One of my favorite moments in Turkey was when I stood dead center on the ground floor of Hagia Sophia and looked straight up at the oculus above. No slide show in an archaeology class can elicit how exciting it is to stand  in a building you once studied in a country far, far away. Obviously, not everything can be learned in a classroom…

Here are a few more photographs of the beautiful Byzantine building which, for almost 1,000 years, was the biggest cathedral in the world!

*NOTE: If you didn’t get a chance to guess the Mystery Snapshot, don’t worry! Wednesdays are now Mystery Snapshot days, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get an honorable mention. Stay-tuned!

Jesus HS

Jesus HS

Interior HS

Interior HS

Blurry Oculus Under Construction

Blurry Oculus Under Construction

Light HS

Light HS

HS Door w Orig Floor

HS Door w Orig Floor

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Side view of Hagia Sophia, with Turkish rugs and lights for sale

Side view of Hagia Sophia, with Turkish rugs and lights for sale

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