La Guajira, Colombia

 

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La Guajira, the desert peninsula that separates Colombia from Venezuela, juts boldly into the Caribbean, forming the northernmost tip of South America.  It is barren and immense, almost entirely devoid of cities or roads, trees or wildlife.  Its only inhabitants, the indigenous Wayuu people, live simply and quietly, sleeping in hammocks and surviving on fish and goats.

La Guajira had long intrigued me and, when I finally visited this past month, I discovered a hauntingly beautiful land of vast parched plains, undulating sand dunes and a wailing wind.  Occasionally, life appeared, a shock of color amidst a monotone desert landscape. Wayuu women with sunbaked skin in billowing red dresses.  A colony of pink flamingos in a bay of verdant islands.  A dazzling green sea.

Beyond its eerie charms, La Guajira contained an ever-present sadness.  A steady trickle of trash littered its arid plains like a metallic weed.  Stunted dehydrated children, as young as three or four, set up road blocks with flimsy strings to demand water from passing jeeps carrying tourists.  The only dwellings, feeble wooden shacks snarled by cacti, quivered in the face of violent sea winds.  Cries of desperation in a remote peninsula long forgotten by the Colombian government and neglected by its own authorities.

 

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Los Valles Calchaquies, Argentina

Vineyard near Cafayate

The Calchaqui Valley is situated high in the mountains of Salta Province in Northwest Argentina.  A river cuts across this long and arid valley that is defined by its stunning variety of landscapes: lush oases, strange and colorful rock formations, snowy peaks and vast plains dotted by sand and flowering cacti.

This week, Jorge and I embarked on a three day road trip through the Calchaqui Valley. We started in Salta, a busting city of 650,000 inhabitants and the capital of Salta province.  From there, we drove to Cachi, a tiny mountain village with cobblestone streets and colonial style buildings in the shadow of the towering Nevado de Cachi and finally to Cafayate, a larger town encircled by vineyards and red rock mountains.  Below are some photos we took from the road.

Parque Nacional Los Cardones

Oasis near CachiSeclantesQuebrada de las FlechasQuebrada de las Conchas