From Latin America

Peruvian Coastal Deserts – The Sechura and the Atacama

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on June 29, 2010

Peru is a country of extremes, extremes in culture, language, history, architecture, flora, fauna and most noticeably, landscapes. Over half the country is Amazon Jungle, you have the spine of the mighty Andes mountains and finally the thin coastal strip of desert running the whole length of the country. Starting at the northern border in the Piura region the desert spreads out from the coast between 20 to 100 kilometers to the Andes mountains. This northern part is known as the Sechura Desert and runs just from the city of Piura to the Tumbes – Piura equatorial dry forests. The desert covers a total area of 188,735 square kilometers.

The Peruvians call only this northwestern portion of the coast the Sechura Desert while other sources, such as the World Wildlife Fund, consider the Sechura Desert to be the entire land mass of coastal desert from the most northwestern part of Peru connecting to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The coastal area of southern Peru below Nazca is considered to be part of the Atacama Desert by the National Geographic Society, so definitions vary, but the sand doesn’t!

The Sechura Desert in the North is relatively wet and vegetated compared to the Atacama which is reputed (by NASA) to be the driest place on the planet. In 1998 the climatic phenomenon known as El Nino, which originate along this coast and affects weather patterns around the world periodically, cause unusually heavy rains making rivers bordering the desert to burst their banks and empty into the Sechura desert, forming the second largest body of water in Peru after Lake Titicaca. This freshwater lake was 90 miles long, 20 miles wide and 10 feet deep, with occasional domes of sand and clay appearing above the surface. Shrubs and scrub still continue to cover large portions of the desert as a result.

Due to the environmental effects of the nearby Pacific Ocean, the Sechura Desert has a very low temperature range. However, it is one of the most arid on the Earth because of cold coastal waters and subtropical atmospheric subsidence. During the summer months of December through March, the temperature ranges from 25°C to 38°C, with the average being over 24°C. During the winter months, the weather is cloudy and cool with temperatures ranging from 16°C during the night and 24°C during the day.

Human settlements have been able to develop in the Sechura Desert due the many short rivers that cross it coming down from the glaciers and rains in the Andes. One early urban culture was the Moche which ate guinea pigs, fish, peanuts and squash and built huge mud brick cities, the largest of which still survives in part, Chan Chan near the city of Trujillo. Around 800 to 1300 A.D the Sicas succeeded the Moche and were known for their lost wax casting of gold which were greatly prized by the Spanish Conquistadors.

More than 1,500 miles of desert continues south until the Sechura Desert reaches the Atacama Desert belonging to Chile and Peru. This land is extremely barren with a few rocky brown hills but was also home to ancient civilizations such as the Nazca with their impressive Nazca Lines, aquaducts and mud cities.

West of the Andes Mountains in the South of Peru and into Chile, covering a 600 mile strip of land on the Pacific coast, is the Atacama Desert. It gets very little rain as it is on the downwind side of the mountains. It is therefore one of the driest deserts in the world and covers an area of over 40,000 square miles made up primarily of sand, salt basins (called Salars) and lava flows. The area is littered with geysers and tourism has built up around 4×4 trips over the desert, with a number of luxury lodges and spas being built and this “otherworldly” landscape is sure to continue to draw visitors from all over the world.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Responsible Tourism – Visit The Path Less Travelled

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on June 26, 2010

It is no great secret that globally, many internationally recognized tourist sites are being damagedby the increasing influx of tourists. The Mayan temples of Tulum in Mexico are steadily attracting hotel construction and amusement parks as the once quiet fishing community is transformed into a city. Thousands of miles across the globe, the ancient hilltop fort of Jaisalmer in India is straining to bear the demands of 300,000tourists annuallywith an antique sewerage system. Once autonomously living, a third of its population now survives onincome based on tourism.

In the advancing age of tourism as some agencies shuttle as many people as possible through their package routes, there has never been a better time to take the initiative and get off the beaten track.Why not consider a tailor made trip rather than a group tour?In case you needed a little motivation, consider the following benefits for being one ofthe only foreigners in town:

1) Less impact on the country and communities involved
A fewvisitorswill be regarded with curiosity as people go about their daily business. One thousand visitors are daily business. To avoid irreversible change to the ways that people live, we should all be trying to remember that we are visitors to other places, not the reason for those places to exist.

2) More unique experiences
Most people probably dream of the romantic solitude ofstrolling alone down a palm-fringed beach, or wandering in tranquility amongst ancient ruins. Crowds of tourists pulling up in air conditioned buses in search of the perfect photo and browsingthrough boutiques filled with identical souvenirs don't figure heavily in ideal scenarios.

3) More chance of resources getting to locals
Many large international tour companies tend to keep much ofthe money that you spend with them and oftenlittle finds its way into the local economy. To genuinely bring the benefits of tourism, you should pick an agency that promises to pay local service providers. Agencies based in the country or region you are to visit will of course funnel much more of your cash into the local economy.

4) Not allowing a place to be defined by a tour company
Somelarge tour operators market locations as a product, based on a mental image. Drinking tea in the shade of the towering sandstone walls of Jaisalmer fort, skimming across the crystal waters of the Yangshuo lakes in China in a motorboat, overlooking the white sand beaches of Tulum with a cold mojito in-hand. None of these images are a true representation of the place; choose an agent that knows the region and the destinations that you are to visit. A company in New York  is not going to as knowledgeable on cultural and archeological sites in Mexico as a company based in the region.

So, where do you start with a unique trip? First of all, do your research. find out where in the world you'd like to go, without focusing too much on the detail, like specific sites or attractions. Criteria such as indigenous culture, traditions, and flora and fauna can give you a basis without putting you on same path as thousands of other tourists. Once you've got a country in mind consider working with a smaller agency to design a custom tour for your country of choice. They will be able to research options for you away from the crowds and ensure that the impact of your travels remains positive, paying service providers in communities where appropriate.

The more time you spend researching your trip, the more you'll get out of it. Don't be sold on glossy brochure photos, get online and start hunting!

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

6 Ways to Banish Travel Fear Factor – It's Not All Danger In Latin America

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on June 26, 2010

A brief glance at the international news is often enough to persuade you to stay inside and lock your doors, let alone leave the borders of your own country. Volcanoes exploding in Guatemala, earthquakes flattening Haiti, Mexican drug wars, military coups in Honduras, viruses sweeping Latin America…we're certainly not safe anymore. Any Government Foreign Office or State Department website has a long list of countries to avoid, and even if they give the all clear, you'll be confronted with a sobering list of potential dangers and disasters to prepare for.

Of course, if we listened to these dire warnings, we'd never go anywhere. The trick is balancing the well-meaning and slightly overbearing advice with enough common sense so that your trip doesn't turn out badly. Here's some tips to get a realistic appraisal of your future travel destination.

1) Speak to travel businesses that operate in your destination of choice
If travel pessimism is getting to you, speak to a professional. Travel agencies or tour operators are never going to send you into a war zone, and as long as they are offering trips in your country of choice, let them sell it to you! You'll be showered with all the wonderful aspects of your destination, and if the business is reputable with a good selection of testimonials, you can be sure that the agents or operators will be genuinely and honestly trying to give you the trip of a lifetime.

2) Speak to someone who has recently been to the same country or area
If you don't have a friend or member of the family who can give you an eye-witness update, get advice from the horse's mouth online; there are a ton of travel forums and travel social networking sites out there. Thorn Tree forums, wayn.com, tripconnect.com and realtravel.com all provide hundreds and thousands of users who have recently travelled all over the world and one of them is bound to be able to fill you in about the state of the country.

3) Read any online media from your destination country
An Internet search will often reveal current affairs websites for your country of choice. Ex-pat run options will often be presented in English giving up to date information about the country or their community. Failing that, you could try using Google Translate to change the web page into English or get a friend who is confident in the language to assist you. Make sure that nothing gets lost in translation!

4) Separate what could happen anywhere, and what is specific to your destination
Are there road accidents in your country? Yup. Do people get food poisoning? Yes, they do. What about getting robbed? Well…yes…

It's easy to think that for all the dire warnings, everything bad that happens is 'out there'. Try to remember when considering the risks of travel that many of them are relevant to your own country as well – you can't eliminate risk from your life.

5) Evaluate warnings against common sense
For the risks specific to your destination country, how easily can they be avoided by simple application of common sense? Taking the advice of a locally based travel company. Not walking around alone in a bad neighborhood at night, not flashing jewellery in unknown public places, not drinking untreated water…you wouldn't instinctively do any of these things at home, so why would it be any different abroad?

6) If anything does go wrong, have it covered
Plenty of travel insurance packages exist to cater for a wide range of different trips. There's something out there for you, it's just a case of searching. Knowing that a missed flight, lost luggage or an accident won't cost you the Earth will doubtless remove some travel-worry. The travel company you choose should have a 24 hour helpline in your native language and plenty of information before, during and after the booking process, this ensures you are always looked after and can feel reassured at all times.

Feel good about your next Latin American trip? Book it and go! If you want to smooth the first steps of your self-planned vacation, a huge amount of pre-bookable options and reviews for accommodation, restaurants and other facilities worldwide are available on tripadvisor.com. If an agent or tour operator did a good job at step 1 and you want to take them up on their proposal – go with what feels right! Remember you can't protect yourself against everything, so don't be a slave to it. Enjoy your next trip!

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Soccer in Argentina – Who is Maradona, and why does he divide opinion?

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 20, 2010

As the Soccer World Cup unfolds, it's very difficult to ignore the Argentinians. If not for being the only national squad with two victories in the group stage so far, their progress is shouted from the rooftops at press conferences and interviews by their colourful manager, Diego Maradona. If you're an Argentinian you probably love him, and if you're a soccer fanatic from anywhere else you probably can't stand him. So, who is Diego Maradona and why do so many people hate him?

Maradona was born into a poor neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, the first son after three daughters. Discovered by a talent scout at the age of ten, he played for the youth team of Argentino Juniors until the age of 12. Testament to his skill at such a young age, he would entertain spectators at senior league games as a ball-boy by showing off ball-juggling tricks at half time. This led rapidly into a string of successful contracts with clubs from Argentina and Europe, creating 258 goals from 494 appearances. Internationally his reputation is the strongest, embarrassing the best defenders in the world for 17 years whilst achieving 91 caps and 34 goals. Pretty impressive, but why does he have such a bad reputation?

A Professional Cheat; The "Hand Of God"
One of Maradona's most infamous goals was against England in the 1986 World Cup. During this time, Argentina was at war with England in the Falkland Island conflict, so much more was at stake than the match. Argentina went on to win the tournament, but as former Argentinian international Roberto Perfumo stated, "'In 1986, winning that game against England was enough. Winning the World Cup was secondary for us. Beating England was our real aim".

In a one-on-one contest with the English goalkeeper (who was about half a foot taller) Maradona won the ball from a challenge in the air by clearly using his hand to push the ball into the net. The referee didn't see the foul and awarded Argentina the goal. At a press conference after the match, Maradona claimed that the goal was scored "un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios" (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God).

A Poor Example In His Personal Life
Not exactly a good example for young soccer players, Maradona became heavily addicted to cocaine in the 1980's, a habit that lasted almost twenty years. He gained a huge amount of weight after his retirement from professional football and became obese, requiring surgery to bring his weight down. In 2004 he was admitted to hospital for a heart attack following a cocaine overdose and alcohol abuse caused another admission to hospital in 2007. In accordance with the media circus that had evolved around his personal life, there were three false claims about his death in the month following his admission to hospital. Many of Maradona's professional peers acknowledge his problems, the following quote coming from international player Carlos Tevez;

"Although I believe in Maradona in football I sometimes question him when it comes to life, as he is wonderful in soccer and fabulous as a coach but lives a poor and dear life."

A Towering Ego
Outspoken Press Conferences and ridiculous quotes characterize Maradona; some favourites…

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

"I did it with the hand of reason." (After smashing the windscreen of a press photographer)

"I worked hard all my life for this. Those who say I don't deserve anything, that it all came easy, can kiss my arse."

“I am calm, … My surname is not a burden for me. It might be for others, but not for me.”

Seen By Over 100,000 People As The Son Of God
In 1998 in the city of Rosario, founders created the "Maradonian Church", complete with ten soccer and Argentinian nationalist-based commandments. Maradona is referred to by followers as D10S, a fusion of the Spanish word "Dios" (God) and the number 10 that was on his shirt during his playing days. Christians worldwide are, naturally, offended.

Despite Everything, Still Better Than Everyone Else In The History Of Football
Despite the controversy surrounding the infamous "hand of God" goal, in the same match Maradona sealed Argentina's victory with a 60 yard run beating no fewer than five England players in ten seconds. The effort was labelled "Goal of the Century" because it was deemed the greatest individual goal in the history of the game. That wasn't just a flash in the pan either – in a FIFA internet vote, he finished in first place as "Player of the Century", testament to his incredible sporting skill, despite everything else. Makes that big ego even harder to swallow…

If Argentina make 2010 the year of their World Cup victory or not, the name of Maradona will no doubt prevail. Any visitors to Argentina who ask for local opinions about Maradona are more likely to get an animated reply about the man than a non-committal shrug of the shoulders; for all his faults, you can't deny that he's lived with typical Latin American passion, and aroused the same in others.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

How To Dance The Tango Like They Do In Argentina

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 14, 2010

It's time to tango!  Few dances rival the passion and showiness of the tango, the dance that everyone associates with Argentina.  Celebrity dancing shows like Dancing With The Stars and Strictly Come Dancing are popping up all over the world, showing us all that anyone can have a go, but where do you start?  Try these useful pointers…

1) Listen to the music a lot to get the "feel"
Familiarity with music gets your body moving nicely to it, and feeling is everything with the tango; experts say that you must really learn to listen to the music before you start to dance.  Do it whenever and wherever you can; in the car, at work, just before you go to sleep.  If you find after a few weeks that you can't stop listening, you may have just found a life-long passion!

2) Get comfortable with the basic steps to find you dancing feet
Tango as a dance is very free-form, based in improvisation.  However, before you can let your feet do the talking, you need to train yourself in the basic moves and steps.  To get helpful pointers and be surrounded by others to keep you motivated, find a local dance school or, even better, dance with someone who already knows it.  Failing either of these, don't let circumstances kill your passion; try finding instructional videos on the Internet, a much easier alternative to reading a list of foot movements or trying to decipher pictures.

3) Persevere…
Like everything in life, only regular practice will get you going smoothly, and tango is no exception.  Beginners must devote lots of time to solo practice and it is widely acknowledged that big advances can, and must, be made in tango without a partner.  As you "walk your miles", try to move like you are already an excellent dancer; the dance is as much about attitude and communicating yourself as anything else.  You may find yourself more convincing than you think!  Also try and make your practice a regular commitment; it is common knowledge that the successful dancers are those that book a month of classes and show up to every one.

4) It takes two; find a partner
Once you've put in the time with your own steps, it's time to get someone else involved.  Even though tango isn't a subtle way to meet people, make sure you dance with lots of different partners so that you don't get lazy being accustomed to the way one other person dances; everyone is different, and if you are improvising you should be ready for that!

5) More practice; get out there and enjoy your dancing!
Hopefully if you've dedicated yourself regularly to the previous steps, you'll have a group of people with whom you can go out and dance for fun, as well as knowing some good spots.  The free-flowing aspect of the dance will come easier with time, as moves need to come automatically from "body memory" and not from actively thinking about them; this naturally only comes with a lot of practice.

Which style to learn?
Tango evolved in Argentina as a melting pot of cultural influences from world-wide immigrants that flooded into Argentina at the beginning of the 19th century.  Lonely and looking for company in their new surroundings, the arrivals developed tango as a means to mix and express themselves beyond language.  Thus, tango is a portrayal of Buenos Aires and its people.  Over the last 100 years many different styles have evolved, including Ballroom, Social and Stage.  Many consider the styles to be so drastically different that if you have learnt one, it won't form a basis to help you learn another. 

True or not, the best way to learn Argentinian tango is to follow it to the source.  Numerous companies run entire tours based around exploring Buenos Aires through learning to dance the tango.  As well as an unforgettable adventure, you'll be sure of learning a pure-blooded form of the passionate, dramatic and beautiful dance that everyone wants to be good at.

Eva Peron – The Princess Diana of Argentina?

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 14, 2010

The latest news about the return of the famous Broadway musical Evita with Ricky Martin in a starring role has the entertainment press whipped into a frenzy.  However, many of us are still wondering who Evita is, what she did, and why she deserves her own musical.

María Eva Duarte de Perón (1919-1952) was the second wife and political partner of President Juan Perón (1895–1974) of Argentina.  She's also popularly known by the affectionate Spanish diminutive Evita, which translates into "Little Eva".  Still a hugely popular figure in Argentina and a worldwide icon due to books, movies and musicals based on her life, many consider her comparable to another global superstar, England's Princess Diana.  Here we look at the similarities and differences of both women to see if the comparison is justified.

It's fair to say that both Evita and Diana, despite living almost 50 years apart on different continents, had similarities;

  • Both married powerful men, Diana with Prince Charles and Evita with Colonel Juan Peron.  They met in 1943 when Peron had assumed the post of secretary of labor and social welfare in the military government that had recently come to power.  Two years later they were married in 1945 when Evita assisted Peron with his release from prison after his incarceration by military opposition.  Peron's presidency in 1946 assumed soon after, and Evita's close relationship with Peron gave her access to a lot of power. 
  • Both Diana and Evita shared an affinity for the poor and sick; during the 1946 Presidential campaign Evita directed her efforts towards the "descamisados" (shirtless poor) and her efforts for woman's suffrage saw laws passed in 1947 that allowed women to vote in the 1951 elections for the first time in history.  She also devoted several hours every day to meeting with poor people and visiting hospitals, orphanages, and factories. Additionally, she supervised the newly created Ministry of Health, which built many new hospitals and established a successful program to fight different diseases.
  • Much like Diana, Evita was a figure constantly in the public eye.  As a result she, like Diana, was immensely fashion-conscious.  Her clothes and hairstyle were avidly studied, commented upon and copied.
  • Both women died young, Evita of cervical cancer at the age of 33.  In both cases, there were huge outpouring of public grief.  All activity in Argentina ceased; movies stopped playing; restaurants were closed and patrons were shown to the door.  The crowd outside of the official presidential residence after the announcement of her death was so dense that the streets were congesting for ten blocks in each direction.  The streets of Buenos Aires overflowed with flowers that were stacked in huge piles, and within one day of Evita's death, all flower shops in Buenos Aires had sold out.
  • Just as Diana's legacy and reputation has endured after her death, Evita's passing doesn't seem to have stopped her international fame.  In 1980, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Timothy Rice's Musical "Evita" won a major award and started the ball rolling for a surge in her popularity.  After a nearly 20-year production delay, Madonna was cast in the title role for the film version, which brought Evita as a figure to the international public eye more than 50 years after her death.

However, for all the similarity, Diana and Evita shared some fundamental differences;

  • Born into an unmarried family of 5 children, Evita's background was humble to say the least.  Her father left her mother a year after her birth and as a result of the impoverishment following the loss of his supporting income, the family moved to the poorest area of their city. In order to support herself and her children, Evita's mother sewed clothes for neighbors. The family was stigmatized by the abandonment of the father, especially since Argentine law frowned upon illegitimate children.
  • Evita's strong political involvement throughout the majority of her public life stands her significantly apart from Diana.  Despite using it as a platform for humanitarian agendas, it also opened her up to criticism, as the Peron administration was viewed by many as fascist, ruthlessly suppressing political opposition from an authoritarian centralized government.
  • Diana was well known for raising money for charitable causes, just as Evita did, but questions surrounded the money that Evita raised for some causes.  Many claim that she extracted large sums from wealthy businessmen by intimidation.  She was also accused of keeping amounts for her own ends, buying jewelery and dresses.  Her European tour in 1947, a much publicised affair in which Evita visited various heads of state, was derided by some as an excuse to deposit funds in a Swiss bank account, some of which was supposed to be earmarked for charitable donations.

Whatever the comparisons, Evita certainly stands alone as a unique historical figure that managed to achieve near-sainthood and phenomenal popularity with the Argentinian lower classes; visitors to Argentina can still see the enduring effect of Evita on the country.  It is said that in many homes, the image of Evita is on the wall next to the Virgin Mary.  On 26 July 2002, the 50th anniversary of Eva Perón's death, a museum opened in Buenos Aires in her honor called "Museo Evita". The museum, which was created by her great-niece Cristina Alvarez Rodriquez, houses many of Eva Perón's clothes, portraits, and artistic renderings of her life.

Corpus Christi Celebrations in Cusco, Peru

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 10, 2010

Peru in South America celebrates over 3,000 festivals and holidays every year. Well known holidays like New Year, Christmas, Easter (or Semana Santa as it is known in Spanish), are celebrated here, but most of the celebrations in Peru are for a specific saint or ancient rite. The feast of Corpus Christi has been celebrated all over the Andes since early colonial times, but this feast, which is amongst the most prevalent in South America, started during the Middle Ages. Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru mainly stem from a 13th century Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liège. Juliana, from her childhood had a reverence for the Blessed Sacrament or Lords Supper, and wanted to have a special feast to honour it. The Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru offer an opportunity for faithful Catholics to be integrated around the Eucharist or Sacrament of the Table. Corpus Christi celebrations became common only after the death of Bishop Robert de Thorete and St. Juliana.

Corpus Christi is a national holiday in Peru and is most visible in Cusco. The feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated over the entire country, but in Cusco, the festivity goes on for a week and thousands of people throng around the Plaza de Armas to view the spectacular processions. These include the procession of effigies of Saints and Virgins which are escorted by dancers in a variety of traditional and colourful dresses. Many of the sacred statues and images which are generally displayed in the city churches can be seen together in the Cathedral during the celebrations. Every image is escorted by members of the brotherhood devoted to that particular figure in their individual parishes.

The most significant part of the Corpus Christi celebration in Peru is when all of the musicians, saints and the faithful are part of a procession around the Plaza de Armas. A number of different brotherhood members wear unique outfits or carry embroidered pictures, wax candles and standards. There are fifteen virgins and saints which come out in organized processions from various places, to the Cathedral of Cusco, to “greet” Christ’s body, a month after Eastern Sunday. The principal procession on the main day takes place at 11:00 am. The Plaza de Armas has huge crowds of people, who gather to have a glimpse of the saints. After the procession is over, the saints return to the cathedral and representatives of the local communities get together to discuss local issues.

It is possible to hear the sounds of the María Angola throughout much the day, which is the largest church bell in Peru and was installed in the 14th century by Diego Arias de la Cerda. An emblematic dish called chiriuchu is cooked and eaten on the night prior to the main day and at various other times, which includes Cuy (guinea pig) and up to 11 other different dishes, accompanied with corn beer or chicha. The feast of Corpus Christi is a very vibrant and traditional ceremony which is especially impressive in Cusco. It is a wonderful opportunity for foreign visitors to experience traditional Peruvian culture up close.

Events and festivals in Peru are celebrated with great ceremony and enthusiasm. This can be seen more than ever in the native highland villages where they have several catholic feast days which coincide with conventional agricultural festivals. Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru are a one of a kind, memorable experience for the locals as well as visitors. No matter what the event, Peru certainly knows how to commemorate it in style!

Argentina – Travel One Of The World's Best Wine-Growing Regions

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 9, 2010

No-one likes to be shown up in a restaurant when confronted with a wine menu. Most of us try to look knowledgeably through the confusing choices of countries of origin, grapes and wineries whilst trying not to panic. If all goes well, our fellow dinner companions will be impressed. It's even nicer if the wine actually turns out to be drinkable!

If there's a safe bet when confronted by a phone-directory thick wine list, its a wine from Argentina. As they are the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, there are bound to be a couple of their bottles to choose from. With a quick skim of this article, you'll hopefully have a good idea of the selection to expect and a bit of impressive chat to go with it.

How did Argentina get wine anyway?
The production and consumption of Argentinian wine has been around for more than 400 years, when the first specimens of 'vitis vinifera' were brought to the continent by the Spanish conquistadors at the start of the 1500's.

The catholic priests that arrived established vineyards close to their monasteries to be able to cultivate wine for celebrating mass. Thanks to the favourable climate close to the Andes mountains, the vineyards grew fast, showing great potential for a wine industry.

When European immigrants arrived in the 1800's, they brought new tools and techniques for cultivation as well as a wider variety of grapes. Construction of railroads in the late 1800's removed the final obstacle for large scale supply and the Argentinian market boomed.

Where do they grow the grapes?
The coverage of vineyards in Argentina is roughly 226,450 hectares. Despite the wide variety in climate from the change in Latitude (vineyards covering the country from the same level as Morocco in the north to New Zealand in the south) the higher altitude between 2000 and 3000 metres keeps growing conditions roughly the same.

Growing conditions in the Andean foothills prove ideal for Cabernet, Malbec, Pinot, Semilon, Merlot y Chardonnay varieties. In general, growing regions are dry and arid with low levels of rain and humidity; perfect for good, healthy grapes. Insects, fungi, mould and other diseases normally punishing European vineyard owners aren't an issue in Argentina, and this gives the added benefit of being able to grow with few pesticides. As a result, organic standard wine is much easier to produce.

The vast majority of cultivation happens in the Mendoza region in western Argentina at the foot of the Andes, where around 80% of the wine is grown. Other popular regions include Salta in the far north of the country and Neuquen and Rio Negro in the far south on the fringes of Patagonia.

What types of wine are there?
Red wine is most commonly produced in Argentina at 47% of total production. Rose make up 30% and the remaining 23% is white wine.

A wide variety of grapes exist in Argentina, including popular choices available in neighbouring countries such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. However Argentina also has a tradition of Spanish and Italian varieties like Tempranillo, Bonarda and Barbera that can make some excellent red wines.

A couple of grapes that have been cultivated and developed very well are Torrontes and Malbec. Torrontes is a white wine grape that according to experts, makes "Terrifically fragrant, perfumed yet rich and fruity wines with crisp acidity and plenty of body." When considering a red, Argentinian Malbecs are "Perhaps the best in the world, with powerful, smooth deeply-fruited inky black wines full of spice and character."

Get to know your grapes first-hand
Up until the 1990's, wine in Argentina was more focused on the national market; 90% of consumption was Argentinian. However, with a huge drop in national wine consumption, vineyards started a big drive to export more wines and focus their attentions on international markets. The strong increase in tourism has also encouraged them to open their facilities to the public. This now means that when confronted with the wine selection, you can name drop certain bottles that were tasted on your last trip to Argentina…

If you want to get deep into the Argentinian wine culture, tours are available on the 'wine route', a winding 2000km that traverses several provinces, altitudes and geographic regions. Its a great alternative way to discover a beautiful country, and with around 2000 wineries you'll never be short of options putting together your own unique trip. Sitting on the veranda of an Argentinian winery and sipping a glass of Malbec while the sun sinks below the grape-heavy vines may not appeal to everyone…but someone has to do it!

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Inti Raymi – Inca Festival of the Sun, Cusco, Peru

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on June 9, 2010

The Inti Raymi festival is the second largest festival in South America and occurs each winter solstice in Cuzco, Peru. Tens of thousands of people come to Cuzco from other parts of Peru and South America for a celebration that lasts an entire week and marks the beginning of a new year; the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun.

There are many events and activities in the Inti Raymi festival, including street fairs, and parades featuring traditional costumes and dancing in the streets. During the evenings, there are free concerts in the Plaza de Armas with music from the best of Peruvian musical groups.

June 24, the actual day of Inti Raymi, is when the celebrations begin. An actor is chosen to represent the Sapa Inca, or Inca Emperor, and his wife Mama Occla. He performs a ceremony first at Qorikancha behind which stands the Santo Domingo church which is located on top of the ruins of the ancient Temple of the Sun. Qoricancha or the Temple of the Sun was the most important temple in the Inca Empire dedicated to Inti, the sun god.

Blessings from the sun are invoked by the Sapa Inca. After the invocation, a golden throne carries the Sapa Inca in a magnificent parade to Sacsayhuamán, an ancient fortification which lies in the hills above the city of Cuzco. The high priests join the Sapa Inca, followed by officials of the court, nobles and others, all in elaborate costumes designed according to their rank, with gold and silver ornaments. The streets are decorated with flowers and the parade moves along to music and dancing. Large crowds wait at the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán for the arrival of the procession and the Sapa Inca.

After everyone has gathered at the main square of the fortress, the Sapa Inca, along with the priests and representatives of the Suyos perform a number of ceremonies. The Suyos comprise the Snake to represent the underworld, the Puma for life on earth and the Condor for the upper world of the gods.

Next follows a mock sacrifice of a white llama whose bloody heart is held aloft in honor of Pachamama, the earth mother. Originally the sacrifice was real. This sacrifice is done is to ensure that the earth will be fertile and in combination with the sun’s light and warmth will provide a bountiful crop. The blood stains are then read by the priests to determine the future for the Incas.

At sunset, stacks of straw are set on fire and danced around to honor Tawantinsuty or the Empire of the Four Wind Directions. A parade back to the town of Cuzco ends the ceremony of Inti Raymi. Sitting on their thrones, the Sapa Inca and Mama Occla return to town whilst the representatives and priests of the Supas give various blessings to the accompanying crowds. The beginning of a new year has been declared.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America