By Julia Henríquez
Photos: Demian Colman
My mission to answer the first question in my notebook —”What is Argentina like?”— induced a feeling of leaping out of a helicopter on fire. My journey begins with a little general knowledge: Argentina, with a population of 44 million, stretches over a total area of 2,780,400 kilometers. The country is Latin America with a European flavor garnered from constant inflows of immigrants. It is boisterous, gesticulated Spanish, soccer as a religion, and meat as one’s daily bread. Argentina is also good wine, hot mate tea, and cookies; it is a country best enjoyed while tucking into a delicious plate of food in good company.
My mission begins to take shape and the answer becomes clearer. Argentina is color: sometimes orange, at others green, now and again white, or sometimes even many colors coming together in a rainbow that arcs across a mountain in the desert or burnishes the façades of a city neighborhood. Here are some of the colors I found:
The province of Jujuy lies in northwestern Argentina, representing the earth tone in my personal rainbow across the southern portion of the Americas.
A land of mountains and deserts, Jujuy hypnotizes visitors with its tranquility at siesta time. Travelers walk ever so slowly, so as to take in every little bit of scenery.
The Mount of Seven Colors in Purmamarca highlights the region’s true shades, turning the mountains into an impressionist painting, while Peña Blanca glows pristine white.
The color palette of these mountains covers the full spectrum: earth minerals, rosy clay, limestone, lead, calcium carbonate, iron, copper oxide, manganese, and sulfur dye the rocks.
Clay lends its characteristic color, taking on a subtlety and elegance that turns dirt into art.
In northern Argentina, the realm of Pachamama, the peace of nature pervades adobe houses with earthen floors; here, history feels like a living entity.
Still in the north, but on the western side, the trees of the subtropical plateau dominate the landscape; humidity curls our hair and the air holds a smell of rain.
Iguazú Falls is located in the province of Misiones. Green and brown blend in a perfect symphony of “white noise” as tons of water parachute down the Devil’s Throat.
The zenith of green is found on the walkways of Iguazú Falls National Park. The trees gradually lower the curtain on the horizon, which swallows us as wild animals surreptitiously observe. Some animals appear not to notice us, but others approach, as if wishing to communicate.
In Puerto Iguazú, the Paraná River performs the dual task of dividing and uniting three countries. This border has a tortured past, but international friendship now prevails over bygone conflicts.
The Paraná River bestows upon us a memorable night of music as we travel through the mountains; although the green mountains appear identical, three languages are spoken along the riverbanks, three currencies are in use, and three flags fly over the area.
Mendoza strikes me as red. I see the color of the wine glasses as we raise a toast and share good conversation. Famous the world over for its wines, this city knows that the way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs.
Mendoza grapes have spurred friendly competition among producers, resulting in good wines, exquisite architecture, and first-class service.
In Mendoza, vineyards march across the landscape. Surviving endless summers and extreme drought, they fuel an ever-expanding economy. The vineyards surrounding the city produce some 70% of Argentinean wine.
But these mountains are known for more than grapes. The legendary gauchos dismount their horses and light cooking fires: smoke curls into the air and dishes of food appear on the tables.
The mountains on this side of Cuyo, further to the south, glow white and green, adorned with patches of terra-cotta and crowns of clouds. Regardless of the shifting colors, the reflections glinting off the wine glasses raised by admiring travelers remain.
Very far south, in Patagonia, the landscape segues into water, the cold bites at our hands, and a brilliant sun illuminates the deepest tones of blue.
Even farther south, really far south, at the hind end of south, lies Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego), the kingdom of snow. The city sits on the shores of Canal Beagle, the gateway to Argentina’s Antarctic, and of course, the actual end of the earth.
Seemingly unaware of their charms, sea lions and penguins stroll the Canal islands, enchanting the tourists who gaze through their cameras while enjoying the sun and freezing blue waters.
Slightly north, in the province of Santa Cruz, the small town of El Calafate seems to have emerged from a fairy tale.
The triangular houses and the town’s perfect appearance contribute to the impression that elves will playfully appear at our feet at any minute.
Among the nearly 7,000 square kilometers of Glacier National Park, in the depths and ice sheets of the 247 glaciers dotted among the mountain ranges, the sky blue and pure white of the Argentinean flag are delightful in their myriad tones.
The Perito Moreno glacier is an immense blue mass covering 250 square kilometers; it originated in a Patagonian ice field, descending from the mountains toward Lake Argentino. The glacier creeps forward, huge blocks of ice calve, and the tour boats maneuver among the icebergs, combining to produce a roar that echoes through the soul.
Origin of the Palette
Now I turn back a bit and head north across the Río de la Plata plains to Buenos Aires, the country’s capital. Like any good blend of cultures, traditions, and flavors, this one shows more than one color. Buenos Aires is diversity, chance encounters, sophistication, and culture.
I see Buenos Aires as:
This is the elegant black of hat, coat, tie, and well-shined shoes that dance in 2/4 time to the rhythm of Gardel on any street corner.
This is the green of summer and Sunday parks and plazas that buzz with office workers, hippies, laborers, and students who shrug off their duties to enjoy the sunshine as they exercise or play with children and dogs.
This is the brown of the thousands of pages penned by poets and singers as they sip coffee in the company of friends. This is the brown of the places where Borges, Gardel, Alfonsina Storni, Quinquela Martín, and Cortázar met, in what are known as ”Notable Cafes,” where the spirit of art still lingers.
And why would you be surprised to find color on every corner, when the Pink House sits in the Plaza de Mayo? The building houses the offices of the President and his or her staff. Finished in 1898, the structure reflects an eclectic style that combines French and Italian features. And yes, it is indeed pink.
In the centrally-located La Boca neighborhood, across from the old port, where the symbiosis of ideas and opinions that creates Buenos Aires coalesces, you will find the tourist attraction and open-air museum that is Caminito. The neighborhood developed gradually at the end of the 19th century, when European immigrants with few resources built their houses of leftover panels of wood and sheet metal, decorating them with paint acquired from the port.
I have discovered that Argentina is a melting pot of cultures and customs, but above all, it is a rainbow that arcs across mountains, deserts, forests, and lakes, beguiling any wayfarer who sets out in pursuit of its many colors, flavors, and smells. The end of the world richly rewards every whole-hearted effort of discovery. You have your mission, should you choose to accept it.