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Written by Katharine Wihtol, FSD International Program Coordinator, Salta, Argentina
Throughout Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina, August 1st is recognized as the day of the Pachamama. The Pachamama is the supreme goddess of Incan mythology; the mother of the earth. To this day Andean communities dig holes in the ground and leave offerings of coca leaves, wine, cigarettes, and food typical of the region. In doing so, they give thanks to the Pachamama for all she has provided throughout the past year and ask for her blessing in the year to come. In the provincial capital of Salta, Argentina, smoke pours into the streets as families burn resins and herbs to cleanse their homes.
On this sunny Saturday morning, volunteers from Amigos del Arbol, one of FSD Salta’s community partners, have organized their own way of honoring the Pachamama. Today, they wake up early and pile into carpools and crowded public buses to meet at the San Lorenzo Municipal Reserve, located about 20 minutes outside of Saltas city center.
Amigos del Arbol has partnered with the municipality of San Lorenzo to create and maintain a natural outdoor space for local residents, tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, bird watchers and hikers alike. “The municipal reserve is a strategic area . . . created to prevent urbanization from expanding into the mountains,” says Amigos del Arbol’s Executive Director, Facundo Miranda. “It has a humid, jungle-like habitat that you don’t find anywhere else this close to the city of Salta."
The organization’s development plan includes trail infrastructure and maintenance, native species identification and protection, and park management. Rachel Eulau, an FSD intern and a rising senior at Duke University, coordinated Amigos del Arbol's latest project: a reception office at the park’s entrance, built using natural building techniques. With Rachel´s FSD seed funds, Amigos del Arbol was able to purchase necessary building materials and jumpstart the construction process.
The structure will serve as the reserve’s headquarters, where visitors can register their entry and exit, obtain educational materials such as trail maps and native species information, and pay a small entrance fee that will go towards park maintenance, With this casita in place, visitors can enjoy the reserve in a safe and responsible manner. Such security is lacking in other reserves in the area where recent criminal activity has created cause for concern.
Building the Park Office
Over the past few weeks this group of college students, professors, engineers, bioconstruction aficionados, curious travelers and Amigos del Arbol members have pooled their respective skills to construct a foundation of dog-food bags filled with gravel and walls of eucalyptus posts and recycled wooden pallets. The structure is taking form.
Today’s task is the messiest of all, the insulation. A few volunteers are seated on the hillside, methodically stuffing plastic bags into large plastic bottles, which were salvaged from the waste bins of local businesses. Once filled to the brim and packed rock-solid, the bottles will accompany reused adobe bricks to fill the gaps in the pallet walls. Meanwhile, another group throws their hands into a wheelbarrow, eventually finding the perfect mix of sand, clay, straw, and water.
Passersby stop and stare as the group attaches clumps of the mud mixture to the walls. Several of them belong to the six families who have lived on this property for decades, long before the reserve came to existence. They are intrigued by this strange building technique, and eager to learn about the project. Amigos del Arbol is holding conversations with several members of these families, with the hopes that some will be able to work in the reserve as guides, park rangers, or selling their artisan crafts.
Celebrating the Pachamama
The volunteers take a break to share lunch and sip maté, and look out over the city of Salta that lies below. You can see a smoky haze in the sky, lingering from the day’s festivities. They watch as a group proceeds down the hill towards the community center, singing among themselves and holding overhead a figure of a patron saint. Like many rituals in modern-day Salta, today's events incorporate a unique blend of indigenous and Catholic themes. Everyone here seems to have their own way of celebrating the Pachamama.