Last Day in Rivadavia


I’ve got a gorgeous bowl of muesli, a mug of Starbucks coffee (half an iced coffee pre-made packet with hot water still suggests the taste of coffee) and a morning of time lapse photography already under my belt; I’d say it’s going to be a good day. It’s only 9 am. 

Today I’m hoping to accomplish several things. First, I need to conduct a few more interviews (that reminds me, I need to charge the batteries again), and then I want to get footage of a family cooking over a fire and living in a mud house. I’m trying to catch up on all my establishing shots. I’m realizing now the vision that I should have had from the start, with ideas of what I wanted from the interviews and b roll. However, that’s why I’m here, to learn these very intricacies of documentary photography.

I tried to catch the sunrise this morning but I fully blame my alarm clock for my half hour delay. I still caught enough of the sunrise to get a time lapse over a few of the houses, and I got golden hour footage in the community garden.

I took my time coming back, riding through the back streets of Rivadavia and savoring my last few hours in this sleepy town that patiently plods through the days, weeks and months despite the floods, winds and dust. The people who live here are two kinds: first, there are the outsiders, professionals who come from surrounding areas to work in the schools, hospital and municipality. Then there are the locals, weathered, dusty faces who live and die here, existing on community camaraderie and cumbia music.

Let me walk you through the town.

You’ll leave the ADRA house by way of the garage, which is full of an assortment of important items: boxes of Toms shoes to hand out to the school kids, bags of cereales for the feria, crates of vegetables to pass out to the garden workers and our rickety-but-trustworthy bicicletas. You grab a bici and hit the street, turning right at the corner to pass the little stores on the way. One of the store owners has a greyhound puppy who acts half her size, wriggling and jumping to greet you.

You turn right again, taking care to slow down over the ruts; this street is the worst in town, with lumpy pavement and potholes designed to wake you up on your commute. On the left is the panadería, and there is always someone sitting on the steps to wave to you. On the right is the city gymnasium, and there are probably a group of kids playing basketball no matter what time it is. Turn left onto the main road through town. You’re riding east, in the direction of Chaco and San Felipe (if you turned right, you’d run into Salta capital eventually.) On this corner, there is a filthy pig snuffling around in the mud puddles. He (or she? Hogs don’t really have gender differences) grunts at you but trots out of the way, ears flapping.

Take care to keep to the right side of the road, in the sandy shoulder. A couple trucks and countless motos pass you, sending a wave of dust right at you. Rut ahead; swerve right. Now you’re passing Cinda’s house on the left—shout “buen dia” to her and to her rascal grandson, “Monkey.” Now take the dirt path on the right. This will take you into the heart of the Wichí community.

Look both ways as you cross another sandy path; there might be motos or a couple burros that have the rightaway. Pedal fast to make it through the sand pit at the bottom of the rise. Also, keep your eye out for the peccary that hangs around the pond. You’ll have to keep up the momentum to make it up the other side to the main road. Wave to the family on the right; I don’t remember their name, but they’re starting a family garden with ADRA supplies. Their laundry is strung from the palo fence all the way to the thatched roof of the main house. Looks like they disposed of the chivo goat that died in their front yard; the kids told me that it was pregnant, but it turned out to be sick, instead.

Here on the street, you can take two paths. One follows the road to where it tees with the soccer field at the corner of the school yard. If you take this route, you’ll have to dodge the goat caka covering every inch, but you’ll get to wave to the schoolkids, most of whom are my friends. The other way cuts between the old schoolhouse and the Anglican church, a mud brick structure that was whitewashed once. The roof has supports on either side in the a-frame style, but the palos are weathered, giving the whole edifice a rustic, vintage charm. If you ride this way, you’ll pass the water spigot where I tried in vain to wash the finger paint off my face, hair and arms after we had a color fight with the kids. On the left lives the man whose property I wandered onto accidentally once, looking for Tricia. It took me a while to discern the differences between each of the stick houses grouped around the old schoolhouse.

Regardless of which route you chose, you’ll end up crossing the soccer field and hitting the path on the other side. This path dips into a little gully then runs up to the community garden and the ladrillero. This morning, I was riding that path when I startled a flock of parrots right in front of me! Stopping short, I grabbed for my camera but knocked over my tripod in the process, scaring them into a tree. Photography fail.

The community garden is well fortified, enclosed by a plank-palo-and-twine fence topped by layers of thorny branchs. This combination effectively protects the harvest from all varieties of hungry would-be intruders: pigs, goats, thieves and children. The entrance is a horizontal stack of planks with thorns on top. 

Inside the fence, the garden is a glorious testament to hours of planning, shoveling, hoeing, raking, planting, transplanting, watering, harvesting, eating and repeating. The before and after pictures show a transformation from a rough 20 hectares of monte (a word for unworked land) to a nutritional paradise. Neat rows of plants flutter in the breeze: kale, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, spinach, radishes, beets, parsley and tomatoes comprise the winter harvest. I’m told that last summer (February), they had corn, potatoes and cabbage, as well. Hand painted stakes identify each group of plants, and comically faceless scarecrows watch over each patch.

This is Rivadavia, and this is the project that has slowly grown from one man’s passion to a group effort, pulling from the talents and hard work of a large number of travelers who come to help out for a few weeks, months or a year. Together, there is progress and a relationship being built here in La Misión Wichí

from the bus to Salta:

Goodbye was thankfully fast, though still sad: a last bowl of acelga on the way out the door, besitos all around, loading my bags and by the time I found my seat, the last lights of Banda Sur’s biggest pueblo had slipped by. On the road, I found Orion in the sky. He’s upside down but just as bright as ever.  It took 6 hours to reach a paved road. 


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