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1 · Places and History in and about Quirpini QuirpiniisacommunityofaboutfivehundredpeopleintheSanLucasRiver valley. The valley is the historical heart of the loosely defined San Lucas region , in the southern highlands of Chuquisaca, one of nine “departments” into which Bolivia is divided. Bounded to the east by the Pilcomayo River, to the north and west by the Department of Potosí, the San Lucas region is geographically and agriculturally varied, ranging from the low, hot valleys to highlandsthatsoarbeyondfourthousandmetersabovesealevel(seeFigures 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, which locate San Lucas and Quirpini in relation to Bolivia). The south of Chuquisaca is one of the poorest areas in Bolivia, characterized by low rainfall, difficult terrain, and poor communication with the rest of the country. San Lucas lies near the southern extreme of the vast zone stretching across much of highland Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, where rural people mainly speak the Quechua or Aymara languages, and occupy the bottom rungs of a racialized social hierarchy.1 The Crossroads A traveler enters the San Lucas River valley from Padcoyo, a village on the main road between Potosí and Tarija. Padcoyo is the cruce, or crossroads, for the town of San Lucas as well as the highland areas around it. Before the road was improved in the 1970s, Padcoyo was by all accounts an insignificant hamlet,butbythe1990sithadapopulationofseveralhundredpeople,aswell CHUQUISACA Mendoza Salta San Lucas Tarija Yacuiba Rosario La Paz Sucre Buenos Aires A R G E N T I N A B O L I V I A P E R U B R A Z I L CHILE PARAGUAY URUGUAY Tierra Del Fuego Mar del Plata 500 1000 km 0 A t l a n t i c O c e a n P a c i f i c O c e a n Figure 1.1. Map of the Southern Cone, showing San Lucas and Buenos Aires underlined and the route I followed from Quirpini to Buenos Aires. Based on Oxford Atlas of the World 2001:167. Places and History in and about Quirpini · 35 as a few restaurants for travelers, a high school, some government offices, and a weekly market. The town consisted mainly of a kilometer-long string of low adobe houses stretched along a bend in the graded dirt truck road, and surrounded by fields. Trucks rumbled through Padcoyo every hour or so, carrying various combinations of agricultural products, furniture, ores, livestock, and people. This is the main road to southern Bolivia and the most importantconnectionbetweentheBolivianhighlandsandArgentina;nearly allthetrafficwastrucks,althoughjeepscarryingdevelopmentofficialspassed through from time to time, as did the occasional bus. road to Potosí road to Tarija and Argentina San Lucas Quirpini Padcoyo Camargo Sur Cinti POTOSI Nor Cinti CHUQUISACA SANTA CRUZ TARIJA Sucre Potosí B O L I V I A Figure 1.2. Map of Department of Chuquisaca, showing the provinces of Sur Cinti and Nor Cinti, as well as the locations of San Lucas, Quirpini, and Padcoyo. Based on Instituto Nacional de Estadística 1999:8. 36 · Inscriptions While I was in the area, it was not uncommon to see a battered jeep or other vehicle waiting near the middle of Padcoyo, at the start of a smaller dirt road heading north, and nearby a few men and women waiting with large bundles wrapped up in brightly colored cloth. These cars were taxis, waiting foracarloadofpeopleandcargotocarrytoSanLucas.Theroadtheyfollowed passes through Quirpini, and this was the road I usually took. Two hundred or so meters south of this road, another, even smaller road heads east, crossing a dry plain and heading toward distant mountains. There were rarely any cars waiting to carry people in this direction, and only a few vehicles a day traveled on it. These two roads mark the major geographical and ecological divide of thearea,adividewhichhasalsobecomepolitical.Thesecondroadgoestothe highland communities of the San Lucas region, then over the distant mountains , and down to the tropical valley of the Pilcomayo River. The highland area is mostly made up of puna, or high arid hills and plains. Much of the area is more than four thousand meters above sea level. Villages here (there are no major towns) are located alongside seasonal river beds, by springs, or near flat areas with arable land. To the east are a number of small mines. In the western part of the highlands, however, there is little source of livelihood except for agriculture and herding.2 People primarily grow wheat, barley, potatoes, and some quinoa. This area has experienced extremely high levels of out-migration.3 The communities of this highland...


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