Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands)

This is a cave or a series of caves located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, 163 km (101 mi) south of the town of Perito Moreno. It has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1999.

Our jitney bus picked us up at 7 AM from the Hostel.
Right on time, this mini bus drove us for 160 km to the cave system. Ms. Dingbat was not with us, we had no guide while on this small bus. Our driver spoke some English but was not an official tour guide.
Once we arrived at our destination, at this National Monument, after we paid our admission of 100 pesos, we were given the worst ever English speaking guide. OK, I understand that this is Argentina, but remember we paid for an English guide to get the maximum out of our visit. We travelled half the world to see this site and drove via bus over bumpy roads, with stinky, leaking bathrooms, felt like we got tortured and were beaten up, slept in a dump of a hostel and now this? This is not funny. Maybe I am off but I expected the National Park System of Argentina to have competent, English speaking guides. I did not expect Spanglish speaking people. The whole visit was spoiled when I stood there listening to all this Spanish I could not understand. Complicated Spanish with dates and Paleolithic expressions is not in my vocabulary, I hardly get by in common use Spanish. It is a shame, I could not ask anybody, could not get more details from anybody. Nobody at the Ranger Station in the middle of nowhere spoke passable English. Yet, they did collect my fees and I did pay for an English tour.

Besides all of this, Ms. Dingbat was no longer with us, she just disappeared. She abandoned us as her way of managing our tour. Never mind what we agreed on; never mind what our itinerary was or what was spelled out to us at the beginning of the trip. Never mind what our planning was, never mind what we expected, paid for and were promised. We were left stranded at the Cave of the Hands with a jitney driver who spoke English haltingly and had no clue as to our plans. All he knew was to meet a bus after the tour of the Cave system and drop us off at a different bus that would take us to Chaltén. In my mind the question popped up, how do we get to Calafate, even to Chaltén after this tour? So concentrating on the cave tour was a bit difficult.

Here is what I do know about the cave of the hands.

The site we visited gets its name for the hand paintings, made by the indigenous inhabitants (possibly forefathers of the Tehuelches) some 9,000 years ago. The composition of the several inks is mineral, and thus cannot be carbon dated, so the age of the paintings has been calculated from the remains of the bone pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall blocked by the hand.

The caves lie along the Valley of the Pinturas River, in an isolated spot in the Patagonian landscape.

The main cave measures 24 m (79 ft) in depth, with an entrance 15 m (49 ft) wide, and it is initially 10 m (33 ft) high. The ground inside the cave has an upward slope;
inside the cave the height is reduced to no more than 2 m (7 ft).
The images of hands are often negative (stencilled). (See the red hand)

Besides these, there are also depictions of human beings, guanacos, rheas, felines and other animals,
as well as geometric shapes, zigzag patterns, representations of the sun, and hunting scenes.

Similar paintings, though in smaller numbers, can be found in nearby caves. There are also red dots on the ceilings, probably made by submerging their hunting bolas in ink, and then throwing them up. The colours of the paintings vary from red (made from hematite) to white, black or yellow. The negative hand impressions are calculated to be dated around 550 BC, the positive impressions from 180 BC, and the hunting drawings to be older than 10,000 years.
Most of the hands are left hands, which suggests that painters held the spraying pipe with their dexterous hand.
I saw a few hands with 6 digits,
a fluke of nature? A mistake? I could not ask! (See the center red hand) (Carol discovered later that this was a genetic abnormality.) Why were those hands not discovered earlier? Are there more caves nearby? Did they find graves, did someone find living quarters near by since this is obviously a ceremonial spot?
I had tons of questions! Yet, I might as well have spoken Chinese to our guide. There was nobody who spoke my language. The guide we had might even have known more but was not really interested in speaking English. She rattled on in Spanish in a rehearsed way. Too bad, I liked this old spot on Earth!

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