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Leave me alone: A survey of Northern Argentina. 
Part 1: Iruya, Salta

Outsiders are not unwelcome, but the indigenous community of Iruya does not strive to be a tourist destination either. It is a place that can make a photographer suddenly feel like an intruder. The locals have held on to an age-old theory in photography: portraits steal the soul. So I turned my lens to the mountains and their unwavering, overwhelming presence. Iruya feels like it is entirely swallowed by mountains with walls of cliffs surrounding it on all sides, tucked deeply inside the Andean crevices. But the camera’s inability to truly capture the magnitude of what’s in front of it became the next challenge. It was almost as though neither the people nor the landscape were ready to be photographed, begging to be left in peace. Capturing the town from above attempts to maintain the respectful distance and tell its story through its mountains. 

With only around 1,500 inhabitants at 3,000 meters of altitude and entirely swallowed by cliffs that feel like endless walls on all sides of the village, it is so secluded that it can only be reached through a steep dirt road which closes during heavy rainfall. It is its delicacy which gives Iruya an autonomous and relentless power as it continues to survive in a harsh ecosystem that is so geographically and culturally secluded. 

Iruya is an indigenous Kolla community with Incan origins mixed with Hispanic culture — the first aboriginal settlers arrived in the mid-1600’s and its main church was built in 1690. Technically in the northern province of Salta, it can only be reached by a road from the Jujuy province -- the nearest town Humahuaca is about 3-4 hours away by bus. 

Part 2: Las Salinas Grandes

Tourists flock to Las Salinas to take photos near the evaporation ponds and walk on the vast crystallized salt-floor, what feels like a different planet. But the tourism industry is at odds with the mining industry: the mining of lithium beneath the salt in the region has caused an uproar by Indigenous communities living in the surrounding provinces because of its threats to farming and in-ground water levels. Recently, the government granted the communities the right to have a say in what happens to their land, but the battle between them and the industry is ongoing. 


A second without sunglasses is almost blinding, dipping a hand in the tempting aquamarine pools almost crystalizes your skin. The only way to get here is by car or by following a man in the streets of the village of Purmamarca who calls out “salina! las salinas!” collecting people and driving them in buses through the winding 2 hour Chañi mountain-pass. The origins of Las Salinas that span 212 square kilometers at an altitude of over 3,000 meters date back to between 5 and 10 million years BC, now the region is not only being used for lithium brine but also sodium and potassium. 


While traveling through Jujuy, the anti-lithium mining slogans graffitied in nearby towns is apparent, but Las Salinas and it’s otherworldly allure remains to be a popular tourist attraction in Argentina without much other indication of its controversial uses. 

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