Crossing the andes — 2004 — with an excerpt from Diane Rothenberg’s journal (redux)

Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta
Jerome Rothenberg, Cecilia Vicuña, Nicanor Parra Photo by Francis Cincotta

The Andes crossing was part of my reading trip with Cecilia Vicuña through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, & Brazil. Our other companions were Diane Rothenberg, the photographer & filmmaker Francis (Frank) Cincotta, & Ariane Braillard. Besides Cincottas photographs & films, the only records of the crossing are my series of poems (later published in Ram Devinenis Ratapallax) & Diane Rothenbergs ongoing journal, both excerpted below.

for Cecilia Vicuña

La Difunta Correa

 She died & from
her breasts
her newborn babe
sucked life.
Her sanctuary
at the Inca’s lake
still fills
the flattened earth.

And here Cecilia offers
rocks & roses
where two condors bow to us
guarding the sky.

A Natural Bridge

above a raging stream.

Cecilia running.
The young man
wraps a heavy rock
in orange
next to a standing pool.

Colors of the Mountains

tan .......... brown
green ...... red
yellow ..... orange
pink ........ black
grey ........ white snow


mountains of fine
swept sand
& angry rocks

white body
with a lion’s head
astride the mountain’s

low wall of sand
so sculpted
you would think
a city lay behind it
-- under siege –
turns into streams
of mud

desert on the left
poplars on the right

(a river runs through it)

Mountain Graffiti

Cristo viene
Jesus está aqui

Christ among the ruins

A Thought for Midnight

I want to see
the southern cross
by god!

November/December 2004


11/20/04 This was our day to cross the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina, and all kinds of anxiety were rampant leading up to it. Cecilia had arranged through an agency in Santiago to have a van and a driver take us over the mountains. The weather had been very unsettled while we were in Chile, with a lot of rain and storms, enough that there had been a rockslide on the road to Argentina and traffic had been delayed a couple of days. Until the last minute, then, it was not certain that we would be able to go at all. It had also been, on the whole, a lot colder in Chile than we had expected, and this had supported Cecilia’s predictions that we could anticipate freezing cold in the mountains, particularly if we were delayed and were in the mountains after sunset. There was a plan to buy blankets for everyone, but that never happened, and we concluded that we would layer clothing and hope for the best. Jerry and I figured we could add clothing as we went; the others were padded up at departure, but then they reasoned that they could later take things off. Altitude sickness was another concern considering we would be up about 14,000 feet, and for that we were armed with a jar of mate de coca, kindly supplied by Andrés Ajens back in Santiago and prepared the night before by Cecilia. We did sip it from time to time and we did not have altitude sickness, but that was not a controlled study. Needless to say, we were supplied with a lot of food.

One of the students had approached Cecilia the evening of the reading in the dunes, asking whether he and his girlfriend could hitch a ride with us to Mendoza. He had prepared several long lengths of orange fabric that he stretched along the dunes, and now he proposed to use them for a performance in the mountains. We had agreed, and the two of them showed up as we were leaving and settled down to the breakfast that Cecilia’s mother had prepared. They had brought no food with them, so they mooched from us, but it didn’t work out too badly and we managed to avoid taking them out for dinner in Mendoza. As the others got irritated with them for one thing or another, Jerry got more and more protective, as he always does, and kept them supplied with food. In return the young man created a wire, stone and rubber sculpture for Jerry while we waited (later) to cross the border.

Because Peter Kroeger hadn’t managed to show up the evening before to give Jerry the 25,000 pesos for the Valparaiso reading, and because we were all of us eager to see him one more time, he also came by before we left and gave us a small wooden sculpture that he had made for us. The van arrived and we piled in about 9:00 in the morning and went north a bit before we went east through very rich, very green looking countryside. Because Chile is so narrow (150 miles at its widest), we were soon climbing the mountains, sometimes covered in clouds but always with snow visible on the peaks. The road was one lane in each direction and frequently under repair, but a good mountain road. We stopped early at a restaurant/rest stop and bought an empanada that was being baked in an outdoor oven, stuffed with meat and vegetables and ample enough for the seven of us to get our fill.

Always in the distance was the summit of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, or so Cecilia told us. Snow covered and very imposing, and we made our little gestures of respect when we first saw it. Cecilia feels very connected to the landmarks along the Andean route and planned to do several ceremonies in places she had already chosen. Of course Frank was to document these, and the student intended to do his own thing, essentially wrapping items in the environment with the length of orange cloth he had brought along from the performance in the Dunes.

The first place we stopped was a pond connected to a marker to designate the spot where, as tradition had it, an Indian woman, carrying her baby on her back, had died of exhaustion and cold. The baby found his way to her breast and fed there until he was found by passersby. This miracle is commemorated by a kind of shrine, so Cecilia did a little ceremony there with flowers that her mother had given her from her garden for that purpose. We then moved across the road to a river fed by snow melting in the mountains, and there the offerings continued.

The driver, a very pleasant man, was eager to get on and grew somewhat impatient at the delays, particularly the next one, at la laguna de los Incas (?), a large lagoon or lake also fed by melting snow and located behind a major ski resort on the Chilean side. Although there was no longer any skiing, there were many people there for lunch and walking around. The lagoon was very still and surprisingly without birds, but a beautiful color in a beautiful setting. Cecilia and the student did their ceremonies, and Frank photographed them in the process.

Shortly after that we came to the border with Argentina where we were forced to get in the line for buses rather than in the line for cars. The inspections were thorough, each busload of passengers being made to disembark, go through long lines and then have their bags inspected. All in all, it took us three hours to cross the border and the van driver was still amiable although rather frantic. Contrary to expectations, it was very warm on the higher elevations and the sun was very strong and, rather than adding clothes, we found ourselves removing them.

The landscape changed dramatically on the Argentinian side of the mountains. The rain falls on the western slopes (the Chilean side) so that is very green. It does not fall on the other wide where it is dramatically desert-like but with amazing rock configurations and colors. We drove for hours through this landscape, stopping once at a natural rock configuration that looked like a man-made bridge and was covered with yellow sulfur deposits from which local artisans fashioned trinkets, and we never tired of calling each other’s attention to one amazing rock outcropping after another.