Water, Wine and Why.

Throughout much of Chile and Argentina we have seen road-side shrines.

Most of them seem to be Christian and commemorate people killed in road accidents. However a significant number of shrines either contain a statue of a supine woman and a nurseling, or are a mass of red flags.

In many cases the "supine woman" shrines are surrounded by piles of plastic bottles, often full of water.

We often wondered about the significance of the bottles. Now we know (see below).

We crossed back in to Argentina from Chile (for the last time) via the Paso de Los Libertadoores, a spectacular road with impressive views and the first indoor drive-thru customs and immigration complex we have seen.

We also saw, in the distance, the rather unimpressive Cerro Aconcagua. At 6962 metres this is the highest peak in the Americas.

Our first target in Argentina was the wine town of Mendoza. We initially parked at Swiss Camping, El Challao, in the north-west suburbs of the city (S32.855167 W68.897111).

We later moved to another campsite, south of Mendoza at Maipu to meet up with some German friends, Thomas and Anna in their Füss Campervan.

The second camp site (Viñas De Vieytes) is well signed off the R40 heading north into Mendoza at S33.015952 W68.834328.

Mendoza is a fine city to stroll around, with large parks and dozens of fine pavement restaurants. However many of the streets have overhanging trees which makes driving a tall vehicle like Mog noisy and a little destructive.

The main reason to come to Mendoza is to visit one of the many wineries that surround it. We opted for Bodega La Rural (most easily reached from Maipu) at S32.957028 W68.744139. As well as a tour of the stainless steel wine making facilities there is an interesting wine museum and of course, wine tasting in the shop on the way out.

Wine facts:

  • The barrels used to age the wines (top right below) are made of oak, come from France, cost around $1500USA each, and only last five years.
  • Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world.

Back to the bottles of water: In the 1840s, Deolinda Correa followed her conscript husband's battalion into the desert, carrying their baby, some food and alas too little water. She expired near what has become the village of Vallecito (where this web page was written).

When her body was found the baby was alive and still nursing. To commemorate this "miracle" a cross was erected. In the 1940s a number of other miracles were attributed to her intervention and the cross grew into a full scale shrine industry. There are now eighteen house-sized shrines, many with paintings or sculptures of the first miracle.

Devotees of Difunta Correa believe that for best results you should have a small plaque attached to one of the shrines. Alternatively you can leave an object associated with the enterprise you require assistance with. For example your military career, your marriage or your trucking business.

Some of the objects left in the shrines include sporting trophies (past and future), cars, hair, number plates, plaster casts, outboard motors (well just the cover anyway), model houses, motorbikes and musical instruments.

The biggest fans of Difunta Correa are apparently truck drivers, and it is they who leave bottles of water at the roadside shrines (about 160 years late). The official church distances itself from Difunta Correa. She is not regarded as a proper " saint", just a "soul".

The "official" shrines are surrounded by a number of tasteful souvenir shops, cafes and hotels, with room for a few hundred campervans to park free of charge.

Around 200,000 people visit Vallecito each year in pilgrimage at Easter and Christmas.

The shrines with red flags are associated with a "Robin Hood" figure who was eventually captured, hung up by his feet and beheaded. But that's another story.

Stephen Stewart.

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