David Mather Foundation

Salta, Argentina. The locals call it la linda – the beautiful. At first glance, it’s easy to see why. Arriving fresh from a month spent in a poor town in the Peruvian Andes, Salta’s refined streets practically glittered. Designer clothes boutiques stand beside upmarket souvenir shops, leading to the central Plaza, where well-heeled locals sit at pavement cafes, sipping espressos. The cathedral – pale pink with ornate white adornments – certainly takes the prize for one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. But this is only one side of Salta, the tourist-friendly face. I was soon to discover another side to the city, which is a different picture entirely. I had come to spend a few weeks volunteering at the David Mather Foundation. It is a charity which helps to improve the prospects of disadvantaged young people in Salta, founded and run by Ian and Ceri Mather, British semi-expats. They set up the charity in memory of their son David, who sadly died in a paragliding accident in Salta three years ago. David had seen the huge divisions in Salta’s society and the abject conditions in which the indigenous communities live, compared with the luxurious lifestyles of those of European descent. He was keen to do something to help, so his parents are fulfilling his wish. Working with teenagers is not an area I’ve had much experience in – I’m more used to dealing with children who can’t yet tie their own shoelaces – but I was interested in the project and figured that students who turn up to attend early-morning classes of their own free will are probably...

The Long Way to Salta

It should have been an easy trip, especially by South American standards. Salta, a northern city in Argentina, was just a 9-hour bus journey from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. However, when I first arrived in San Pedro, the woman at the first bus company I enquired at bit her lip. “Monday might not be possible,” she informed me. “We’ve had a lot of snow. But definitely on Tuesday.” One extra day. That didn’t seem so bad, given the delightfulness of the little desert town. However, when I went back to check on the Monday, fresh back from an excursion which had taken us past a long line of trucks waiting to cross the border, I was told that it would be Wednesday. I went and asked at another bus company and was told the same. At this point, the details start to sound a little like Groundhog Day, so I shan’t bore you with them, but suffice to say that rather than the two days I had planned to stay, I was there for six. On the 6th day, I was getting desperate. I had arranged to meet some family friends in Salta and volunteer for a while with their charitable organisation, the David Mather Foundation. But I only had a limited amount of time to spend with them, and that time was rapidly running out. After the bus companies admitted they didn’t know when the road would open and with the queue of trucks now stretching for over a mile, I decided to cut my losses and go to Calama, the nearest big town, where I...

A Little Night Music in South America

I’m not generally a highbrow-entertainment type of girl, more for financial reasons than anything else. I love going to the theatre and I’m always on the lookout for offers for London’s West End, but the prices of seeing the ballet or high-calibre symphony orchestras are usually well out of my reach. Not so in South America, it would seem.     I had never been to the ballet before, but a few weeks ago, I was in Arequipa. This city has culture in bucketloads: poems inscribed into stone arches, stunning, creamy, colonial architecture and a tradition of ceramic artisans. All of this I had seen during the day, and as dusk fell, I began to wander back to the hotel, thoroughly contented with all that Arequipa had offered me. However, on the way, through the bustling shopping streets, I caught sight of the theatre and the large signs proclaiming that it was the final night of the Russian ballet. I walked over, expecting to do nothing more than look at the ticket prices in horror and walk away again, but when I got there, a poster advertised seats starting at 25 soles.   “25 soles?” I asked the woman behind the desk, expecting her to laugh derisively and say something like: “no, you silly girl, 225!” But she didn’t. She merely assured me that there were still tickets available and asked me if I wanted one. Did I want one? A ticket to the Russian ballet for approximately £5? I should think so! A couple of hours later, I was ensconsed in my balcony seat, watching as the best ballerinas in...
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