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  • I had pulled into the city of San Juan, Argentina, with the idea of getting a rental car and going to a nearby national park. I mentioned this to the check-in lady at the hostel, and she said there were three other people planning to do the same thing, and maybe I could join them and split costs. I did, and by the end of the night there were five of us, two Argentines, two Americans, and a German. And the trip wasn’t just an overnight to the park, but what turned into a three night four day tour of San Juan Province.

    So we packed up and took off the next morning, much later than we had planned, of course. I was sure we wouldn’t get to the first stop of the day in time before it closed, and this fear increased when after a unexpected burst of excitement the Argentines had us pull over just maybe an hour into the drive in some desert village. At this rate, we would waste an entire day, I thought to myself.
    But they knew what they were stopping for, they were stopping for Difunta Correa.

    Difunta means defunct, and Difunta Correa was the wife of a soldier in the Argentine Civil Wars of the 1840s. Difunta, or Deolinda, her actual name, followed behind husband’s troop with her baby in her arms through the massive deserts of Northern Argentina. When her supplies dried up, she died alone. When her body was found, as the story goes, her baby was still feeding of her breast, miraculously. Her story spread, and a shrine was built at the supposed site of her death, in the village of Vallecito, in San Juan Province.

    Of course I didn’t know this at the time, I just read about it in Lonely Planet afterwards, as we walked through the shrine area. And as we walked up to the shrine, I immediately understood why we stopped. This was fucking cool.
  • She has become like a patron saint for travelers in Argentina, truckers in particular.
  • Surrounding the shrine are maybe a hundred or more little abodes to provide shelter and rest for the wandering mother.
  • Throughout the shrine are plaques with messages of thanks to Difunta for her intervention and help with the prayers of believers.
  • Candles have blackened the cross and its stone.
  • Since our visit to the shrine, I have seen smaller roadside shrines to Difunta Correa on the roads of Argentina, always covered with plastic water bottles to quench her thirst. And as I spend most of the last two months of my South American journey travelling from city to town to village in her country, each time I come across them, I will thank Difunta Correa for helping me to get that far.
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