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Monday, December 19, 2011

Salta/Jujuy: Day 2 - Purmamarca

For the second day of our Salta/Jujuy trip, we headed north into the province of Jujuy to a town called Purmamarca.  Purmamarca is a very small town, population of only 2,000 people, located 2.5 hours north of Salta City.  Purmamarca is part of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a gorge located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.  It's easy to see why this area of the country is protected, the drive (though long) was incredible.  Perhaps the most popular site in Purmamarca is the Cerro de Siete Colores, the Hill of Seven Colors.  Can you guess which hill they are referring to?

The land in this area is so rich with minerals that it casts off a multitude of different colors.  There are many bright red and orange hills in the landscape, but this specific hill really pops against the background of its green, blue and brown neighbors.
Cerro de Siete Colores
Gretchen was unimpressed with the Seven Color Hill, she was far more interested in Daddy's sunglasses.  

Our hotel was nestled right next to this colorful hill, and after a morning filled with driving, we were all very excited to get settled at La Comarca.  This small hotel was perfect for our needs, the rooms varied in size, ours was small with a nice patio, our friend's was large with no patio, but the location and views could not be beat.
La Comarca

After we had a moment to stretch our legs, it was necessary to get some lunch.  We headed into town, where there is a daily market setup with a mix of hand and machine-made goods.

What an amazing backdrop during your shopping experience
 At the advice of our guide, Yaco, we stopped at Tierra De Colores for lunch.  This small, authentic restaurant gave us our first true taste of Northwest Argentina cuisine.  We had tamales, humitas, empanadas and tried Salta beer, all of which were pretty darn good.  It was a nice alternative to the normal fare in Buenos Aires, the sauces and entrees actually had some spice.

The last activity that we crammed into this jam-packed day was a visit to the Salinas Grandes, or the Salt Flats.  The Salinas Grandes are basically a field of salt that was formed by a combination of volcanic activity and geological movement somewhere around 10 million years ago.  Only one road leads to the Salinas Grandes, and it is not for the faint of heart.  The trail is not incredibly long, distance wise, but it takes a good 2 hours to get to the flats from Purmamarca.

Windiest road ever.  Bring carsick bags just in case.
 Additionally, the altitude is incredibly potent on the drive.  Altitude sickness is a very real concern, especially for whomever is behind the wheel.  One of the symptoms of altitude sickness is drowsiness, and these roads don't leave room for mistake.  It was beautiful at the top, a cool 13,680 feet above sea level.

 The Salinas Grandes themselves were also very cool.  A large expanse of flat land, all white with salt, in the middle of two mountain ranges.  The sun was crazy strong, so we were lucky that the babies were sleeping and stayed in the van.  We jumped out to take a few pictures but it's not recommended to spend any length of time in the sun due to the strong reflection off of the ground.

Underneath all the salt and dirt lies water, which can be exposed through these large water holes, and then clean salt crystalizes on the surface in a potent, pure form.  According to Yaco, sea water is roughly 80% salt, this water is roughly 95% salt.  It's pretty salty, we tasted it ourselves.

Once back at La Comarca, we were able to relax, walk around and take some pictures of the landscape.  It was also blooming season for the cactus species in the area, so we saw lots of beautiful cactus flowers.  We also stayed for a delicious dinner, served at the hotel restaurant, by a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

The next morning, we got up nice and early to start the journey to our final trip destination, Cafayate.  We grabbed a quick breakfast, and loaded up the bus, and headed on out.  Thank goodness for happy babies, the girls rolled with the punches this weekend.

Purmamarca was a beautiful, remote, unique destination and I'm so glad it was part of our trip.  La Comarca was actually our second choice of hotel, but it worked out perfectly, and provided great scenic views of the surrounding mountains.  It takes a lot of driving savvy to accomplish this part of the trip, but if you're up for it, Purmamarca and the Salinas Grandes are sites worth seeing.

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