>>>Discover north Argentina, in seven colours

Discover north Argentina, in seven colours

Legend says the children of Purmamarca, bored of such a monochromatic hill, spent seven nights colouring it in. Today, it is one of the most beautiful landscapes in north Argentina.
T
he bitter aftertaste of coconut sits on the palate. It relieves travel sickness for passengers on the early bus from Jujuy, heading for Purmamarca, in north Argentina. Passengers who departed from Buenos Aires—the bus being the most usual means of transport—will have already noted changes in the temperature, as they move towards a more temperate climate: summer rains, but no extremes. They will also have observed a host of contrasts during the journey. Moving towards the cerro de los siete colores, as this hill of seven colours is known, is to stumble from the Europeanism of Río de la Plata towards darker skins, Spanish with a stronger accent and Andean mysticism. The legends, shared by north Argentina and south Bolivia, pave the route, and explain the landscape: they say the children of Purmamarca were the ones who coloured in the cerro.
During the trip, the bus stops for indigenous women to climb on and sell pastries.

A stroll through Andean culture

Pachamama, Mother Nature, is the most important symbol in north Argentina, south Bolivia and Peru. But there are numerous Andean symbols, including crosses, flags, the chakana, Mama Quilla, and the goddess of fertility. These elements are the protagonists of legends, and are drawn on garments and carved in the streets.

After about 65km, Jujuy is far behind, along the Nacional 9 motorway. The bus stops, but there is still some way to go on foot. Purmamarca, a small village of pre-Hispanic origin, founded in the early 17th-century, is reminiscent of a western movie, with its adobe buildings with teasel and mud roofs. We are in the ‘Town of the Virgin Land’, according to the Aymara language.
You can regather your strength in the local cafés, before embarking on the climb. Behind the town is the hill that gives sense and colour to Purmamarca. It is a circular route, where the walker goes up and down small hills with views of the mountains. There are bursts of violet, fuchsia, orange and a host of other colours, which geologists explain through the materials in the ground, such as clay or limestone.
Besides enjoying the landscape, you can go trekking or join an excursion near the Homónimo river, or along Paseo de los Colorados.
During the trip, it is possible you will find yourself alone, with scarcely another traveller in sight. That is when the carriers of legends materialise. They carry amulets, which they sell, or give away, while telling stories of suns, moons and Pachamamas. The path always ends back in the town. But first, you come across a cemetery, but not a grey or sad one. It stands out among the warm, ochre tones of the mountain, because every grave has brightly coloured flowers: green, yellow and violet.
Despite the continual flow of tourists, the stalls are quite good value and offer high-quality garments.
Photo: Matyas Rehak/ shuterstock.com
Back in the village, you can eat savoury pastries and buy local crafts. The market stalls are set up in the square, where they sell clay figures, vases, woven rugs, ponchos, musical instruments and Andean clothes. In the middle of the town is the church, consecrated in 1648, under Saint Rose of Lima. It has been declared a National Monument due to its architectural layout and the paintings and images inside, created by the people of Cuzco.
Although you can sleep in Purmamarca, excursions normally last a day. Back in Jujuy or Salta, you will remember the legends, the intense flavour of the meat inside the pastries and the range of colours on your retina: the gift of Mother Nature, the power of Pachamama.

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