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Published: February 4th 2010
Travelling the way we do is full of uncertainty. When we enter new territory, we are never sure where we will get off the bus or where we will stay the night. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but is always interesting.
Arriving into Purmamarca, we didn't need a friendly bus driver or a big "Bienvenidos" sign to let us know we had arrived. A rainbow striped hill gave it away. It is called the 'Cerro de las Siete Colores' (Hill of the Seven Colours), well it couldn't be a more accurate name. To be honest the colours didn't seem real. It was as radiant as technicolour, making everything else look monochrome in comparison.
The town itself was highly photogenic too: cobbled streets and terracotta-coloured buildings with mud roofs. A 1,000 year old algarrobo tree gave shade just off the plaza and the little church's altar was made of cactus. It was tiny place - we did a full loop in jig time. But with a population of 510 (according to our guide book) there appeared to be more tourists than residents. I was not expecting a massive artesania market in the main square, where apparently half of Bolivia
had crossed the border to sell alpaca hats and happy trousers. Nor were we expecting a huge number of young Argentinian backpackers to be there, prime competition for our target budget accommodations.
Panic didn't set in until the fifth place we tried was full. If we found nowhere, we would have to get a bus back to Jujuy - if there was a bus - and write the day off as a complete waste of time. Then we saw a small sign in a window of a house near the back of the church. We knocked. An elderly lady answered. She led us through to the back of her house and pointed at a small door. I can only assume that the mud floor, major dip in the wafer-thin mattress plus the strong smell of straw and hay had put others off. It felt like Mary and Joseph minus the donkey and imminent labour, but at least there was room at the inn.
All settled in, we went for a walk around the Cerro. The hills surrounding the multicoloured Cerro were mostly of red earth, with some veins of the other six rainbow colours. Unusual formations in the
rocks worked well for shape-spotting. We made out faces, candles with wax dripping down the side and a row of bums.
As for the magical hill itself, even when it was right in front of us the colours still didn't seem possible. As if moulded out of play-dough and plopped into a red valley. I'll stop writing now and let the photos do the talking. (By the way, the room really wasn't that bad after all. It kept us warm all night and was clean, well the floor was as clean as mud could possibly be. No shepherds turned up in the middle of the night either.)
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