Colores Del Norte

So much lush greenery on the way up to colorful rock.

It's not really called El Norte, but it is the northernmost region of Argentina which includes Salta, Jujuy (hoo-hooey!), Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca. Humahuaca was the northernmost point that we ventured on this trip, and with an elevation of nearly 3,000 meters, left us breathless. Literally. The air is a bit thin up here, but the sights are absolutely phenomenal. The mountains are two major types neither of which I know its technical name. We're driving south from Tilcara to Purmamarca now on a local bus as I write, and the mountains to my left are steep sloping and quite rocky. The summit is a reddish brown hue, while the layers below that follow the shape of the mountain range from orange to white to dusty rose pink burnt red. The layers create an effect that you'd see in a bottle filled with colored sand (don't lie to yourself: you've definitely made one of these before). The second type of rock is even steeper: the rock is just vertical cliffs of burnt red and white with horizontal cuts across the entire rock, almost as if water used to be there.

Humahuaca with threatening clouds that led us to a restaurant..

... that served roasted children.

The town of Humahuaca, and admittedly, every town north of Salta, has been very impressive with its cleanliness and order. While clearly not 100% immersed in typically western civilization, as the towns lack paved roads and modern architecture, many of the buildings have been either impeccably kept or their stones/construction upgraded. The girls wear fashions reminiscent of New York suburbia with Hello Kitty backpacks and boys don Puma or Adidas sneakers, while listening to their iPods. Humahuaca has the least tourism of the three. We spent the night in Tilcara, also less touristy than the nearby Purmamarca, at a hostel/B&B/house that was run by an Argentine/part hippie couple. The husband, with shoulder length grey hair tied back in a ponytail, greeted us at reception while his wife provided breakfast and taught yoga classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was impossible not to feel calm here (except when my internet refused to work). The hotel was situated on the corner of town, with several buildings making up the yogi-inspired complex, perched high enough to provide a view of Tilcara and the surrounding landscape. 
View of Tilcara en route up to the hotel
The last town, the most touristy and also least impressive boasted the most impressive landscape. I referred to it earlier as layers of colored salt poured into a glass bottle, while the Lonely Planet refers to the colors here as "the marzipan fantasy of a megalomaniac pastry chef." They’re right too. The colors in this town range from pink to orange to green in the rock. There is even an entire peak that’s a shade of lavender. The colors are spectacular, so much so that my dinky point-and-shoot camera couldn’t possibly capture the hues in the cloudless yellow sunlight.
Me, pondering the Marzipan Madness

Our adventure of getting to these locations is a mini tale of its own. There are certainly numerous and very nice semi-public buses that hit each stop for a small price for each leg, but our reception in Salta noted that there are dudes that hang out just outside the bus station who are semi legitimate taxis that charge a similar fare but provide significantly more flexibility (depending on how many people need to fill the vehicle). Well, after wandering around Salta’s bus station for a bit, trying to ask where these guys are located, we’d just about given up until we here a low whoop, "Hoo-hooey!" Bingo. We found them and really glad we did. Since the bus stops locally, we made it to our destination a) much faster b) while being able to take pictures out the window of the sprawling landscape, which was different but just as impressive as the destination.

"Hiked" up the high part of Humahuaca (I think)

What we did miss is that in addition to the off license taxis across the street from the station, the best empanadas from Salta are at the little hole in the wall behind them. We vowed that we'd stop to feast on them on the way back, but unfortunately, all 3 shops were completely out of empanadas. There is a pasteleria/panaderia at the right end of the block, where we did sample the goods. Little flaky versions of dulce de leche alfajores and white chocolate coated cookies with walnut were a perfect temporary solution for our food search.

The best empanadas I've had to date were from Estancia de Los Dos Hermanos. They were made from a special flaky pastry, almost like a filo, then fried to light yellow perfection. The spread at the Estancia itself was impressive. At breakfast, we were given jelly filled cookies, which I picked up apprehensively (cookies for breakfast?), but immediately felt guilty at my concern. I ate three. The cookies, coffee, tea, bread was served outside in the green, hammock lined yard just behind the house. For lunch, after the empanadas, there was a paradilla, whose meat rivaled any top New York Steak restaurant (except Peter Lugar's, since I haven't been there). Dessert included a kind of custard that was a mix between a custard, flan, and cheesecake--and better than all three in just one bite. Little sweet bites afterward included a fried donut hole (Krispy Kreme, eat your heart out) and a brownie-cake that would make any chocolate lover happy. I would go back to the estancia, and even ride the horse Sir Eat A Lot, simply to have the breakfast and lunch al fresco.

Bicycle Gate in Purmamarca

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