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Purmamarca was our first stop north of Salta.  It was a small touristy town but not without charm. It was surrounded by more coloured mountains and there were various convenient lookout rocks to climb up above the town and take in the view. We did so at sunset (with a beer of course) and then found a cute little restaurant where we enjoyed some veal and grilled llama with vegetables (vegetables are gold if you are eating out in South America) , a sumptious nut pie for desert and some nice regional red…..

The main square was laden with woven goods and street markets which reminded me very much of Bolivia. The following morning we got up early and went for a 1-2 hour walk out of town to take in a picturesque  circuit of coloured rock and cactus before hopping a bus to Huamahuaca.

Huamahuaca was less touristy and perhaps even more charming though without such a striking backdrop. Lots of narrow cobble streets with tiny local restaurants and stalls, and of course, a virgen on the hill to climb up to. We dutifully climbed to the virgen (which surprisingly didn’t have the “stations of the cross” laid out on the way) and took in the pleasant view. It seems they are obsessed with virgens in South America. Apart from The Virgen herself, there are parties, rituals, festivals and monuments in honour of all manor of regional virgens as well as a cross with some virginal offerings atop of  a hill for every town. The stations of the cross ( jesus falls, jesus cries out, jesus falls again, jesus cries out again) are a close second to the virgens.

Our final Argentinian stop was one of our best – Iruya. (thanks for the tip Matt!).  A remote town, set on a river in a canyon amongst beautiful mountains, it managed a measure of quaintness and grandeur all at once. Upon arrival we roamed the hilly, narrow cobble stone sts  in search of lunch. Due to some hungry confusion, (mainly ours) we ended up with two servings of delicious chunky locro (corn based stew) and two more enormous mains. We washed the mains down with the house red and asked for the rest “para llevar” to the amusement of the landlord.

To recover, we then took in the spectacle of the local soccer match on what must be one of the most picturesque fields in South America. I had fun practicing my sports photography skills before we summoned the energy to climb to yet another cross and another virgen. The day was capped off with a very cheap dinner and drinks with a Canadian/French duo we had met in Patagonia.

The next day we went on a lovely day hike through the mountains to an even more remote and small town called San Isidro. It turned out to be a very pleasant day out. We heated up our locro in the church grounds on our camp stove, dodged some perturbed donkeys and horses on the narrow mountain paths, hiked to yet one more virgen and saw condors circling above on the trip home.

An early bus the following morning finally took us to Bolivia.

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