Originally published in MorningCalm, March 2017.
Pachamama presides over Jujuy Province. Here, in northern Argentina, the Andean Mother Earth can be felt in every divine inch of the vast and varied landscape. Rainbow-hued mountains abut rocky ravines; the sun beats down on immense salt flats and wild creatures defy the odds to thrive in harsh environments.
It’s said that with age comes character, and the Serranías del Hornocal are physical proof. This mountain range is a history book in the open air, the rocks’ colors each signifying an essential time period — green for 600 million years ago, when all was underwater; purple for 100 million, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and red for two million, at the dawn of man. Cutting through Bolivia’s high plains and into Peru, the mountains are most breathtaking at dawn.
DUST AND COLOR
Purmamarca could be any Latin American town, filled with timeworn adobe houses, humble bars serving sun-warmed beer, peddlers hawking alpaca scarves and unkempt children playing in near-empty pathways. But the town is unique in one striking way: the surrounding landscape, which is filled with a stunning set of polychromatic peaks and highlands that defy description. Look ahead and you’re faced with a dusty, sleepy town. But look up and the immense contrast becomes abundantly, almost surreally, clear.
The Jujuy region is home to various camelids, such as llamas, guanacos andvicuñas. Llamas have been domesticated to be used as pack animals and for their hides and fur. While guanacos are llamas’ wild parentage, vicuñas are known as the ancestors of domesticated alpacas. They’re found at altitudes of around 4,000m, but their abundance of red blood cells allows them to breathe easily in these low-oxygen environments.
SALT OF THE EARTH
At first sight, Jujuy’s Salinas Grandes seems illusory — a mirror-like salt flat shimmering in the midday sun, streaked with sharp, brackish cracks. The landscape was formed when an immense lake dried up, and now the flat’s vast expanse humbles all who make the journey. Workers mine the site daily, and tourists regularly drive up to witness its alien terrain, but the white desert’s infinite barrenness forever haunts.