Salta itself nestles on a flat plain surrounded by lush green hills. The bus ride north to San Salvador de Jujuy is much of the same - green, lush and beautiful. I'd enjoy it more were the guy next to me not a) fat and b) singing along to his iPod. At Jujuy I change for a bus to Purmamarca, just in time. I sit next to a guy called Diego and amaze myself by managing to sustain a fairly normal conversation. Could being out of Buenos Aires, in the real world, where no-one speaks English, be the stimulus my pidgin Spanish so desperately needs?
This leg of the journey is surreal. The green and pleasant land soon yields to a barren, red landscape as we snake our way up the Quebrada de Humahuaca, carved out by the now dry Rio Grande. Purmamarca itself is tiny, barely four blocks square. It sits beneath the cerro de los siete colores, but is actually in a small dip between three imposing peaks. It is real backpacker country.
For the first time in my life I climb off the bus into the dusty street and look for a hostel. I find one quickly enough. It's new (bonus). The foam mattress hasn't been softened up by years of (ab)use so I can probably get some sleep. I wander around with the camera and sit myself down for a beer in the square. It's hot. A stereo pumps out an Andean pipe music cover of the sound of silence without a hint of irony, but it still can't detract from the basic peace. This is a special place.