Voices from Our Travels: Maimará, Argentina

September 28, 2011 Look Travel

Voices from Our Travels-Maimara, Argentina

The Quebrada de Humahuaca cuts a ragged swath through northwestern Argentina’s Jujuy province. Pillars of red stone rise from one side of the valley, facing off against the steep flanks of mountains striated in sage, ochre and rust on the other. The towns strung along the base of the valley have become increasingly popular tourist destinations in the last few years, with lovely Tilcara leading the way for backpackers on the popular Argentina-Bolivia route, and tiny Purmamarca captivating theluxury crowd. Between the two lies the village of Maimará.

Not as picturesque as Tilcara, and lacking an attraction as compelling (read: marketable) as Purmamarca’s Hill of Seven Colors, Maimará remains relatively untouched by tourism. Year round sun and an ample supply of fresh mountain water have long made Maimará one of the valley’s agricultural centers, an identity that it maintains today.

“When I came here I thought I had found Paradise,” says Carmela Casas, who has lived in Maimará for the last three decades. “There were piles of apples, peaches, pears, oranges that had fallen from the branches, but no one used them. I thought it was a waste to let them sit there and rot.” Carmela decided to take advantage of her new home’s natural abundance to develop a new skill: making sweets.

When she started, Carmela had no experience in bottling the jams, marmalades and preserves that today crowd her kitchen. Now dozens of mismatched jars weigh down a pair of tables and a few shelves with preserves of peach, mandarin orange, sweet tomato, and cajote (a local specialty made from a type of melon). Over the years Carmela has added savories like pickled garlic cloves and homemade llama and goat jerkies known as charqui to her repertoire. The individually dated jars set out in the kitchen represent the entirety of her inventory; nothing goes to waste here.

Though the fruit trees that once filled Maimará’s fields have long since been replaced by more profitable crops of vegetables and legumes, Carmela still uses ingredients yielded by her native soil and now grows most of her fruits, vegetables and herbs in her own garden. Last year, Carmela’s son began producing small quantities of artisanal beers, taking advantage of the region’s natural mineral waters to create black, red, and blonde brews of a distinctly local character. A brewery alongside the garden is currently in the works.

Don’t be surprised if you spend a full afternoon in Carmela’s kitchen – it’s the only way to sample her marvelous jams, not to mention some tipples of her equally delicious artisanal liquors. By the time the afternoon winds pick up you’ll want to head back to your base in Tilcara or Purmamarca, undoubtedly laden with jars. Pick up a round of local queso de cabra (goat cheese), some fresh baked bread, and perhaps a bottle of Torrontes, the white wine produced a few hours south in the town of Cafayate. Watch the sunset over the red rocks. Few things can compare.

To arrive in Maimará, take the bus to Tilcara direct from Salta (4 hours) or San Salvador de Jujuy (90 minutes). From here, Maimará is a short bus ride or an easy bike ride along the main road. Everyone in Maimará knows Señora Carmela, so just ask around.

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