This past weekend, Jürgen and I embarked on a three-day hike offered by Condor Trekkers: a relatively new, non-profit tour operator in Sucre. Starting at 5am on Saturday morning, our hike led us into the heart of the Andes, along the Inca Trail, into the Maragua Crater, past dinosaur footprints, through waterfalls, into the houses of Quechua-speaking campesinos, and over mountains, before depositing us into steaming hot thermal baths. Three days of spectacular scenery, unexpected adventure, sore shoulders, and starrier night skies than I’ve ever seen.
Jürgen and I are travelers, but by no stretch of the imagination could we be referred to as “adventurers”. This was the first multi-day hike either of us had done, but we figured… mid-thirties, we’re still fit enough to do something like this. We can handle it.
And we did! Barely. Often very slowly, and usually very much behind the rest of the group. Bolivia, I’ve decided, attracts a very specific type of tourist: twenty-something adventure seekers. During the hike, a lot of meal-time conversations centered around all the crazy things our companions had recently done. “Mountain climbing in Central Asia!”, “Trail Marking in Patagonia!”, “The Death Road of La Paz!” Eyes would inevitably turn to me and Jürgen… “Well the squares of Savannah are quite lovely! And we have explored many of Buenos Aires’ pizzerias.”
The first day of hiking was incredible. A truck took us up a mountain, and we had breakfast with a view over Sucre’s valley. Not far away was Chataquilla, a tiny church that combined elements of Catholicism and the region’s endemic beliefs. Inside the church, an image of the Virgin; outside, burnt offerings to Pachamama. One of our guides was from the area, and throughout the hike, he would offer fascinating insights to indigenous culture.
Once we had eaten and visited the church, hiking began in earnest. Hours passed by quickly and, after crossing a wobbly suspension bridge straight out of The Temple of Doom, we sat down for lunch near a waterfall. The sun had been strong all day, heating the water on its way down the cliff face, so some of us took a powerful shower under the falls. Lunch was long and languorous; the guides had set up a generous vegetarian buffet which we greedily dug into.
Some of the hiking was rough, with steep inclines that seemed to go on forever, and our backpacks were unconscionably heavy, but we took a lot of breaks. One of our pit-stops was in the house of a Quechuan-speaking family. We sat in their patio, along with goats, puppies and sheep, and gaped at their incredible view of the Andes. The lady of the house accepted gifts of coca leaves, and offered us fresh chicha and a small plate of food, which we were obliged to finish. It was a lot of chicha, but the amount didn’t scare me as much as its being served in a old paint bucket.
We arrived at our camping spot shortly before dusk, and set up our tents. I should say: the others set up their tents, before coming to the rescue of Jürgen and I, who had entangled ourselves clumsily in rope and poles. A campfire was lit, marshmallows were roasted, and we all sat around talking, eating, and staring at the sky. I doubt I’ve ever been so far away from artificial light, and the stars were amazing. Did you know that in the Southern Hemisphere, the Big Dipper is upside-down? I didn’t. We’d have liked to spend more time star-gazing, but the day had taken its toll on our bodies and within minutes of settling down into our sleeping bags, both Jürgen and I were asleep.
It’s a good thing we slept well. Turns out, we’d need the extra energy for the next day of hiking…