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Published: April 24th 2007
Home Sweet Home
Could this be the location of Jude's new home?
Bolivia really is the most amazingly beautiful country. It's sometimes hard to believe we're in the middle of South America in an apparently third world country when we're having such a brilliant time of it but today we saw a bit of both the magnificent splendour and abject poverty of this intriguing land.
Today we were off on an adventure into the Maragua crater, which lies about 25 kilometres from Sucre. It was another early start for us with Alex, our guide, collecting us from the hostel at 7am. We were surprised to find that our US$70 not only paid for his servces but also for a 4x4 wheel-drive car and driver! We headed out into the hills, stopping first of all at a lookout point that was interesting to us not only for the awesome views but also for the recently abandoned cluster of mud houses nearby. Inside the homes (we had to explore, naturally) we found an assortment of odd utensils and pieces of agricultural equipment that looked like they had arrived fresh from the Middle Ages.
We next drove up to a little church completely in the middle of nowhere whose bells were made from
Check out those bells - they´re made from truck wheels!
truck wheels! The church lies at the start of an ancient Inca trail which Alex took us down. The ancient pathway wound its way down steep mountain slopes and through a deep valley for over 4km and as we walked, it was easy to imagine the ancient Inca people bringing their wares along this route to trade with other islotaed communities.
The Inca trail afforded us breathtaking views across the mountains and of the distant crater to which we were heading and all the while our senses were alive with the scent of wild herbs and our ears pricked for the sounds of wildlife scampering in the undergrowth. At one point, a small furry thing slinked across the path and disappeared as quickly as it came. When Glynn poked his camera under the rock where we last saw it, he discovered a little chinchilla hiding nervously in the corner. Cool! Walking the trail and chatting with Alex was a lot of fun - he's totally on our wavelength - and it wasn't long before the three of us became firm friends.
At the base of the Inca trail, we were met again by our car and driver, Gonzalo,
Glynn takes a break on the Inca Trail to take in the awesome views.
and went for one hell of a ride along a rough and bumpy road, clinging to the sides of crumbling mountains and driving right through a river! It was the sort of thrill-a-minute road that 4-wheel drives were invented for and we zipped effortlessly past rockfalls and bounced along sections of road almost entirely washed away by heavy rains and impromptu waterfalls. After about an hour, we came to a stop in a village on the outskirts of the crater and walked over to the edge of a tremendous canyon where the land just fell away before our feet. Feeling braver than usual, I followed Glynn and Alex out onto a ledge no more than a metre wide to catch a glimpse of a narrow waterfall that cascaded freely some 70 metres down to the canyon floor below us.
To the left of the waterfall was a huge chunk of land jutting out at an obscure angle that had at some time been displaced by some serious tectonic movement. At first it looked like an easy enough hike to reach the highest point but it took us a good 45 minutes with both the climb and the altitude seriously
On the Right Path
Jude gets blown away by the awesome views along the Inca trail.
knocking the wind out of us. The view from the top was well worth the effort though as we could see right down to the valley floor and across to the distant reddish-purple mountains that reminded us in shape of a stack of sandwich triangles. All around us were the most amazing rock formations with the bowl of the crater awash with vibrant violet and green soils, surrounded at the rim by a series of petal shaped mineral-rich slabs of rock painted with a whole artist's palette of coloured swirls. It was beautiful.
Once at the pinnacle of the jutted rock, we found a handful of impressions in the petrified mud that could well have been dinosaur footprints. There were distinct three-toed shapes that were easily at least 30cm long and given that there's an area close to Sucre that has proven dinosaur tracks, it's not such a far-fetched idea as it might sound! Of course Jish regretted not brining his CSI prehistoric footprint detection kit with him.
We headed back down the slope and sat by the waterfall for lunch. Nearby, a group of young boys were enjoying a splash about in a home-made swimming pool but
In the Valley
Alex and Glynn walk in the footsteps of the ancient Inca.
when they spotted us, they decided to come over and say hello. At first, they were all full of bravado, daring each other to be the first one to talk to us but when we got Jish out, they turned straight back into a group of 10 year old boys and even posed for a photo with him! This was unusual as a lot of the country people here believe that having their photo taken will take away their souls so once again, Jish heled break down some barriers!
After lunch, we set of on a another hike, this time across into the crater and up a steep hill right in the middle. We're not sure what might have caused the crater to be formed but every so often we found rocks that had a clearly scorched appearance. I wonder if the creter was made my a meteor impact? That would be so cool! Anyhow, on the way across the crater floor, we passed an elderly woman tending to a flock of sheep and goats complete with three of the cutest baby lambs ever. We also passed by a collection of little houses that are rented out to tourists
One Two Three, Jump!
Glynn gets ready for another jump photo, only to realise it's a long way down!
looking for an authenic Bolivian countryside experience although the solar panels and running water were hardly in keeping with the way of life for the actual villagers living in this area.
Hiking up the hill was another challenge as the slopes were both steep and covered with loose earth and stones so I was very grateful to Gonzalo for fashioning me a walking stick from a nearby bush to help me climb up after I twisted my knee. At the top of the hill, we not only had another fabulous view of the crater but also found a large cemetary full of crosses bedecked with plastic wreaths of flowers fluttering in the breeze, left over from the last Day of the Dead celebrations.
By the time we made it back down the hill, we were all feeling pretty tired but then Gonzalo had a brilliant suggestion that renewed our energy: would we like to visit the local school? Absolutely! This was one of the things I had been hoping to achieve on our world trip and unbelievably, even though it was already gone 5pm, the school was still a hive of activity. I was introduced to some of
Another awesome view.
the teachers and tried my best to communicate in broken Spanish while we watched a very entertaining girls' football match. Incredibly, most of the girls were skillfully kicking the leather football around completely barefoot beacuse no-one there can afford sports shoes.
The school is responsible for educating around 250 children from nursery level right up to the age of 16. I was introduced to the school principal and proudly shown around a number of the barebones classrooms where lessons take place. I was not surprised to find that the facilities were really basic given that Bolivia is a poor country but to find out that the school doesnÂ´t even have electricity left me dumbstruck. There was also very little in the way of books, toys and educational material in general and I couldn't help but wonder what these teachers would make of such fancy gadgets and gizmos as electronic whiteboards which are the new big thing in English schools. For me, the idea of teaching without basic resources like pictures or music was heartbreaking so I asked the teachers to compile a list of things that the school really needs and that we might be able to help with.
Hide and Seek
This cute fella was too big to be a mouse. Could it be a chinchilla perhaps?
As dusk approached, we headed back to the car followed by a small convey of schoolkids all hoping to blag some sweets or money from us 'touristas'. We obliged with what we had available - a bag of banana chips and a packet of biscuits - but only handed them over on the proviso that they promised to brush their teeth! We've read that giving sweets to poor families is generally irresponsible as it can cause dental problems that they can't afford to treat. Leaving the crater, we headed slowly uphill and back up past the Inca trail. In the distance, a thunder and lightning show rolled along the surrounding hills and with only one more brief stop to see another set of dinosar footprints, we were back in Sucre by 8pm - well past the usual 5.30pm finish time for the tour! I guess that's testament to how much fun we had throughout the day.
Alex and Gonzalo had been a fantiastic guide and driver team for us today and we wanted to thank them properly in true Glynn and Jude style: with a nice cold beer or two! We made for a little restaurant on the
Red Rock, Green Rock
More stripes than a tube of Aquafresh!
edge of town where the locals come in their droves to tuck into a delicious juicy steak meal (so I'm told) for a mere 15 Bolivianos. While the men all tucked into their carnivorous feasts, I endulged in several helpings from the salad bar and we toasted ourselves to an extremely enjoyable and adventurous day.
We can totally recommend this trip so if you are coming to Sucre and would like to book a similar tour, please contact: Alex Flores at email@example.com
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