South America | Bolivia – Our First Home in the Wild
Here we are well into the fourth week of April and I find myself with the overwhelming task of writing all the adventures and misadventures that have filled the past three weeks. While a few events stand painfully between then and now they will have to wait a page or two as there are some beautiful moments that have been knawing at my fingertips begging to escape. So please bear with me as I turn the pages back to another day.
The landscapes between Sucre and Samaipata had passed in night,in fact, Samaipata had passed as well. Waking in the humid air of the lowlands we reminded the driver of our destination and after a brisk stop we found ourselves standing in the morning rain trying to flag down a ride to carry us back up into the mountains. At the moment this turn of events seemed hardly the stroke of luck that it was to become for had we exited the bus in Samaipata we would never have known what dramatic landscapes lie below.
We swayed back and forth clinging to the frame of the truck as it negotiated the sharp turns that led back up into the Eastern Cordillera. This was the easternmost protrusion of the Andes, a transition zone before the great ocean of mountains fall into the steamy plains of the Gran Chaco. The scenery was nothing short of breathtaking. Stone walls rose steeply to sugarloaf summits where thin green velvet blanketed the subtle contours. Streams fell from the mountain walls cascading down the bare stone and dissappeared into the small patches of tropical forest which clung to the steep canyon walls. With every turn our eyes met new summits separated by twisted valleys and foreboding gorges. Bolivia never ceases to amaze.
As we rose the landscape began to soften into the familiar rolling landscapes of the Central Highlands and in the middle of the sprawling valley lay the friendly town of Samaipata. A walk of ten minutes through the dusty streets was all that was needed to orientate ourselves and we ended at the main plaza for a cup of coffee and a good dose of people watching. The town moved at an almost lethargic pace, a few campesinos strolled by with bundles of produce tied in blankets on their backs, a man on horseback rode by, a few children were shooting marbles in the pot-holes in front of the church, but for the most part the villagers simply sat in the sun and watched the day pass.
It didn’t take long to see that the town was was almost completely in the hands of foreigners who hade made their homes here. Having the capital to invest they were able to corner the market with restaurants, hotels, and tourist services. As beautiful as it might be to live there I found it a little disturbing that the local population was kept from profitting from the growing influx of tourists that were starting to discover this peaceful area. Unfortunately this is true of most blossomong tourist destinations the world over, only the precious few that can afford the initial investments can profit from the “development”.
The main attraction, and the reason that had brought us there, were the mysterious ruins of El Fuerte, (the Fort). The Spanish gave the pre-incan site its name as they could find no other purpose for it and to be honest our visit to the ruins was just as fruitful.
Located on the top of a mountain the site was built around a huge stone outcrop. Extensively carved with various channels, pools, and forgotten symbols, some claimed that its purpose was to process gold or other metals. Erik von Danniken (from “The Chariots of the Gods” fame) visited the site in the early eighties and was convinced that the parralel channels, that rise with the incline of the stone in perfect east-west alignment, were undoubtedly the remnants of a launching ramp for our extra-terrestial friends but I somehow lacked the fantasy required to share the theory.
Aside from the fascinating and unexplained carvings in the stone, the site offered little more in the way of interest. There were many fallen structures of Inca origin surrounding the main bluff but they had long since become part of the rocky landscape and gave no immediate insight as to the purpose or use of the ruined city.
As the Easter weekend approached the peaceful town became overrun with affluent Santa Cruze?os (citizens of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second largest city) who had made the 3 hour drive to escape the heat of the plains during the four day vacation. This gave us another glimpse of the other side of Bolivia, a much less appealing side. The “have’s” and the “have not’s” are worlds apart in this country and the arrogance with which the former deal with the latter is sickening. Such is the World and such are her peoples, sad but true, but not the purpose of this story.
By Saturday the town was filled beyond comfort and with three days of provisions we made our escape into the fairy-tale mountains we had seen before our arrival in Samaipata. We caught a ride to Las Cuevas, a one donkey stop along the road to Santa Cruz, and followed the trail beyond the series of waterfalls and natural pools that warrant the small road sign in the hairpin- turn. The trail soon came to an end at a bank above the upper end of the falls and with our boots slung about our necks we waded through the sandy waters for several kilometers.
The steep mountain embankments reached down through the densely forested banks of the stream and it appeared that we would be lucky indeed to find a level spot large enough to set up the tent. We sloshed on to a small clearing where two smaller streams converged and there on a small hill above we found a most spectacular site.
Centered between the junction of three immense gorges and surrounded by countless summits, we began to set up our camp. It was here that we discovered that a tent is not only a cumbersome load to be carried from hostal to hostal but can also be set up to provide a comfortable shelter. Similar discoveries soon followed as the contents of various stuff-sacks were emptied, assembled and took on a loose resemblance to a kitchen. At long last the load that we had been dragging through the Andes had become a house and the landscapes that surrounded us, our home. To be self-sufficient in in the Nature is to taste freedom in its purest form.
Unfortunately living amongst the elements can also mean either getting very wet or being confined to a tent for days on end. As luck would have it this is exactly how we spent the first two days and though our spirits were still high, the question of just exactly why we were doing this did come to mind once or twice. In the chain of thought that inevitably follows it is easy to question whether or not this is actually fun, and what for that matter is ‘fun’. We laughed at our stir-crazy thoughts and though the Easter-egg hunt had fallen by the wayside (I had forgotten the eggs anyway !) we decided that we were indeed having a good time.
The weather finally broke leaving enough time for the spectacular climb of a nearby summit. The air filled again with the piercing songs of parrots and the wind carried the refreshing scent of new growth. From the summit all questions of why we were there were rendered trivial. Vertical horizons extended above clusters of lush green. Dark canyons and sunlit flanks, contours and contrast, a symphony of light and shadow played across the Eastern Cordillera. And far below on the grassy hill was our tent, our home, and this awe-inspiring landscape was our extended living room.Hungrily embracing the stark beauty we came to the unavoidable conclusion that this was just the first of many such homes that we would find in the wilds of Bolivia.