Our trip to Samaipata from Sucre was a long overnight bus for us. It’s only the third time in our entire 11 months that we’ve opted to do an overnight bus as it may save on a night’s accommodation, but it really writes you off the next day as you are so tired. It is pot luck when you buy your ticket for a bus in Bolivia as to the type of bus you are going to get. The buses in Bolivia are similar to the ones in Cambodia – they’ve pretty much seen their best by dates and if the windows close and the seats stay put then you are on a winner. As we boarded our bus I was pleasantly surprised as to the size of the seats and the amount of leg room I had. The lady we’d booked with had promised I’d have enough leg room and she was right. As a side note I’ve found that the Bolivians generally are really honest and will tell it how it is. That’s great for us, as you can usually rely on what you are being told.
The journey on the bus was a pretty tough one. It was cold and by the feel of it the road didn’t really exist. All I know is the bus snaked up and down the mountains. I think in this instance it was lucky I couldn’t see what was going on outside, as I can just imagine how bad and narrow the road must have been with sheer drops. There was one point in the middle of the night I sort of remember as I was half asleep. I think the bus driver was trying to manoeuvre past other vehicles but the problem was that I don’t think there was much room to manoeuvre, because as the bus was reversing I heard a lot of the passengers say ‘PARE’ – STOP! I wonder how close to the edge we got?|
We did arrive safely, we left at 5pm and arrived in Samaipata at 6am. The bus itself was headed to Santa Cruz, another 3 hours from Samaipata, so thankfully the bus driver remembered to drop us off. As we disembarked the bus and collected our backpacks from the hold, we were approached by a taxi man. He knew where we wanted to stay and took us directly there. A good result as it was still dark and there was no sign of life. It turned out that an email we’d sent enquiring about a room at a hostal, had then resulted in them getting us picked up. It was still cold so I was really pleased to be ferried to our hostel of choice. We still had the company of Marcus and Andrea and the four of us arrived at the hostal thanking our lucky starts that we were out of the cold.
Nancy at Hostal Pasada del Sol, greeted us and said our rooms would be ready by 11am. We had a few hours to wait but it was made easier by Nancy kindly lighting a fire to warm us up and the offer of a hearty breakfast.
By now we had got into a pretty good routine travelling with Marcus and Andrea and after breakfast, hot showers and a little rest we ventured out to have a look at Samaipata. It’s a tiny place that took all of 30 minutes to explore. It wasn’t the town that we’d come to see, but some pre-Inca ruins and the chance to do some hiking. A little walk around was as much as we managed on that day. From what we saw it was a quiet sleepy place with not much going on.
The following day we’d arranged to go and see the pre-Inca ruins of El Fuerte. We decided to take a taxi there and then walk back. The ruins had been carbon-dated to 1500BC and there are a variety of theories as to why they are there, from the plausible pre-Inca civilisation to a UFO landing site. Whatever the reason for their existence, they make for an impressive visit, situated high on the top of a mountain. We took several hours to walk around the ruins. There isn’t a lot of explanation as to what it’s all about so you are left to let your imagination run a little wild. Having said that, the theory that it’s a UFO site was a little far fetched.
The views from the ruins were amazing, it was a clear day with some cloud which gave the whole place a very dramatic look. I’ve got a feeling that the ruins had a sacrificial purpose but that’s just my opinion. Apparently they are still finding dwellings surrounding the main site, so in years to come it may be much bigger. As it was, I thought it was well worth a visit.
Spending time with Marcus and Andrea was really good fun and we did seem to spend a lot of time eating. Samaipata, for such a little place, had several good restaurants (oddly all partly foreign owned) which we had some great meals in. We did spend a lot more time in them than we would have if it had been just the two of us. Luckily, Bolivia is so cheap that it was fun not to have to worry about money too much and just enjoy it.
The following day we did decide to work off some of the extra calories by doing a hike to see condors up close. The day started at 4.30am for breakfast and the four of us were on the road by 5 with our guide Rufo and his assistant (I never did get his name). The idea was to drive a couple of hours to the start and then walk up, enjoying the amazing mountainous countryside. We would then spend some time observing the condors, which can number up to 40 and then make our way back down another way.
It was spitting with rain when we started and apart from a glimpse of the sun at the start of the walk we were surrounded by cloud most of the day. The walk was good as Rufo was really passionate about the flora. He told us about the different plants and their medicinal uses and also gave us some Bolivian history. Thankfully Marcus was on hand to translate some of what he was saying from Spanish to English as I didn’t always get everything.
The walk itself was pretty tough; we were still at altitude so the breathing was difficult at times. A lot of the first part of the walk was uphill and scrabbling along the cliffside, where the path had been washed away by landslides. For me it was really good to get out and explore the countryside regardless of the weather.
Once we got to the ridge where we would see the condors using the thermals to glide we knew that we were out of luck. We were in the clouds and consequently we could only see about 10 metres. Apparently on a clear day the views are amazing with lakes and mountains. And the drop from the ridge was 300 metres which was ideal for the condors. We had to take Rufo’s word for it and hope that the cloud might lift. In an attempt to do that he did light a fire, I’m not sure how that was going to help but it did serve the purpose of warming us all up.
We settled on the ridge to have some food and as we were tucking into some bread and cheese a sole condor swooped out of the mist over our heads along the ridge and back into the white abyss. It took a second or two for me to realise what I’d seen. It was amazing and I can only imagine what it must be like on a clear day when they are flying all around you. That one glimpse was worth the trip up.
We hung around for a while longer and then we made our way down. The whole hike took about 7 hours and towards the end we passed through a tiny community, isolated from the world. Here usually they ask for some money to pass through their land, but on this occasion I think the lady felt sorry for us as we hadn’t really seen much, so waived the fee. Instead she happily posed for a photo with a big toothy grin.
We made it back to the car which had been brought to the end point by the able assistant and we were off to see a water fall and head back. The water fall was impressive and we got to see a couple of condors from a distance. It’s here both Jono and I noticed that there was something up with the brakes of the car. We left the waterfall and started our journey back along hair pin bends and narrow unsealed roads with sheer drops. Every time Rufo went to slow down he’d stick on the handbrake. Jono and I looked at each other nervously and decided not to tell Marcus and Andrea who were in the back.
As we made our way back, sometimes I couldn’t look as we turned sharply downhill, hoping that the handbrake would be enough to keep us on the road. We did make it back and there was only one time I thought we were going over the edge and that was at the start of the journey when I guess Rufo was finding his feet – driving with no breaks. He did admit when we were safely back in the hostal that he had no breaks, but he didn’t tell us earlier as he did not want to worry us – Too late for that I thought. There have been a few time on our travels I thought I was going to die. I did think that when we started our journey back from the walk but soon felt reasonably comfortable that Rufo knew what he was doing. It was scary all the same.
The final day we all took it easy, milled about a bit, had more food and sorted out our journey to Santa Cruz, the biggest city in Bolivia. At only 3 hours away we decided on a taxi between the four of us. We arranged a taxi for the following day. At the time we spoke to the driver, I wasn’t sure he’d turn up. He didn’t but a quick phone call from the hostal had another taxi there before the phone had been hung up- to say he was fast was an understatement.
Getting to Santa Cruz was quick. The road was pretty good by Bolivian standards and our driver wasn’t shy about overtaking on corners, narrow sections or anywhere else for that matter. Again we arrived safely and he dropped us off at our hotel in the centre of Santa Cruz. Instantly I felt that we were in a big city, everyone was rushing around and horns were being tooted impatiently. For such a large city Santa Cruz did not have a lot to see or do. What it did have were some good restaurants so subsequently we spent a lot of time in them with Marcus and Andrea. We even took a number of taxis to hunt out good restaurants with some success. We only spent two nights here and on our final night it was time to part company with Marcus and Andrea as the following day we would head west and they east.
Our final meal was in a very posh Italian restaurant which turned out to have lovely food. Marcus had prepared a quiz for us to take with prizes, which was a surprise to us. One of the questions had been how long the four of us had been travelling together – two weeks. I came last but I still got a prize out of pity I think! It’s rarely that Jono and I travel with other people as we find it much easier to do our own thing. But Marcus and Andrea had made perfect travelling partners with a similar outlook on travelling. We’d had a lot of fun together and it was sad parting company. However I’m sure we’ll see them again at some point in the future.