Sunday, October 4, 2009

In the middle of nowhere...

We have been anxious for a day out of the city and we finally got one! With some coercion, our school organized a trip to a remote area a couple of hours out of the city. The trip included a hike along an Inca trail and visiting a small village situated in the center of a dormant volcanic crater. One of the hardest parts of the day was actually getting OUT of the city. 14 tourists, 2 guides and 3 drivers crammed into three vehicles. For the first hour we visited every corner of the city in search of gas…no Shell or Esso on every corner here! Finally, we found one with functioning pumps (electrical problems at others), and we were on our way.

After we left the city we had to brave the unpaved and unbarricaded mountain roads. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful, but it was hard to enjoy while we whipped around hairpin turns, with wheels spinning in the road that sometimes was only made of sand. Several times we had to stop to let random pigs, donkeys, or kids cross the road! I employed the imaginary passenger side brake several times, to no avail (reminded me of driving with Nicole!) Somehow, even though there was a risk yesterday of actually skidding off the side of a mountain, I think it still might have been less scary then driving with Nicole… =)

Finally, after about 40 minutes of driving, we arrived at our first destination. A small church and statue marked the beginning of our descent down an Inca Trail. A 500 meter descent over about 5kms took us 2 hours. Our walk was marked by a rugged stone path and was constantly downhill. We had to make frequent stops to enjoy the amazing scenery and for pictures as the rest of the time we were just focused on making sure we stepped in the right place.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, we enjoyed a quick snack provided by our tour guides and were back in the vehicles to head off to our next destination. Now, I thought the previous drive was bad. This was waaay worse. The roads were increasingly rocky, and the hairpin turns up the mountain were a little tighter. This time I gave up my front seat to sit in the back which helped make me a little less nervous as I was less focused on what the driver was doing right beside me. Sometimes, ignorance is best! Several times we had to stop so that the driver could pour water over the radiator – the uphill climb was causing his vehicle to overheat. We even had to cross a river, which we thankfully handled easily.

We drove through a couple of little remote towns, causing quite a stir as we went. Kids were running after the vehicles, anxious to peak inside and try to sell us whatever they had on them. We finally arrived at the small village of Maragua, which is situated in the middle of either a volcanic crater or meteor landing site – apparently the truth is not out there! I can honestly say that I have felt like I was more in the “middle of nowhere” then I did for the time we were there (and I grew up in Brownvale! Ha!) Some of the villagers swarmed around us like we were the attraction. No vehicles, domestic animals (pigs, etc.) roaming the streets. We tried speaking to a couple of the kids, but they couldn’t understand our Spanish – we were in one of the areas where they spoke only an indigenous language (only 60% of Bolivians speak Spanish).

We took off on another hike along the side of the mountain to explore some cliff overhang that had a little cave as well as a little waterfall. We had to be particularly careful on this part of the hike as the path was not well tread and was right on the side of a cliff. The danger was worth the views we saw (Hi Mom!)

After that trek, we headed up a steep field to get to the top of a peak that gave us an overlook of the rugged Andes on one side and the volcanic crater/meteor site on the other side. A friend commented on how it felt like we were hiking on Mars with the red, iron rich soil and desolate landscape and she was absolutely right.

By this point we were all starving (it was after 2pm) – our tour guides fed us a chocolate bar and then we headed down the mountainside to the vehicles where the rest of our lunch was waiting. We scarfed down our sandwiches while the locals watched, often approaching people to try selling their textiles. Many of us offered our accompanying chocolate cookies to the children who greedily snatched them out of our hands and quickly stuffed them in their pockets.

We loaded back into our vehicles and started the trip back to town. Pete and I dramatically professed our love to each other, fearing for our lives as we got into our separate vehicles and began the drive home!
My vehicle was the last of the three to leave, and not long after we left Maragua we stopped to poor more water on the radiator as well as check the state of the back tire. Every time we stopped, our driver was determined to catch up to the other vehicles in front of us, speeding around the tight corners even faster. At one point, our back end threatened to slip right off the road (the back driver’s tire WAS off the road) before he corrected the vehicle and brought us back. Thank goodness it was on the mountain side and not the cliff, but regardless, it was enough to make us all catch our breath. The rest of the ride I was entirely white knuckled with a tight grip on the seat in front of me.

Thankfully, we arrived safely. When we got out of the vehicle though, we then understood why he was so concerned with his back tire. It had lost a lot of air, and we could hear more air pouring out of it. Fantastic condition to be driving on mountain roads. Seriously.

Back to our hostel for a refreshing shower and then out for some dinner and drinks with our friends – Oktoberfest! I didn’t last all that long, heading to bed after 1am, falling asleep before my head even hit the pillow. Pete was drinking with friends at the hostel until almost 4. Hence why I am sitting in the cafĂ© to finish this blog, while he has head back to the hostel for a nap…. =)

For non-Facebookers, don't forget to follow this link for pictures!! We saw some amazing scenery...

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