It´s 5am and I´m kidding myself into napping on an awkward head rest riding down a bumpy track in the dark and cold....mmmm??
However, a cup of Api (Bolivian hot maize drink with a deep red mystery about it) and some homemade banana bread seemed to sort me out as the sun peeped into daybreak and we set off, back pack, boots and bananas and ´mucho mas´ in to the wilderness for 3 days to discover ´el paisaje´ surrounding Sucre and it´s neighbouring ancient countryside villages.
Mario, our 5ft2, light as a feather, fit as a mule, wide-smiling Bolivian guide (carrying a rucksack big enough for him to crawl into, stretch out and get lost in) was quick to strike up conversation and share his extensive knowldege of Inca culture, past and present, local history and Quechua heritage. This was clearly going to be a challenging and educational test of my recently polished Spanish skills.
Miles of Adean countryside, mountainous horizons, farming land and local life spread out infront of us 6 amigos as we descended down what was once a part of the Bolivian Inca trail into local village lands, fields of corn, barley, maize and other staple crops.
Beautiful sunshine showed off the vibrancy of local farm life - washing out to dry, grazing cows, prospering crops - but also encouraged copious sweat and strain under our 3-day loads.
Not a well trodden path, our only company came in the form of infrequent shoeless locals (on the way to who knows where on the side of a mountain!) usually laden with bundles strapped on their back and tied up in iconic colourful Bolivian mateiral, or the elderly ´hombre´ trotting by chewing his coca leaves donning a wolley hat and a big toothless smile. Grateful for the offering of more coca leaves from somewhere inside Mario´s bottomless sack there were grins all around, greetings in sketchy broken dialects somewhere inbetween Quechua and Spanish and generally a respectful wishing of safe journeys. Iliterate children (with not enough ´plata´ to attend school) gauped at us passing troops but eagerly accepted an orange or apple as gringo peace offering from the tall strange striding white people.
Women, strapped up with everything they owned or could find that moning tied up and swung onto their upper backs (usually including a baby buried in there somewhere) stopped to chat, uwrap their worldly wealth and offer a handful of corn or peas or already cooked potatoes (of which there are apparently 3000 types in Bolivia - yellow, white, black, red...) in exchange for a chat, a pìece of fruit or more stenchy coca leaves which they´d then chew and chew and store in their upper lips probably for the rest of the afternoon until their blood and brain was flooded with the potency and drug-like europhoria which results from this hugely important national pastime.
I like the unspoken agreement between strangers in this simple mountain life - no need for Bobs (Boliviano currency), just "you scratch my back and I´ll scratch yours, I´ll take some choco (local veg) and here´s some ´manis´ (peanuts) - nice doing business with you...bon día".
Hiking up and over hills and thickets and into more mountainous landscape we felt the remoteness and sheer fortune of being surrounded by this unique untouched Bolivian beauty. We could see for miles yet it was hard to take in what was just footsteps in front.
Our almuerzo (bolivian cooked lunch) of fresh veg, avocardo, queso, corn, bread and fruits on top of a mountain ledge with a vista all the way down the Inca valley set the tone for the days to come. Living off, walking on and learning about the land felt like a priviledge in this stunning pocket of Bolivian mountain life.
Mario pulled out all the stops leading us (8 dusty, sweaty, toilet-squatting hours later) to our first hospedaje in the setting sun, right in the middle of the famous Marawa crator (apparently the jury is still out on how the crator came to be - meteriorite, volcano or other mysterious happening...). Whatever the case it has left behind an equisite lush traquil bowl of idyllic village life at precious altitude where traditional culture and acestory continues to be passed on to future generations.
No running water, long drop baño, torch light and minus degrees celcius, we settled in for the night. Amazing what some hot soup, wetwipes, sleeping bad and a few biscuits can do!
All in good humour after a surprisingly comfy and warm night, a breakfast of oatmeal and an introduction to the day by some noisy passing donkeys, we set off climbing up and out of the crator, stopping to observe local young girls practicing the traditonal art of red and black hand weaving, steering to avoid a few fierce looking bulls and resting a while with a local farming lady who displayed such a contageous gappy smile as large as her bundle of crops on her back which morphed into an energetic cackle at the end of each garbled Quechua sentence (still no idea what was funny). With added weight thanks to my present of 5 squashy potatoes (snack for later apparently) strapped into my rucksack pocket we bid goodbye and faced the gradient once more in the blazing sun and harsh altitude.
Fields and crops turned into rock layers and colourful erosion patterns. Blues, pùrples, yellows, greens and oranges again sang from each mountain face - I take it back Argentina, Bolivia is seering ahead of you now in the race for ´rainbow nation´ acolade. The abundant erosion and loose ground resulted in quite a few slips and slides and hairy moments in the absence of any health and safety (thank goodness) but it is clearly thanks to this extreme erosion that such stunning views across and down the valleys of the Bolivian Andes are the norm here.
Odd villages and quaint mud hut houses cropped up along our way with giggling, shy, barefooted children running out to stare at the funny passers by. What a place to grow up, perched on the side of one of the Andes, surrounded by vast vistas of fresh green, brown and yellow countryside - the simple life. 8 hours more and were had certainly earnt our chocolate and nut break - extremely satisfied with having covered 43km in 2 days we more than salivated over our rest on the edge of a dusk lit valley looking out over our conquest in the magic early evening light. A donkey ee-ored in the distance and an eagle glided down the mountain face spying on potential prey, but otherwise the world was still and we we on top of it - again.
Walking boots can take you were other conveniences can not. How better to see these precious pockets of the world?!
Strap on a pair, find yourself a Mario and be thankful for all your teeth. Bolivia que linda!
(don´t forget your toilet paper!)