Our trek of choice: An Inca Trail, the Maragua Crater and some dinosaur footprints. All of which sounds fab, the only downside being that we have to be at the office in town by 5.00am which means getting up at 4.15!!! Staying out ’til midnight to take part in the pub quiz no longer seems like such a great idea 🙁
We get up and try to quietly pack all our things up as Roxanna is going to lock away the stuff we´re not taking, whilst we are away. Then with Sarah (she decided at the last to join us) we walk round to the Condor office on a very damp morning…it´s not actually raining but it has been over night. Things do not bode well.
At the office we all (14 customers and 3 guides in the end) board a bus and get away after the obligatory faffing about. The bus journey is scheduled to take an hour and a half so we all settle down and try to catch up on missed sleep. Easier said than done when the bus is constantly grinding uphill on a muddy ‘road’ (sound familiar?), clambering over potholes and sliding around due to the rain – we point out to Sarah that it must be her fault as this happened the last time we were on a bus together (see The Muddy Bus)!!
After a couple of scares, involving steep drops we make it to the start point of the trek – a church at Chataquila which the Spanish build because they found a triangular rock here. It is just off the top of a 3700m mountain!
The plan is to have breakfast and then get going however this takes much longer than expected. It turns out that we are the biggest ever group that Condor have taken out and this causes a couple of organisational challenges – the first being boiling enough water for 17 people for breakfast on optimus stoves at altitude – it takes forever!! BTW rather than using meths in the stoves as we would at home we are using the 96% Alcohol of Potosi Mine fame 😉
Whilst waiting for breakfast we have a round of introductions and discover it is a truly international group, with a European bias. The guides are Roger (Bolivia), David & Catherine (California) and the group consists of us, Sarah (Luxembourg), Sven & Delphine (Belgium), Guenole & Aurore (France), Francesca (France), Paul (Netherlands), Phil (Germany), Elena (Italy), Marianne (Switzerland), Nadine (Switzerland) and Simon (Australia).
Eventually, after brekkie of rolls, jam, banana, nuts, tea/coffee/chocolate and “api” a local cereal made into a soup type consistency that tastes a bit like blackberry (!) AND after distributing all the supplies for the next 3 days around the group we set off, it´s now a little after 10am. During breakfast the cloud that gave the rain over night started to break up and so by the time we have been walking for twenty minutes the skies clear and we are treated to our first glimpse of the amazing landscape we are going to experience over the 3 days. (From now on we hardly see a cloud during the whole trip 🙂 ).
The journey starts with a 1000m descent down an Inca Trail which is a great way to start a trek at high altitude – everywhere we look there is either a great view or an amazing rock formation. We discover that Paul is a geologist and he does a great job of explaining some of what we are seeing.
At the bottom of the mountain there is a river running and it is here that we stop for lunch – by now the sun is really warm and some of the lads go for a swim. Huw is left wishing he’d brought his board shorts! Preparing lunch is a team affair with everyone helping to chop avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and shelling eggs. To this is added bread, rice and some cooked veg, all of which makes a lovely lunch – one thing is for certain we will not be going hungry 🙂
After lunch, we walk along the lovely river valley. The only black spot being when an old lady threw a rock at us!! A bit later we discovered that we weren’t the only ones subjected to an attack. Apparently the reason was that many of the local people – mainly Quechuan – don’t appreciated having photos taken of them or their houses – oops!
At mid-afternoon we arrive at the village of Socacampa where we spend some time in the local school – Bolivians are proud of the Education reforms pushed through by Evo Morales (their first indigenous President) and it is great to see the impact first hand. It won’t have been long ago when most of the children would have been working rather than being in school. There are about 14 children aged between 6 and 12 sharing one classroom and one teacher but divided into different areas for each level. The kids have a great time posing for photos and checking the results on everyone’s cameras – finding any excuse to skive off school for a bit is obviously universal ;-). They are really proud of their school work and want it in the photos too.
Condor trekking were our tour operator of choice not least due to the recommendation from Melanie and Gerdien, but also because they are a non-profit organisation who put all their income into projects just like this school we are visiting.
Having said our goodbyes, we then commence the really tough part of the day – the hike uphill to the crater where we will spend the night. It’s pretty hard going; you can really feel the effects of the altitude. We make a couple of rest stops on the way up including stopping to chat with more local children and hand out some fruit. Eventually, we make it to the top where we stop to fill up with water at a well. Even though this is the local water source we still need to treat the water with chlorine – yuk!! Thankfully we have some isotonic tablets we can add to hide it! There are more children here and again we hand out some fruit and take some pictures – though even with the gifted fruit they still ask for money for their photos!
By now the light is starting to fade and apparently we still have an hour or so to go … the cost of the extended breakfast now becomes apparent as we end up walking the last 40 minutes in the dark. By now everyone is very tired, a combination of an early start, a hard days walking and a late finish all taking their toll.
Eventually we arrive at the tiny pueblo of Irupampa and after a short wait for the owner to turn up with a key, we are let into our hospadaje (usually a basic hostel) which is just like the bunk barns back home we know and love, it has a small kitchen area and 8 beds. Apparently some of the group are going to sleep in another building. After an unseemly scramble for the beds and a discussion regarding the issues surrounding having such a large group, everyone is sorted out, with Huw agreeing to sleep on the floor.
The guides get going on preparing dinner of soup followed by quinoa (a local wonder grain) and vegetables – again great food and way too much. Whilst we are waiting we take the opportunity to do some star gazing as there is virtually no light around – truly wonderful if a bit chilly. As soon as dinner is done everyone drops off into an exhausted sleep zzzzzz.