Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cordillera de los Frailes (June 14th - 16th, 2013)

We hadn't done any hiking since the Parque Nacional de la Campana more than a month earlier, and were very eager to explore the Cordillera de los Frailes. We made though prepararions for this trip: we bought a military map (from IGM) for a part of the area (they no longer had a map for the other part), we had maps downloaded to our mobile devices, both with GPS, a tent, camping equipment, etc. We asked for advice from Casa de Turismo in Sucre, and also from Condor Trekkers, a non-profit organization that regularly runs tours to the area. Perhaps the best tips we got were that we should be patient, that many things can go wrong, and if we plan a three-day trip, we should prepare to stay for four or five days. Indeed, at both places we got information that sounded clear at the time, but in practice turned out a bit more complicated, or even obsolete.

During the trip to see dinosaur footprints close in Sucre we met an American called Dan. He also had all the equipment and was interested in going to the area as well. Thus, we waited for a day for the weather to get better, bought some food, and the three of us started our trip early on Friday morning.

Full of enthusiasm, we took a taxi to Parada Ravelo. There we could to take a truck in the direction of Potolo, with scheduled departure at 10am. However, we had been advised to be there at 9am, as trucks sometimes leave earlier if they are too full. This was not our case and the truck left at around 10:30. The ride was cool, and really bumpy. The truck was half-empty and there was plenty of space for our big bags and for us as well. We quickly became the main tourist attraction for the locals, as the majority of people visiting Cordillera de los Frailes go on organized tours, and not with pubic transportation.

Our truck to Chataquila

At Chataquila we got off the truck and took a look at the local chapel. From there we started a descent down on an old Inca road. It was well maintained, easy to find and reminded me of paths in the High Tatras. The views from it were just great! Around noon we got to the soccer field of Chaunaca. Next to the soccer field was a small shop, where we bought some water. We were also asked to pay 25 bs per person for entering the area. When asking for the receipt, we realized that woman possibly cannot write in Spanish and we had to create a receipt ourselves. Fortunately, we were never asked to show it.

Chapel at Chataquila

Did Tatra National Park learn from Incas? 

At the soccer field we were supposed to turn left to take a footpath to the Maragua crater and village. Unfortunately for us, Bolivians had been working hard and we soon saw a brand-new bridge, which diverted us on to the road to Maragua, and we somehow missed the footpath. The way along the road was said to be faster, which was just as well, because the weather was getting somewhat suspicious. We arrived in Maragua at around 5pm, with just a small drizzle along the way.

It was Friday evening and the village seemed quite abandoned. We were told about sleeping possibilities in the local school. Some classrooms were open and even the light was turned on in one. Two teenage girls told us that a porter should come in an hour or two to give us official permission to sleep there. Thus, we cooked a good dinner, played the 20 questions game, watched the moon and the stars, and waited for him. Probably because it was Friday, the porter never showed up. Anyway we slept quite well in one of the classrooms.

Classroom during the day, shelter during the night!

The next day we tried to find a pre-Hispanic cemetery that was marked on the map. We found something, but were not sure what it was. We then continued from Maragua to Humaca, following advise from Condor Trekkers to go in the direction of a big tree at the top of the crater. Unfortunately, there were three places with a big tree at the top. Based on the map and compass we decided to aim for the left-most one. The way up to the edge of the crater was quite demanding and at many places there was no real path. On the other hand the views of the crater were magnificent. On the top we had lunch, and based on GPS verified that we had chosen the right tree. From there, we assumed that our path would be simple. According to the military map we were just supposed to follow a path towards Humaca. There was one path drawn on the map and also one path with the right coordinates, so we followed it. Later on the path just ended. We checked our position using GPS and found that we were not at all where we wanted to be. Using a compass and GPS we determined the direction we needed to go and just started making our own path. It was quite a steep way down, and without a path it not very pleasant. Fortunately, in the half of the descent we found another path going in the direction we wanted. We refilled our water bottles at the river and continued to  Humaca. In this small village, we asked for permission to camp (20 bs) and bought a barrel of water (10 bs).

Is Laura standing next to a pre-hispanic grave?
Laura and Dan filtering water

We build our tents and started cooking dinner. We were surrounded by local kids, who were talking to us, and often asking us for some sweets, fruits, ball-point pens, etc. After our relatively large dinner they also said that we can buy some eggs. We would have loved to do it, as it would have been a nice way to support the local community, but we refused the offer because we were no longer hungry.

Laura cooking a delicious dinner

The last day we were offered that the kids (accompanied by two donkeys) take us to Potolo, where we were heading too. Dan had a funny negotiation with them about the price:
The kids asked how much we want to pay them for the service.
Dan: "10 bs".
Kids: "No, we want 20".
Dan: "OK".
Kids: "How about 30 bs?"
Dan: "We already agreed upon 20".
One hour later, the kids asked for 100 bs!
In any case, at one place the kids just told us that they are not continuing and we were left on our own. Dan still gave them 20 bs for the service, which I was strongly against, as it creates a bad impression that tourists can be easily cheated. Fortunately the path to Potolo was quite easy to follow. We aimed to be there at 1 pm (it was quite tough to make it on time). because we were told that a bus or truck should depart towards Sucre at that time. In Potolo, however, we discovered that a truck will leave between 3 and 4pm. Luckily, we saw a bus of a tourist agency at 2:30 and they gave us a free lift back to Sucre.

The path to Potolo

With all the troubles it was a great trip. The only unfortunate thing was that we missed the dinosaur footprints that are located in the area, but without GPS coordinates or a guide are nearly impossible to find.

In general, orientating oneself in the area is quite a challenge. The topographic military map was kind of ok, but a large majority of the footpaths were not on it. The paths were obviously not marked. In some places, you could walk for almost a day without seeing anybody, and besides, Spanish is primarily spoken by kids (who can sometimes give you really strange replies). The majority of the area had also been completely empty on openstreetmaps and I was very happy to add quite a few paths, which will hopefully make hiking in the area a bit easier.

More pictures are available here.

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