​Hiking in the Cordillera de los Frailes 

Not too far from Sucré, there is an old Inca trail with some stunning landscape according to the Lonely Planet Bolivia. Some Google research shows it’s indeed beautiful and I have to go there 😉 

I convinced Oliver to come with me (OK I only needed to send him some stunning pics and he was in). I was totally fine hiking on my own in Patagonia, but Bolivia is different, no real trails, not much information. Luckily a few guys of my hostel just came back from the trail and provided me with all necessary information about the trail. 

So we start in the morning with the taxi to take us to the specific bus station Parada à Ravelo. Seems my Spanish pronunciation was not good enough as we end up somewhere else, then the taxi driver finally gets it and brings us to the right place. We are late, it’s the 24 May and Sucré is celebrating its birthday (which is only on the 25 but for some reason they celebrate the day before), so streets are closed for the parades. We make it just in time. Luckily I even got explained where exactly the bus starts as upon arrival some people want to convince us that the bus already left and we have to take a taxi (for a lot of money of course). The real bus is about to leave but when we tell the man at the little ticket hut that we want to go to Chataquila he shouts “Dos gringos mas” and we can get in the already crowded bus. Two Israelis are already there, I know one of them from Bariloche. Also with us chicken, stored in the overhead compartments. 

Crowded bus
Another parade with lots of kids

And of course we stop for 20 minutes half way for another parade blocking the main road. At 11am we are dropped of at the Chataquila church where the Inca trail starts. 

A few hundred meters I am already more than happy that we are doing this trail, a jaw dropping landscape beneath us full of colours! It’s an old Inca trail which has been maintained by the local community, so you walk on a kind of paved trail. We were brought up quite high in the bus and can now enjoy the luxury of an incredible view without the effort needed to walk up, we just walk down, passing by a few other hikers and groups. 

At the start of the trail

Paved trail!

When we reach the dirt road we have to pay 10 Bolivianos to support the local community / the national park. We continue à few hundred metres on the road before descending further on a trail into the valley where we join the road again. After a while it’s really time for lunch and we stop at the road (where just a handful of cars pass by anyway). The sun warms our backs and I enjoy the view of the valley and the river, and our lunch, bread with avocado. 

A woman with a few cows passes by and starts talking to us. Hard to get what she is saying. I think she says something about inviting us to her house, the pointing at the sky behind us. Oh, we didn’t see that coming, very dark clouds. We should continue. There’s some growling thunder, not good. We pass another group whose guide even speaks German and as the rain starts we hide with them beneath some Eucalyptus trees. Luckily the thunderstorm is further away, we only got rain that stops after half an hour or so. 

Now we can cross that hanging bridge, it’s not quite straight but not scary as I thought initially. We follow the group down to the river and then up the hill. A trail is leading through a very different landscape now, after the red hills and green plants, it’s now black rocks and some kind of terrace cultivation. And then we are walking on “red sand”, over a ridge and again red and black coloured hills. It’s magical, just incredibly beautiful, out of earth. 

There are people are living in very basic houses, it must be a very hard life, cultivating the land, elevating cows. We also see some donkeys. 

Finally we are up at the dirt road and then, reaching the other side of the hill, entering the so called crater of Maragua. It’s not a real volcanoe crater, it’s more a big valley with the surrounding hills making it look like a crater. But what hills, what a landscape! In the middle there are some red and black hills and on the edges, the hills are more beige with curved black lines. With the evening sun it’s an incredible sight! The little town of Maragua is right in the centre of this crater and we know there’s some accommodation.

The first hostel is closed and we continue along the school till the end of the road, then turn around. An Israeli couple catched up and tell us there’s another hostel down the other road (the village is so small!). And here is the “shop” where we can buy some water, just a little room with water, beer, crackers (incredible, MapsMe marked even this with “muy pequeña tienda”). On the other road, the couple asks at the hostel on the left, they have only 3 beds left. On the right, they have like a little house left with a small kitchen / sitting area, 2 bedrooms and another room with beds. The Israeli prefer to go back to the other hostel, we don’t have another choice than staying, for a reduced price of 50 Bolivianos including dinner and breakfast. I like having a lot of space but it’s not really clean, luckily we brought our sleeping bags. Oliver doesn’t feel comfortable at all. We are happy to see other hikers and talk with them until they get dinner served by their guide and he wants us to go. Our dinner is served in our house, by an old lady with black teeth. We were a bit hesitating about whether we should eat here, if it’s safe, especially as the guide cooked himself. We brought food and a cooker. But the soup seems OK and tastes good, the main dish of pasta, potatoes, vegetables and (probably the problem) eggs also. The festival for the 25 may seems to be ongoing in the courtyard of the school so we walk there with our headlamps, it’s dark now and there are no street lights. I don’t feel at ease but luckily we are two and so I can just follow Oliver into the courtyard. In the middle, every class of the school seems to have a few minutes for a dance, a theatre play,… The other inhabitants are sitting around and there are also some other gringos like us, two groups with their guides. The sound quality of speakers is really bad but I enjoy watching the dances. For the rest we don’t understand a word. So we leave again soon and have a rest. 

I sleep rather OK, my stomach feeling a bit uncomfortable but Oliver has a bad night, throwing up. He cannot walk in the morning, so we decide that we try to arrange transportation back to Sucré from here instead of continueing to Quila Quila to catch a bus there. The problem is that it’s unclear whether there is a bus from Maragua, there might be one at 2pm but with the public holiday they are uncertain. While Oliver sleeps, unable to get up, I try to find a solution. Luckily at the other hostel they are very kind and offer to take us to Sucre in their car. It’s expensive (for Bolivia) but it seems the only choice. I tell them that we can leave at noon only as Oliver needs to rest a bit longer before taking a 2h ride on a bumpy road. It’s a nice day and I walk up to a hill to enjoy the view of the crater. 

My stomach doesn’t feel 100% alright but I could eat some oats for breakfast (I didn’t dare touching the breakfast that old lady prepared). At noon we walk over to the other hostel but then have to wait half an hour before we can leave (during that time Oliver manages to eat a cracker before vomiting again). At least I can enjoy the ride back, seeing more of that incredible landscape. If I understood it well (the couple only spoke Spanish), Maragua is considered a holy place by the Quechua and Jalq’a people. If you die here, you go straight to heaven. I agree, it’s a very special place, I have seen a lot in the last 11 months but this was spectacular, the colours, the hills, while feeling very peaceful.

At 2.30pm we are back in Sucré. In my hostel I meet my friends again, talk, have a shower, then walk over to Oliver’s place for a light dinner. I suddenly don’t feel so well but think it’s because I didn’t really eat anything since the oats for breakfast. We take a taxi to the bus terminal, where our night bus to La Paz is leaving at 7.30pm. While waiting, my stomach is getting very upset, I just make it to the toilets. Great, 12h in a bus and now it’s my turn to be sick. I take more Immodium than you should probably but at least the bus has a toilet. And the best seats ever. We went for “cama” and the full reclining seats. It’s close to 180 degree and very comfy in the front row. A few scary moments as the driver pushes along and I also try to ignore my stomach. When I really need it there’s a toilet stop in the middle of the night and as I wake up again at 7am in La Paz, I feel much better. Let’s see what La Paz will be like, I only heard so far of people who didn’t like it there!

(Thanks to Oliver and his working camera for some of the pics!)

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