Trip Start Jan 11, 2009
8Trip End Jul 2009
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It comes from having your meals prepared for you and not doing any exercise. I've also been longing to get in amongst the hills here, I mean what the hell We're in the bloody Andes! I got myself motivated and headed out early one Saturday morning. My destination was an Inca trail starting in the Tarija Valley and heading up into La Reserva Biologica Cordillera de Sama. This 108,000 hectare reserve includes part of the flat Southern Altiplano with peaks up to 4,600m and the valleys and foot hills down into the Tarija Valley at 2000m. The Inca trail was a trading route connecting the fertile valleys of Tarija to the Altiplano. It is still used today by the few communities that live in the reserve.
I left the house and drove to the Village of Los Pinos where the trail begins. I left the car at 8am looking forward to a good days walking in the hills. The hike to the town of Calderilla is meant to take about 4 hours, with the first three pretty much straight up. The trail was pretty easy to find once I got passed the foot hills and the trail started into the steep section. It was paved and wound back and forth across the steep slope. Amazing to think that these rocks were placed centuries ago and still used by the same people. It didn't take long to get some great views over the valley.
About three quarters of the way up I started seeing condors. The huge birds were thermaling effortlessly along the ridges above. Photos don't do justice to the size of these birds and their graceful flight. It lightened my heart to see condors in their natural environment. So much better than the ugly awkward creatures that you see cramped in cages at the zoos. At one stage I was huffing my way upwards when I heard the sound of rushing air. I turned to see one of the huge birds wings folded and diving. Just like the New Zealand Falcon only about 20 times the size. I stopped for a while watched the birds and took in the scenery. Chamois would go nuts over here. The country is perfect for them, lots of steep slopes, bluffs and loads of tucker. I sat for a while imagining them running around and popped a few more coca leaves into my mouth.
I reached the top in just under two hours and followed the path down into a small valley where I had to cross the river five times before coming out of a gorge and arriving at the town of Calderilla. The town consisted of a few adobe houses with straw roofs. Each house had its own little farmlet surrounded by stone fences. Most of the houses were in the centre of the large circular valley on a dome of ground about 100 hectares. I spied a track heading up a large hill and thought it would make a nice climb before heading back home. On the way I passed close to a house where a Chapaca Senora was carding some wool. I had a nice chat with her and her husband and was invited to almuerza. They had three kids who were adorable and were excited to have a strange gringo chatting to them. The family grew a variety of small potatoes which they took by burro down the Inca trail to Tarija to sell at the campesino.
While I was eating my soup, the Senora started spinning her carded wool into yarn. It gets pretty cold here during the winter so I guess the wool is mostly used for their clothes. I was fascinated by this family who lived a simple subsistence life and were very happy and enjoyed doing so. They were so friendly and welcoming and offered to give all the McGinlays a room for the night and meals when we came through again.
The Senor directed me to a nice hike that would meet up with the Inca Trail again so I started off. I walked across the caldera and climbed the other side till about 1.30pm when I decided to turn around. I had climbed to about 3,800m and only had about 200m more vertical to get to the top where I could view the vast expanse of the altiplano and the Lagunas Tajzara. By this time I was pretty buggered and didn't have a torch for a late return. I was bothered at having to turn around so close to the top but it will give me something to do another day.
The walk back took less time than I thought and I got back to the car at 4.45pm. Near the base of the first climb I ran into two people on their way up. I had a quick chat with them as they had a ways to go and it was already past 4. A little further down I ran into two groups of locals on their way up with burros loaded up. The burros obviously knew the way as they were just walking on their own with their owners keeping up a good pace behind them. One of them was the shopkeeper from Calderilla who was taking up all sorts of goods. He was really friendly and also offered to put me up for the night on my next trip.
I had one hiccup on the whole trip. When I got back to the car I unlocked the door and put the keys and backpack on the seat while I took my boots off. Well to cut a long story short I leaned against the door and locked it, then when I took my boot off the door shut and I was locked out!
Feeling pretty sore for myself and not wanting to walk the 16km to the nearest town I used all that I learned from "Matraville High" (in joke for the aussies) and took off a windscreen wiper and used it to pop the lock, Whew!
On the drive back to Tarija I gave a lift to three different groups of people. The first was a family of 7 heading to the next town. This was quite interesting fitting all of them in the two door Suzuki Samurai. About two kilometres after dropping the family off I picked up two Chapacas on their way to another town. They were very happy to have a lift and I could see why as the town was about 10km away. After dropping them off I picked up two Argentinian mountain bikers. They were finishing a multi day ride and were stuffed. They threw their bikes on the roof and relaxed on the ride into Tarija.
It was a good walk that I badly needed. The mountains and the condors were spectacular but the most memorable thing would have to be the friendly people. Everyone I met was so friendly, it goes to show that its not money or possesions that make happiness.