Trip Start Jul 05, 2009
Trip End Jul 04, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Visiting Samaipata was extremely rewarding, not only for the gorgeous scenery and excellent time that Finola & I had, but also for the sentimental and nostalgic feelings it brought me. In 2002, Samaipata was the first stop in Bolivia for me and my group, where we spent half a week working in a local school, before setting off for the Amboro National Park, where we camped in a clearing below the fern-filled cloud forests. Whilst in Samaipata we had camped in La Víspera; green fields & guesthouses set just downhill from a herb-garden, with a view across the valley... and it was toward La Víspera that Finola and I made our way.

Arriving in town, however, at 4am, our bus dropped us off on the highway, 3km from out intended destination, and we had to wait an hour anf a half for a taxi to arrive that was willing to drive us and our heavy bags across town and up the hill to La Víspera.

We went straight to bed and slept off the draining bus-journey, and rose in the early afternoon, to sit in their Café Jardin, where we enjoyed excellent vegetarian food and the stillness of our idyllic surroundings.

Later, we walked down to the campsite where I had stayed some years earlier. I stood in the exact spot that Hoong-Wai, David Tibbit and myself had pitched our tent, lingered in the small kitchen where we made our communal meals, and paid my respects to the wooden table at which 'Bindu over Pindu,' a card-game of immeasurable excellence & unrivaled fun, had been invented... if only someone had thought to record its many rules... I think it's fair to say that i was overcome with nostalgia, and walked around pointing out the smallest things to Finola and relating them to some memory or other, and I was extremely pleased to have returned.

And if that weren't enough, we encountered another blast from my past when we walked into the offices of Roadrunner Tours, and were greeted by Olaf, our Amboro guide of '02. Olaf completely captured the imagination of a number of us back then: An Austrian who'd left his homeland penniless, and after 18 months of working on construction sites and living in his car in Miami, headed to Bolivia where his money would go further, rented a farm and learned to speak Spanish, before setting himself up as a tour-guide and making Samaipata his home. His military-style dress, Machete, car-tyre sandals and the Luger he carried with him in his knapsack (of which he allowed us a brief glimpse, to impress us) made a huge impression on our 16-year-old selves, hooked, lined and sinkered by his romantic way of life. I remember coming back to England following our trip, ready to start my A-Levels, and thinking to myself about Olaf's lifestyle, and feeling a dramatic (and superficial) desire to follow his lead and make a new life for myself in a jungle somewhere...

I told Olaf who I was, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me, and chatted happily about where we had been and what we had done back then, about our group and in particular we laughed at the idiot who'd broken his wrist out in Amboro (and subsequently prevented any further groups from enjoying the fantastic rope-swing the Bolivians had set up for us). Good times! He then brought us up to date with his last eight years: his wife, daughter and tour-guide business in Chile, that occupies half of his year.

Finola and I decided to employ his tour guide skills for old times' sake, and made a booking for him to take us out to visit the ruins of El Fuerte, the eastern most city of the Inca Imperium. Beforehand, we took us into the town museum to supply us with some background knowledge, showing us a few pieces from the exhibition that were significant, and discrediting the validity of the rest. He explained how poorly informed the museum authorities were and that the dates on artifacts were arbitrary and unfounded, mostly the result of guesswork, and he apologised for the large entrance fee. "Oh we don't mind," Finola and I said, "We're happy to be putting money back into the project and a little inaccuracy doesn't bother us." But he quickly assured us that the money the town generates, and receives from the government and UNESCO to run and maintain both the museum and the site itself, is unquestionably stolen, and lines somebody's pockets instead.

So we visited the site, and benefited greatly from Olaf's knowledge. We learned that this site probably held even more significance for the Incas that Machu Pichu, because of it's central location between trade routes at the time. The lack of advertising, facilities and funding at the site completely confounded us if this were the case, given how well-run and touristy Machu Pichu now is... but we were thankful to enjoy the site without seeing a single other tourist. We also learned, which we didn't know before, that the Inca weren't a race of civilisation to themselves, but merely an amalgamation of many indigenous tribes under the imperialist rule of a couple of wealthy families, who perceived themselves as Gods, and that the indigenous Quechua people of Peru and Bolivia today are the very same as those original Incas.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely and found Olaf to be great company as well as a great guide, even after all those years, and we readily decided to extend our stay in Samaipata by another day, and take a second tour with Olaf. Olaf collected us from La Víspera early the next morning, and we made a couple of quick stops in town to collect a couple of other guys to join us on the tour, and to visit the once-a-week French bakery, where we bought excellent pastries to give us strength for the day.

We then piled into the back of Olaf's truck, and enjoyed an hour-long journey out of the town, passing the former police station which Che Guevara successfully raided, months before being executed, as well as using part of the unpaved track that he and his guerrillas almost certainly used en route to the raid. The journey was beautiful, and although quite blowy in the back of the truck, the sun was shining and the sky clear, and the first sighting of the Bella Vista peaks had us quite excited with the day ahead.

The route that Olaf led us upon was a new and unique one. Not only were we Olaf's first group on this particular tour, it was his first time making the ascent, and he moved on ahead every few minutes to path-find, before guiding us along semi-paths and cow-trails, on steep inclines and sometimes with long drops just beneath. Very windy, but under the hot sun and making a steep climb, it was a challenging couple of hours, but the payoff was insane. Joe, another guy on the tour and a highly seasoned hiker, reckons he has never done a two-hour hike with such bounteous visual reward, and quite probably neither had Finola or I. Sitting at the highest point of the walk, enjoying our lunch and the stunning views, Finola proclaimed that these were the most beautiful views of the year, and the tour a contender for best moment. ¡Que linda!

Descending the highest pass, we were close to being blown off our feet, and the rusting grass across the rolling hills gave up a thousand shades of green, which swirled and drifted through one another, as far as the eye could see. It was qué bueno, sin duda.

After a couple more hours making our way down, through the woods in the valleys between the peaks, Olaf treated us to beer in a local bar, which he tells us is referenced as a landmark in Ché's diaries, before driving us back to Samaipata. With time only for a toilet break and heart felt goodbyes for our fantastic guide, we found ourselves jumping straight into a share-taxi that Olaf hailed for us,, and with the sun was going down, enjoyed the stunning scenery and evening colours as we were driven toward Santa Cruz.
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declancullen on

What a lovely day out

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