Uphill slog in Samaipata

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
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Trip End Apr 05, 2006


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

According to our (now missing) guidebook, the mountain town of Samaipata is where the well-heeled of Santa Cruz go to beat the heat and party over the weekends. Well, after our financial setback in Bolivia´s biggest city (see previous entry) we needed somewhere to cool down and compose ourselves before taking the train to the Brazilian border.

Samaipata is also one of the gateways to the Parque National Amboro, an ecologically diverse protected area straddling the escarpment, and stretching from tropical lowland to mountainside cloud forest. We were hoping to do a day walk in the Park, most likely with a guide. So when we arrived in Samaipata by collectivo taxi on Sunday afternoon 5 February, we shopped around a little for day tours.

With few tourists in town, we were unable to find a good deal. All the tour outfits calculate their prices on a sliding scale based on the number of people on the tour; for just the two of us we would have payed at least US$30 each... too much for our liking! So we decided to go with plan B - hiring bikes and cycling to the nearby Pre-Inca archeological site called El Fuerte.

Samaipata town itself is a pleasant little place, surrounded by green hills and with a pretty town square. It´s located at an altitude of 1650m, so is cooler than Santa Cruz down in the lowlands. The locals are generally well-off, and there is a substantial expat community of Europeans, especially Germans. We had a nice long chat with a German tour operator named Frank, who´d lived in Samaipata for six years and was happy to show us all his pictures. He seemed to love the company and was very understanding when we broke the news to him that his tour was too expensive for just the two of us.

On Monday morning we first visited the local archeological museum, which has info and a video about El Fuerte. The combined entrance for museum and El Fuerte site was pretty steep in Bolivian terms, about US$4, and the museum was a bit run-down. It did have some interesting Inca and Amazonian ceramics though, and gave us some basic background info on the site.

El Fuerte is a an ancient religious complex carved out of a single large rock, about 60m long and 30m wide. It is thought to have been made by Amazonian people in the first instance, but was later also used and modified by the Incas, for whom this might have been an eastern outpost of their empire. So El Fuerte represents a confluence of the lowland Amazon and the highland Inca cultures.

After our visit to the museum, we grabbed bikes from our hostel for the 10km journey to the site itself. The first 4km or so was on the paved road, nice and flat... then we turned off onto the gravel road and realised that the rest was uphill all the way! It was mid-morning by now and the sun was beating down relentlessly. The 5km steep uphill on gravel seemed to go on forever... I´m ashamed to say that we got off and pushed a few times! At least the abundance of butterflies and birds, and the lovely views, gave us plenty of excuses to rest!

We reached the El Fuerte 'Archeological and Ecological Park' at about midday, and followed the marked trail around the hilltop - a nice walk, as the sculpted rock commands spectacular 360 degree views of the green valleys below. One cannot walk on the rock itself, so a number of viewing platforms have been built. There are some interesting designs and channels carved into the rock, as well as the typical Inca carvings we´d seen in Peru - seat-like ledges and door-like niches.

There are also a number of ruins around the rock - of Inca houses and administrative buildings, as well as early Spanish constructions. The trail took us around these and through some lovely forest with plenty of butterflies and orchids.

Unfortunately the rock itself is rather unkept, with loads of weeds growing over it (making it harder to see the carved features) and the whole place was a bit of a building site... they seemed to be constructing more viewpoints. Nevertheless, a very interesting site to visit, with some unique features and marvellous views.

Yee-ha! Then it was a downhill cycle all the way back, apart from one kilometre or some uphill. The bikes were so beaten up that we battled to change gear, and my pedal fell off! Thankfully Handyman Rich was on hand to screw the nut back on. Back in the village, we relaxed in the hammock and read books, and returned to our favourite ice-cream place/restaurant in the evening.

After a couple of days´ chilling, Tuesday morning was an early start. We planned to take the afternoon train to the Brazilian border, so caught a collectivo back to Santa Cruz by mid-morning. However, to our great disappointment, we arrived at the train station to find that the two trains of the day were sold out! In fact, the 5pm service we´d hoped to catch wasn´t even running. So, nothing else to do but take the Wednesday train.

Oh well, a bonus day in Santa Cruz... perfect for getting up to date on blogging!
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Comments

lguillermo
lguillermo on

Thanks
I'm glad you didn't take overpriced tour, that tends to screw things up for future travellers.

thanks again
guillermo

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