Winding roads, spectacular mountains, weathered ruins, and coffee

Sunday was by far the most beautiful day I’ve had since I’ve been here.

It started with a shower — a rain shower, mind you. Well, perhaps it would be better described as a torrent. As I sleep with my windows open (to let cool air in), it woke me up around 5 am. It wasn’t the rain the woke me up, really. It was the roar of a cascading waterfall. The rain was coming so hard that the gutter over the roof perpendicular to my building had temporarily failed, and all the water was flowing off of it, down into a brick-border garden below. I was hopeful that the rain would last a while and bring a cool day with it, but then I remembered that this was the day we were going to Samaipata, and we needed good conditions to get there.

We had planned to go with Corina (who has her own vehicle) and Yoli’s friend Dora and her boyfriend. We were all ready to go at 8 am, but Corina didn’t show up. We waited 30 minutes, then finally went to Glennie’s and asked Marilyn if we could use her phone to call Corina. It turns out Corina thought we wouldn’t go because of the rain and had been waiting for us to call her and tell her otherwise. Confusing as that seemed to us, we confirmed that we wanted to go, and she drove out.

She also brought with her three more folks (Kelly, Kitty, and another guy whose name escapes me). And we started the drive. Samaipata is a town in the mountains more than 100km away from Santa Cruz. The main thing we planned to do there was visit some Inca ruins on one of the mountain peaks.

You take the same highway to Samaipata that we took before when we went to Hogar Nacer. It’s a beautiful drive, but for the first hour or so it was the same as I’d seen before: flat, open, green land.

But once we got to the mountains and the highway started twisting and curving, it got much more beautiful. It’s rather hard for me to describe how beautiful it was. It reminded me a little bit of driving to Clearwater Lake at first, but then I quickly decided this dwarfed that.

There was so much green. Much of it was trees of course, and some of them were strange to me. But there were also piñas (pineapples to us) and cacti. To me that was the weirdest thing. Imagine a lush, green forest with a cactus every so often. I generally think of cacti as only being in the desert.

As we climbed higher, we sort of broke out of the forest and could see the mountains around us. They were awesome. We came to one particular mountain that had what looked like giant half-circle cutouts on two faces. They were natural, but it was stunning. The mountain itself was red, and as we drove along and saw more cliffs and bluffs, many of them were a deep red or sometimes even a purple color.

For part of the way there was a river within view of the highway. And we saw several expensive houses, including one situated on its own little hill with a spectacular view of the larger mountains around it. But mostly we saw adobe houses and cement houses.

There were always lots of people on the road, and donkeys, and cows. Corina drives pretty fast, much faster than I’d be able to drive on the winding roads. She’s been on this road many times before. There were several places along the way where the road abruptly became gravel, because of rock slides, and then a few minutes later became road again.

The road to the ruins was an extremely winding, bumpy, red-dirt road off the highway near Samaipata. THIS was a scary road that led to the top of one of the mountains. We passed two cars coming down the mountain. Truth be told, I’m not sure how we found the room to pass anyone on that road, but we did.

Once we reached our destination, we decided to eat lunch. So Corina spread out a blanket and we all ate what we brought. From our blanket, we had an amazing view of the mountains and scenery below. We weren’t quite at the top, but we were close. I’m quite confident that I got some magnificent pictures.

The ruins themselves were interesting, but you had to use your imagination. The mountain peak was all stone, and the Incas had carved the stone to make a worship area. It seems there were symbols like large snakes, but there were also sacrifice areas and grave areas. Visitors were kept off the ruins in roped-off areas, but there were large platforms at various points around the ruins where you could climb up to see everything. Unfortunately, erosion has worn away a lot of it, so it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like when it was new and there were people using it.

Off the main path were smaller paths that led us to unearthed houses and public buildings. These were easier for me to envision in my mind, since they had been buried and were better preserved. They weren’t carved out of stone, but instead were built of small stones and mud.

Eventually we made our way back to the car and we drove back down to the main highway and a few more kilometers to reach Samaipata, the town. Corina had planned to take us for coffee somewhere, but there was some sort of festival going on. People were packing the main plaza, there was loud music, and some people were drunk. So instead, we drove around the extremely bumpy and cramped city roads looking for another place.

We did eventually find one. It was a gift shop and coffee shop combined. The owners were apparently German, and the inside reminded me of something American. The prices for the crafts were American, too. But still, they were beautiful and interesting to look at. There was some European techno music playing, which was strange, and when we sat down, and a techno Christmas song was on. We drank some coffee (or hot chocolate in my case) and then went out back to see the owners’ collection of cacti. There was an astonishing variety, even one that was long and skinny, hanging from its pot. I could have sworn it was an animal’s tail, but one touch proved it was a cactus.

Our tickets to the ruins also included a visit to a museum in Samaipata. We decided to get our money’s worth and check it out. When we got there, the lady told us they were closing in 5 minutes, so we had to go fast. They had some interesting displays of pottery from the site of the Inca ruins, but I was most fascinated by the various artists’ renderings of how the site looked long ago. We managed to stay in the museum more than 5 minutes and get at least a quick look at everything in the two main rooms.

Then it was time to get back on the road and head back. The drive was just as good returning as it had been coming out, only quieter. It did seem there were more dogs on the road, though. About an hour into the journey, we stopped to have coffee again and eat the rest of our food. We built a small fire and tried to boil water. I’m not sure that it ever actually boiled, but it did get pretty hot. We were by the river, and it was a nice place. As we ate there, though, rain clouds were rolling in and we could hear thunder.

When we go back on the road, we did encounter rain again, which caused the folks in front to raise the windows, which sort of stifled those of us in the back. I should mention here, that we were in cramped quarters, but I was grateful Corina drove us, since she was willing to make stops for photos, and she got us there and back much faster than a bus would have.

I tried to get a little sleep, but it was difficult since every 10-15 minutes we would come to a small town with speed bumps on the highway that we’d have to slow down for.

All in all it was a good day. I came home tired and a little sun-burned, but very thankful for a great experience.

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud is married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niƱitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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4 Responses to Winding roads, spectacular mountains, weathered ruins, and coffee

  1. Anita Renaud says:

    Dad wants to know if you can bring him some famous Bolivian coffee [dark roast]-I would like for you to bring me some of those spectacular mountains home,please. love,mom

  2. Justin Renaud says:

    Josh, Just wanted to let you know that we haven’t forgotten about you (when you get married, the word I is no longer in your vocabulary). We’ve been keeping up with your logs in the journal every day. Just wanted to let you know that the teperature SKYROCKETED to a whopping 25 degrees in Kirksville today. In the words of a once great song, “It’s like a heat wave!!!”
    Tell our future sis (call me nostradamus) hi….hope to hear from you soon,

  3. Lori Walden says:

    Hey Josh! I just wanted to remind you that you are such a wonderful writer. I’ve really enjoyed reading a lot of your experiences in Boliva. Thanks for taking the time to write out all the details…it really takes me away from this oh-so-fun central Illinois weather! :) I pray God blesses the rest of your time there.

  4. Carol says:

    Hi Josh. Just wonderered if you would bring back some fresh mountain air? Maybe some incense that would remind someone of Bolivia?
    Keep on truckin!