Dabbling in Jet Lag
I hate guided tours. They’ve never been for me. Either I don’t like the guide or the people I’m hiking with. But, this time, I had no choice. I wanted to hike to Maragua Crater, and this was my only option.
I stood in the center of Sucre with several other hikers waiting for our guide. There was an awkward heavy silence in the air. Someone had to break it, but nobody wanted to take the initiative. So, everyone stared at their phone trying to avoid any accidental eye contact. I, eventually, mustered up the courage, turned to the couple next to me, and introduced myself.
Their names were Elodie and David. They were from France and in the middle of their world trip. We got to talking, and, after ten minutes, our guide, Manuel arrived with the minivan. It was already full, but, luckily, only six of us were doing the full three-day trek.
As we made our way to the trailhead, the smooth paved road turned to thick mud and a dense white fog began to move in. I was hoping for some magnificent views over Sucre, but the visibility was next to nothing.
After about an hour we arrived at Chataquila, a small village that sat atop a mountain on the outskirts of Sucre. This village, if you could call it that, had only one building, a crumbling beige stone chapel. It was a shrine to the Pachamama or Mother Earth and served to protect the surrounding towns. Any and all hikers had to make an offering before continuing, but, before doing so, Manuel covered the itinerary while we ate a hearty breakfast consisting of homemade cakes and hot chocolate.
With full stomachs, wide eyes, and trekking poles we crammed into the chapel. Manuel explained the importance of the Pachamama and emphasized that we needed her blessing before starting the hike. So, one by one we approached the altar, which was nothing more than a few bricks topped with a slab of stone. In the middle, stood a wooden icon of the Pachamama surrounded by candles, flowers, and coca leaves. We each lit a candle, asked for good weather, and headed to the trail behind the chapel.
The first section was made of carefully chiseled stones. It was once used by the Incas and had since been well maintained. We followed the descending trail into the valley and as the stone path turned to dirt, the landscape began to reveal itself for the first time. There, before us, stood colorful mountains painted in hues of iron red and apricot orange. It was magnificent.
We arrived at a viewpoint, and, as Manuel detailed the history of the area, thick gray ominous clouds engulfed the mountains behind us. Then, within a blink of an eye, the sky shook with thunder and shattered, releasing buckets of water. Luckily, there was a small wooden shelter where we could take refuge.
With no sign of the storm lifting, we began introducing ourselves. There was the French couple, who I had met earlier, an English girl named Leslie, and a father and son from Germany called Simon and Stephan. We sat in the makeshift shelter for an hour telling our most disastrous hiking stories. And it was at this moment that I felt relieved. Despite the weather, everything about this hike was perfect. The pace set by Manuel was pleasant and not too fast. My fellow hikers were chatty and interested in every aspect of the hike, from the culture to the landscape.
Eventually, Manuel suggested that we call it quits for the day. There was a small town called Chaunaca not more than 10 minutes away that had a cabin where we could sleep. Without a second thought, we all agreed!
We waited for a break in the storm and rushed to Chaunaca. When we arrived, we were greeted by the town elders, two sisters, who were both over 100 years old! They only spoke Quechua, and, fortunately, Manual was fluent. He said we could stay, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the locals. We agreed and they showed us to our cabin.
We spent the afternoon playing UNO while the storm consumed the valley below.
The next day, we woke up to a beautiful clear blue sky.
After breakfast, we bid farewell to Chaunaca and began hiking to Maragua Crater. We passed picturesque valleys and crossed narrow, and at times risky, pathways. And, after three hours, we stopped for lunch at an overpass.
We devoured our well-deserved meal amidst a breathtaking landscape. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope. We were surrounded by magnificent red, green, and blue mountains.
We had only an hour left to Maragua Crater so we didn’t linger. When arrived, the entrance was guarded by two women who sat on the ground feverishly weaving black and red tapestries. As we approached, they paused and held up their hands both showing ten fingers. We needed to pay the fee before entering the village and the crater. So, we paid and made our way to the edge of the crater. From here, we could see just how big it was. Manuel pointed out that the origin of the Maragua Crater was not volcanic. It was formed after thousands of years of erosion creating a syncline. And we could, actually, see the layers of erosion. These layers had formed visible waves on the outer edge of the crater, and each one was a different color.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town of Maragua. It was small, with no more than a hundred or so houses, it felt empty and desolate. As the sun began to set, we retreated to our cabin for a final game of UNO and dinner.
The final day began at four in the morning. We devoured our last breakfast and started the long journey to Potolo.
The ascent out of the crater proved to be more difficult than any of us had anticipated. And, since nobody was a morning person, we were all out of breath before the sun rose!
At the top, we took one last look at the Maragua Crater and began hiking to the dinosaur footprints in Ninu Mayu.
We had a grueling five kilometers (three miles) straight uphill, but we were all excited to see these elusive footprints, so we pushed on.
When we arrived in Ninu Mayu, an elderly woman popped out from the bushes to collect the entrance fee. We paid and scurried up the rock to check out the footprints. When I reached the first one, I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were massive. I put my hand next to it, and it was near twice the size! I continued up the rock face, examining each print. They were so perfectly preserved it was like the dinosaurs had been there not long before us.
Short on time, we left after an hour. We followed the valley above the Pilcomayo River to Potolo, passing local herders and wooden farmhouses set against red and turquoise mountains. And, as the sun reached its highest point of the day, we arrived at our destination.
Potolo was the largest village that we had seen along the hike, but it only had a few hundred residents.
We meandered around the town, and, eventually, the bus for Sucre arrived. As we piled in, an elderly gentleman came running down the street holding a cake over his head. He had a fresh lemon cake that was for sale. Needless to say, we bought every piece he had and devoured it within seconds.
The bus pulled away and we waved goodbye to the gentleman.
The road back to Sucre was much like the road to Chataquila, long and muddy. As we puttered along, I reflected on my ‘anti-guide’ mentality. I had been so adamant about hiking without a guide but had I done this hike without Manuel, I would never have had such an enriching experience. He was enthusiastic and hiked at a pace everyone could follow. My fellow hikers were much the same. At that moment, I realized guided hikes could be as fun as hiking solo. It’s a great way to meet new people and explore new areas. And, since this hike, I’ve done several guided hikes, like the trek to Colombia’s Lost City, and enjoyed every single one!
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