On the Inca trail in Bolivia
As soon as the sun is up we get driving, passing through tiny little mountain villages in central Bolivia. The landscape of the area is characterised by steep drops and climbs, and so the road we’re on meanders up and down the mountain side. The ripe grain on the fields glistens in beautiful shades of gold in the sunshine. Some of the harvest has already been gathered into cone shaped piles. We pass by a group of smartly dressed school kids walking to school, all ready for another school day. Rows of long black braids bounce past as we pass a group of girls, while the boys balance on shaky push bikes on the barely existent hard shoulder. Men are getting started on the fields, walking behind their donkey-pulled ploughs. We also see women in traditional skirts and shawls minding sheep and walking their cows. Small children sit playing in the sand, just outside their homes, in gardens surrounded by low, stone walls.
we take a break in the village of Pocona and buy some freshly baked bread from a plait headed elderly lady, whose jet black eyes stare at us foreigners from under a bowler hat, in a somewhat confused expression. After that the road starts to climb again as well as narrow, and I catch myself clenching the door handle in one hand and the edge of my seat in the other, as we pass through some pretty hairy corners.
When we finally reach the end of the road, it’s time to park up and carry on on foot, so we start the walk towards Incallajta, an ancient city of the Incas. Incallajta is the most significant landmark of Inca culture in Bolivia, and it provides strong evidence of the 15th century expansion of the Inca empire from Cusco to the south. These, nearly 600 year old ruins are a magnificent sight. The sturdy “Kallanka” building is an impressive 78m long and 26m wide, constructed from natural stones which have been skilfully slotted together to hold in place without the use mortar. It’s an impressive demonstration of the architectural craftsmanship of the Incas. Some of the two storey homes of the upper classes are also still partially intact, complete with windows. There’s also a building where the “wise women” once taught younger women their skills in arts and textiles. The central square is known to have been the main location for religious activity and rituals. A few centuries ago the square would most likely have seen many celebrations for upperclass boys turning into men, hosted rain dances and been a key location for the worship of the Inca gods; sun, moon and “Mother Earth “ The stone altar reveals a cruel side to their religion, including child sacrifice . The tall tower was used as a look out, as well as a star observatory .
The ruins are surrounded by mountains and the slopes have been cultivated in the traditional Inca style. They are still farmed today and the most important crops here are potatoes, quinoa , manioc, corn and the coca plant. We can hear the sound of running water as we walk around the sun baked ruins, and soon after we climb the narrow stone stairs down into the valley to admire the tall and narrow waterfall gushing down a perfectly straight cliff face.
We decide to spend the night in this beautiful mountain scenery and set up camp on a grass field, operating as Incallajta’s parking lot. Before long we receive an unexpected guest, a curious, elderly Ketšua man from around the neighbourhood. Perhaps he is a direct descendant of the Incas who once inhabited Incallajta . We enjoy a cup of coffee together and I’m sure he would have some amazing stories to tell , if only we shared a common language. We can only really communicate through gestures and facial expressions and the couple of words of Spanish he knows. I show him a photo of himself on the camera screen, and he excitedly gestures that he would like to take the picture from inside the camera to take with him. Pekka gives the gentleman a pen as a gift and he asks us to show him how it’s used. Then he disappears off to the bushes and returns with firewood for our campfire.
Yet another great day is drawing to a close. Encounters exactly like today’s are what make our trip interesting and unforgettable, we love nothing more than getting to know different types of people and exploring their rich histories and cultures.