From the Mountains to the Yungas

June 20, 2007
Day 630
Taquesi Trek Day 2

Picture of sign.

The Taquesi sign.

Last night was bitterly cold. I slept in all of my clothes in my sleeping bag, but I was still cold. I emptied my backpack and put my legs inside, but it didn't help much. This being the tropics, the nights are always about twelve hours long, so finding enough time to sleep wasn't an issue, however, the quality of my sleep was very bad.

As soon as dawn broke, I was fully awake and trying to get warm. That wasn't a problem because I still had to get over the 4650-meter pass that I had been staring at since yesterday afternoon. The walk wasn't too difficult, and soon I was warm, in the rhythm of walking, and far above the mining camp that I had seen yesterday.

I reached the pass after about an hour. As can be expected anywhere in South America, there was a big cross at the top. The unexpected thing was the explosion that shook me out of the trance I had been in from listening to music and enjoying the view. The miners were at work nearby. I looked in the direction of the noise just in time to see smoke begin to rise from the mountain, and one second later the noise from the second batch of dynamite reached my eardrums. I didn't stick around very long after that.

Shortly after the pass, there were ruins left over from Pre-Colombian times scattered amongst the sparse vegetation. The path turned into a well-designed road of flat, although uneven, rocks. I dropped down a bit further to see a small lagoon, some grazing alpacas, and a few horses.

After some more walking downhill, I reached the bustling community of Taquesi, which boasted a population of twenty women and twenty-two men. The town is so isolated, it's a guarantee that the people living there today could trace their ancestry directly back to those who built the road I was walking on over five centuries ago. Most of the people of Taquesi were busy working on their crops, but one distraught lady was desperate to know if I had seen a baby sheep she had lost near the pass. Unfortunately, I had not.

Slightly below Taquesi was one of the best campsites I've ever seen. There were completely flat areas for tents, rock walls for protection from the wind, thatched roof shelters, and it was right next to the river with a great view of the surrounding valley. I had a long lunch there and reviewed my notes for the trek. It looked like it was only a couple more hours until the next campsite so I took my time before leaving.

The scenery changed abruptly as I continued walking downhill from mountainous to subtropical. Suddenly there were trees lining the path and even a few bugs in the hot sun. My focus soon changed to the difficulty of the path, however. It was a seemingly endless steep downhill walk on uneven stones, and before long my feet were aching under the weight of my forty-five pound backpack. I had to use all of my concentration to avoid spraining an ankle.

It was several hours before I came to the settlement of Kakapi. The mud brick houses of above had been replaced with stone ones, the thatched roofs with tin ones, and the spiky grasses with flowery gardens. The town seemed strangely deserted, so I continued on my way.

The trail next went down a huge hill to the Rio Quimsa Chata, then straight back uphill. The next downhill section to Chojlla was supposed to be short, but it turned out that there were two towns near each other with the same name again, an all-too-common occurrence in Bolivia. As I went down the steep hill, I could see the Rio Taquesi close below. I knew that as soon as I crossed it, there would be a campsite, but the path kept going parallel to it, in the same direction as the water's flow. I kept walking and walking, but never got closer. It was so difficult psychologically to be right next to my destination, yet not be able to reach it after such a long day. The notes I read at lunch were way off when they said the next campsite was just a few hours away.

Finally the path descended low enough to cross the river and I found a decent place to camp near an aqueduct. In all I had dropped down 2500 meters today all the way to the yungas. I was aching everywhere, but at least the night was warm in the lower altitude, and tomorrow promised to be much easier.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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