Back in the Saddle

Wednesday 14th October 2015 –

After recovering from illness, and watching my first film in ages at the hostel with Carina, Manu and a few others, I eventually set off for Tupiza, a little bit later than I had hoped. La Paz had lost some of its lustre in the latter days – more problems with getting my washing back within 48 hours exacerbating my annoyance at being stuck. Worse though, was the corruption of my pictures. Not La Paz’ fault, but you know how association goes. Everything from my time there, including climbing up Huayna Potosi, was gone (as seen in the previous post, I did eventually get them back, about a month later!). It was when I was trying to back them up that it happened too! I was pissed off to put it mildly.

It's the west alright. If you take away the car.

It’s the west alright. If you take away the cars.

After hopping on the night bus and experiencing (for once) an uneventful journey, I arrived the next morning and found my way to the hostel. I’d actually booked in advance for once! While I couldn’t check in straight away, I used the time to have a look around Tupiza, get some breakfast (salteñas) and walk up to the mirador for an amazing view of the surrounding area.

Cool mountains!

Cool mountains!

Tupiza was somewhere I had been wanting to go for a while, mainly after discovering it was essentially Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid country. If you haven’t watched the film, you should; it’s awesome. The town itself, and the views, backed this up spectacularly and I could feel my post La Paz lethargy dissapating.

This probably isn't so traditional.

This probably isn’t so traditional.

After checking in and having a nice shower (the best I’d had in ages), I asked what hikes were possible, looking for a short afternoon hike. I had already booked a horse riding tour for the next day, and my salt flat tour was due to begin the day after, so I only had a short amount of time. The owners suggested that I follow the train track, which would eventually take me to a cut out in the mountain for the road, and a fantastic looking river meeting point. I was sceptical, the map showing it was 12km away. It was 2:30 already, and I hadn’t eaten lunch. I was assured it was only three hours there and back though.

It's a mountain. And the rail track. Oh, and some fields.

It’s a mountain. And the rail track. Oh, and some fields.

I set off sans lunch, knowing I would have to be back before dark, or would be silly not to be, anyway. Once I found the rail line, directions were easy. I knew there were only two trains a day, and that they were not till later, so I was able to walk along the track itself unhindered. Passing those living on the outskirts of Tupiza, eventually I left the town, red rocks turning to brown, shrub strewn hills, then to red canyons. Divided by fields and dotted with cacti, the sun beating down like the ball of fire it is, the area is reminiscent of the wild west, at least, that which you see in the movies.

It's hot out here.

It’s hot out here.

It’s awesome. Despite my hunger, and the fact that I was seeing none of the landmarks I was told about, I kept striding along. I passed farmers, horses, the odd motorbike (on the railway!) and even the old minibus from ‘Into the Wild’! Eddie Vedder was stuck in my head for the rest of the journey. It’s stuck in my head now, too.

It's really not feasible to take the picture of myself sitting on the bus. I thought about it, but no.

It’s really not feasible to take the picture of myself sitting on the bus. I thought about it, but no.

Further along and I eventually reached the tunnels through the mountain, one for cars and one for trains. This meant I had reached the 10km mark, so close to the river meeting. I darted nervously through the tunnel, hoping to reach my destination, but the shadows were growing longer. Before I reached it, I decided I had to turn back.

More train tracks. It was a long journey.

More train tracks. It was a long journey.

This turned out to be the right decision. My unprepared legs stiffened later in the return journey as I pushed on to get back before dark. At seven o’clock I made it, sore and unsure how I would ride the next day. This was not a three hour trek, especially at Bolivian walking pace (incredibly slow, that is). I splurged on return though – pizza and beer was my reward. Traditional.

They're pretty tall.

They’re pretty tall.

I had recovered more than expected for the next morning, ready for my horseback adventure. All I had to do was decide whether I was Butch or Sundance. That and figure out how to ride a horse, shoot a gun, rob a bank and look as handsome as them.

Cacti, brush and miles of open desert. What more could I want?

Cacti, brush and miles of open desert. What more could I want?

I met Arial, who would be taking me around Tupiza, in the lobby from where we trekked to where the horses were tied. My horse was Capitol, an actual decent size horse (I thought) compared to my previous outing in Guyana. Capitol had apparently appeared in movies, I found out as I spoke to Arial about Butch and Sundance. I assume it wasn’t the 1969 film.

Might as well be 'Robbers Roost' down there.

Might as well be ‘Robbers Roost’ down there.

As we headed further out of town we could speed up a bit. Breaking into a trot here, maybe a bit of a canter there. Yes that’s right, you heard (or read?)! I cantered – expert horseman in the making. It wasn’t ever more than a few seconds at a time, maybe 20, but it was an improvement on my part. Capitol wasn’t as impressed. Nevertheless, he was a gent, obeying my every instruction. Someone’s gotta make me look good.

I think I've got it down. Sitting on the horse that is.

I think I’ve got it down. Sitting on the horse that is.

We stopped at the Devil’s gate first, an amazing slab of red rock, split in two, that juts out of the ground perfectly vertically in the middle of the basin. A few hundred feet away, you could see a slight bit of what must have been the other end of this thin slab, maybe hundreds or thousands of years ago. Afterward, we walked, trotted and cantered to a series of rocks that Arial himself described as looking like “Penis'”. I’m not entirely sure how they were formed, but these columns driving vertically from the ground were certainly strange.

Land of the phalli. Kind of.

Land of the phalli. Kind of.

Our last stop on the ride was the most spectacular. The Inca Canyon, so named as an old village used to exist on the other side, a few miles away. The horses were not able to come through, it was narrow and rocky – in the wet season the whole area is a river. I scrambled through, eventually reaching what looked like a dead end, until I climbed over in search for more. Even my canine companions, who had come with us from Tupiza, could follow no more.

For scale, that first ledge was higher than my head.

For scale, that first ledge was higher than my head.

Bright, colourful rock surrounded at all times. Think 127 hours, without the arm cutting off section. As I climbed, I increased my speed, conscious of the 20 minute limit that Arial had given me. Coming to what looked like the end, with no obvious way out – steep edges all round – I pulled myself about halfway up. It was pretty precarious though, and time was short. Avoiding injury, I admitted defeat, jogging back down to the bottom with Arial and the horses.

Now the red comes out!

Now the red comes out!

It was disappointing I had to leave for the next day, even if it was for the Salar, which I was really looking forward to. Accomodation wasn’t cheap, and I had been eager not to get bogged down again, but Tupiza really had been everything I had wanted. It would have been awesome if  could have done a bit more horse riding, but I’d have to leave it till later. Maybe pick up my Butch and Sundance adventure in Argentina – they lived there after all.

About Doug

Here you will find the (hopefully) up to date adventures of the incredibly handsome pioneering explorer, Doug. As modest as he is wise, as awesome as he is brave, Doug will endeavor to recite the tales of his travels with utmost accuracy. No embellishment whatsoever.

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