Dream itinerary

For the experienced traveler, the recipe for a cocktail called "Altiplano" will be clear:
  • Take the rainbow mountains of Danxia in China.
  • Add the smooth lines of Antelope Canyon from American Arizona.
  • Combine it with the stone "mushrooms" of Altai.
  • Season it with a salt maze of dried-up rivers and mix it all with the geothermal fields of Kamchatka.
All this you will find in the compact region of the Bolivian province of South Lipes. Our jeep hurtles along a dried-up river bed, kicking up dust clouds. On the left were meadows of blooming grasses, and on the right was the vertical wall of a red sandstone canyon. It's boiling in the interior of the old cruiser, with no air conditioning, a luxury in Bolivia. Curiosity leads us in search of landscapes atypical of the Altiplano plateau; the drive vector is south from Tupis, to the border with Argentina, along the gold-bearing San Juan del Oro River, where Diego de Almagro, the discoverer of Chile, once passed.
At the end of March 1536, he crossed the Andes, suffering catastrophic losses in men and supplies, facing strong Indian resistance and the harsh climatic conditions of the highlands. Of the 12,000 men who set out on the Altiplano expedition, only 2,500 survived. Despite the drastic temperature variations, lack of fertile land, high levels of sunshine, and dry air, the descendants of those Indians live here. Who are they, and how do they survive?


I arrived in Tunisia with a printout of a dream itinerary I had spent almost six months painstakingly working on. Showing it to expedition agencies, I was rejected in every office. They did not even want to discuss the cost of the expedition, carefully offering typical itineraries for three days, including only a tiny part of the Altiplano, namely the lowlands with the Uyuni salt marsh and colorful lagoons.
It is not customary to work here, the locals do not like complex tasks, and the whole calculation is that out of ignorance, another "gringo" will take something easier. And I will be happy to see only Uyuni. Desperate, I knocked on the door of the most unsightly agency in Tunisia. The tiny room barely fit a desk with a stocky guy sitting behind it, which was already strange - laziness, carbs, and the ubiquitous Coca-Cola add 15 extra pounds to everyone.
Glancing at the itinerary, he said, "No problems." I thought he was joking for a second, but the guy assured me that the plan was achievable, and he was ready to leave the next morning. Thus began my acquaintance with William, "the most atypical Bolivian in all of Bolivia," as he called himself.
And now, as we approach the San Pablo de Lipez village, my heart beats fast in anticipation. The streets are empty. Walking along the houses of the earthen village, where bricks are baked in home ovens, mixing clay and straw by hand, we meet a group of children I ask to take me to the local shop. Numb with surprise, the children look for the woman with the keys to the store. In a dark, barn-like room, the shelves are stocked with soda, instant noodles, canned goods, a box of long-wilted vegetables, and some eggs. The children shyly ask for "chupito," chupa-chups for their happiness. After hugging each other goodbye, we drive on.
The biggest village in these parts is Mohinete. Fifteen years ago, there were 270 inhabitants. At the entrance of the town, women in black wash their laundry in the shallow river and spread it out to dry on small boulders. There are only two streets, houses made of homemade bricks, and nobody on the street; behind the dirty windows flash curious kids. You need help getting by. According to local rules, you must stop at each farm, greet the residents, explain the purpose of your visit, and establish diplomatic relations - to get permission to pass from the headman.
We find an older man busy building a house and explain the half-true purpose of our visit - we're going to Cienega to visit a friend. The man frowns at me and switches from Spanish to Quechua. I go to the car, leaving William to deal with "political issues." After 40 minutes of negotiation, we get the "permission" to go further, and just beyond the village, the road... ends. The jeep from the 90s creeps up rock after rock, the height approaching 4300 meters above sea level. A headache from hypoxia sets in, but soon we begin descending into the gorge down the precipitous mountain slopes.
The safety belt on the chest warms the soul, but one can only dream about safety when the cliff is a kilometer deep to the right, and the roof is laden with two barrels of gasoline and equipment. We are self-sufficient, carrying a week's fuel, water, and food supply.
The locals use llamas; they are the backbone of survival here. After loading their harvest onto animals, people walk along the trail to Mohinet, where they leave the llamas and sit in the back of a Kamiyon, a truck loaded with vegetables. By the next morning, they reach the market in Tupisa, where they can exchange the vegetables for rice, pots, medicine, and everything else that is sorely lacking in the village.
At sunset, we enter Cienega, nestled against the high walls of a red canyon at 3,780 meters, when a soft golden light bathes a dozen houses in a warm, cozy glow. Six adult villagers come out to meet the unexpected guests, the first in two years. The village elder, Don Sixto, is delighted to learn that I am from faraway Russia but confesses that he has never heard of such a country. In their worldview, China begins immediately after Europe. Don Sixto offers me a place to stay in the only place available, the concert hall, a concrete box with a tiny window. Sports mats and a mountain of baize blankets on the floor with a "gift from Argentina" inscription.
In the morning, Beatrice, Don Sixto's wife, and I wash dishes in basins in the courtyard of the mud house. The typical home has only makeshift beds and a table, no frills. The tiny rooms only fit up to two people at a time. Young children, all under six, pour out into the street. Older children are sent to live and learn in a boarding house, where they learn Spanish, without which the doors to a larger life are closed, and Cienega can't afford a school teacher.
"How do you live here?" - I ask Beatriz. "It's good. We have wheat, potatoes, corn growing, apples poured red, chickens, donkeys, and goats. Here's a present for you..." - Beatrice gives me a big basin of hot flavored white corn. We will have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with it as we explore the nearest canyon. Don Sixto has volunteered to accompany us.
Beyond the narrow river, we climb a hill with an awe-inspiring and rapturous view. The majestic red cliffs resemble the towers of an ancient castle, sandstone with red clay forming layers and ridges. On the way to the canyon, there are graceful rocks and icicles. In the depths of the gorge, we find chalupas, ancient cylindrical towers made of stones. No one knows their past, who built them, and why. An ancient tribe of Chichas once lived here, and such chalupas may have been the burial place of important people, but it is also possible that they were used to store grain. This group of Indians was considered extinct until 2012 when a Bolivian census found nearly 60,000 descendants of the Chichas, and some words of the extinct language were found in a local dialect of Spanish.
The Chichas spoke an extinct Kunsa language. Their society was formed by different ethnic groups who settled in the relatively fertile San Juan del Oro River valley. After the conquest of these lands by the Inca Empire, the local population was distributed to what is now Ecuador and Argentina to guard the borders of the empire against the warlike Chiriwan people. Today their descendants, the Guaraní Indians, live mostly in what is now Paraguay and in the border territories of Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. And the descendants of the Chichas, strongly influenced by the Quechua culture, could preserve their national identity.
After following the river bed beneath the vaults of red rocks, we reach a narrow canyon a meter wide. Its black, undulating walls of pressed sand and pebbles reminded me of the vaults of the lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona, a canyon that would have been named Black Antelope. There was a dead end, and we had to get out by climbing steep walls, but Don Sixto assured us that we would "make it. At the evening dinner meeting, while discussing what we had seen in the canyon, the men's faces showed pride in the historical heritage of Chichas and the beauty of canyons that will one day become national parks.
Seeing us off early in the morning, Beatrice, supplying us with another bowl of hot corn and goat cheese for the road, asks: "Come back with your friends. At the village council, we decided to open the doors to tourism, and then we will have a Spanish teacher for the children and medicine." Cienega residents have high hopes for travelers. After receiving a grant from the state, they began training guides for hiking in the canyon, exploring new routes, and building a Refugio, a lodge for overnight hikers.


Back in Mojinete, we set out along the course of the San Juan del Oro River. Its system serves as a natural border between Argentina and Bolivia. Here the river is called the "braided river" because of the resemblance of its separate streams to threads woven into a canvas. Along the way, there are occasional lonely farms where maize grows and goats graze. Hearing the sound of the engine from afar, the villagers come out to get acquainted - visitors are not often welcome here. You must stop, say hello, introduce yourself, and explain the purpose of your visit. Otherwise, your actions can be interpreted as a display of disrespect for the Indians. After passing through the settlements of Casa Grande ("Big House"), Florida, and Quiacas, we arrived at Rio Seco ("Dry River," 3,829 meters high). Many small children are playing outside, and no adults. One of the kids is pointing his finger at the mountains. On the slope, the entire adult population, along with the teenagers, are clearing the area, probably to lay out the village name or the traditional greeting "Bienvenidos" with stones.
The village of Rio Seco is located in the middle of an unusual landscape. A phallic-shaped rock adorned with an oval stone on top catches the eye. The locals call it "Mundial" or "world soccer championship. And judging by the two covered soccer fields and one grass field, soccer is very popular here. The local headman ordered the apartment building to be vacated for us. One of the families removes personal belongings, rearranges, and swings open the door of a modest cabin for us, where two beds and a table fit.
The surrounding mountains comprise many layers of colorful rock, from bright red to gray-silver through orange, pink, greenish, and almost blue layers. A lover of colorful scenery will experience complete delight here. Before the sun goes down, we have time to see the second most important natural attraction, the Torre de Campana, made of sandstone. There is also the granite peak "Black Virgin" and all kinds of shapes caused by soil erosion. When you see all this natural splendor, you lose your sense of reality and begin believing you are in a colorful fairyland.
In the evening, Rio Seco is lively. The older kids are coming home from school. The boys grab a ball and run to the stadium. There's an atmosphere of simplicity, openness, friendliness, and trust. There are two streets here, too: a hospital house and a local healer, a school, an evangelical church, and a shop.
This evening we enjoy spending in the company of children. They are curious, but embarrassment does not allow them to ask a single question. Finally, one young maiden dares the question, "What have you done to your hair?" The dark and thick hair of the local beauties never burns out in the sun, and another hair color, red, causes them genuine amazement.
With the first rays of sunshine, we leave to shoot rainbow mountains. After a couple of hours, we enter a world of bizarre "stone mushrooms" of all shades of red and gray. It's impossible to deny yourself the pleasure of getting close to the giants by climbing over thorny bushes. By lunchtime, we reach the Ciudad de Roma ("Roman City") canyon entrance. Locals commonly refer to it as the "Haunted City" for the amazingly shaped mountains in the center. After parking the car on the ridge, go hiking down the canyon, where there are no trails, and the rock under your feet is soft and crumbly - you must step very carefully.
Nevertheless, the descent is easy and fun; you feel the drive of a discoverer. The views of the central San Pedro Cathedral rock formation are stunning. After two hours of descent, when my fitness watch begs for mercy, informing me that my average heart rate is 170 beats per minute, we get a gorgeous view of the "mushroom amphitheater," surrounded by crème brûlée-colored rocks.
After another hour of "running with obstacles," we reach the bed of a dried-up river and notice cougar tracks. We follow them to a hill that looks acceptable for climbing, but it is impossible to guess if this path will lead us to the car. A cloud is approaching from the side of the sunset, it seems far away, and we will have time to climb. However, after an hour, we find ourselves in the middle of the ascent, surrounded by thunderclouds and fading light. We speed up by turning off all smartphones and taking out the camera battery. In the darkness and flashes of lightning, in the deafening rumble of the sky, comes the realization that my body has reached its physical limit. Nausea and despair overwhelm me, and we move literally by touch, scrambling up the clay mountainside. It's another hour of eternity, an hour of the total apocalypse before we reach the jeep. By midnight we leave on the standard route leading to the colorful lagoons of Eduardo Avaroa National Park and check into an empty hotel. The realization of all that we have seen and experienced comes the next day.
Travelers to Bolivia have heard of the Eduardo Avaroa Sanctuary, not surprisingly, because the famous Uyuni salt marsh is on its border. This region is also renowned for the blood-red Lake Laguna Colorado, where thousands of pink flamingos live. But is it possible to say that this is the Altiplano? Probably not. It is just one of the faces of the plateau, the Altiplano Lowlands, adorned with self-draining lagoons and salt marshes. And there is so much more to see around it! It is also a land of deep, colorful canyons in the south. No less amazing land of geysers and thermal hot rivers in the north in the Sahama National Park. This is the chain of conical volcanoes that divided Bolivia and Chile. It is the distinctive Indian settlements that mine silver and valuable minerals all over the plateau. It is the farms where alpacas and llamas are raised on the expanse of wet bofedales, the local wetlands. Economically the poorest country on the continent of South America is the most beautiful and happiest in its simplicity.
Most evidence of hockey-like games during the Middle Ages is found in legislation concerning sports and games. The Galway Statute enacted in Ireland in 1527 banned certain types of ball games, including games using "hooked" (written "hockie", similar to "hooky") sticks. By the 19th century, the various forms and divisions of historic games began to differentiate and coalesce into the individual sports defined today. Organizations dedicated to the codification of rules and regulations began to form, and national and international bodies sprang up to manage domestic and international competition.