Stepping back into history, the Museo Hacienda Cayara

At the end of the long and verdant Cayara Valley lies the tiny village of the same name. It looks like any ordinary Bolivian village: red tiles in the Spanish fashion sit atop adobe houses nestled into hillsides; braying donkeys occasionally breach the peace as they’re pursued by old ladies wearing colourful clothes; men and women tend their crops in the surrounding fields; and there is an all pervasive sense of timelessness about the whole place.

For me timelessness has a double meaning in Cayara. When you are there it is as if time has been suspended, as if the world of the valley sits on a different plain of reality, isolating you from the madness of the world outside its borders; and then there is the Museo Hacienda Cayara, a hacienda dating back to the earliest phase of the Spanish conquest of the Bolivian part of the Inca empire.

Entrance, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Entrance, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

The hacienda is tucked away at one end of the village, hidden from sight by the surrounding hills and trees, so that when you approach its gates it is as if something ancient and secret is being revealed for the first time. Founded in 1557 in a region the Spanish had renamed New Toledo, the hacienda literally drips with history, and it has been the home to Spanish nobility and refuge to pioneers of Bolivia’s independence.

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Today it has been completed renovated and transformed by the current owner into a hotel, which is a description that doesn’t do the hacienda justice. It is a living museum, but there is also a museum in the building with items from colonial times through to the present. There are beautiful gardens and grounds, the hacienda has its own farm, including a dairy farm, providing fresh produce for all meals, and I doubt there is a more welcoming place to stay in the whole of Bolivia.

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Patio, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Gardens, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Gardens, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

200 year old fresh water supply, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

200 year old fresh water supply, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Inside, the hacienda is decorated with original paintings, furniture, light fittings and pre- and post-hispanic artworks and artefacts. It is a treasure trove of Bolivian history, there are even two libraries containing books dating back to the 17th Century. It is a privilege to be able to wander through the house.

Sitting room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Sitting room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Dining room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Dining room, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Bedroom, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Bedroom, Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hacienda Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

As well as providing excellent walking opportunities in the valley or to nearby villages, just a short walk behind the hacienda is a beautiful waterfall that also give an indication of why this valley is so green – water is year-round in the valley, appearing from a underground source above the valley and then plunging down its cliffs to the the valley floor. The power of the water has been harnessed to provide hydroelectric power to the entire valley.

Walking alongside a river to the waterfall, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Walking alongside a river to the waterfall, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Hairy donkeys en route to the waterfall, Cayara, Bolivia

Hairy donkeys en route to the waterfall, Cayara, Bolivia

Waterfall at the end of the Cayara Valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Waterfall at the end of the Cayara Valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Return to the Secret Valley, Cayara revisited

Finding a road less travelled without heading into the jungles of Borneo, or risking life and limb in the Hindu Kush, is a challenge in these days of mass global travel. Thankfully, in the valley where the Hacienda Cayara lies, just outside the city of Potosi in the Bolivian highlands, you can be assured of getting away from the crowds.

This was our second trip to Cayara. The one day we spent here in December wasn’t enough to satisfy our longing for nature and absolute peace and quiet. We promised ourselves we’d return to absorb more of the unique atmosphere of the valley and of the Hacienda Cayara. Outside of the Amazon the area has to be one of the greenest in Bolivia, there is abundant bird life and there is tremendous walking available, right from the door of the Hacienda

Heading out on a three hour walk down the valley in the early morning was one of the most pleasant walks I’ve done in Bolivia. With the exception of the sound of the river and the ever present chirruping of birds (I must have seen more than twenty different types of bird), the valley was tranquility itself. I hope these photos and videos give some idea of just how special the valley is.

Early morning in the sleepy village of Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Early morning in the sleepy village of Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Donkey, Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

Donkey, Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

View over Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

View over Cayara Village, Potosi, Bolivia

A woman walks down the road, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

A woman walks down the road, Cayara, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cemetery, Cayara valley, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Cayara village, Potosi, Bolivia

Bolivian landscapes

Living in Bolivia feels, at times, like living in several different countries all at once. I’ve touched on this before, but the diversity of landscapes, cultures and peoples constantly surprises, and it makes Bolivia one of the most interesting countries in the Americas.

It is possible to be in the Amazon rainforest one day at an altitude close to sea level, and in the high Andes at altitudes of over 6500m the next (although this isn’t advisable). In between there is just about every type of landscape, and a mind-boggling degree of biodiversity, imaginable. In fact, the only thing missing from Bolivia’s kaleidoscope of landscapes is a coastline. Bolivia used to have a large chunk of the Pacific coast, but it lost this to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). There is little evidence that Chile will be giving it back any time soon.

Moving from the Amazon to the Cordillera Real, this is a selection of some of my favourite Bolivian landscape shots…

Bolivian Amazon, Trinidad, Bolivia

Early morning in the Bolivian Amazon, Trinidad, Bolivia

Sunset over the Rio Mamore, Bolivian Amazon

Sunset over the Rio Mamore, Bolivian Amazon

Rolling wooded hills and deep valleys, Samaipata, Bolivia

Rolling wooded hills and deep valleys, Samaipata, Bolivia

La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia

La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia

View of La Paz from Chacaltaya, Bolivia

View of La Paz from Chacaltaya, Bolivia

Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Lake in the Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Lake in the Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Sunset over Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Sunset over Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Vulcans Pomarape and Parinacota, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Vulcans Pomarape and Parinacota, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

The Cordillera de los Frailles, Sucre, Bolivia

The Cordillera de los Frailles, Sucre, Bolivia

The Cordillera de los Frailles, Sucre, Bolivia

The Cordillera de los Frailles, Sucre, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over a lake, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Sunset over a lake, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Sunset, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Sunset, San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real looms over Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real looms over Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real en route to La Paz, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real en route to La Paz, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The Siloli Desert, Bolivia

The Siloli Desert, Bolivia

Flamingos in the Bolivian South West, Bolivia

Flamingos in the Bolivian South West, Bolivia

Thunder, lightening…very, very frightening

The rainy season is upon us in Bolivia, this means occasional torrential rains and some of the most hair-raising thunderstorms I’ve ever witnessed. One night, a clap of thunder directly over the house knocked out all the lights and literally rattled the windows while streaks of lightening lit up the night sky like it was day.

The photo sequence below is from a recent afternoon around 4pm. The sky darkened to a point that it could have been night and then the heavens opened with rain, hail, thunder and lightening. The mix of stormy skies, lightening and deafening thunder was truly amazing – I’m just glad I wasn’t anywhere near the lightening strikes.

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Stormy skies over Sucre, Bolivia

Bolivian Southwest: Reserva Eduardo Avaroa

Getting up before dawn, and with hot cups of tea barely able to hold the fantastically cold morning at bay, we were treated to a ringside seat of the sunrise over the Siloli Desert. As the colours of the mountains sprang back to life and some of the sun’s warmth finally penetrated the four layers of clothing I was wearing, we clambered back into the car and headed towards the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa and the border with Chile.

First stop in this bewildering landscape was the wind sculpted Arbol de Piedra, the Stone Tree, a huge lump of rock that over millennia has been carved by wind and sand into its current tree-like shape. That would be reason enough to stop and marvel at it, but it also stands in a vast desert plain surrounded by mountains streaked with colour making it one of the most surreal sights of our trip. Our early start was rewarded with having the whole desert to ourselves.

Heading towards the Arbol de Piedra, Reserva de Fauna Andina Avaroa, Bolivia

Arbol de Piedra, Reserva de Fauna Andina Avaroa, Bolivia

Even with the sun rising in the sky, at this time of day and at this altitude the temperatures were freezing and it was impossible to stand still for long without the cold piercing through clothing and footwear. It truly is an inhospitable place, but one an estimated 50,000+ tourists travel through every year.

A short journey to the south of the Arbol de Piedra lies one of the wonders of the whole region, Laguna Colorada, whose striking red waters contrasted against the deep blue sky are an extraordinary sight to behold. Although it looks like the scene of a toxic spill, the red colour is the result of algae in the water – the main source of food for the flamingos that thrive in the region, including the rare James flamingo which breeds in Laguna Colorada.

Laguna Colorada, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos in Laguna Colorada, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos in the mist, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos take flight, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

It’s a little like “Ten Amazing Things to Do Before Breakfast”, but climbing in altitude to a whopping 5000m we drove on towards the hellish looking and smelling Sol de Manana geyser. As you approach these boiling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles the nauseating stench of sulphur is overwhelming, but even that can’t take away from the wonder of the volcanic activity that is all around.

The first thing you see when you arrive is a jet of highly pressurised steam shooting out of the brown earth and making a screaming noise not dissimilar to the sound of a steam train whistle. The jet is probably about 15 metres high and the steam is hot!

Steam jet at Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Walking around the site is a bit like doing a day-trip to Hell and you have to be careful, the cracked earth can give way and collapse into bubbling mud underneath – as the sign says it’s Peligro. And did I mention the smell? Awful.

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Leaving the fire and brimstone behind we set off for the furthest reaches of Bolivia to where the Laguna Verde and Volcan Licancabur nestle on the border with Chile. The drive passes a stretch of barren landscape that suddenly takes on the look of a sculpture park combined with a Japanese garden. Known as the Rocas de Dali, it is a peculiar sight.

Rocas de dali, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Rocas de Dali, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

I must confess that the one thing I’d really been looking forward to seeing was the last thing we’d see on the Bolivian side of the border – Laguna Verde. I’d seen photos of the stunning green water – created by chemical reaction – with the backdrop of the towering Volcan Licancabur and was excited to be finally able to see it in person.

As with much of life, it was something of a disappointment. There was little water and the green colour was, at best, subdued. Still you can’t hold that against the Bolivian Southwest, it is a privilege to spend time there. Next stop Chile.

Laguna Verde, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

The Bolivian Southwest, into Los Lipez

Leaving the bright light of the Salar de Uyuni behind, and after a night well spent in the Tayka Hotel de Piedra (www.taykahoteles.com) in San Pedro de Quemez, we woke early for yet another dramatic drive through the stunning scenery of Bolivia’s Lipez region.

We were headed for the high altitude Siloli Desert, a sight which literally takes your breath away by its magnificence. If at times during the journey it feels like you may have inadvertently landed on the moon when not paying attention, arriving in the Siloli Desert is like being on another planet…most probably Mars. Nothing can prepare you for it and it is truly one of the most outlandish and extraordinary places on earth.

Rough dirt track into Los Lipez, Bolivia

Extinct volcano in the Lipez Region of Bolivia

For a region famed for being desolate and inhospitable, the Lipez region of Bolivia is one of the most colourful in the country. There are lakes coloured by minerals full of pink flamingos and volcanos that have exploded eons ago that sport an array of reds and purples. All the geothermal activity has given rise to an active mining industry that has been exploited for centuries and is still being exploited today.

Proof of this came when we found ourselves driving alongside a narrow gauge railway that is still used to export Bolivian minerals to the coast in Chile. Ringed by volcanic peaks, the railway cut across a vast flat plain that seemed to be comprised entirely of grey volcanic dust. A more desolate location for a railway is unimaginable and in the background, looming over everything, is the active Ollague volcano.

Railway to Chile, Lipez region, Bolivia

The still active Vulcan Ollague, Lipez region, Bolivia

Thanks to the mines it is possible to find yourself on the occasional well maintained road large enough to take trucks and buses, although there is so little traffic that when another vehicle does appear on the road you can see it from miles away thanks to the dust cloud it throws up.

Bus heading across the Lipez region of Bolivia

Eventually you leave the ‘main’ road and head back across country on rough tracks that take you to the Siloli Desert, via a string of beautiful high altitude lakes that are home to three different varieties of flamingo. Because there are only a few roads in the region, and it is popular with tourists, you tend to bump into a lot of other travellers in this area…and people attract other wildlife!

High altitude lake with flamingos, Lipez region, Bolivia

Bolivian fox, Lipez region, Bolivia

High altitude lake, Lipez region, Bolivia

Flamingos, Lipez region, Bolivia

High altitude lake with flamingos, Lipez region, Bolivia

After a leisurely lunch overlooking a lake full of feeding flamingos, and a quick stop to refuel the car, we were on our way to the Siloli Desert, one of the more extraordinary places anyone could find themselves.

Refuelling en route to the Siloli Desert, Lipes region, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Lipez region, Bolivia

Siloli Desert, Lipez region, Bolivia

The desert is made up of volcanic ash and gravel that has been contoured by wind (and very occasional rains) to look like a surrealist painting; also dotted about the desert are rock outcrops that have been sculpted by centuries of wind into peculiar shapes (the most famous we’d see the following day). Perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole desert, however, is the Tayka Hotel del Desierto (www.taykahoteles.com) where we were to spend the night.

The Tayka Hotel del Desierto is one of a kind, its location in the middle of the desert is made possible only because of the Ojo del Perdiz, or Eye of the Partridge, a natural spring that provide water to the hotel. I think the photos speak for themselves, but I’d add that the night sky in the Siloli Desert is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Hotel del Desierto in the Siloli Desert, Lipez region, Bolivia

Hotel del Desierto in the Siloli Desert, Lipez region, Bolivia

As seen from space, the Salar de Uyuni

Arriving in the tiny village of Tahua on the edge of the great Salar de Uyuni as the sun sets is to be treated to one of the natural wonders of Latin America – watching the Salar de Uyuni’s dazzlingly white salt crust transformed into brilliant oranges, reds, purples and blues. It was a magical experience – although at these altitudes it was also freezing cold.

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

If you ask someone to name one thing they know about Bolivia chances are they’ll say the Salar de Uyuni (although Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Che Guevara provide stiff competition). The salar is one of the natural wonders of the world, the largest salt flat on the planet, so enormous and so bright white that it is easily seen from space. Neil Armstrong is said to have seen the salar when stood on the moon and mistakenly thought it to be an enormous glacier.

I’d seen photos of the Salar de Uyuni before, but nothing really prepares you for the real thing. It is amazing and beautiful, and even today is mined for salt by local communities as it has been for thousands of years. In Inca times great llama trains would transport the salt across the empire, although iodine needs to be added to the salt to prevent thyroid problems and cretinism.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Beneath the salt crust the salar contains approximately half of the world’s reserves of lithium, a critical component in modern batteries, making it Bolivia’s most important natural resource. Lithium hasn’t blossomed into a major industry as it is currently hard and expensive to extract, and under the Morales government Bolivia is reluctant to just export its raw materials to industrial nations. How long this will last is uncertain, but once mining starts it may sound the death-knell of tourism.

Starting early the following day, we visited a small adobe church in an abandoned village on the edge of the salar, abandoned due to water sources drying up – fresh water is a serious problem in such a parched landscape so hostile to human habitation. The church looked pretty typical from the outside, but inside it was decorated with beautiful naive paintings.

Adobe church, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Adobe church, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Painting in adobe church, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Leaving the church we drove out onto the salt flats and headed for the Isla Incahuasi, an island in the middle of the salt flats covered in cacti, some of them thousands of years old. The car dropped us 2 kilometres from the island and we walked through the amazing landscape of the salar to reach it.

The honeycombed Salar de Uyuni, Boliv

Walking on the Salar de Uyuni towards Isla Incahuasi, Bolivia

Isla Incahuasi, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Car on the salar, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The Isla Incahuasi is home to a number of rabbit-like viscachas, while the shores of the salt flats are home to herds of llamas and their wild relatives, vicunas. Only camelids could survive in this harsh landscape.

Viscacha, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Llamas, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Vicunas, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

An Altiplano Adventure: Sajama to the Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia is one of the most geographically diverse countries on earth, a land of contrasts and extremes. You can travel by boat deep into the Amazon basin (see previous posts) or you can climb high into the Andes north of La Paz in the Cordillera Real (see more previous posts). In between these two extremes lie dozens of different eco-zones as well as indigenous peoples and cultures.

If there is one landscape above all others that Bolivia is famous for, it is the Altiplano. A vast swath of breathtaking high plateau (up to 4500m in altitude) that extends from northern Argentina and Chile across the whole of Bolivia and into southern Peru, the Altiplano defines people’s perceptions of Bolivia. It is a seemingly barren and inhospitable place, but on closer inspection it is home to many animal and plant species and some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable.

Typical Altiplano scenery, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Alpacas being herded, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Travelling south from Sajama National Park close to the border with northern Chile, it is possible to drive on dirt tracks that run parallel to the border, and which follow a beautiful chain of volcanos (some still active) that stretch 4000km south to Tierra del Fuego. Eventually you’ll reach the south-western tip of Bolivia where it borders Chile and Argentina, from where you can head into either of those two countries at remote boarder posts.

It is an incredible journey into some of the wildest places in Bolivia, a journey that has few rivals in Latin America. The route passes through remote communities of Aymara llama and alpaca herders; past abandoned villages and beautiful adobe churches; along the shores of brightly coloured lakes that are home to hundreds of flamingos; bubbling geysers and hot springs and the enormous salt flats of Coipasa and Uyuni (so huge they can be seen from space) also await exploration.

Altiplano geyser, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Navigating the car down a riverbed, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Starting the journey in Sajama National Park in the north west of Bolivia you drive through a vast landscape and under near-permanently cloudless skies. At times the sense of isolation is overwhelming. We spent a night at the lovely community run Albergue Ecoturistico Tomarapi in the small settlement of Tomarapi, about 10km from Sajama village, where we were lucky enough to witness a sunset that seemed to set the sky on fire.

Sunset strikes Vulcan Sajama, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Sunset over Sajama National Park, Bolivia

The following day we headed south on bumpy dirt roads, past several high altitude lakes with flamingos and a number of small villages en route to the Salar de Coipasa.

Adobe church at Tomarapi, Vulcan Sajama in the background, Bolivia

A flamingo takes flight, Sajama National Park, Bolivia

Abandoned village near the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia

Emerging out of this arid landscape the sheer brilliance of the Salar de Coipasa is a shock to the system – dazzlingly white under the intense altiplano sun. Once a large lake that fed Lake Titicaca, the Salar de Coipasa is now a huge salt flat covered in a salt crust made up of hexagonal shapes that seems to stretch to the horizon.

Smaller, less well known and with only a fraction of the tourists who visit the nearby Salar de Uyuni, Coipasa is none-the-less an amazing place where you can stand in absolute silence and not see another soul.

The dazzlingly white Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia

The dazzlingly white Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia

Car on the salar, Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia

Heading south again we made for the small village of Tahua, which nestles under Volcano Thunupa, where the lovely Tayka Hotel de Sal (www.taykahoteles.com) awaited our arrival. The Tayka chain of hotels are run on sustainable principles and are located in some of the most dramatic places you’re likely to ever find a hotel. They are probably the most luxurious accommodations in the region, which comes at a price but one worth paying.

The Hotel de Sal is located just on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni and we arrived just in time to watch the sun set with a cold beer in hand…of which more later.

Yotala and back again, by bike

Cycling in Bolivia isn’t without its drama. Once, I was almost killed coming down a steep hill by a pig being chased by a dog. Death by pig would be considered newsworthy in London, here it gets filed under ‘mundane’.

A more familiar problem is Bolivian drivers. Like their London counterparts, they just aren’t very bike-concious and the idea of the road being a shared space between motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians is an alien concept.

Once outside of urban areas the low levels of traffic mean the threat from vehicles is minimal and cycling becomes a pleasure. Or it would be were it not for the frequency of fang-bearing dogs willing to give chase. When you’re sweating your way up a severe incline at 3000m altitude the dog has all the advantage and you’re left in a compromising position. I’ve learned from bitter experience that dogs here aren’t all bark – they bite.

Let sleeping dogs lie? Not if there’s a cyclist nearby. Sucre, Bolivia

That said, cycling through the beautiful countryside surrounding Sucre is worth the occasional homicidal driver/dog* (*delete as the occasion requires). With that in mind I set off for the 6 hour round-trip to Yotala, getting off-road and passing through sleepy villages on little used dirt tracks. A brutally steep climb with attendant dogs takes you out of Sucre to a rough track that loops around for 25km to Yotala, with nothing but tremendous views for company.

Views towards Yotala, Sucre, Bolivia

Village just outside Sucre, Bolivia

Dirt track between Sucre and Yotala, Bolivia

The only downside of cycling down dirt tracks is punctures. There are a phenomenal number of thorn producing plants in Bolivia only too willing to discard their spiky offspring on to the track your cycling down. It would take four stops and seven puncture repairs before reaching Yotala.

Landscape between Sucre and Yotala, Bolivia

Lunch under a tree between Sucre and Yotala, Bolivia

Repairing a puncture in a village square, between Sucre and Yotala, Bolivia

The road to Yotala, Bolivia

Yotala is famed for the quality of its chicha, the homebrew that is the main alcoholic drink of the Bolivian countryside; but after several hours of cycling under an intense sun and another 20km still to cycle back to Sucre it didn’t seem wise to partake. The journey back was on the main road from Potosi to Sucre, which is pretty busy with traffic but at least I didn’t get any more punctures.

Jesus greets you as you enter Yotala, Bolivia

Yotala, Bolivia