15-Oct-2004 -- While preparing for our recent trip to South America we realized that there had been no confluences visited in Bolivia and that our destinations would bring us within close proximity to two.
19S 65W lies just about 17 miles NW of Sucre, the provisional capital of Bolivia. We were spending only three days in Sucre and decided to make a go of it on our second day. Sucre is a beautiful colonial town that has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, much of the town being constructed during the 16th century.
The first order of business was to find a more accurate map of the region. I went to the Bolivia Instituto Geographica Militar in Sucre and found a detailed topographic map that showed a "road" passing within about 2 miles of the confluence. Due to the extremely rugged terrain in Bolivia there isn't an overabundance of roads. And even if it is shown on the map as a road, it in fact may be nothing more than a dry riverbed with cairns dotting the safest route, as we would soon find out first hand.
We arranged for a driver and a four wheel drive vehicle as we thought having someone who speaks both Spanish and Chechuan (indigenous Incan language) would be of great benefit). Our driver, Jorge Gonzalez was a weathered chap who knew his Toyota Land Cruiser's capabilities very well.
Our projected route would take us Northeast to the town of Chaco and then turn Southeast towards the village of Pajcha. We headed off from Sucre and made it to Chaco in about an hour. The roadway was paved and relatively new and in good repair. However, we could see the signs of the old roadway all along the deep descents and were very much appreciative of the new road.
Upon reaching Chaco, it wasn't entirely clear where the road to Pajcha began. We stopped and Jorge asked a local woman in Chechuan how to get to Pajcha. As chance would have it we were at the intersection. She asked if we could take a bag of potatoes to Pajcha for a festival they were having. We of course obliged and offered to take them as well, but the potatoes were all they wanted transported.
We headed off down the dusty single track road towards Pajcha and quickly found that had we not had our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser we would have been dead in the water. The single track road gave way to 3/4 track road, and then to eroded river bed. Being we arrived on the cusp of the rainy season we were very fortunate that the torrential downpours had not yet begun. It appears that both access to Pajcha and the confluence would be cut off when the river is flowing. The riverbed along most of its length is well in excess of 100 meters wide.
Jorge deftly maneuvered us to Pajcha, although we did have one wrong turn at a river bed juncture. We unloaded the potatoes and then had the dubiousness to ask him to go further up the riverbed-road towards an Estancia shown on the map. We hadn't entirely explained our destination, but did our best to communicate our objectives of finding the confluence. He didn't mind a bit and we proceeded on until we got to within 1.26 miles of the confluence. We had him park under one of the few trees, left him with a bottle of water and set off for the confluence.
I knew from looking at the topo map that it would be a bit of a climb. The first 1/4 mile was nothing, it was essentially crossing the river bed and some dry farm lands. Then we began the ascent, starting at just over 8,000 ft.
Jon and I lost my father at the base of a the first steep ravine. He was pooped and had been suffering from a little travelers sickness as well as having sprained his ankle the day before. All of these little tidbits he failed to mention until we were on our way home. I was already at the top of the first ridge when I found out that he had stopped. I had all the water, but figured he'd head back to the vehicle. We were wrong and he stayed where we left him for nearly 2 hours to bake in nearly 90 degree heat under a not yet fully leafed out shade tree. As the flies gathered around his salt caked lips, he decided to take a bite of his energy bar that he'd been toting in his pants pocket. Much to his dismay it was of the peanut butter variety, a little mushy, and after one bite left him parched and feeling further desiccated. He eventually wandered back to the vehicle and then managed to purchase a glass of fresh papaya juice from the Estancias, for lack of a better description, drive up window. From the mud brick wall opened a sheet metal shelf, behind which were pigs milling about. Jorge thankfully was along and insisted they give him a clean glass.
Jon and I continued up the mountain and as we got closer to the summit it was clear that the land was well worked. There was what appeared to be a seasonal or abandoned mud brick farm near the top of the ridge along with several corrals made from thorny brush. Goats were pacing us up the mountain as we huffed with great effort in the sweltering heat and elevation. There were small paths leading us almost directly to the summit. Once we reached the summit it was a mere 0.36 miles to the confluence mostly downhill!
In our hallucinatory heat and altitude induced haze we managed only one photo from the confluence looking back in a northerly direction. I decided when I was nearly back to the summit to check the photos just to be sure we got them. Sure enough the one of the GPS reading failed so I took another one, albeit not exactly at the confluence. I then took a picture looking back towards the confluence which lies just uphill from the Jacaranda tree seen blooming in the foreground. I opted not to return back to the confluence just to get the zeros as we were going to be pushing the daylight window and didn't want Jorge, as talented a driver as he is, to have to negotiate the riverbed at night.
The descent was fairly uneventful, but we were extremely dehydrated and were rationing our water. Even in our dehydrated state we were in awe of the beauty of the Bolivian Mountains. Even moreso when we noticed an outcropping of fossilized shells stuck in the sandstone! Amazing, given our altitude at nearly 9,000 feet.
When we finally arrived back at the car we found a group of about 12 locals milling about who had been watching our progress through my fathers binoculars. We asked if we could take their picture but they were very shy and declined. However, when we showed them the photos we had taken from the summit on the tiny LCD of our camera they were very intrigued and wanted to see them all. We showed as many as we could before we felt we would be cutting our daylight window too short. We realized then that we should have brought a Polaroid.
Bolivia is a beautifully rugged country with exceptionally hospitable people. There's a wide variety of climates from the subtropical jungles to the salt flats to the high altiplano desserts. We highly recommend Bolivia as a travel destination. Plus the food is great!