We visited a number of trekking and tourism outfits in Sucre before we came across Jaku Trekking. Walking away from the central Plaza on our way to something else entirely, we were drawn by its simple and friendly appearance, small office decorated with genuine trip photos, and small team of staff. A number of outfits in Sucre give off a very slick impression – all glossy brochures and multilingual websites. Jaku was different. There are only five of them on the team and each time we went in we were given a personalised treatment with no pressure. Note that not everyone speaks great English, so if this is important to you, remember to be firm on that before you book anything.
We visited the office a couple of times; once on our own, and then with our friends over at Sucre Life. We were pleased to find out that Jaku could arrange a trek with just the four of us and a guide, and with a 2-day overnight trek, all food and transport provided, and an experienced guide, the price of 450Bs each seemed almost too good to be true.
The trek we chose had the following itinerary:
Meet at Jaku Trekking at 8am and take private transport to top of the Camino del Inka
Visit the small church at Chataquila
Approx. 2 hours walking down the Camino
Meet with private transport which takes you to a local town for a bite to eat
After lunch, trek up to the Crater of Maragua (this bit is tough)
Trek onwards to the dinosaur footprints
Spend the evening with a local family in the Crater and stay overnight
After breakfast, trek for approx. 3 hours towards Potolo on dirt tracks
Stop for lunch en route
The trek ends in the town of Potolo – visit textile museum if open
In the afternoon, take public transport back to Sucre.
With our overnight stuff packed but leaving some room to carry the food and water we’d need in the afternoon, we gathered at the office and jumped into a clean, modern vehicle driven by the dad of one of the tour guides. Over the weekend we found that the company is run by a tight-knit group of friends who are graduates in Travel and Tourism at the University here in Sucre, and we liked that we were supporting a small start-up company in the town. Our guide, Neyba, was a very smart and extremely fit lady who led the walk at a good pace; not too fast, but not making us feel bad if we lagged behind a bit!
The 4×4 dropped us at the top of the Camino in a community called Chataquila. Neyba told us about a local indigenous man who had resisted the abuses of the Spanish conquistadors hundreds of years ago. Local legend tells that he walked all the way to Buenos Aires to complain to the Viceroy and back again in a week! But when he returned, the Spanish were waiting for him and he was brutally killed. Now every year there is a celebration in his honour and an outdoor theatre space has just been created to honour local people in the community each year as well.
We briefly visited the church there which had an altar to the Virgin of Sucre and devotional candles. At the time we visited, people all over Bolivia were making offerings, burning sugar representations of requests asked of Pachamama, along with llama fat and coca leaves, all of which filled the air with a smoky fragrance.
After this our trek began in earnest, and we enjoyed a couple of hours making our way down the Camino del Inka path. It has been restored using traditional techniques, so it is comfortable to walk on for the most part, although not easy as such. The path is made of flat rocks and the most difficult part was on the knees – although it’s not particularly steep, going constantly downhill for two hours takes its toll. We stopped for breaks on the way, and Neyba pointed out lots of fragrant plants and an Andean tree that only grows at certain altitudes. My favourite was what they call the “phoenix plant” which bursts into flames during the dry season, and blooms from its ashes again the following season.
Even though we’d all had a good breakfast, we were starving again by the time we reached the bottom, so we were glad of a rest in the 4×4 as we were taken to the next small town for our lunch of cold boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, vegetables and salad. Healthy and filling – just what we needed. We then split the remaining food between our backpacks and bid farewell to our driver before starting the toughest part of the day – climbing up the Crater of Maragua.
By this point it was the hottest part of the day, so we were glad of our hats and suncream. With heavier bags than before, we set off at a steady pace and I found it helpful to breathe rhythmically – almost as you would when jogging – to help me keep a regular pace and not get left behind. I am not sure how long we were going for but it can’t have been more than 45 minutes. The ground beneath us was darkly coloured and beating the sun back at us, and the path was rocky and uneven. We got tired very quickly, and Neyba later admitted that even she finds that the toughest part of the walk. Imagine, then, our delight when a passing pickup driver agreed to let us hop in the back and finish the ascent in style! Sure, we were cheating, but actually it was a great experience that added a new angle to the trip. The driver stopped for a lot of different people who were making their way up, including school kids, and it was fun to be meeting new people, bouncing and laughing our way up the hill. We only took a few photos at this point because it was a very bumpy ride!
Once we jumped down from the truck, it was only a short extra walk past the house we would stay in that night to go and check out the dinosaur footprints. We have blogged before about the Parque Cretácico on the outskirts of Sucre and what a fun afternoon we had there, but this was an opportunity to get right up close to the footprints and see tracks not only from dinosaurs but also from some mammals that lived at the same time. We relaxed on the flat rocks in the sunshine for a while, and made our way back to the house with the Jurassic Park theme tune going round in our heads.
One of the highlights of the trek was spending that night with a Bolivian family in Niñu Mayu, right in the Crater of Maragua. After a long day trekking followed by that bouncy ride in the pickup truck, we were glad to reach our very basic but perfectly adequate accommodation. Our evening meal was a hearty one of a vegetable soup, thickened with wheat flour to make it creamy, and we chopped up pieces of salty cheese to go in it which was delicious. This was followed by pasta with veggies and potato. After the meal, our host family also made an offering to Pachamama, and we shared beer and coca before spending the evening by the fire singing folk songs. With the firelight at night and the sound of cockerels all around in the morning, the place reminded me of my dear Lagartillo in Nicaragua, and I felt nostalgic to go back.
Be aware that the accommodation on pretty much any trek you go on is likely to be basic, but here there was no electricity, running water, or latrine available, so be prepared to find a tree/rock to do the necessary, and clean your teeth using bottled water. In the end, we needn’t have bothered taking half the stuff we did, as we all slept in our clothes anyway and carried on the next day regardless. We were all warm enough in our wooden beds with straw mattresses and wool blankets, and Neyba thoughtfully brought sheets to cover the beds with which made things more comfortable.
We awoke around 8am and had a simple breakfast of bread and coffee, supplemented by heavy, traditional wheat dumplings in a spicy pepper sauce. With that cannonball of carbs inside me I felt ready to face the day, and we set off under a cloudier sky than the day before.
The walk on Day 2 was not as strenuous as walking up the Crater had been, and we chatted and admired the view as we made our way along the route. It soon got extremely rocky which was difficult and tiring to walk along, but that didn’t last and we kept ourselves in high spirits as the trail got easier along the way. Neyba again pointed out the odd herb and even a snake, and we spent some time taking about electricity being installed in Niñu Mayu and the local area. We stopped for a lunch of cold fried eggs (surprisingly good), fried plantain, salad and rice and shared some coca leaves with a couple of local farmers before continuing on the last leg of the journey.
We ended the trip in the small town of Potolo with a look around a tiny museum displaying local weaving and medicinal plants, before lazing in the sun and awaiting the public bus back to Sucre.
At this point I should mention that Jaku Trekking is about providing you with a genuine experience, allowing you to “leave your footprint” but also experience the local communities. This bus was no exception. We sneakily waited on the road into Potolo to try and bag a seat, but no such luck. With some 70 people on a bus made for maybe 40, we squeezed our way on – we girls hunkered down on the wheel arch, the boys stood on potato sacks in the aisle – for an extremely long and uncomfortable drive back.
A word about public transport in South America. For the uninitiated, you may have heard tell of the chicken bus: a clunky, ancient vehicle carrying all types of people and cargo, driven by a hawking, spitting, terrible-music-loving, cheerfully homicidal maniac at one of two speeds – breakneck fast or tear-jerkingly slow. This was such a bus, and although no chickens were in attendance, everything else I just mentioned certainly was. I urge you to understand that you must, must pack your sense of humour before boarding these vehicles. They are fun and novel for the first hour or so, after which point your bones will ache, your patience will frazzle and if you’re really unlucky, your bladder will be full. Hold tight cause you’re in for a long and bumpy ride.
After a few hours of this, we saw the glorious view of Sucre stretching before us, and after several stops for money collecting, old men peeing in the road, and a high-speed chase in pursuit of a goat hellbent on freedom, we eventually reached the outskirts of the city. Neyba had obviously thought we’d all had enough by this point, and leapt over the remaining sacks of potatoes to flag us down a taxi, paid for by Jaku, so we could all get back before nightfall. What a legend. While the chicken bus scenario is fairly standard in Bolivia, Neyba told us it was never normally as packed as it was that day, and we wondered if it was to do with the Carnaval festival in local Tarabuco that weekend. Either way, we were glad to get back.
David, Neyba’s colleague, was waiting with a big smile in the office and he was so pleased we’d had a great time. Throughout the process we felt treated as equals by our guide and she made every effort to laugh and joke with us, making sure we were ok and stopping for rests when we needed it. She was kind, knowledgeable, and full of enthusiasm. Her cooking skills were appreciated by our whole group, and we were happy to pitch in and help chop and serve things. So often on trips like these you can feel like you’re firmly on the Gringo Trail, and although there are several versions of this trek that you can go on with any number of companies in Sucre, we only came across two other groups the whole time we were away – one that we overtook on the Camino del Inka, and another group from Jaku that stayed in a different area of the household to us overnight on their 3-day trek.
My feelings immediately after the trek? It ruined me!! I staggered home, utterly exhausted, and proceeded to nurse a stinking cold for the next two days. This probably had nothing to do with the trek, but when you are physically tired anyway, of course you’re more likely to come down with a snivel and that’s all it was. But every one of us ached all over. The trek itself is not arduous, compared to, say, Snowdon in the UK or any number of minor mountain walks in the Americas, but if you haven’t done anything like this for a while, it will take it out of you. Don’t forget you are dealing with high temperatures, open spaces, and probably a night of very light sleep.
I would firmly recommend this trek and this company to anyone who feels the need to get out of the city for a while and enjoy some sweeping and dramatic landscapes, good conversation, and a bit of peace and quiet! If you want to meet some local people, stand alone in the middle of nowhere with stunning nature all around you; if you want to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone…in short, if you want to feel like you’ve really ‘done’ a trek…do it with Jaku.