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On this stage we ride from Sucre to the Incallajta archaeological site, located near the old road linking Cochabamba with Santa Cruz. Incallajta is the second largest archeological site in Bolivia, after Tiwanaku. Along the way we see the beginning of the transition from the Andean highlands, arid and scarce in natural resources to a new region, still rugged but with several rivers that make vegetation more abundant and crops more varied. The altitude is lower and the temperature considerably higher. People keep talking mostly Quechua, but it sounds different and in fact, they mix some Aymara. The road has a major drawback for cyclists: there are about 60 mi of road paved with cobblestones. Even if you have the best saddle and the best shorts, so many miles of stones will get your butt wrecked.


Stage index:

August 2, 2011: From Sucre to Puente Arce (Profile)
August 3, 2011: From Puente Arce to Aiquile (Profile)
August 4, 2011: From Aiquile to nowhere (Profile)
August 5, 2011: From nowhere to Totora (Profile)
August 6, 2011: From Totora to Epizana (visit to Incallajta) (Profile)


Profile for the entire stage:

Stage profile


August 2, 2011: From Sucre to Puente Arce

Nice fix, uh?Today I don’t have a good start. We go outside the hotel with the bikes loaded. When we start to pedal, I realize that one of the toe clips I "repaired" yesterday is upside-down: it is bolted to the front of the pedal, but pointing down. It could have been worse, at least I can put my foot on the pedal without stepping on the toe clip. Despite such blunder, as we are already on the street, we decide to leave anyway.

The bus terminal is on our way to the national road 5, that goes from Sucre to Cochabamba and then to Santa Cruz. From the terminal we ship the box to Santa Cruz, where we will pick it up in a few days. The exit of the city goes through an avenue with lots of car repair shops. As it should be, each one has the typical calendar with good-looking girls in bikini (or without). In Bolivia, in any kind of advertisement there is always a girl with good body and very little clothing. We're not just talking about beer ads, but ads of car wheels, motors, generators, concrete... Probably any tool or material that is traditionally purchased by men. 

Once outside the city, the road continues to climb gently until it almost reaches 10000 feet. From there, we descent more than 2600 feet down to the valley of the river we will follow the whole day. Today we will stop at Puente Arce, at 4900 feet of altitude, 4300 lower than Sucre. However, accounting with the climb out of the city and the frequent ups and downs of the road that runs parallel to the river, the total accumulated downhill is approximately 6900 feet (that means, oddly enough, 2600 feet of accumulated climb). Once in the valley, the landscape is not spectacular but at least greener than at higher altitudes. Cacti, shrubs and sparse trees are mixed. At noon, the heat is very strong and the dry air forces us to drink continuously. We didn’t expect this change in temperature and, clearly, we're not properly dressed. The thick tights and black sweaters are too warm. It continues to surprise us (pleasantly) the little traffic, even this being a major road. Most vehicles are trucks, but very spaced. The buses connecting Sucre with Santa Cruz and Cochabamba depart in the afternoon and travel overnight, so they don’t bother us while pedaling. 

At the end of the downhill we reach the Arce bridge, where the asphalt ends and just a few feet away is the population of the same name. It’s a tiny village with some stores selling the basics and, yes, a football court. We ask for permission to camp there to the store owner where we get water from. While we set up the tent, we receive all types of visitors, dogs, pigs, chickens, goats... More than a sports court, it looks like a corral. We just have enough time to "improve" the orientation of the toe clip before it gets dark and the mosquitoes appear.

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August 3, 2011: From Puente Arce to Aiquile

Well, today it starts worse than yesterday. Not because the roosters wake us up before 6:30, not because the piglets grunt walking around the tent, not even due to the noise the passing herd of goats produces on the concrete on the football court, but because a damn dog pees on the tent. Since yesterday was hot when we got in the tent, we put the door flier above the tent and just closed the screen door. This morning I was awakened by Judit shouting to scare the dog away, but it was too late. The repulsive dog had already marked territory where I had my head. Well, probably not too late, at least the yell served to avoid a golden shower on my head. Anyway, now that corner stinks of dog pee. To try to remedy it, we buy alcohol in one of the little stores and scour the affected area. I believe that dogs have cursed me. Since I grab a rock and threaten them when they approach barking, they take revenge and pee on my saddlebags (like when we were going to El Chaltén) or now on the tent. Anyway, with that look of repugnance that stays in your face in cases like this, we pick up everything and set off. 

Drying corn out of reach of goatsToday, the entire road is dirt and all uphill. Yesterday, the store owner made ​​us aware of the situation. They are repairing the track and building new bridges, as there have been several landslides during the rainy season. To facilitate the work, they have diverted the vehicles to a new road that goes over the river bed. It seems that this way not only has many stretches of sand and stones, but is also full of dust. Although this seems a misfortune, the reality is that it becomes an advantage for us. We do not take the detour, but pedal on the track under repair. Although we have to walk the bike a few times to bypass a few ditches, we ride on a traffic-free and very smooth road. Thus, during the first 12 mi we move quickly over a terrain that seems almost as if it was paved. From mile 12 to 22 the alternate path and the main one merge and we have to suffer the dust storms of cars and trucks. In addition, the compacted dirt is over. Those 10 miles along with the heat, wears us down considerably. If that wasn´t enough, using the only topographic map we have (with very low resolution), we predicted that the maximum elevation for today was 6900 feet. In reality we go up to 8000 feet and then down to 7400, where Aiquile is located. To top it all, a few miles before Aiquile I get a flat. As we have done some other times, we inflate the tube and it holds until the village. Our butts are beaten up of so many rocks but our fate today is to end up even worse. Aiquile streets are paved with cobblestones! This already seems done on purpose to destroy our moral and rears. Fortunately, the stretch of road in the center of town is paved with concrete. Finally we settle on a motel and take a shower with little flow, but at least hot water. We wander around town and have chicken with potatoes for dinner in a place that seems to be popular among the locals. With the tube still punctured, chains covered in dust, we go to sleep. Tomorrow will be another day. And hopefully better.

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August 4, 2011: From Aiquile to nowhere

Today is not going to be our lucky day either. We ask the motel owner how is the road to Totora and his response is: "Cobblestones". No way. It is impossible that the 44 mi to Totora are like the 500 yards entering Aiquile. But the owner is positive. 44 mi of cobblestones is going to be hell. Who had the idea of paving 44 miles of road with cobblestones? 

Cobblestones pavementComing out of the patio of the motel we find a parade of students in preparation for the celebration of the Independence Day, August 6th. The percussion section is doing pretty well, but the trumpets have only 2 days left to stop being a disaster. Before we deal with the cobblestone pavement we visit the church. It’s not an old building, as in the cities we have visited so far. In fact this area was severely destroyed by the 1998 earthquake and many buildings have been completely or almost completely rebuilt. This church has two classic-style towers separated from the main building, a more modern style.

Cozy nestWith no more reasons to delay the start, we have to leave the concrete to give way to the cobblestones. Leaving Aiquile we ride on a sort of sidewalk, delaying the inevitable a few yards further. Then, a stretch of dirt. Later, when there is nothing else than rounded stones we ride on the sides of the road, that occasionally have accumulations of dirt, gravel or sand to smooth out the irregularities of the pavement. Sometimes we jump to the road shoulders to ride on trails that have been created by passing pedestrians. In short, any terrain is better than the cobblestones. The problem of the shoulders is that the vegetation of the area is mostly cacti and thorn bushes. Today we get a flat for sure, but better to repair a tube than destroy our butts even more. 

Punky birdThe miles go by without much interest. Only a few small details catch our attention like the growing diversity of birds and their curious nests or the brightly colored fruit of some of the cacti. The unattractive villages we are passing are more and more dispersed. The main feature of today’s profile is the descent and ascent of the Mizque River. From here the landscape improves, the vegetation is more abundant and from up high we can see many valleys and mountains. When we are about 31 mi from Aiquile we still have 13 more to Totora, our ideal destination for today. Clearly we are not getting to Totora today so we start looking for a place to camp. In the first house we pass we ask for water since we are running out. They give us what they have, but the murky water from the bucket does not seem very healthy. After half a bottle, we indicate them that we have enough. We are in one of those situations where we don’t want to despise the favor, but we do not want to waste their water either. Later we find a truck stopped and ask them if they have some water. They give us a couple of liters. This one is crystal clear. A few curves ahead, we pitch the tent behind a hill and give a rest to our butts.

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August 5, 2011: From nowhere to Totora

Colorful bellyThankfully we no longer believe the information from the locals about the profile. It is always "pure downhill". On top of the almost continuous 13 mi uphill from the Mizque River we climbed yesterday, today we still go up about 4 more. Yesterday we were lucky to find a place to spend the night, because right around the first curve there are the first houses of a series that will not stop until almost Totora. 

Today we find less sandy shoulders, less accumulation of dirt and therefore, our already sore butts, suffer more. At the end of the 14 mi that separates us from Totora our butts are like a “ducks trough”. This is an expression used by a colleague at the Barcelona office. Josemi sure remembers. The author used it in a context like: "If you do not finish this work on time, I’m going to make your butt look like a ducks trough". I never understood its meaning until today. Somebody guaranteed us that from Totora and on, the road is paved, but we still don’t believe it. 

Totora main plazaWhen we arrive in Totora, the village is celebrating the Independence Day, even if today is the 5th. In the central plaza there is music and a parade, but we're too tired to get close. After a shower we wander around the village. The plaza is surrounded by arcaded buildings reconstructed after the ’98 earthquake. All the streets are paved with cobblestones. In the lowest part of the village runs a river that can be crossed by a Roman-style bridge. The town has some charm and tourist potential, but needs substantial improvement when it comes to cleanness.

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August 6, 2011: From Totora to Epizana (visit to Incallajta)

It exists! The asphalt exists! There, at the end of the main street, where the road to Epizana begins, cobblestones are replaced by smooth asphalt. The route to Epizana, located on the old road that goes from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz is mostly downhill. This, along with the evenness of the pavement is a pleasure for our sore butts. Arriving at Epizana we look for accommodation for the night and leave the saddlebags there. The plan is to continue with the bikes to the ruins of Incallajta, a few miles towards Cochabamba. Before leaving Epizana we ask about the way and they give us great news: from the turn off of the road to the ruins, the road is paved... with cobblestones! 

Once the bags are unloaded, we take Highway 7 to Cocha. This is usually a windy area. In fact, there is a wind farm in Kollpana. In our map, the junction to Incallajta is at the village of Monte Punktu, but when we get there they tell us that we've passed it. As usual, in Bolivia, the signs are inexistent. We turn around and ride now downwind, 2 miles from Monte Punktu, now we see a small sign indicating Pocona (non-existent in the other direction), where we are headed. And finally we ride on cobblestones again. We were missing them… At least the 8 mi from the road to the fork that leads to Incallajta are downhill. The road to the ruins (also paved with cobblestones) is uphill though and the return back to the road also. This pavement has almost no dirt areas on the sides to reduce the shaking. After a few miles down, Judit feels her kidneys trembling. And again we get a flat due to the thorny vegetation close to the shoulders. Once we have the new tube installed and inflated, when removing the pump, the valve comes out with it! The pffffffff sound is accompanied by a face of skepticism for what happened. Fortunately we carry a second spare tube and do not need to repair the flat right there. Finally we reach the junction up to Incallajta. At the first curve we already see the steep slope traffic signal. We recalculate the time it will take us and seeing that it is more than 1 PM, we realize we do not have time to do it by bike. At that time, a couple of cars approach. The first passes by, but the second one takes the sharp turn and faces the uphill to the ruins. It is a small car and the bikes will not fit, but we do. We stop them and ask them if they can give us a ride. The answer is yes so now we have to find a place to leave the bikes. Half mile back we just passed a house, so we go back to ask if they can keep the bikes until we return from the ruins. On top of this, a pick-up truck is parked at the door and we ask if we they can take us back to Epizana. All the answers are positive, so we have solved the logistics and we avoid the ride back. We have been fortunate to meet with Elmer, the driver, as in the 5.6 miles up to the ruins we climb 300 yards. He lives in the village of Incallajta, about 2.5 mi before the archaeological site. Passing through the village he drops off her wife and we continue to the visitor center. We convince him to do the tour with us instead of waiting for us in the car. We hire a guide and start the tour of the archaeological site. 

Incallajta kallankaIncallajta is a Quechua word that means the Inca city or the Inca town. Incallajta was built around 1470 by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui and rebuilt by his son Wayna Kapac. The buildings were originally intended to control the empire's eastern border and defend against attacks from the peoples of the East, mainly the Chiriguanos. There is a wall surrounding the city and climbing up the hill, protecting the water source that supplied the city. It also served as an administrative center of the fertile valleys of Pocona and surrounding areas. Structurally, the complex has the characteristics of what is known as "Provincial Inca architecture". The thick walls are built with two walls of rough stone and filled with a mixture of dirt and gravel, much less delicate than that of Machu Picchu. The main building, called kallanka is the largest known in the Inca architecture. It is 82 x 230 feet and was covered by a gable roof supported by a matrix of 3 x 8 columns. It was used for ceremonies and mass meetings. The interior walls have a series of blind windows that were used to place torches and decorative elements. Access to the building was done through 12 gates aligned on one of the long walls of the rectangle. Outside is a stone that probably was used as a platform for speeches addressed to an audience of lower rank who listened from the open area in front of the kallanka. On this plaza there is also another flat stone used as an altar for sacrifices to the gods. The tour continues through other buildings used as homes and gets close to the waterfall where the Inca maidens bathed. Crossing the stream of the waterfall we reach the second of the 3 areas of the city. In this one, there are more houses and the astronomers’ tower. The walls of this tower are designed in such a way that mark the passing of the seasons depending on the incidence of sunlight. The whole site is in very little reconstructed state, most walls are collapsed and it takes some imagination to realize of the magnitude of the site. Fortunately, two of the walls of the kallanka remain in fairly good condition and give an idea of its 3D dimensions. The guide tells us that there is a new plan approved for restoration. Sure, if carried out, the place will improve a lot and might get the recognition of World Heritage Site, which currently is not granted. He also tells us that on December 21 the 'Kapac Raymi" festivity and on the June 21 the “New Andean-Amazon Year” are held here. At both events, part of the ritual is the sacrifice of a llama. Its blood is poured around the altar as an offering to the Pachamama and its heart is burned with herbs to thanks other deities of the Andean-Amazonian world. 

Incallajta kallanka

After the visit, Elmer takes us back to the house where we have the bikes. The surprise that awaits us is that the owner of the pick-up tells us that it has no gasoline. There's also a normal car parked that does have gas, but the bikes don’t fit. It's 4:30 and we begin to fear the worst: having to pedal back up the cobblestones and with head wind. But in Bolivia, there is always a solution. Not understanding very well why, he goes looking for his son somewhere. 20 minutes later the son repeats the same story about the fuel. We do a futile attempt to put the bikes in the car. Also the car runs on gas and the tank is inside the trunk, further reducing the available space. Suddenly he says that he will move the car battery to the pick-up and we are ready, sure we get to Epizana with the little gasoline it has. Without trying to understand anything, we load the bikes on the truck, push it to start the engine, we get in front and pray for not running out of gasoline. In one hour we are back in Epizana. In short, a full day, with asphalt, cobblestone pavement, cultural tour, suspense and a practical test of improvisation to work out unexpected situations with the resources we have at hand. Of course, the good will of the people here, and it must be said, an economic incentive, helps.

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