Since most businesses and attractions were closed for Sucre’s Carnaval celebration, we were grateful for the opportunity to go on a guided day-trip to the Maragua Crater. We rarely go on guided tours/treks but we were more than willing to do so this time due to a lack of personal transportation, limited information about the logistics of getting to and from the area, and an unawareness of the terrain. Tour companies were hesitant to book a trip with just two people so we buddied up with two other couples staying at our hostel (an English couple and a German couple) and, thankfully, we were all interested in the same destination.
Our tour company, Joy Rides, provided us with a driver named Army (at least that’s how it’s pronounced) and an English-speaking local guide named Grover. After breakfast, all eight of us sardined ourselves into the 4×4 SUV and rode on paved, cobblestoned, and dirt roads for about an hour up to Capilla de Chataquila. Aside from being the location of our trailhead, it was also the place of worship for many local villages. The main church remains locked except for religious occasions, but a side chapel is open for anyone to go inside and provide offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in hope of good fortune. In the more rural areas, offerings are usually made for good harvests and fertility while offerings in the city are usually made for money. Grover provided us with some history of the area then led us to the trailhead where we began our descent toward Maragua Crater.
The historic trail to the crater was once used for transporting and trading goods between villages long before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s (it is referred to as “camino prehispanico”) and was used later by the Incas. As Grover explained, the trail was built to be wide and smooth with a gentle slope to ease transportation with animals, while other Inca trails (such as the one leading to Machu Picchu) were used for relaying communications via runners and were built into narrow paths of staircases. The areas surrounding the trail are filled with interesting landscapes of slanted and waving rock formations, slow-growing high-altitude trees, and a variety of fragrant plants which are commonly infused in tea to cure anything from nerves to stomach aches.
We spent a couple hours hiking toward the crater, getting to know our fellow hikers and hostel-goers, getting educated by Grover about the area, and helping Grover with his English while he helped us with our Spanish and Quechua (the latter being Grover’s native language, the primary language of the Andean indigenous population, and the language of the Inca Empire; also a language in which I will never be fluent due to its frequent use of clicks and other noises I cannot make with my throat). At the end of our trail we were met by Army and went for a short drive to a viewpoint at the edge of the crater where we stopped for lunch. Looking into the crater from this vantage point provided an interesting panoramic view of rippled hillsides with varying colors and textures of rocks. We could also see the two villages located within the crater, one of which we would visit later.
Following lunch and some additional education from Grover about the formation of the crater via movement of tectonic plates, we hiked inside the crater to a waterfall and to a cave-like area which looked like the mouth of a monster. Locals do not like this area. They have personified the cave and feel it truly has negative qualities and will bring bad luck. Alastair, however, went right in.
Our next stop was visiting one of the two villages inside the crater where textiles and farming are the mainstays and where self-sufficiency is key. While the men typically tend to the animals and fields, the women focus on textiles. We were lucky enough to see a few different stages of the textiles process including a woman dyeing yarn in her wood-fired kiln and another woman (with ten children) in the process of weaving on a loom. It was interesting to see such a vastly different way of life, but also felt intrusive making it a tourist attraction. Thankfully we were the only group there that day and the family we interacted with received payment from the tour company for allowing our visit (I got the impression that multiple families allow tour groups to visit and the tour companies vary who they visit in order to spread the wealth). Regardless, it still felt like a unique and eye-opening experience that was truly an authentic insight into their way of life.
By mid-afternoon it was time to make the two-hour drive back to Sucre. Our morning hiking path bypassed the curviest section of the road, which we now got to experience. Some sections felt quite narrow but I had confidence in Army’s driving. We didn’t have any close calls and he slowed down for bumps and sharp corners, allowing me to keep my car-sickness at bay. He stopped at a high viewpoint along the way so we could stretch our legs and enjoy the view, including seeing the steep and twisted road we had just traveled up.
The rest of the drive was uneventful and it wasn’t until we were within two blocks of returning to our hostel that traffic came to an absolute hault. Carnaval celebrations were taking over the streets and multiple parades of marching bands and their accompanying crowds created total gridlock. We sat on a side street for about twenty minutes watching hoards of people walk/stager by on the cross street with varying degrees of drunkenness while spraying foam and throwing water balloons at one another, shooting fireworks, and finding a place to publicly urinate (side note: my informal research indicates that one’s level of drunkenness has an inverse relationship with one’s level of discreetness when finding a location to urinate). Army finally got out of the vehicle to see if there was any end in sight. There wasn’t. At this point we made a unanimous decision to walk the remaining two blocks to the hostel and just accept that we were probably going to get wet.
Being a group of six white people wearing hiking clothes and backpacks and walking against the flow of a massive crowd of parading Bolivians meant that there was no way we were going to blend in. Several Carnaval-goers definitely took note of us but everyone in our group made it through without getting wet. Except me.
Half-way back to the hostel I felt something strange and rubbery pushing on the back of my neck. I picked up my pace and reached up to get rid of this foreign object but the pressure of the object increased and then SPLAT! Someone had not thrown a water balloon at me, but had pressed one on the back of my neck, ensuring the most amount of water possible would run down my back and front. One of the others in our group said, “You’re tall and blonde, what’d you expect?” There’s some truth to that, but I’m perfectly content if that’s my only direct encounter with the craziness of Carnaval.
It was nice to get out of town with friendly fellow travellers, to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside, and experience a unique landscape and lifestyle. Everyone seemed to have a good day, including Grover, and I’m glad we could find something to do during the height of Carnaval.