Tuesday 15 November – Mizque to Sucre
Yesterday, we had turned off the Cochabamba to Sucre road at Aiquilla, just to drive some 40 km to Mizque, the only place with a comfortable bed in a comfortable hotel. So we already knew the first 40 km of today’s drive: back to Aiquilla! Brendan might argue that his camping approach to cactus trips avoids this, but then he is lugging 39 (?) kg. of luggage up three floors to hotel rooms each night, while I weighed in with 12.3 kg at Heathrow and only take my computer & camera bags to the room plus toilet bag and clean undies.
S2386 and S2387 were new hills for all of us, as John suggested we’d explore along the ‘new’ – still work in progress’ – Aiquila by-pass. We found Sulcorebutia mentosa and some plants tending towards S. flavissima. Many plants in flower, although it seems that flowers rarely open fully on any of the Sulco’s that we’ve seen so far. I managed to encourage a few to open by sticking my finger in.
Past Aiquilla we stopped (S2388) at Puenta Arce, the bridge where you cross from Department Cochabamba into Chuquisaca. We were treated to Gymnocalycium pflanzii (below the Rio Grande) and Parodia sp plus some ‘different’ Opuntias and Neoraimondia herzogiana.
S2389 was another short stop – we are still trying to make up time with quite a way left to go to Sucre. We found an Echinopsis sp, Jatropha sp. with not unattractive peeling bark, a Cleistocactus sp. and, much to John and Chris’ delight, some white flowers that were attached to bulbs.
As the end of daylight approached the outskirts of Sucre appeared on the hills in front of us. It was strange that there was so little oncoming traffic coming out of town. Increasingly we found trucks parked up along the road, but we continued, following a bus and a taxi. Until …… yes, the blockade that we had driven two days to avoid at Oruro had spread, or rather the local dispute at Oruro had now turned into a truck driver’s dispute who wanted to show their displeasure at the Government’s intention to ban all ‘illegal’ trucks and trailers – as far as we can make out, anything over 7 years old; which would cover most wheels on the road. Worse case scenario we would be stuck in this stationary queue of cars, lorries and coaches. The taxi in front of us dropped off his passengers, who could walk through the barriers and did a U-turn, signalling to us to do the same. We drove back about one km. when he slowed down and pointed up a side road. We were a little unsure if he was just a good Samaritan or setting us up for a drive into nowhere. S2390 records a limited number of images of the road block – it’s unwise to ignite a potentially explosive situation by winding up short-fused Bolivians by taking pictures of their way of life. In addition I took some pictures out of the car window as the track wound itself down the hills to a dry river bed, then through the dry river bed, by instinct, until we met a car coming the other way. The driver, surprised, asked what we were doing here, seemingly unaware of the blockade, smiled and confirmed that we were on the right track. Eventually we found our way out of the river bed and as we climbed back up the hill we saw the reassuring outline of the Cement Factory, a famous Sucre land mark that seemed to have been the target for the blockade. Had we come far enough past the blockade to be able to enter Sucre? Yes!
Fortunately John recognised where we were and managed to find his way to Hostal International, owned by German Max Steiner, who runs this and some 7 other hostals as a backpackers / European Volunteer hostel. With all the international guests, it had been worthwhile for them to install free internet wifii; an opportunity to send the first signs of life back to family and friends. This included Brian Bates, resident of this grand metropolis, who joined us for breakfast the next day.
But first, John took us to Bisoneti, a restaurant famed for its huge steaks and more. A good end to a somewhat uncertain day.