Inca Trails and Haunted Castles
As two condors lazily floated overhead, I soaked up some sun and reflected on the morning. I marveled at how much one can get done when the alarm is set for 3:45 am. As the wakeup time suggests, it was an early start from La Paz. We made our way up and out of the slowly waking city, and into the mountains. Bikes were shouldered as the sun touched the highest reaches, and we tried to warm up fingers and toes on our 1.5hr long hike-a-bike up to a pass at 4600m.
Once at the pass the sun offered placebo warmth, as the biting wind cut through our many layers. I felt pretty envious of the wooly llamas at that moment. The mountain pass marked the start of our epic descent down the Takesi Inca trail, a centuries old pre-Hispanic trading route that the Inca built using slave labour to help move their vast armies, and provide a route to transport food and other goods from the Yunga Basin to the high mountains. This trail is part of over 40,000km of Inca roads built by this magnificent empire.
It was pretty amazing to ride my CoilAir over the smooth stones of this piece of history. You could practically feel the ghosts of Incan armies passing by you as thousands of feet of descent passed under our tires.
It was a giant ride. By giant, I mean the most vertical I have ever done in one ride, and I have done some big descents in my time. We dropped 3000m/9,840ft in 24km of extremely varied terrain. Yes, almost 10,000 feet in one go. We rode everything from high alpine singletrack, to inlaid stone Inca road, and eventually down into lush green jungle trail, passing by rustic farming houses with rows of maize drying out front. The thick air of the deep valley was a treat to breathe in after many days at higher elevations.
We all made it to the bottom exhausted but very happy. It was pretty special to combine an amazing ride with the feeling of passing through the chapters of history.
The history lesson continued when we arrived at our lodging for the night. We stayed at El Castillo, a bona fide castle in the middle of the Bolivian wilderness. The castle was built in 1934 by 500 Paraguayan prisoners of war, for the then-President of Bolivia, Dr. Jose Luis Tejada Sorzano and his family. During the building of the castle, the President wanted a secret tunnel built, in case of an uprising. He directed four POW’s to build the tunnel, and when it was completed he got the men drunk and buried them alive in the tunnel, in order to keep the secret safe. The tunnel, along with the four skeletons, has never been found.
The President and his family lived in this castle for many years, as he used it as a place to entertain many dignitaries and government officials. During these idyllic times the President took on a mistress from the local village, which obviously was a point of contention with his wife. The family eventually moved to Chile, with the President promising to return to his lover. Once they arrived in Chile he died of a heart attack, and the mistress waited for him for two years before hearing the news of his demise. She was so heartbroken she flung herself off a nearby waterfall to her death.
It is said now you can hear the ghosts of the President and his wife arguing in their upstairs room, and the mistress wanders in the gardens outside the castle.
It is a pretty neat experience to stay at the castle, as many of the rooms are well preserved, with many original pieces of furniture still in place. We had a great dinner, and soon retired to bed. I was so tired from the day that I fell into a well-deserved slumber, regardless of the restless ghosts flitting about the castle.