The land in the south of Bolivia and the north of Argentina is ´cowboy country´ with myriads of earth colours, canyons, stony riverbeds and hills carved into unusual pointed shapes and grooves by the rains across millennia. Often, the sedimentary rocks are spread in sandwiches of colours – even within the same hillside, creating a stunning artist´s palette on a grand scale. Tupiza fits this description to a tee and what better way to get into the whole ´cowboy country´ feeling than by going on a two day horse riding tour.
Courtesy of my hard working horse, Manty, I explored the river valleys to the south of Tupiza (Roi San Juan del Oro and Rio Tupiza). Another tourist, Juliette from France, and I were guided by Saul. As is the case in much of Bolivia, the children often work during the day and go to school in the evening. So Saul, at only fifteen years old, would sometimes have long days. While this system of working and schooling for the young folk is undoubtedly useful for family economics, I am not sure whether Bolivia is going to match the development of future intellects that may be achieved by other South American countries with more conventional schooling hours.
|A Rich Spread of Reds & Browns Inside Los Cañones|
|Natural Sculptures Inside Los Cañones|
During our tour, the first place of interest was Los Cañones which was the first opportunity to get close to the craggy shapes in the red and oxide coloured earth. The ´curtains´ of earth were even taller at the lunch stop by Rio San Juan del Oro at Toroyoj. We continued upstream and crossed the river many times where the flat riverbeds were the perfect place to gallop. I previously had just a few hours of experience of riding and normally would not choose to pass hours on a horse, but soon realised what fun it was with the adrenaline rush of riding a horse at full speed.
|´Curtains´ of Rock in Toroyoj by Rio San Juan del Oro|
|Saul Leads the Way by Rio San Juan del Oro|
As we got higher up the valley of Rio San Juan del Oro, the scenery and the breadth of the natural colour palette got better and better. Our accommodation was in the village of Espicaya which is nestled below the cliffs of cream coloured hills. I climbed one of these early the next morning for commanding views of the river valley and surrounding area. While the hills look solid from a distance, they are in fact made up of sedimentary rock filled with stones. The sedimentary rock is in fact so soft it is almost like dry earth. As a result, everything is prone to crumbling and giving way easily – as I found to my cost with a fall, ripping the skin on both legs.
|Espicaya Nestled Against the Rocky Hills of|
the Rio San Juan del Oro Valley
|River Valley Vista from Cerro (Hill) Above Espicaya|
In the morning, our return along the valley was made on the other side of the river for alternative views and the chance to get closer to the red coloured hills. There were plenty more high adrenaline moments under gallop. We passed Toroyoj another time and continued along the river past La Torre (The Tower), an aptly named singular rock feature, and soon encountered the railway line which we followed this to pass under Cerro Angosto via a tunnel.
Before returning to Tupiza there was time to visit Puerta del Diablo (Devil´s Door) – a gap between two rectangular rocks, as well as Valle de los Machos. On the way up to this valley, some clouds were looking a little threatening, but I thought that they would just about skirt past us. Alas not and a brief but dramatic storm ensued with some lightening striking some hills very close by and hail the size of chick peas. That size of hail hurts so we stopped and tried to shelter and to stop the horses freaking out. The sun soon returned and we enjoyed the visual spectacle of Valle de los Machos before heading back to Tupiza.