Samaipata – El Fuerte

The cross from Cochabamba to Samaipata is a bit adventurous. I didn’t know about the 7am direct bus and I managed to miss the bus at 11am to Mairana, some 15km from Samaipata.I couldn’t find any trufi going that far, so I ended up taking the 5pm bus. Now the bus ride from Cochabamba to Mairana takes about nine hours, meaning we arrived at 2am in Mairana. I did not believe I would be able to find a hotel open at that time of the night especialy since I didn’t know if Mairana had any hotels at all.

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After communicating with the bus company they had a simple solution: Just sleep in our bus, the first taxis going from Mairana to Samaipata start leaving around 4am. Since I did not want to arrive in Samaipata at 4:30am, we agreed that I’d stay in the bus until dawn. Something that was, luckily also communicated to the bus driver. I kind of expected to be kicked out in Mairana, but he was in the loop and perfectly fine with me squatting his bus. At roughly 5am, long before dawn, the temperature just dropped too low and I decided screw it, I’m going to Samaipata now. Unfortunately, that’s when I realised I had been locked in. There was no way out and certainly no way to get my luggage from the storage compartment. That’s when you start wondering how and when you’ll get out. Assuming the bus had to be back in Cochabamba by five and it needing nine hours to get there, I should be liberated around 10am at the latest. But I needn’t have worried. At 6:30am, shortly after the sky started turning blue, the bus driver showed up with his wife to let me out. One could clearly tell he thought I was a bit crazy for staying in the bus, but he was very nice, considering that I probably made him get up early.
By 7:30am I was in Samaipata drinking a nice, strong coffee.. Just what the doctor ordered.

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Shortly after I set out to visit the ruins of El fuerte, the fortress. Well, it’s not really a fortress, but highly intriguing. It’s a huge barren rock on top of a hill, which held a cultural significance for almost all native tribes that lived in the area. Therefore one can find carvings up to 1200 years old. The animal carvings were initially done by the rather peaceful Chané who lived there for 500 years before the warrior tribes of the guarani moved up from the Amazonas and conquered them around 1350AD. They then built the tribe Chiriguani meaning “those with Chané women” as I would learn the next day. Alternative sources they that the Chané were enslaved and forced to marry the Guarani and that the word Chiriguani comes from the Quechua words for “meaningless dirt”. But that doesn’t sound all that nice, does it? The Chiriguani didn’t last long, as they were conquered by the Inkas coming from the Andes only 150 years later. They used it as a ceremonial site and as a rest point for their runners. This is also what gave Samaipata its name, as it means “Place of rest at high altitude”. Ultimately the Spanish arrived, conquered the Inkas and built a fortress here which gave the site the name of El Fuerte.


El Fuerte is such a unique location because of its mix of different cultures, you can see the animal drawings of the Chané, right next to Inca walls and the niches on the ground which contained statues of their gods and ancestors. Around the rock itself there are many remains of different type of Inca buildings: private housing, administrative buildings and more. Those, to me, were very interesting because it showed a very different, less elegant building style than the one you see in Cuzco.. I guess this is due a lot to the distance and the lesser importance of this site (compared to Cuzco). At least I know now, that the Incas built houses just like we did with clay as mortar.

The one thing that is a bit unfortunate (but necessary to preserve the site), is that you can’t get close or walk on the rock itself. That means that a lot of the carvings and symbols on the rock are quite hard to make out. I could not get my eyes to understand which way round the Puma lies in this picture, for example.

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