Vern: We started our fourth day in town in a terrible archaeological museum watching a short film meant to explain 'El Fuerte' (the Fort) a mystical red rock, and the village which formed around it, which sits in the mountain above Samaipata and is covered with carvings and etchings dating back past 500 BC. However they don't actually know much as they only had the budget to excavate 10% of the complex. Nonetheless the film-maker was commissioned to fill up 20 minutes by the Samaipata Tourism Authority, so we sat through a lot of pan zooms, wacky dissolves, verbose language, talking heads and stock footage of the Samaipata plaza which had a lot more towns people in it than we've seen milling about - It must have been filmed over a couple of months, we joked.
We then went up to the rock itself which was obviously important in its day and served as the pinnacle of the villages built around it for over 2000 years. The Chane people were first and the Incas were the last in the 1400s. The Spanish found it and looted it in the 1600s and after then it was deserted. Pumas, jaguars and serpents are carved into the rock as well as two channels running parallel down from a ceremonial table and a conferencing circle. In the side of the rock face, large niches the size of doors are carved. In these, the Incas kept mummies of important people. And then for one month (October - November) every year, the mummies were exhumed, brought out and dressed up to join a celebration in their honour. Gross.
We left the ruins in a Jeep driven by our local guide, a young local man with big eyes, a natural smile and a wide brimmed Coca-Cola hat, and drove to the edge of Amboro National Park - a massive but largely inaccessible park covering multiple different Eco-systems from mountains to jungle to volcanoes to swamps. We were headed for a cloud forest. On a bumpy dirt road, we drove through a small twenty family farming community called 'Los Alisos' - The Smoothes. They're supposedly named for a prolific tree in the area with a sleek bark, but since each family in the area is known to have around ten children (all who work the land), I propose that it is because the men round these parts talk with a velvet tongue.
We climbed out of the jeep at cloud level - water vapour turning back to liquid on our warm skin as the clouds rolled around us - and started our hike into the eerie prehistoric forest. Our guide was very good and stopped every few steps to point out a plant, a tree, a fruit or a caterpillar. I think he wanted to cover all of the 150 varieties of fern but at some point our expressions must have warned him against this. Andrea did a great job translating botany from Spanish (the English-speaking guide cost extra so our group wasn't interested), no easy feat since she admitted to not even understanding it in English! We emerged from the dense forest for a brief lunch on a windy mountainside - the view of the valley appeared and then faded to white then appeared again and then dissolved again in the thick cloud. Afterward, we delved back in to the foggy damp forest, stepping slowly on the spongey ground. Soon we were surrounded by the magnificent mossy, 10-meter high Giant Ferns. Out of the mist, these huge plants reach for sunlight and have been doing so since before time, growing only a centimeter a year. The soft ever-moist trunk absorbs water so even if they fall over they keep growing. The beams of light breaking through the fern canopy was unworldly and surreal and I was sure a diplodocus was about to dip down and take a mighty bite out of one of the plants any minute. But while I was looking for dinosaurs, a battalion of sinister red ants (which DID survive the Ice Age) boarded my walking shoes, breached my trouser-legs, scaled my socks and launched a full-scale attack on the soft flesh of my legs. Ahhhhh! I started whacking my legs until the guide gave me an annoyed, "Shhhhhh!". Playing bongo drums on my calves was sure to scare away the little bird he was pointing out. But two seconds later he himself yelped, whipped his pants down to his ankles and started slapping his thigh: in an instant he went from Naturalist to Naturist. From Botanist to Bottomist.
We escaped the magical forest once more for another viewpoint which was whited out and then headed back to the car. "I wonder if these Giant Ferns will grow anywhere? They should take some seeds and plant these at the Jurassic Park Ride at Universal", Andrea said to me.
"And wait a thousand years?"
"Oh yeah... People will probably have forgotten about Jurassic Park by then. And Universal Studios."
And we chuckled heartily probably ruining any potential bird sightings.