by Jessie Maguire
What’s Better Than A Guidebook?
Which provinces are really worth visiting for volunteers interested in sustainability? The guide books are full of information about Toro Toro, Tarata and Totora, but deciding where to go and what to do when you get there can be pretty confusing.
It’s awesome when you have a good time doing something you are really interested in with people who get you. When travelling, the key to a really fulfilling experience can be getting to know expats that understand your way of thinking.
Another is to volunteer with organizations like SB. They already have all the contacts sorted for you. But it also nice to go deeper and take a trip to discover less traveled places.
I interviewed Simon Kaiwai and Eddie Merubia, who both live in Mizque part-time. Eddie and his family run the famous Mizque cheese farm (it’s available all over Bolivia!). Simon runs adventure tours in Mizque and receives WOOFers at his permaculture project. They gave me lots of information about this beautiful area that most people don’t know.
Mizque’s Permaculture Designer
Simon Kaiwai is a permaculture designer from New Zealand. He and his family are in the process of moving to this beautiful province four hours away from Cochabamba for good. Mizque doesn’t receive many foreign visitors, and what Simon is doing is unconventional, so I decided to investigate what it is that attracts people to this little place.
Mizque’s Outdoor Pursuits
Very few people even know about this village. They don’t know that it’s the perfect place to retreat to for a long weekend if you’re interested in outdoor pursuits like rappelling and horseback riding; Incan ruins or tasting a bit of that rare, authentic Bolivians country lifestyle.
Simon is an experienced outdoor pursuits enthusiast, so if you want someone to guide you through Mizque’s canyons, rivers, waterfalls and the surrounding hills on foot, a horse or a mountain bike, why not make the most of his extensive knowledge of the region? The rivers are safe to swim in, by the way, unlike some of the tropical regions in Bolivia. Simon allows you to tailor an adventure break around your interests, whether that’s a half-day treks or a 3-4 day trips around the area.
Simon can also receive groups of up to 30 people. You can either WOOF on the family’s 7000 square meters of land. Simon is passionate about sustainability and permaculture too, and is one of the few experts in the country.
Learn About Permaculture Design
If you’re on a tight budget and would like to WOOF in Mizque instead, you can spend 5 hours a day working on a permaculture design installation, creating a food forest, helping set up irrigations systems, or learning how to build a compost toilet in exchange for accommodation, breakfast and lunch. Minimum stay is 3 days.
Taste The Finest Bolivian Cheese
Eddie’s family has been living in Mizque since 1976. Eddie’s dad is from the US and his mother is Bolivian. They started out with four cows and sold milk until 1987.
Now they are one of the biggest cheese suppliers in Bolvia. They have been experimenting with new Danish cultures in recent years, and wax finishes which allows them to play with leaving the cheese to mature for specific amounts of time without it going bad.
Fresh Mizque cheese and a mature Mizque cheese are now available for you to nibble on. The mature is a big favourite with foreign visitors. What about enjoying it with some Mizque bread and wine?
You can enjoy the fruits of their labors straight from the farm. Just pass by and buy a slab! It is also available in the village, of course.
What A Sweet Valley
Mizque’s climate is very similar to that of Cordoba in Argentina, Sydney in Australia and Orkney in New Zealand. In fact, the name comes from “Misk’I” or “sweet earth”, because Mizque sits in a beautiful valley peppered with orchards and fields covered in crops.
The Spanish were captivated by its fertility and climate when they “discovered” it, but its soils are now tired and very low on organic matter due to the intensive farming practices used by locals. Simon’s ideas could certainly offer up some sustainable solutions to nourish the whole valley, but will the local people go for them? Let’s hope so!
Everyone I’ve spoken to has said that one of the coolest things about Mizque is sitting down to drink chicha with the local mizqueños. There are even chicharias that are ideal for tourists, where the chicha contains less of that bacteria Westerners’ tummies might be sensitive to. Ask at the alcaldia. Otherwise it’s best to stick to one glass.
Interested in Botany, Archaeology, History or Anthropology?
Misque is also very interesting archeologically, and there’s a museum in the town that displays pre-Columbian ceramic artifacts, fossils and traditional Rakay Pampa garments. Ask to be directed to the alcaldia. Incan stone carvings, ruins and paintings can also be found nearby. The paintings date back 2000 years. The Mina Asientos region has the first blast furnaces discovered from Incan and colonial times.
El Puente de los Liberadores in Kuri, near Mizque, is the bridge that Bolivar and Sucre crossed with their army during the early 1800s on their way to Argentina.
The largest bridge in Bolivia is also being built in Mizque, above the older one. Anyone fancy doing a bit of bungee jumping there when it’s finished? Here it is, half way through construction.
What is Real Bolivian Culture?
Did you come to Bolivia for its rich culture? Bolivia is not your common tourist destination, but to what extent have the USA and other countries changed Bolivia’s indigenous people?
Getting out of the city can help you answer that question. It allows you to take a peek at real, authentic indigenous communities, where people are much more connected to the land, nature and the beauty of a simple life.
The Rakay Pampa People
The Rakay Pampa people live in the mountains outside the village, but they come down into Misque on Mondays to buy supplies.
They are said to be one of the few peoples in the area to have avoided the influence of Western culture. They have their own territory and rules. A census performed in 2001 suggested there were 234 individuals in this unique community, but can that be right?
The Rakay Pampa are subsistence farmers, share their produce among themselves, and store what they don’t use. They have large farms of around 20 hectares each, grow crops and keep animals. They have lived without education for centuries, but a few school have now been established.
The Rakay Pampa people take a lot of pride in their culture. They wear white hats, and keep to themselves. They also make their own clothes (some of which can be seen in the local museum). The women are responsible for choosing and making their husbands clothes. Two pompom-type objects are attached to men’s hip area to signify their matrimony, and one is added if they’re single.
Once married, husband and wife are rarely found socializing alone, and they have many other traditions that are unique to the tribe. Have you ever met people from a community like this?
Cultural Celebrations & Parties
One of the sweetest ways to delve more into Mizque’s unique culture is by going to one of its many events. Carnaval (in February) and the Señor de Burgos (14th September) events are the most popular with tourists.
Señor de Burgos is a great time to see the Rakay Pampa people. It actually starts with the Virgen de las Mercedes mass on the 8th of September, but the real party can be seen up and running from the 13th. Book your room in advance to avoid disappointment! Expect to see some rare types of charangos and wind instruments, fireworks and lots of traditional food and music.
The Plant That Flowers Every 80 Years
Puya raimondii, or Queen of The Andes was “discovered” by Alcide d’Orbigny in 1830. It’s a huge, spiky, endangered bromeliad that can reach 3 meters in height. It flowers approximately every 80 years in its natural habitat, seeds, then dies.
D’Orbigny also put Miszque on the map for birdwatching. It used to be a very popular hobby, but it’s now known more for its endangered species, especially the Red-fronted Macaw, which is endemic to the region. You can read more about this beautiful bird here.
Getting There is Super Easy
Mizque is really easy to get to. There’s a beautiful, scenic road from Cochabamba.
You could take the bus for 20 Bolivian Bolivianos from Av. 6 de Agosto entre Av. Barrientos y Republica. If you have a group of six, you can fill a whole “trufi” bus. The driver might let you stop to take pictures or go to the bathroom if you ask nicely. The journey shouldn’t take more than four hours.
Then there is a train – well actually it’s more like a bus that’s been modified to run on two tracks!! In fact, here’s a video showing what that journey looks like, and all the beautiful scenery.
No one I have spoken to about Mizque seems to recommend this journey. In fact, just watching the video was quite scary. I wonder what the driver is controlling with the steering wheel…. Here are some pictures of the “buscarril”.
Alternatively arrange for Simon to take you and some friends on an exciting detour after picking you up in Cochabamba. Stop wherever you like to get some shots of the waterfalls, canyons and maybe even do some rapelling off the tallest bridge in Bolivia…! Get all the details about his trips and packages through his Facebook page.
And if you want to go solo, there are a number of accommodation options in the town. Eddie recommends wandering around the plaza and investigating the different cheap hotels close by. A little Spanish is very helpful in Misque, where very few people speak English and most people speak Quechua.
Motorcyles and taxis are available if you want to go out of town, but you can get to most places on foot.
Also go check out the “alcaldia”, or council’s programme for tourists. Peeps from the Peace Corps have be working on getting the location, distances and historical facts together for visitors.
How Long to Go For
Three or four days in Misque is perfect, so a long weekend could work really well, even if you fancy doing some WOOFing.
If you’re a country type, you’ll love Mizque, and you’ll probably want to stay for longer. Mizque has already captured the hearts of a few Westerners, including Simon and Eddie’s family. Why? The people of Mizque are friendly, the valley is gorgeous, and that luxurious peace and quiet might even inspire you to adopt a more natural way of life when you finally return home.
Interview with Simon Kaiwai, 10.30.2015
Interview with Eddie Merubia, 11.3.2015
Kindly supplied by Simon Kaiwai, Eddie Merubia, Pedro Méndez Muñoz and sourced through CreativeCommons.org.