Peru and Bolivia - Backpacking and Trekking

Review by planetFear
Wednesday 1st September 1999

Back in 1973, Hilary and George Bradt completed the splendid 37kms Olleros to Chavin trek in the southern Cordillera Blanca carrying the only guidebook around in those days, the trusty South American Handbook. The Handbook simply recommended Chavin as a good place to visit. It gave little information on the wealth of trails that crisscrossed the Peruvian Andes and would soon become the destination of a new breed of adventure traveller. The following year the couple wrote their first guide, Backpacking along Ancient Ways in Peru and Bolivia. Several years later Bradt Publications was born and has now produced 150 titles and new editions. Peru and Bolivia - Backpacking and Trekking is the seventh edition of the famous little yellow-covered softback that first appeared 25 years ago and has now sold more than 40,000 copies in all its various productions.

After a very comprehensive 80+ pages’ introduction covering pre-visit preparation, health and safety, internal travel, the indigenous people and their history, flora and fauna and the hows and whys of backpacking or trekking, the guide continues with specific in-country information plus descriptions of numerous selected treks in Peru and Bolivia. Several non-mountainous and jungle or rainforest areas are included (and for the climber there is a tantalizing mention of large vertical cliffs in a rain forest national park of eastern Bolivia, similar apparently to those found on the characteristic table-top formations of the Venezuelan jungle) but the meat of the book deals with treks through the famous (and also not so famous) Andean Cordilleras.

With the effects of the two main guerrilla groups, the Sendero Luminoso and the Movimiento Revolcionario Tupac Amaru, currently considered virtually non-existent, trekkers in Peru these days are unlikely to experience terrorist activity. Robbery, occasionally with violence, can still take place from time to time in the popular gringo areas, as it can and does in many countries of the world, but a combination of good common sense combined with a few basic ground rules, as outlined in the Bradt guide, should eliminate most of the potential. In this respect it is good to see the most scenically spectacular trek in Peru, the complete circuit of the Cordillera Huayhuash, described in detail now that restrictions imposed on the region due to Sendero activity in the late ’80s and early ’90s have well and truly been removed. In addition to this, several new treks have been included in this edition and all information updated, though inevitably one or two addresses have already changed. With 358 pages this new work is almost three times the size of the 1980 third edition but the style remains the same.

The Bradt guides have always exuded a feeling of informality. Although there is a wealth of hands-on information and practical guidelines, from how to get to South America right through to the preparation and various methods of eating the local delicacy, cuy (guinea pig), you never really seem to be told what to do, you are simply sharing the adventures with the authors. By the third edition the Bradts had already begun to incorporate short anecdotes and new trek descriptions from various authors. These included John Pilkington, who nowadays has become a popular radio broadcaster and author himself, yet still contributes research material to Bradt’s South American titles. In the last chapter of this edition he proposes a three-day walk across the altiplano from Chilcobija to San Vincente in Southern Bolivia. No, the names didn’t mean anything to me either until I read that the tiny run-down village of San Vincente is slowly gaining a lease of life due to the very small but continuous stream of ‘worshippers’ who have recently begun to visit the final battle scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Only slightly less exotic is Matthew Parris’s rendition of a road and river journey from Sorata down to the Bolivian jungle while, elsewhere, Claire Hargreaves informs us on the Cocaine Trade and Kathy Jarvis spills the beans on the potato. It’s little sections like these, liberally spread throughout the text, that make the book so readable and so much more informative than your normal travel guide. For instance, did you know that Che Guevara was neither Cuban nor Bolivian, and nor was his first name Che?

For anyone planning to hike the celebrated trails of Peru and Bolivia, this guide will prove a very useful complement to the already existing material. Those looking for inspiration and recommendations for less well-travelled journeys will find it indispensable. Forty thousand people can’t all be wrong.

The Bradt guide lets you view spectacular mountain scenery from close quarters, once in a while pointing you in the direction of a minor low-altitude summit that offers a fine viewpoint close to the trek. Occasionally it goes wildly astray. Including Bolivia’s technically easy but heavily glaciated and high, 6,094m, Huayna Potosi under the umbrella of ‘mountain climbing for non-mountaineers with no experience’ is dangerously misleading. However, for mountaineers ‘with experience’ there is Yossi Brain’s Bolivia A Climbing Guide.

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