Las Cuevas – A literal bird in the hand and shocking wasp-on-tarantula violence

I did my favorite hike in Samaipata with Matan Vax, my Israeli travel partner for three weeks in Bolivia.

Matan in the clouds

Matan in the clouds

To start out, Matan and I took a cab from Samaipata to a nearby village where the Dutch owner of Hostel Andorina, Andres, had recommended we try to find a guide named Benjamin (pronounced “Ben-ha-meen”).

We asked a few local villagers where we could find him and they pointed us in the direction of an old, dilapidated shack.  Outside the shack we found an old man steadfastly making some wooden furniture.

“Estamos buscando por Benjamin” we told him.  He responded by showing us a slight grin, prominently displaying his one and only one tooth, and said “Soy yo, soy Benjamin.”  We had found our guide.  We told him where we wanted to go and 3 minutes later he emerged from his home wearing a big pair of rubber boats and carrying a machete.

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Matan and I were both surprised at how old Benjamin was, still be guiding folks up in the mountains at the ripe age of 64.  But I guess in Bolivia, 64 may be young.  According to the Bolivian government, a Bolivian man named Carmelo Flores is now an astonishing 123 years old, which would make him the oldest person who ever lived.  Despite the problems with this claim outlined in the hyperlinked CNN article, Benjamin lives a similar lifestyle to the at-least 100+ year old Carmelo Flores.  Both live in the highlands of Bolivia, both walk a lot in those highlands, and both eat a very natural diet of Quinoa and local game.

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While walking every day in the mountains and eating healthy a natural diet does not guarantee a long life – as the article points out the main reason someone lives longer than others is not because of their lifestyle choices, but genetics – these choices certainly don’t hurt.  Benjamin guided us along up to and along a mountain ridge above his village.

As you can hear Matan comment in the video above, we were literally in the clouds along the mountain ridge, steep valleys falling away on either side, and a 360 degree view at almost every point on the trek.

Benjamin was interested in U.S. politics and in particular, Obama.  He asked me lots of questions during the first 45 minutes of the hike.  This is pretty common for wherever I have traveled in the world.  When people find out I am from the United States one of the most common questions is “what do you think about Obama?”

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, relations between Bolivia and the U.S. are not the best.  Even if Evo Morales doesn’t like Obama, Benjamin seemed to like him.  This is also a common sentiment among people outside the U.S. – they like Obama,  and they don’t like former president George W. Bush.  These are all just generalizations though.

As Benjamin led us on the trek he seemed to be looking for something.

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To continue his “search”, as you can see in the video below, Benjamin would methodically swing his machete from side to side in the long grass.

Finally we realized what Benjamin had been looking for, when all of a sudden he reached down into the grass and let out a small shout.  What he drew out of the grass surprised both me and Matan.

With a big one-toothed grin, Benjamin proudly shows his catch, a small flightless bird

With a big one-toothed grin, Benjamin proudly shows his catch, a small flightless bird

At first, Matan and I were not sure why he had been looking for this bird, but when I snapped this picture and look back on it now, I can see the hungry look in Benjamin’s eye as he holds out the bird.

A hungry look in his eye

Whether he would eat the bird that night or coop it to fatten it up was unclear.

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