As he climbed the stairs I noticed his knees shake as they bent and shifted to support his frail weight.
After waiting for almost an hour this was the last passenger to finally board the bus. I’m sure he felt a little awkward as all of the passengers impatiently watched him take the last available seat next to the driver. I felt bad for the aged Bolivian man and wondered why he was traveling all by himself. I wondered why a local elderly man would want to hike through the steep and spiky trails of the Moon Valley?
As the slim wheels of our large tour bus began to roll, I wondered if the tour guide would speak English. “I guess I’ll find out when we get there”, I thought
After a pleasant and short trip our tour bus arrived at Bolivia’s majestic Moon Valley. While our bus was still parking, the elderly man in the front seat nimbly hopped out and made his way to the ticket booth.
As the rest of us passengers lethargically stepped off of the increasingly warming bus, the elderly man had already finished with the ticket booth and presented us each with our entry tickets. In broken English he introduced himself as Pablo, our tour guide.
“Never judge a book by its cover”, I thought.
Moon Valley (Valle De La Luna) is a valley of hauntingly unique monoliths that are the only remains of wind beaten and eroded mountains. Composed of clay/sandstone this mineral rich land reflects hues of red, chocolate brown and white stone. As I stood between the sun baked unusual stone spires I felt as if I was actually in extraterrestrial terrain! In fact, it is so otherworldly, Neil Armstrong actually named this extraordinary place Moon Valley.
Allot of what Pablo told us was contrary to all of the articles I had previously read about this unique place. Before Neil Armstrong named this place “Moon Valley”, the Andean people called it “Spirit Valley”. This unique landscape is very important to the Aymara people, and it is used for rituals and religious ceremonies.The plants and herbs that grow in the arid cracks and crevices of this otherworldly land are used in traditional Aymara divinations, remedies, rituals, and recipes. Pablo also told us that the mountains looked like a carpet of stalactites because they were in their youth and were still growing upwards.
I was at first disappointed by the discrepancy of information between Pablo and online sources, but “there is something to learn from everyone”, I thought. As much as I tried to move on, the discrepancy of information continued to nag at my mind.
As we hiked through this otherworldly place, I saw monoliths that were named after their shape – such as the moon rock. I had never seen a place like this before and was simply entranced by its unique beauty. The walking path was very narrow and steep at times but definitely manageable.
After about three hours of walking in the high altitude sun we met a local Bolivian family that were selling their crafts. After a few of us purchased some hand made woolen souvenirs, we passed through a tunnel that was dug into the rock and enjoyed a complimentary bottle of cool water before heading back to our tour bus.
Pablo, the elderly tour guide, climbed into the front seat and thanked us all for coming as he waited for us to board the bus.
During the short drive back to central La Paz, I thought about my day in Moon Valley, about the discrepancy of information, and about Pablo.
My first thought was to disregard what Pablo had said which was mostly different than what science suggests. Scientifically, the mountains are actually broken pieces of a once large mountain chain-not a growing mountain range. “On a deeper level”, I thought, “Pablo, a man who is deeply experienced in Andean tradition was perhaps sharing a spiritual explanation that is used to define the geological structures in the natural world”.
Although science says otherwise, his reflections were far more meaningful to me. They expressed the traditions of a people who had known about this beautiful “Spirit Valley” long before the rest of us understood that the world was round.