Friday, September 2, 2011

Bolivian Beauty

South America is an entirely different world, one that I am very happy to be back in. After only a few days in Bolivia I have already lost track of the days and forgotten the comforts bestowed upon me during my time in the US.

Santa Cruz welcomed me with less than my ideal climate, after my last few days in summery Seattle I wasn't quite prepared for the contrast. Luckily though good coffee kept me toasty until company arrived and brought in tow the sunshine. Although quite lovely Santa Cruz doesn't hold much in the way of entertainment so we headed for Puerto Villareol to track down a boat that would take us North towards the small city Amazonian of Trinidad. Turns out that nature had other ideas though, we arrived in Puerto Villareol to find that the river was too low and there were no boats traveling until November. Unfazed with the situation at hand we simply made a new plan headed Westward bound to Cochebamba.

To my delight Cochabamba continued to supply days imbued with sunshine and blue skies, along with one of my favourite features of South America... markets. I love the markets of South America and Cochabamba has one of the biggest I have seen, spread out of block and blocks, streets and streets, full of everything and anything your heart desires. One of the things I love is that you can buy food in any quantity, just slice yourself off a slab of cheese, a knob of butter... one egg or a hundred, fresh fruit and vegetables, street food carts of delicious empanadas and juices stalls galore.

After hours of wandering and sampling we grabbed ourselves a couple of ice cold cervezas and a bright yellow park bench in the pretty town square where we did what the locals do, dwindle away the hours watching the world go by and enjoying the afternoon sunshine... living the dream!

With a wishlist of Bolivian destinations on the itinerary and unfortunately a limited time frame, the next morning we jumped on a $6  semi-cama bus for a 7 hour journey to La Paz. The Bolivian capital, perched at a dizzying 3660m brought a Sunday reminiscent of my beloved Sunday's in Argentina. The bustling city stops, schedules are put aside and quality time with friends and family are the priority of the day; the city closes down, the main street is blocked to traffic and stalls, jumping castles, ice cream vendors and music fill the streets, children play and a day of rest is enjoyed by all. Love Sundays in South America.....

The following day we set out early to pick up the gear we needed to tackle El Choro, a three day trek in the Yungas; a spectacular region Northwest of La Paz. After a false start where we ended up god knows where in relation to the trailhead, finally, at 1pm we set off to tackle 4859m Abra Chucura, the highest point of the trail and my new personal highest peak. Over the next couple of days and 57km the landscape went from barren and scree covered to tropical dry rainforest, wet lowlands and back again as we traversed thickly vegetated and steep uphill and downhill slopes. 

On day three, after eight hours on the trail we walked into the small village of Chairo and an hour later arrived in Coroico only to find that there was no ATM and cash poor, we would have to make our way back to La Paz that night, not part of the plan but all part of the "take it as it comes" traveling lifestyle. 

Some years ago an Inter-American Development Bank labelled the road between La Paz and Coroico "The Worlds Most Dangerous Road" due to the number of fatal accidents that occurred, on average 26 vehicles a year plunged over the edge. In 2007 $120M was loaned to Bolivia to build a new road linking the villages and region. Since the new road has been in operation the WMDR has been reserved for tourists and downhill mountain bike thrill seeking. 

Weary and hungry I reluctantly boarded the mini-van bound for La Paz.... when I say mini-van don't think plush suburban family transportation think crappy old beat up van... my seat was missing a leg and every time we made a right turn I almost head-butted the window. We were packed in with the 13 other sardines for the 3 hour journey, backpacks strapped to the roof; off we set, on the new road that links Coroico and La Paz. It was truly three hours of HELL, the worst, longest and probably most dangerous ride I have experienced in my time in South America. The road was sketchy and the driver a lunatic; I was tired, hungry, on my last nerve. 

Thankfully we safely made it back to La Paz to a much needed hot shower and comfy bed. After my little Coroico - La Paz journey I can honestly say that I have absolutely no desire to ride the Worlds Most Dangerous Road...on a bike, a car or any other vehicle!

With the clock ticking and my body not quite recovered and ready to tackle Huayna Potosi I left La Paz behind and made my way to Uyuni, home the worlds largest salt flat and to seek out that flock of pink flamingoes.

A lovely stroll into the Yungas

One of many rickerty suspension bridges

Sunrise @ campsite Buena Vista

57km of dense green mountains

Camping Buena Vista style

Devils slope

Three days of spectacular views

Pretty as a picture - Cochabamba

Chill out local style in the town square....don't mind if I do!

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