Cochabamba … life’s good at the top!

Cochabamba street art.

On the way back from Toro Toro National Park we decided to stop in Cochabamba for a few days, seeing that we had to pass through it on the way to La Paz anyway. Besides, we had been told that it was Bolivia’s food capital! Sold! Synchronicity!  How I love it! We had only just arrived and found ourselves in the central plaza discussing potential places to stay, when we were greeted by Raquel.  We had recently met Raquel and her husband in Samaipata.  Lovely people, Raquel is a batik artist and Roy Querejazu Lewis is a university professor and Andean rock art specialist. Raquel invited us over for lunch the following day.

After lots of walking  and checking of places (I am very fussy, I know!) we finally ended up at Hostal Colonial.  The owners were never going to win the hospitality award, but it was a quiet, safe and comfortable place, which would serve us well for a few days.  Good eating, relaxing and reading.  A few years ago my wonderful friend, Linda Drew, gave me Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America to read. A book which analyses Latin America as a whole, I believe it’s a must read for all Latinos and indeed anyone who is passionate about Latin America and its history.  So, I bought the book in Spanish and thought I’d give it a crack!  Amazing reading!

The next few days were really just about chilling out, eating good food, drinking good coffee (Bolivia has really impressed us!), partaking in one of my favourite pastimes (visiting markets, of course) and simply taking in the city sights.

Almost at the top!

We visited the Cristo de la Concordia, which effectively looks like Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.  We caught a cable car to the top of Cerro (hill) de San Pedro, where the statue sits atop of and were offered sweeping views of Cochabamba and its surrounds. And here’s a bit of information; both statues are 33 metres tall because Christ supposedly died when he was 33 years old.  After some chill in’ at the top, we took our time walking down.


It’s a good life at the top!

View from the top!

More sweeping views from the top.

Meanwhile, back at the bottom, we did some exploring of the city!

A variety of potatoes!

Looking up to Cristo de la Concordia.

Cochabamba’s central plaza by night.

Street art; what some had to say about the church!

Cochabamba’s central plaza by night.

Bolivian weavings.

Veggies anyone?

Local bus.

Gorgeous little boy, sadly begging!
With Roy, Raquel and Mariel.

The highlight of our stay in Cochabamba was our lunch with Roy, Raquel and Raquel’s daughter
Mariel. We had a wonderful time chatting about a multitude of things from politics to the many books Roy has written on rock art.  He has even published a book on Bolivian flora.  He gifted us two books and signed them both.  These are the magical travellers minties moments!

Alex and Roy having a beer.

Roy’s work in an Australian Rock Art journal.

The girls; Raquel, Mariel and I.

After a few truly wonderful days, it was time to move on.  La Paz awaited us!  I wondered how much it would have really changed since my last time here in 1999?  But then I suppose a lot has changed since then!  Last time I was in Bolivia I was only weeks away from meeting my soul mate and the love of my life in Ecuador.  We have now forged a brilliant life together and are exploring the continent of his birthplace together.  Ain’t life grand!

Ombi

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it”. – Michelangelo

Next:  La Paz you did not fail to impress!

Always ready to take a good shot!

A room with a view, cable car to the Christ.

One of Cochabamba’s many plazas.

Not everybody is having fun!

Goodbye coffee with Raquel.

Dedication: To Raquel and Roy.  Meeting people like you is what makes our trip truly special!  Thanks for offering us your friendship and an insight to your country that no guidebook could ever do. 

Dedicación: Para Raquel y Roy.  Encontrar gente como ustedes es lo que hace que nuestro viaje sea verdaderamente especial.  Gracias por brindarnos su amistad y darnos una mirada adentro de su país que ninguna guía de viajes te pudiese haber dado.





Where the dinosaurs walked more than 120 million years ago!

Toro Toro

In the streets of Toro Toro.

An overnight bus took us to Cochabamba, in central Bolivia,  from where our plan was to go to Toro Toro National Park, ‘relatively’ close by. As can sometimes be the case in South America, we were sent to the wrong place, and had to back track in order to get to the right point. Oh well, at least we got to see some of Cochabamba along the way.

Toro Toro National Park is only 135 kilometres southeast of Cochabamba and its drawcard is its dinosaur tracks, spectacular geological formations, caves, hikes and ruins.  We had met some travellers along the way who had told us that it’s a Bolivian must-see, highlight and hidden gem as well as not being touristy.  SOLD!  We were  also told that it’s only accessible by bumpy gravel roads and riverbeds, which takes seven hours in the dry season and much longer in the rainy season when sometimes the road becomes totally impassable. Information on this place is scarce, as for many off-the-beaten-track places in South America, but we determined to do it!

That’s a pretty big foot print!
Dinosaur foot prints.
Welcome to Toro Toro.

We finally did get to the ‘place’ where small pick-ups take you to Toro Toro … when full!  OK, so we had to wait a couple of hours, or three!  Patience!  All good things take time, or so they say. After making friends with a gorgeous French-Canadian lady called Audrey and her lovely partner and child, we were off. The road was bumpy (more like a dirt track … OK gravel road!) and it took around five hours to cover approximately 140 kilometres.  The town is tiny, barely a central plaza and a few surrounding streets. We searched for a place to sleep and found a basic, but clean place on the ‘main drag’, run by the delightful Maritza and her two year old Santiago.  What the place did not have in mod-cons it made up for by the warmth of its host.

Toro Toro … serene, tranquil, breathtaking!

Santiago.

Toro Toro National park protects a remote and sparsely inhabited stretch of the arid Bolivian Andes. It is the country’s smallest national park but with a huge wow factor! What it lacks in size it makes up for with its powerful scenery and varied attractions. The park encompasses everything from hanging valleys to eroded canyons, ringed by low mountains whose twisted geological formations are strewn with fossils, dinosaur footprints and labyrinth limestone cave complexes. We spent a couple of days doing some day trips exploring the area and were well and truly blown away. The main attractions and indeed highlights are the limestone Umajallanta Caves and the waterfall-filled Torotoro Canyon.

Umajallanta Caves … not for the fainthearted.

The caves most certainly were not for the faint-hearted. I was half-expecting an easy-going guided tour, but this was all about crawling on your hands and knees and doing in Bear Grylls style. After more than two hours I emerged a little shaky but truly blown away by the grandeur of what I had seen. In comparison, despite the dizzying height, the canyon was far more sedate and the Vergel waterfall and surrounds nothing short of spectacular … and a lovely spot for a swim, might I add.

Umajallanta Caves …window to another world.

Toro Toro Canyon.
On top of the world … City of Itas.
City of Itas.

We also visited the  City of Itas, 21 kilometres out of the town centre. At 3800 metres above sea level it is an area of majestic and huge rock formations which really does look like a city made of stone. Huge caverns with arches that look like baroque churches have been carved out by Mother Nature, but in parts there is evidence of ‘human tampering’ in the form of rock art. It was a drizzly day when we visited and so the overall feeling was simply one of majesty and grandeur.  Without a doubt, this entire area has been a South American highlight.  Still virtually unknown on the gringo-tourist-trail, I reckon this is the time to be here.

This has been without a doubt, a major highlight of our trip.  Laid-back and lazy with very few ‘tourist mod-cons’ yet a veritable geological wonderland. When the tourists get a grip of this I am sure it will provide Machu Picchu with some decent rivalry!

Ombi

Bye, bye Santi … off to our next destination!


“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.  I would like to see you living in better conditions”. – Hafiz

Off to school.

City of Itas.

Morning walk.

The town with a splendiferous back drop.

Vergel Waterfall.

We did it!  Umajallanta Caves.

Toro Toro life.

Toro Toro stroller.

This is the way we wash the clothes.

Alex and Santi.

Out and about.

Toro Toro local guide.

Land of the dinosaurs.

On our way to Toro Toro Canyon.

City of Itas.

I want to ride my bicycle.

Walk to Vergel Waterfal.

One of the locals.