Josie Ends in Bolivia

Trip Start Nov 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal Esmeralda

Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz,
Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Getting to Coroico involved taking a taxi to a little suburb and then catching a collectivio from there. Collectivios are mini vans that have a destination posted in the windshield and they park and wait for all seats to fill before departing.   Jos and I got out of the taxi from downtown and immediately were swarmed by seat sellers – they were so aggressive they just swarmed us, grabbing our bags and trying to outshout each other to get us to come to their particular van – lots of choice for Coroico..  I had been in these types of swarmings in Cambodia and India and knew to take charge and just get to a place on our own,  regroup and account for all of our belongings.  I left Josie with the bags and went about having a look at each van's tires.  I didn’t want to head up into the mountain passes in a van without tire treads – Bolivia has one of, if not the worst, record of van/bus disasters.  My tire kicking and tread review caught the interest of the crowd – the seat sellers, drivers and other passengers seemed to find it hilarious that I was checking treads – some  very funny moments.  One of the top contenders failed after I got to the fourth tire to find it completely bald…the driver just laughed and shrugged, knowing his pitch was over. 

The road to Coroico, as it turned out, was certainly worthy of a tread reviews.  It is a relatively new road –by Bolivian standards – new but still brutal.  This road has replaced the now famous, "Most Dangerous Road in the World" which has pretty much been taken over by Mountain Bike Excursions. These excursions that come from La Paz, bring Mountain Bikers from all over the world to start at the top of the road – often in the snow at nearly 5000 meters, down the mountain over a number of hours, ending in a tropical jungle at around 2000 meters.  Many die each year doing this excursion.  Jos and I thought about trying it……and 'no’.  Instead in our crowded minivan we climbed and climbed and crossed stunning valleys, eventually peaking into a full ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ fog.  Scary scary.   I was glad to at least know we had four tires with a little bit of tread keeping us bobbing between the rock slides and single lane passages.

We got to Coroico with high expectations – we had been told it was beautiful and charming – the perfect place for a still sick and getting sicker, Josie, to finish off her month.  Just chill.  We had been warned that there were lots of little bugs in the area – after all it is at the edge of the Amazon delta – the mouth of the jungle.  But…..OMG!  As the van stopped in a few places to let people off the first thing we noticed was the humidity and then the bug bites/welts on all the bare skin we could see.  Not just bites – massive welts on the bikers and hikers who were hanging around waiting for transportation out.  We just looked at each other. Creepy creepy. 

 It was late Easter Sunday – the town square was littered with garbage and bottles, young drunks staggering amongst the indigenous mamas who were looking as disgusted as we were. And we were pulling up our socks and pulling down our sleeves in an attempt not to get bitten by the ‘no see ems”  We certainly couldn’t see the bugs but everywhere the evidence was clear.  Faces, arms, ankles, hands – big mess of bites and welts.  But the drunkenness….Weird thing about Central and South America…I have seen very little drinking…anywhere.  You hardly even see the consumption of even beer and if the young kids do, they make it clear that only losers drink to get drunk.  So different than home.  Even teenagers rarely consume alcohol beverages – and they are cheap so that is not it……so to see a drunken, dirty town, with little charm…..we were disappointed.  Even the weather was shitty – the clouds were hanging low and heavy – threatening to unload.  Only the temperature was good – hot, junglely hot, and humid.  A nice relief from dry La Paz and a lovely change from the cold of Cuzco.

Heading into town we met up with the two friends from Villcambamba I had met again in La Paz:  Diana from England and Suzy from Alaska.  They were just about to start their first shift in the Taco restaurant.  We went together – we were their first customers…..a quaint Mexican restaurant in a tiny Bolivian mountain town… perfect could that be?  Wow, wow, wow – the best Mexican food EVER!!! 

We went to bed, slathered in DEET, vowing to leave in the morning. Even the best Mexican food wasn’t enough to stay in this buggy town. 

As mornings often do, the day looked better – the vistas were spectacular, the clouds had risen a bit, revealing a stunning gorge/canyon/river way below our hotel.  We learned about a hike/trek just above our hotel – to a series of waterfalls.  What the hell? – We were there, Josie was feeling a bit better – we were at lower altitude so that was helping with her headaches and lung pressure.

The hike– a beautiful trek through coca fields being harvested by complete families, (including the tiny little members) took a couple of hours to get to the waterfall and then a few more hours back through three sad, very poor towns.   

We had seen parasaillers flying through the canyon.  I have always wanted to fly/parachute and for some reason it made sense to do it here…….Jos agreed.  Por Que No?  So we headed into town to sign up – booked a time for the next day at 9:30.  Tandem flying through the massive canyon, landing near the river if all went well, if not……not sure what Plan B might be..  Next morning the weather was worse than poor – it was raining.  No 9:30 flying for us.  Around noon the pilot showed up at our hotel and picked us up – he thought all that cloud cover was …nice……  With huge reservations, we drove to the top of the mountain, where we were to jump off with our little single sail……..and waited.  And waited.    Gust after gust of moist clouds blew at us – 5 of us waiting in the pilot’s vehicle – the pilot, the chase car driver and his ex-girlfriend.  Eventually we learned the pilot was a childhood friend of the exgirlfriend, was writing a book on female sexual orgasms, or something like that – guess I dropped out of Spanish class too early….. Often things are lost in translation…..Long stories, and interesting ones, later.  No flying for us, or anyone – this gang was headed back to La Paz.

In hindsight it was one of those….what were we thinking???  Flying for the first time, tandem or not, in a small Bolivian mountain town at the top of the World’s Most Dangerous Road – miles from the nearest low grade hospital if Plan C or D had come about……duhhhh!!!!

We checked out of our hotel…..oh yeah forgot to tell you about the giant – yes giant, spider in our room the night before……huge – salad plate huge.  I like spiders, Josie not.  She freaked right out and got one of the hotel guys to come with a broom to whack it dead – I thought she was kidding about the freak out but found out she actually REALLY hates spiders and this one was a skinny tarantula sized one……and that was just the beginning of her night from hell….

When we came back from the hike she had the chicken buffet – I didn’t.  Fast forward after the spider episode, middle of the night – full blown food poisoning……combine with cold/flu and altitude sickness…..ahhhhhh……..Josie hates Bolivia.

Then the collectivio to return to La Paz.   These mini vans are MINI – vans.  Not your Chevy Cavalier sized:  Mini….poor sick Josie and I got stuck in the back row……with 16 other humans…..including two children… rocket back down the new “Most Dangerous Road in the World”………….a trip she will be trying to forget for a long time.  She was one hurtin cowgirl……puke bag in hand, head throbbing with the altitude, lungs coughing up the gurgles of her possible pneumonia……and 16 others jammed in a tin box with wheels/tires I didn’t even want to review in case it caused a delay ……….and then she had a 17 hour flying day ahead of her…….layovers in Lima and Houston……….
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a on

Again, Deb, your photos are outstanding.

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