Beauty and the Beast

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
El Cafetal

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Beauty and the beast
We left our hotel at a very reasonable 8am to go to the Deep Rainforest office down the road. Deep Rainforest are a tour company with whom we had previously booked two weeks’ worth of trips. The first of these was the 3 day 2 night Choro trek, which crosses Parque Nacional Cotopata and is rated as one of Bolivia’s premier hikes.  It is 57km long and descends 3250 metres from above the snowline down into the humid Yungas, a series of misty valleys where the Andes plunge down towards the Amazon.  We met our guide, the appropriately named Guido, and drove through the madness of central La Paz. Hemmed in on all sides by mountains La Paz seems to be squeezed into the space it occupies.  We left the city and the road began climbing up towards the altiplano but after about 45 minutes we reached a traffic jam. We soon learned that the road was blocked due to snow and 20cm of ice. We waited for about 3 hours hoping that the road would be cleared but it wasn’t  to be and so we headed back to La Paz to try again the next day.
Fortunately the next morning the road had been cleared and all was good to start our trek. In the meantime a student called Josh had joined the trek making it four of us. We drove up to La Cumbre, the start of the trek at 4725 metres. We were above the snowline and surrounded by a surreal landscape of snow and ice. We hadn’t realised that this trek would begin in the snow and felt underdressed as we had no jackets or gloves. We needn’t have worried though as the first 90 minutes were all uphill and we were soon feeling pretty toasty despite the icy wind. We climbed to 4850 metres from where we could see mountains all around us although the views kept appearing and disappearing behind the fast moving clouds.
We then began our descent through the cloud, the snow soon replaced by rock as we walked over ancient Inca paving, stopping for lunch next to some Inca ruins in a windswept valley. Unfortunately for me an old reoccurring injury soon started to play up and I spent the remaining 5 hours of that day hobbling along painfully. One piece of luck was the random discovery of two sealed diclofenac tablets lying on the path, which Catherine confirmed were anti-inflammatory painkillers. We passed herds of llamas and alpacas grazing the high valleys and a few remote hamlets. By late afternoon we had spotted the first low shrubs as we entered the upper cloud forest. We reached camp in the early evening, a beautiful spot tucked into a valley next to a fast flowing river over which hung a suspension bridge. The only negative was the absolutely disgusting toilet!  We had a basic meal of soup followed by mashed potato and mushrooms and went to bed early although neither of us slept more than a few hours, not good when you have a long day ahead of you.

The next day we set off early and it soon became clear that my leg was no better. Each step was agony so I took one of the diclofenacs which thankfully dulled the pain to a more or less acceptable level. It started raining soon after setting off and continued for much of the day obscuring the absolutely breathtaking scenery which we got occasional glimpses of when the clouds cleared for a few seconds to reveal endless ridges of green. We were both carrying a lot of stuff, me the rucksack with all my camera equipment and Catherine the full rucksack with clothes etc. By the time we reached camp we were both completely exhausted and absolutely soaked through despite our ponchos.  If we did the trek again we would have hired a mule and mule driver to carry some of our stuff. Fortunately we both slept well that night.

On the final day the rain continued and the views were completely obscured for most of the day which was a shame although there is something very atmospheric and ethereal about walking through the cloudforest with the constant drip drip of water and beautiful bird sounds to accompany you.  There was quite a lot of uphill in the morning and then we descended in the afternoon to the village of Chairo, the end point of the trek where we caught a minibus taxi to Coroico, our destination for the next three days.

Coroico is a small town perched up on a forest covered hillside. We stayed at a small French-owned B&B called ‘El Cafetal’ chosen for the fact that it had a swimming pool and a good French restaurant! The views from our balcony were amazing although again the cloud meant that we couldn’t see much for most of the time. After the trek we were both completely exhausted and soon after arrival Catherine promptly threw up and spent the rest of the evening in bed.  Fortunately it seemed to be a short lived thing and she felt much better the next day. We went to look for a laundry for our exceptionally muddy and skanky clothes but after an hour of fruitless searching discovered that despite being in a rainforest, the water supply in Coroico is temperamental and there is no laundry in town. We therefore washed them in the shower with a bar of soap which did the trick. Luckily on our last day in Coroico the clouds cleared and the temperature lifted and we spent the day relaxing by the pool. Nice!

Tomorrow morning we leave on a three day boat trip down the Rio Beni to Rurrenabaque, a Bolivian Amazon town. We just hope that the rainforest doesn’t live up to its name!

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Faith Mortimer on

Mmmm? Catherine threw up heh? .......

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