A Little Off The Beaten Track

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, August 25, 2012

We were the only two foreigners in the minibus headed for Coroico. The driver sped uphill with little regard for the road condition or the vehicle's future, never mind the passengers' comfort.  As we approached the road changed from dirt to cobblestone, but that didn't help much.

When we arrived we unloaded our packs, paid the driver and asked for directions to our target hostel.  He pointed in a general direction.  It was immediately clear that we were in a less touristed town that was again frozen in time, for most of the locals anyway.  A young man received a brand new dirt bike off the back of a truck while ladies sat at the convergence of two streets with their huge bags of vegetables open for sale.

We walked a short way to the main square and found Hostal Kory on the opposite corner.  No one was in the office so we went inside.  A friendly lady called down to us from upstairs.  Despite the inflated rates compared to our guidebook and her unwillingness to budge much, the gorgeous views of the valley and the Yungas captured our attention and we weren't overly interested in the prospect of moving on.  We managed to talk her down to a more reasonable price of $25 per night for the top room with a private bathroom.  Soon after we had showered off the day's dust and went out side to watch the sun disappear over the mountains it felt more worth it.

After dark we set out to find laundry service and dinner.  The main square was occupied by an odd mix of characters, including a few tourists, a few more foreign nomads selling jewelry (they seem to be everywhere; where do they stay and what do they survive on?), minibus drivers, locals likely sitting in the same spot they always do to watch time pass, children playing soccer in the street and stray dogs following people or fighting amongst themselves.

Once outside the square the narrow steep street darkened and became less lively.  We climbed to a point where we felt we should have passed the laundry and it had already become a little too Twilight Zone for us so we decided to turn back.  It appeared that we'd have to hang on to our dirty clothes a little longer.

For dinner we shared a very good but overpriced thin crust pizza in a restaurant on the main square.  We purchased some bread and fruit for the following day and called it a night.

Despite the efforts of barking dogs, crowing roosters, pealing church bells and finally chirping birds we managed to enjoy a nice long rest.  It was much warmer at 2,000 metres so we needed less layers and blankets.

We ate a simple breakfast on the terrace overlooking the valley.  Although the morning sky was overcast, a few breaks revealed the snow white peaks of the surrounding cordillera.  Birdlife was abundant and colourful, as were the bright orange-flowered trees.  We practiced the art of sitting still and tuning out external stimuli, undoubtedly one of the most underrated skills one could achieve.  We weren't very good at it, but we had learned a lot about patience and tolerance on our journey.

On our early afternoon walk we climbed a steep road, then a steep trail to El Calvario, an old closed church on a grassy knoll.  From there we followed a ridgeline path with valley views and birds of prey soaring overhead.  We lacked the motivation to continue on to see more dry season waterfalls so we turned back toward town.

A busy lunch spot caught our eyes but there were no empty tables.  Jason asked a lady if we could share with her and she obliged.  It turned out she spoke pretty good English so we had a nice chat about her work with the Catholic church to discourage coca farming due to its negative impact on the environment and other unmentionable pitfalls.  The noodle soup, sweet potato stew and chorizo dishes were very tasty.

For a mid-afternoon treat in the heat we walked down to Villa Bonita, known for its ice cream desserts.  We shared two scoops of maracuya (passionfruit) and dulce de leche.  The bugs were out again so we left without lingering very long.  We bought bread, avocado and prosciutto for a dinner in.

For the two nights we stayed at Hostal Kory, only two out of 25 rooms were booked.  It seemed inconceivable that such a place could survive on such low occupancy.  Perhaps the weekend would bring more Bolivians from the big city.  We would never know because we left on Saturday morning.  Either way, we were happy for the rest and spent the afternoon discussing our plans for the future.  That night we turned on the TV for the first time and the first show was a familiar one about a couple buying a home in Toronto.  What a coincidence!

We checked out shortly after 9:00 the next morning.  Since Coroico is more remote, there was no scheduled bus out of town.  They only left when full so we had to wait in the station for 45 minutes.  Just like everywhere else they had a departure tax which set us back one boliviano each.   The rough road wracked our nerves but massaged our bodies.  When we finally hit the new paved part the driver whispered and motioned a few prayers to himself as a light rain began to fall.  Higher up there was thick fog and we could barely see 20 metres in front of us.  The driver slowed down a little but we both agreed that the bus ride was scarier and more of an adrenaline rush than riding the Death Road ourselves.

The road intermittently changed from paved to rock or dirt.  We were thankful for the safety barriers and guard rails lining the sides where steep cliffs fell away.  The warning signs had so many twists and turns on them that one couldn't keep track of what lay ahead and they all started to look the same after a while.  There were also a few tunnels drilled through the mountains, including one at least a kilometre long.  The rain fell a little harder.

On the way up to La Cumbre, we passed the Vertigo van.  We felt sorry for the groups riding that day and hoped they all made it down safely.
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Steph on

What a coincidence indeed! :)

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