Wow! Wow! Wow! That’s what we have to say about our weekend excursion to Torotoro National Park. In fact, this blog post might be more photos than words, because we are having trouble narrowing down the number of photos we want to share.
First off, getting there. This was an organized tour we took with 11 other people, 9 of whom were Bolivians (mostly from Cochabamba), one who was an Italiana, living and working in La Paz for two years, and one who studies at the escuela with us and who is from the US. This turned out to be a wonderful bunch of people; we all enjoyed each other’s company and quickly formed a very cohesive group.
The tour operator, Rigo, owns a small hotel just outside Torotoro called El Molino (named on account of an old water mill on the site) which he and his family built about ten years ago as a large family country home, but didn’t use enough. At the time, making it into a hotel would not have been a good business proposition because there was no electricity and the road was so rough it took 11 hours to get there from here. A few years ago the road was greatly improved so now it takes only four and business is good. Here are some photos of the hotel and the new road:
The hotel was beautiful inside and the beds very comfortable (maybe even better than ours at home). Being in the countryside was so calm, so tranquilo, so dark at night – lovely. We realized we’d been only in big cities for over two weeks – probably a record for the kids.
The access to the property, however, really necessitated 4WD. (Photo below shows what is supposed to be a ford of the river, but got substantially knocked out by raging water about a month ago.)
The woman who does the cooking for the hotel keeps donkeys – and the kids were quick to spot a male, a female and a molting teenager. They were totally docile and let us stroke and pat them. On our last day, we were surprised to find that instead of three donkeys, there were now four – the newest addition still wobbly on its legs and still being licked by its mama. (That would explain the braying sounds we heard as we were getting up that morning…)
Given the small size of the place, there are a surprising number of bus tours that bring visitors to the park and the charming village of Torotoro (which lies within park boundaries). Since the park’s fame owes itself largely to the impressive dinosaur prints discovered here, there are dinosaurs everywhere – on walls, in the middle of the plaza (village square) and on the backs of buses. (first photo below is inside a small museum which is actually the home of a lifelong rockhound)
For each of three days we took short hikes to see some stunning natural attractions. I’ll let Quinn say something about that:
“The landscape there is really cool with mountains of the earth’s plates pushed up at 45 to about 80 degree angles. There is sparse vegitation and amazing valleys, rivers, gorges, cliffs and caves, lots of caves. In fact we went into Bolivia’s largest cave (7 km long) and almost found ourselves staying for a bit longer than we expected.”
When we arrived at the cave we were told that because of the hard rain we had just hiked through, it would be too dangerous to take us all the way into the cave (that is, as far as they usually go, which is only about 1.5 km in). We were okay with that, for (as we were about to learn) when they say here that something is “un poco peligroso” the correct translation is “bloody dangerous, eh?”. Maybe I exagerrate. We did have helmets and headlamps, and the roped sections were short and manageable. And the steaming pile of vampire bat dung they showed us was actually not steaming anymore, since the vampire bats had long since flown off in search of more private accommodations.
However, on our way back we noticed that the sound of water entering the cave was MUCH louder than we remembered it being when we came in. Sure enough, water was pouring in, in a virtual deluge, making it impossible to return by the same route we entered. At this point we were up in a room considerably higher than that which was being flooded (phew!), and overheard someone say that the guide had gone to “look for another exit”. A few women in the group behind us began pushing past us in the narrow passageway, showing evident signs of pre-panic. Annoyed that they would do so, I admonished them loudly, saying “Hay ninos aqui!” (There are children here!) Some members of our own group then made priority space for Quinn and Felix to move forward. I stayed close behind.
The guide soon returned and reported that an exit existed at the end of the cramped passageway. Patiently we waited for what must have been 30 minutes (45 for Erik, as he stayed near the back of the line) to reach and crawl through a tiny, muddy, irregularly shaped hole to a place where we could ferry ourselves via a rope across the raging waters to safety (granted, there were guides there to help us).
Under normal circumstances no one larger than a 3-year-old child would ever even consider trying to pass through a hole of this size, but as there was little choice, we took off our helmets (for it was impossible to fit through while wearing them) and slithered and squirmed our way through. Being at the back with the men, Erik found himself having to help push and pull some of the bigger guys, some of whom had to take more than one try, stripping off layers of clothing to make themselves smaller! For us, it was an adventure, but for some of those bigger men, it must have been scarier than that.
Unfortunately for this storyteller, we do not have photos from that most exciting part of the cave tour, but here we are at the end, reunited, relieved and ready for a beer. (No, Felix was not wearing that sky-blue jacket when he shimmied through the hole…)
The other attractions included dinosaur prints, some really cool rock formations called La Ciudad de Itas (City of Rocks?), and waterfalls that reminded us of the movie “The Mission”.
Below: Can you spot Felix?
Can you spot Quinn?
This being the first time the weather has been remotely close to warm enough, we were keen to go in for a dip. The water temperature reminded us of Kootenay Lake at the end of June, but we forced (and dared!) ourselves to swim right under the falls for the amazing view you get from behind that tall curtain of water.
On the last day we visited a huge canyon (El Vergel, if you want to look it up) that is home to an endangered red-fronted macaw. In fact, we saw and heard several of them! So exciting!
There were 800 steps down to the bottom of the canyon – and we did it! In fact, we amazed ourselves with how easily we did the run back up those stairs. Pelting hail was one incentive…but clearly, we’re acclimatizing too. And finally, we’re not sick! (knock on wood)
This weekend adventure did have its challenges – including very unpredictable meal times (one night dinner was not served until midnight, and we were long gone, asleep) – and miserable driving conditions due to the recent rains and deep mud. It wasn’t so much unsafe as arduous, not only for the drivers of the tw0-wheel-drive vans, but for the passengers who had to get out at least 15 times to push the vehicles. But it was a bonding experience, the sort of thing that makes men out of boys. (We women mostly took pictures!)
We returned “home” to our Cochabamba family with a big pile of muddy laundry and more stories to tell than our limited vocabulary allows. But it’s back to language school tomorrow, and if we’re lucky, we’ll start learning how to use the past tense.
Next post: Thanking Pachamama…