Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bolivia III- In Search of Something Green

Unlucky hostellers - Kevin and Andy, survivors of the Highway of Death
As soon as I felt  better and had gained a little confidence in the local transport system, I started exploring the countryside. The first place I had a look at was Tihuanaco, another archaeological site.  This was one which predated the Incas, although the fine stonework and the remains of a pyramid can already be seen there. This too was interesting because of its isolation and the fact that the village which stands in the area today is very modest by comparison. The giant monoliths found there were carved from a single piece of stone and have very intricate carvings. For many years the largest one languished in a museum in La Paz but has since been restored to the site which is now World Heritage listed. The excellent museum shows pottery and weaving from this period along with Bronze Age metalwork.

The loneliness of Tihuanaco
These figures are carved from a single piece of stone - the largest is about three times taller than I am
The Altoplano - high Andes, is so dry and barren at this time of the year  - I assume it's better in the wet season, but for now I was desperate to see something green. People recommended Sorata, a favourite holiday and weekend getaway spot for pacenos (people from La Paz), so once again I headed off in a mini bus. This time though I asked the passengers where I had to get off and not the driver.

For most of the four and a half hour journey the road was as bleak as those which I had already travelled over with just a few tantalising glimpses of the snow -capped peaks of Illiumpu  which rises 6427m behind La Paz.
The way to Sorata did not look all that promising, but you can see the peaks of Illiumpu in the background
Then, quite suddenly we were overlooking a green valley with many terraced farms and small villages and dropping 3,000 m over 80 Kilometres. It was a white -knuckle ride, especially as the driver paid no attention to the lines or the signs that said no overtaking. He was also good at multitasking, not only talking on his mobile, but even changing the battery, using his teeth to rip open the packet as we hurtled down the mountain.

The first bit of green since Aguas Calientes

Town Square Sorata
People usually go trekking in this area, but I wasn't feeeling that well. so I settled for  pleasant walks  around the town. It was the first time I had seen flowers since Aguas Calientes too and the views were really spectacular.

Corioco was said to be similar -i.e. green, but five hours in the opposite direction over the Cordillera Real and what is known as "The Highway of Death."  Adventure tourists are very fond of doing this on mountain bikes and may or may not end up looking like the two at the top of the page. I also met a girl in the hostel who had her foot in plaster for the same reason. Just travelling in the mini cabs was adventurous enough for me. Ours had  soft suspension on the  right hand side which  made me nervous every time we took a left hand bend. We also did the last part before we plunged down these hills in thick fog but even that was no reason to slow down. The driver simply honked his horn before driving around bends. For a long time I thought Bolivians must drive on the left like we do, but that's only when the drop is on the right. The worst mini bus related story I heard  in the hostel though, was from a man who jumped out of a moving bus when everyone else did, because they had seen the driver do it. Apparently the brakes had failed  and  the driver had let it crash into a house rather than letting it drop over the side of a ravine. The worst thing for me about travelling in  mini buses is that they won't let you stop and take pictures. The few I did get were either a blur or looked like the one below, but I did get a reasonable one of a massive landslip where we stopped for a while.
Views from the mini bus
Landslips like this were not uncommon and the roadworks have to be seen to be believed
"Welcome to Paradise" says a sign as you come into Corioco, stuck halfway up on the side of a mountain  opposite the one we had just come down. Indeed, lush vegetation grew by the roadside - bamboo -like plants, ferns, some kind of broad leaf plants, with splashes of busy Lizzy growing underneath. The relief was immeasurable. Peaches, grapes, coffee, mandarins, banana palms and ginger all grew here and they were just the things I recognised. Being also an outpost of European expats, there was  a good supply of coffee and cake as well. Sadly, my accommodation was not so great - freezing (I had to steal the bedding from the other bed in the room) and noisy at night  - there was a dance class with loud music which continued long after dark, and the shower was ice cold in the morning.
I  did spend a lovely day doing the obligatory walk to the three Cascadas (waterfalls) which almost made up for my sleepless night. The mountains towered above and stretched far into the distance and far below you could make out tiny villages and farms.  
 This counts as the first of the three waterfalls
Unfortunately I don't seem to have many pictures after this. Perhaps that was where I first encountered the sockets with straight flat pins - not angled ones like ours, or the three round ones in a row, that fitted none of the adaptors I had and could probably not charge my camera.
The locals very keen to take me on a tour of the coca fields at great expense, but that wasn't really my thing. You could also continue on to the Bolivian Amazon from here, another popular trek for hostellers, but I had stopped taking my anti -malarials while I was sick and you had to have taken them for several days beforehand. It was also rather expensive - around two or three hundred dollars, and since I hadn't been able to extract any money from my Visa card after that expensive train trip to Machu Picchu,  I reluctantly returned to La Paz. 

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