While we are hanging out in Cochabamba for a month, we had to take advantage and explore the area a bit, so a long weekend to Torotoro National Park was in order. Torotoro is a gem of a national park for its natural beauty, as well as its small number of visitors per year - right up our alley! All we knew in advance was that it had dinosaur tracks in the area, had a huge cave to explore, and some nice waterfalls in a scenic canyon. All of that turned out to be true. And accessing the site by moto was a lot of fun!
(we had heard that the road to Torotoro can be rough, but quickly learned that about 3-4 years ago it had been cobblestoned. At least about 60 of the 90 km after the turn off)
(there was still some nice dirt riding through the valley)
(luckily it's been dry, I'm not sure what happens to a couple segments of road during rainy season)
(you haven't really arrived until you've seen the dinosaur)
That first afternoon we got checked into a nice little hostal with parking (Las Charcas, 30 Bs/ppn (~US$4)) and asked a few questions of guides hanging around the plaza. One was nice, Luis Zola (IIRC), and wasn't pushy at all, so we were happy to join a group that he already had planned for the next morning. That afternoon we figured we'd register and pay our 30 Bs each park entrance fee (good for multiple days), but then just wander towards some closer in sites. Guides are recommended for all sites, even strongly encouraged, but for the hike to El Vergel and surrounding sites (4km from the plaza) we were very glad that we weren't suckered into that. It was all extremely well marked. We also lucked out because the park office was closed, so no entrance fee...but we figured we'd settle up the next morning when we met Luis...
(El Vergel canyon)
(Jill walking down the nice stone trail to the waterfalls at El Vergel)
(Mike taking a dip in the canyon)
(the water was that cold)
(Jill finding her way to the base of the waterfall)
The next morning the plaza was sleepy, including the park office, which was most definitely closed. We met up with Luis, our driver, and 3 Israelis. This was a way to split costs up - each tour leg that the guide went on cost 100 Bs, and we had signed up for 2. The car was 300 Bs for the day. So we each paid 100 Bs (US$14) to have a full day guided tour of a couple of amazing sites. The first stop was the Ciudad de Itas, where we hiked along some amazing canyons to reach a wind and water formed cave with stone arches.
(hortiga. This stuff will mess your skin up. Apparently it was used in schools to punish ornery kids, by basically whipping them with it)
(Ciudad de Itas)
(Jill avoiding the waist deep marsh)
(it's sturdier than it looks)
(The rock centered in the frame has a (very) loose resemblance to a wild cat and is traditionally used in ceremonies by the surrounding farmers to protect their herds and flocks from wolves and pumas. The cave in the background was used to hide cattle in the pre-revolution days (rural poor were abused, cattle stolen, etc) and then used to hide fighters during the civil war)
After hiking for a few hours, we returned to the car to see a tour bus of 30 people unloading. It was apparently a huge advantage starting at 7am! Even though not many visitors come to the park, the weekends can be busy and this weekend was full of kids in town for a school conference. We moved on towards la Caverna de Umajalanta, a cave that extends some 7km in and that you can explore more of over a few day day cave trek. We were just going to see the first few hundred meters of it, but even just that was sweet!
(3 toed dinosaur walked here. There are a number of prints visible in the region (some less distinguishable than others), but interestingly not many bones have been found. Maybe they were just passing through...)
(wildlife that acutally let us take its picture!)
(Jill crawling through the first section of the Caverna de Umajalanta. Luis told us that if you can stay dry through this stretch, you'll come out of the cave clean, but if you get wet here, you will be dirty. We both basically stayed dry)
(Jill rappelling her way down a steep section. She's getting good at this!)
(one more shot of Jill with a huge smile on her face. She found a new love - caving)
On our way back to town that afternoon the mountains were getting hammered with rain, lots of lightning. The passengers in the car didn't know what that meant, but the driver had some idea. He was sliding around switchbacks - and not just S American driving style, but the next level...he showed us his normal S American moves on the way up, and this was a step beyond - and throwing the passengers (especially the ones in the way back of the wagon) around. After he crossed a drainage, he stopped.
(first picture immediately after stopping...)
(...and second picture. It still would have been easily crossable, but with that type of flash flood it could go either way)
That afternoon we wandered around the small town of Torotoro a bit. There's not much. The nice hotel in town serves food, a couple of households open their doors to serve food (but not on any schedule), and there is the comedor popular, which serves up traditional meals 3 times a day, for 10Bs each. that's our kinda place. But there is a decent feel to the small town, with people still staring at us because we're different, but not harshly. They seem to be getting quite used to tourists.
A man, David, pulled us into his sitting room to have a chat when we were just wandering around town. He talked to us for about 30 min. His house is also a museum that he's had open for 25 years but is now selling to move on (maybe England, maybe Mexico). He's been driven out of Torotoro by the hostility of the town, claiming that they don't want to work and they have no culture to show to tourists. I think he means that the townspeople were jealous of his money making enterprise, but he never went so far as to say that. He was a nice man, though, and just seemed happy to have someone to talk to. But eventually we wondered on in search of food (and Mike dropped in the next morning to check out the museum)
(ol' David had been collecting rocks and fossils for the past 50 years, having now stuck them to any vertical surface that can support the weight. He likes to show off the ones that he thinks look like other objects, some religious, some animals, some I never got)
That morning we decided to walk back up towards El Vergel and see some more of the sites around that area, rather than drop into the canyon. We were glad we did!
(I know public urination happens against any standing wall in Latin America, but apparently they had to warn people about #2 too)
(this dog befriended Jill. It was mesmerized by her heals, coming really close with his nose, than backing away again, then coming really close with his nose,... He followed us for our entire ~4 hr hike near El Vergel)
(el mirador del cañ
on, with a scary tall, straight down drop directly underneath Mike's feet)
(we even got to see some condors)
( Man, Colca Canyon got nuthin' on this place!)
The ~3.5 hr ride back into Cochabamba was enjoyable again, with good weather and no traffic. We ended up buying gas in Anzaldo for 6Bs/liter, which at a mark up for them (~3.75Bs at the pump), a discount for us (9.25 Bs at the pump). So we bought about a tank full. That was a mistake. That stuff was cut with paint thinner or something similar. Riding back through city traffic of Cocha you could smell the volatiles coming out of the tank, and the gas cap was venting in ways that it normally wouldn't. Additionally, the bike was running sluggish. Well, we made it to town just fine at least, and that gave Mike something to do the next day (drain the tank and carbs, refill with automobile gasoline).
(one other task was to get the front tire flipped around to start to wear down the other side of the knobbies, hopefully giving us a few more kilometers in total.)
(We might as well have stopped here to fill up - white flags like this mean they have chicha for sale (in this region, it can also mean fresh bread). Chicha is a fermented corn drink that tastes pretty awful unless you're used to it. And the fermentation process is started with spit. Gross. And you can tell whose been drinking chicha - that stuff is potent.)