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January 16, 2013

Vagabonding Field Reports: Visiting the rarely visited in Bolivia

Cost/day: $15

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

It’s really hard to imagine a sight much stranger than the one of dinosaur foot prints standing right next to your own feet but that’s what you get in a lot of places in Bolivia. When we visited the incredible but often overlooked Torotoro national park, we had heard that there were some old prints that you could get close to but we never expected to get this close to them. It’s mind bending to image what your surroundings must have looked like a few million years ago standing in the exact same places where these creatures roamed.


Describe a typical day:

Torotoro national park is a stunning environment and most of our days are spent hiking to see the canyon, the dinosaur foot prints, watching condors soar over your head or just watching the sun sink in the sky. We usually have a basic breakfast of breads and spreads before heading out. The park itself is actually quite small and there are a couple of local guides that can take you to the edges of the park to see whatever you wish to see and still be back for dinner. There are some incredible caves to explore for the adventurous ones, full of blind fish and incredible narrow arches. In the evenings, dinner is served at the local “restaurant” which, as far as I can tell, was a woman’s house until a few people decided to have dinner with her one night and then she painted “Restaurant” on her door and the rest is history. There is of course, no menu. You just indicate how many plates you want and they come hot and tasty.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

After visiting Torotoro park, we moved on to Sucre where we were swarmed regularly by kids looking to sell us services or products. The typical fair of shoe shining service or trinkets or, strangely, oversized maps. A couple of kids sat around talking to me trying to convince me to polish my beat up running sneakers. I asked them about their business and they explained that shining shoes is actually the best of the businesses as the maps don’t sell well. I then started to chat up one of the kids selling maps. In my broken spanish, I tried to explain a bit about my trip and showed him the countries I had visited. He confirmed that maps were a poor seller which got me wondering why he sold them in the first place. Basically, from what I could understand, he sold them because he had them. Simple as that. I didn’t end up buying one – wouldn’t have a place to put it – but I did end up handing him and the others a bunch of fresh fruit that I now regularly carry around.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Bolivia is a stunning place. The landscape is probably the most diverse of all the countries I have visited thus far. You can be in the amazon in the morning and mountain climbing in the afternoon to visiting Salt flats on the weekend. It’s incredible and absolutely beautiful. A lot of people will blow right through Bolivia visiting the amazon basin then a quick trip down the “death road” with a short stop at the Salt Flats. But they are missing out on some incredible places. Torotoro is just one gem among many that not many people will visit. Bolivia should play a much more prominent role in South American tourism than it currently does. It’s just such an incredible place.

That said, I’ve noticed that the people in Bolivia are more reserved than in other South American countries and tend to keep to themselves which has made random conversations more challenging.

Describe a challenge you faced:

The biggest challenge I faced in Bolivia was to find a way not to panic and cause a massive scene on the overnight bus from Coroico to Rurrenabaque. That sounds rediculous unless you have actually been on that road and been on that bus. In which case, you know exactly what I mean. That stretch of road is the continuation of the “Death Road”. The buses take the mountain passes at night and the hours spent in pitch black darkness winding through those roads were the most terrifying of my life. At one point, as our bus was forced to inch up against the cliff edge to allow oncoming traffic to squeeze by, I swear I felt the bus slipping. I couldn’t get the feeling out of my head. I started looking for open windows to lunge out of when the bus finally did give out and topple down the cliff. I am not even kidding.

What new lesson did you learn?

You could argue that the lesson I should learn is just to relax and close my eyes during some of those insane bus rides (I did survive after all) but I think the better lesson is just to fly when possible. I took this advice on the way back and avoided the round trip.

Where next?

Moving south and onwards to Argentina.

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