The national park of Torotoro is in the centre of Bolivia, 138km from the city of Cochabamba. Few tourists make the trip (it wasn't even in our guide book) as a public bus only runs on Thursdays and Sundays. The fact that it is so remote was one of the biggest attractions for us.
We caught the 6am bus from the outskirts of Cochabamba. The bus was packed with locals returning to Torotoro after the weekend market, most were chatting to each other in Quechua. When the seats were occupied, the aisle filled with people sitting on sacks of corn, bundles of sticks, crates of god knows what and everything but the kitchen sink - that was on the roof! As usual my knees were jammed into the seat in front, my penance for being tall. A knee replacement maybe on the cards when I return home.
We got a flat tyre along the way. Not surprising considering we were mostly travelling along a dry river bed on tyres as smooth as James Bond and as bald as Dr. No. The driver and two conductors had the wheels fixed in about half an hour. We had only hit the
road again when the engine at the front started to overheat and steam engulfed the driver. We all sat in the sweltering heat while a kid ran down the valley to get water from a little house. The heat made everyone drunk with exhaustion. Half the bus was asleep. Jessica of course was the first to go!
We rolled into the village of Torotoro about 3pm and found a place with a room. It wasn't a hotel exactly, but a house, sweet shop, hardware store, bakery and guesthouse all under the same roof.
Torotoro is a quiet village frozen in time around cobbled streets and a mix of mud and stone buildings. Everyone we passed greeted us and doors were never locked. Jessica and I returned one day after a trek to find the front door open to our place - the shop full of goodies and a till just left alone. Not a sinner in sight. The owners were having their siesta out back!
It is compulsory to take a guide on any excursion so we signed up at the park office and booked a guide. Pablo was a local man of about 50 with easy
to understand Spanish (his second language). Lucky as our knowledge of geology terms in Spanish is rough to say the least! In whatever language, the valley of Torotoro is a geologist's dream site full of ancient beds of limestone, sedimentary mudstone, sandstone and boulders of frozen lava. Over the next three days we climbed up mountains, found sea fossils with a view, ducked down caves, looked over a canyon's Edge, swam in an oasis and stood in the footprints of dinosaurs. Not bad for a sleepy village in the middle of Bolivia!
8km from Torotoro village we found ourselves in the dark underworld of the Umajalanta cave system. With the help of headlights and ropes we plunged deep into chambers of stalactites and stalagmites. We turned our headlights off and stood still in one of the chambers in complete silence and absolute darkness. An eerie feeling and a brief insight into a deaf and blind person's challenge. Narrow passages led from one chamber to another. More than once we had to crawl on our hands and knees. I almost didn't make it through one small tunnel, I only just about squeezed through by doing a sideways crablike shuffle on
my belly. It is no place for a salad dodger! Other parts were easier, a natural slide had formed in one section and we happily slid down.
We eventually descended upon a small fresh water lagoon formed in the interior of the cave and populated by blind white fish. From there we went up a much easier (but more boring) route until we viewed blue skies.
About an hours trek from the cave, Pablo enthusiastically led us to the highlight of the area. DINOSAUR FOOTPRINTS. I had no idea such a thing existed, but there they were, set in stone. There are over a hundred tracks all over the valley representing many dinosaur species. The tracks could be split into two general types - carnivorous and herbivorous. The latter are vegetarian (like Jessica) and possess massive feet (unlike Jessica!). Some were big enough for Jess to sit in. We could clearly make out the carnivorous ones with the big claws for ripping flesh.
According to Pablo, the footprints date from over 100 million years ago. The tracks were made in soft mud on the valley floor. Over time the mud solidified into mudstone. We saw the footprints
of an adult and baby walking side by side. Another set showed a dinosaur running one way, then turning to the right.
Pablo also had another theory that the footprints were made in lava as the dinosaurs fled a volcanic eruption. Standing in the valley floor among huge solitary boulders of red and black lava which had been spat out by the volcano, a dormant volcano to our left, on our right mountains seemingly cut with a knife down the centre...I know it is far fetched (but I have a good imagination), I could see the lava flowing and the dinosaurs frantically fleeing to safety.
On our final day with Pablo we trekked to the Cañon de Torotoro, a gaping big crack in the earth's crust over 250m deep. Although the English translation "Cow's Nostril" doesn't sound particularly glamorous, the Huacasenq´a waterfalls at the bottom were beautiful. Nearby was an oasis of swimming pools in a crystal clear river. We jumped in. It was so cold my heart almost stopped, but it was refreshing in the blistering hot sun.
We spent our remaining day in Torotoro strolling around the village, sharing the cobblestones with cows, donkeys and
stray dogs. My last meal in the local eatery consisted of salad plus a big piece of animal fat and skin covered in batter! New one on me.
Torotoro was a fantastic five days off the beaten track. Thank you to Yoav, without your knowledge we might never have gone there.
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