Saturday, May 16, 2015

Where the dinosaurs walked more than 120 million years ago!

Toro Toro

In the streets of Toro Toro.
An overnight bus took us to Cochabamba, in central Bolivia,  from where our plan was to go to Toro Toro National Park, 'relatively' close by. As can sometimes be the case in South America, we were sent to the wrong place, and had to back track in order to get to the right point. Oh well, at least we got to see some of Cochabamba along the way.

Toro Toro National Park is only 135 kilometres southeast of Cochabamba and its drawcard is its dinosaur tracks, spectacular geological formations, caves, hikes and ruins.  We had met some travellers along the way who had told us that it's a Bolivian must-see, highlight and hidden gem as well as not being touristy.  SOLD!  We were  also told that it's only accessible by bumpy gravel roads and riverbeds, which takes seven hours in the dry season and much longer in the rainy season when sometimes the road becomes totally impassable. Information on this place is scarce, as for many off-the-beaten-track places in South America, but we determined to do it!

That's a pretty big foot print!
Dinosaur foot prints.

Welcome to Toro Toro.
We finally did get to the 'place' where small pick-ups take you to Toro Toro ... when full!  OK, so we had to wait a couple of hours, or three!  Patience!  All good things take time, or so they say. After making friends with a gorgeous French-Canadian lady called Audrey and her lovely partner and child, we were off. The road was bumpy (more like a dirt track ... OK gravel road!) and it took around five hours to cover approximately 140 kilometres.  The town is tiny, barely a central plaza and a few surrounding streets. We searched for a place to sleep and found a basic, but clean place on the 'main drag', run by the delightful Maritza and her two year old Santiago.  What the place did not have in mod-cons it made up for by the warmth of its host.

Toro Toro ... serene, tranquil, breathtaking!

Toro Toro National park protects a remote and sparsely inhabited stretch of the arid Bolivian Andes. It is the country's smallest national park but with a huge wow factor! What it lacks in size it makes up for with its powerful scenery and varied attractions. The park encompasses everything from hanging valleys to eroded canyons, ringed by low mountains whose twisted geological formations are strewn with fossils, dinosaur footprints and labyrinth limestone cave complexes. We spent a couple of days doing some day trips exploring the area and were well and truly blown away. The main attractions and indeed highlights are the limestone Umajallanta Caves and the waterfall-filled Torotoro Canyon.

Umajallanta Caves ... not for the fainthearted.

The caves most certainly were not for the faint-hearted. I was half-expecting an easy-going guided tour, but this was all about crawling on your hands and knees and doing in Bear Grylls style. After more than two hours I emerged a little shaky but truly blown away by the grandeur of what I had seen. In comparison, despite the dizzying height, the canyon was far more sedate and the Vergel waterfall and surrounds nothing short of spectacular ... and a lovely spot for a swim, might I add.

Umajallanta Caves ...window to another world.

Toro Toro Canyon.
On top of the world ... City of Itas.
City of Itas.
We also visited the  City of Itas, 21 kilometres out of the town centre. At 3800 metres above sea level it is an area of majestic and huge rock formations which really does look like a city made of stone. Huge caverns with arches that look like baroque churches have been carved out by Mother Nature, but in parts there is evidence of 'human tampering' in the form of rock art. It was a drizzly day when we visited and so the overall feeling was simply one of majesty and grandeur.  Without a doubt, this entire area has been a South American highlight.  Still virtually unknown on the gringo-tourist-trail, I reckon this is the time to be here.

This has been without a doubt, a major highlight of our trip.  Laid-back and lazy with very few 'tourist mod-cons' yet a veritable geological wonderland. When the tourists get a grip of this I am sure it will provide Machu Picchu with some decent rivalry!


Bye, bye Santi ... off to our next destination!

"Fear is the cheapest room in the house.  I would like to see you living in better conditions". – Hafiz

Off to school.

City of Itas.

Morning walk.

The town with a splendiferous back drop.

Vergel Waterfall.

We did it!  Umajallanta Caves.

Toro Toro life.

Toro Toro stroller.

This is the way we wash the clothes.

Alex and Santi.

Out and about.

Toro Toro local guide.

Land of the dinosaurs.

On our way to Toro Toro Canyon.

City of Itas.

I want to ride my bicycle.

Walk to Vergel Waterfal.

One of the locals.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Coming down ... to tropical Bolivia!

Sleepy Samaipata.
We were umming and ahhing about where to go to next.  I had done much of the Andean side of Bolivia all those years ago and wanted to also see some things that I had not seen before. A tip off on Samaipata; sub-tropical climate, not that far from Sucre and set in the stunning wilderness in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental (parallel mountain range to the Bolivian Andes). And at 1650 metres above sea level. I repeat 1650 metres above sea level!!! That may not seem like a big deal, but considering that we had spent the last several weeks in very high altitude (equals cold and hard to breathe) this was a more than appealing option. Next destination SOLD!  Buses being buses in Bolivia, we arrived at our destination at 4am.  Luckily it was a small and safe enough place for us to hang around in until dawn broke and the hour was reasonable enough for us to go and look for some accommodation.

We finally settled on La Posada del Sol.  We only stayed a night as we felt that it was overpriced for what it offered.  A gringo(foreigner)/local partnership, perhaps they had gotten a little too comfortable and forgotten about what really mattered.  You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that; it was totally geared at money, money. And don't, I repeat don't do your own laundry! Having said that, we did meet a wonderful couple at the cafe there; Roy and Raquel from Cochabamba.  Roy was a professor and specialist in Andean rock art and Raquel a batik artist.  Really lovely people whom we spent hours chatting to.

We ended up spending the next few days at the friendly, family-run Residencial Kim. Basic and clean rooms with a lovely courtyard and kitchen (always a deal-clincher for me) with lovely and helpful staff.

Fresh fruit at Residencial Kim.


The place to see in Samaipata is the mystical pre-Inca site of El Fuerte, or the Fort. Just an uphill from the village but most easily accessed by public transport. We had also made some new English friends at La Posada, so we decided to go along together.

With Cat and John on the way to El Fuerte.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1998, it is not actually a military fortification, but is generally considered a Pre-Columbian religious site built by the Chane people, a pre-Inca culture of Arawak origin. The sculptured rock is known as one of the most impressive examples of rock art in the world. Extremely well kept it took us a couple of hours to walk around and take it all in.

Sweeping views of Samaipata.

El Fuerte.

El Fuerte.

Up close and personal.

A Room with a View.

El Fuerte.

El Fuerte.

Perspective, El Fuerte.

Samaipata flora.

Beautiful Samaipata.

Next stop, a couple of days in tropical Santa Cruz. Many years back we met a Bolivian/ English couple in Melbourne, who now live back in England (love to you both Raquel and Bodhi); Raquel's family hail from Santa Cruz.  We told Raquel we'd go visit them, but she insisted that we go stay.  All I can say is that her parents, Emma and Angel, have got to be two of the most hospitable people I have ever met, and that goes for all of Raquel's family, who simply could not do enough for us in the few days that we were there.  Angel went out of his way to cook for us, and various family members to show us around.  And the mangoes from the tree in the backyard ... OMG! These are the 'travelling magic moments'!

Climate wise, what a difference from the Bolivia we had seen thus far, it was both hot and humid. And so we spent the next few days just hanging out with the family; a relaxing difference from the usual sight to sight that we have been doing over the last few months.

Plaza 24 de Septiembre.

Plaza 24 de Septiembre by night, with the cathedral in the background.
With Raquel's mum Emma, sister Lorena and little niece Mishell.

Thanks for cooking for us Master Chef Angel.

Showing us around Santa Cruz.

A day trip to  Porongo with the family.
Yucca pancakes (tortillas) in Pongo.
Alex getting ready to eat sonsos, made of yucca.
In Rio Pirai.
Angel with little Mishell.

Saying goodbye to the family.
With the emblem of Bolivia, painted by Angel.

At the Santa Cruz bus terminal ... baby it's hot inside!

And so another adventure had come to an end.  To see and experience new and different things is great, but it's really the people that you meet that make that experience extra special. With a smile on our faces, off we went to our next destination. Cochabamba and Toro Toro here we come.


Next: National Park Toro Toro (one of Bolivia's hidden secrets) and Cochabamba. 

Dedication: To the wonderful, wonderful Burgos family who let us into their home and treated us like their family. You went out of your way to feed us and show us as much as you could in the few days that we were in Santa Cruz.  We want you to know how much we appreciate your kind, warm and loving gestures.  You will always occupy a very special place in our hearts.  Angel and Emma your family should be honoured to have you!

Dedicacion: Para la linda, linda familia Burgos, que nos permitieron entrar su hogar nos trataron como su propia familia. Hicieron de todo , darnos de comer y mostrarnos la ciudad y alrededor en los pocos días que pasamos en Santa Cruz. Queremos que sepan que apreciamos muchísimo sus buenos, calurosos y amorosos gestos.  Siempre ocuparan un lugar muy especial en nuestros corazones. Angel y Emma su familia deben estar honrados de tenerlos en sus vidas.

"Don't count the things you do, do the things that count." – Zig Ziglar