29/07/12 – 02/08/12 – Coroico, Bolivia
Coroico is known to most travellers passing through as ‘the death road town yeah?’. It’s evidently a little more than that hence the reason we’d decided to take a break from the altitude and cold and head down to it’s tropical warmth. What all the death road cyclists will tell you (well.. those that survived..) is that the poignant memory of the trip is going from a starting elevation of 4700m right down to about 1200m, and seeing the weather and scenery change to reflect the dramatic drop in elevation. We saw the same from the confines of our little mini-bus (which in all retrospect is probably just as, if not more dangerous than cycling) .. when we peaked at 4700m, it was snowing, like blizzard snow. And the Andes mountains were that dark tectonic rock of the ancients with little snow caps. But as we twisted and turned down the other side of the mountain, slowly the mountains developed a yellowish thatchy grass.. for which Bolivia, well more specifically the altoplano is iconically famous for. This is where the Andes meets the Yungas. Even further down the mountains became green, overgrown with tropical flora species that thrive on humidity, rainfall and sunlight.
Coroico holds an important place in in the heart of Bolivians. People we spoke to later had asked us if we’d been and described how beautiful it is. Landlocked Bolivia, has experienced land pilfering to neighboring nations on a large scale. Conflict with Chile closed up its once sea border after the War of the Pacific; Brazil had it’s shot as well, threatening war and forcing Bolivias hand in handing over the territory of Acre. And then in 1935, at the hands of defeat against the Paraguayans, more land was lost. To put it simply, Bolivia has been pushed around a bit by it’s neighbors over the years, so it’s no surprise the people seek a little R&R every now and then.
We arrived at self-proclaimed ‘paradise’ and got off the mini-bus in search of a taxi that would take us the 2 kilometers or so up the hill to our accommodation. The town itself centers around the main plaza and church, but perhaps most notable is the presence of palm trees and tropical ferns. Cobbled roads wind steeply up the hill past two-story flat fronted houses with narrow wrought iron balconies and often painted nice pastel yellows or reds. You might happen to find a local Bolivian woman chewing coca leaves standing in an open doorway, or kids chasing local puppies through the streets. Walk just outside town on one of the old roads and you’ll start to see farming houses, coca and wood-products, set against a magnificent backdrop of the green Yungas mountains in every direction. Though the air is still chilly the sun is beautifully warm on our backs.
By some scary premonition, our taxi driver appears to know where we want to go.. ‘Sol Y Luna?’ ‘Si…quanto questa?’ ‘Viente Bolivanos’.. and we were off. His old Mitsubishi wagon rattling over the cobble stones and then bashing through the mud and scrub of unpaved neighborhood roads. Local dogs bark at the tires as we pass. Out of the scrub appears a mansion and up the path we drive, getting out near the door. After we check-in, a young Bolivian guy is tasked with carrying Rebeccas backpack 7 minutes up the hill. Being a hurly bloke, I decided I’d take mine, and then spent the next 6 minutes reclaiming my masculine bravado as he strode up the hill.. probably whistling a fine tune. I, on the other-hand had red exercise-face and could barely grasp the thin air (we were still at around 2000m).. We reached Alaya, our cabin on top of the hill and threw the bags inside. I tipped him appropriately and smiled, held my breath a bit to show I wasn’t that tired.. that he didn’t defeat me by THAT much. He looked at me oddly, thanked me and disappeared, nay teleported back down the hill.
The cabin was in it’s own little microsphere. Incredibly private and perched on top of the hill with a clear view across the landscape of the Yungas and even over the Andes in the background, in the direction of La Paz. It was breath-taking. Add to that, the view could be savored whilst lying in bed, as the bed faced the floor to ceiling windows. It was still a bamboo hut mind you, with a few nice antique doors fitted and some nice tiles here and there but it was the view the made the room. Cracks in between the pieces of bamboo meant the cabin got cold at night and let in the occasional bug and spider. ( I saw a massive one in one of the storage cupboards, but left it alone, and didn’t tell Rebecca.. she’ll kill me)
The shower and toilet were outdoors, the shower remarkably hot, as it had it’s own gas-bottle fed system activated simply by turning the tap on.. great stuff. And why would you close the shower curtain when the view was so spectacular? And so that’s how it went, a lung-burning hill climb, a breath-taking vista and unnecessary public exposure.
The days were sunny so we spent a lot of time in the deck chairs at the front of the hut, reading, studying Spanish, listening to music; wandering down at the appropriate times to chat to the kitchen staff and get some food.
We escaped the manor on only a few occasions to walk the path back into town and also to climb part-way to the top of the mountain on which we were perched, admiring tropical butterflies, plants and amazing birds, probably poisonous due to their amazing colours.
It was a short 3 nights before we grabbed a mini-bus back from the Coroico terminal to La Paz for one night before our trip toward the Peruvian border and the highest lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.