I frankly don’t understand why the buses in this country travel on schedules that will get you to your destination in the middle of the night. To my great surprise, when a bus is supposed to arrive at a certain hour, it will mostly arrive even earlier. Which means that I find myself in Cochabamba at 3.30 am. I have no accommodation booked, as I was uncertain if I would arrive at all, so I decide to continue directly to Toro Toro national park, sort of the local Jurassic (cretaceous, really) park. I take a taxi to a place where microbuses to Toro Toro leave from, and he takes me to a deserted road, drops me off outside a closed office and tells me not to worry, they will open soon. Oh well. I have a book. Half an hour later the same taxi drives around to tell me that two blocks down another office looks open, which is really nice of him. There is in fact a little microbus boarding passengers for Toro Toro. It’s just past 4 am, and except for me, there is a girl who could easily be 15 years my junior, with two small children and a kitten, sleeping in the van. I put my backpack on the roof and try to get some sleep too, we will not leave anytime soon anyway. Buses around here leave when full, and children don’t count as passengers, so we are in for an uncomfortable ride. Thank heaven the locals are prepared for needs of people on the move, and at some point of this freezing morning a street vendor selling fresh bread and sweet coffee appears. I normally wouldn’t touch sweet coffee, but it’s hot and I am exhausted and grumpy and on the point of questioning my decision to go to Toro Toro. By 7.30 we finally leave and six hours through some seriously beautiful scenery later I finally reach my destination, book into the hotel closest to the bus station and sleep.
Two french guys I met on the bus leave for a trek immediately, but for me there is no chance on earth I’d develop any effort after 20 hours of voyage. Toro Toro is set in a spectacular valley, but the village is the tackiest place you’ll ever see. The national park is famous for fossilized dinosaur footprints, and plastic statues of dinos are everywhere, on the buses and taxis, on the facades of hotels and public offices and of course there is the obligatory T-rex in the middle of the central square.
May 5 – 6
Toro Toro National Park cannot be visited independently. You need to pay the entrance fee of 100 bolivianos at the park office, which grants you access to the park for 4 days, and for any excursion you need to hire a guide, which is fair enough, given tourism is the only means of income the locals have. There are 4 of 5 excursions one can do in the park. Except for one short half-day trek to the canyon, you will need a car. The price of the tour goes for full car (6 people). Just go to the rangers station at 7.30 am, put your name down and wait till a car fills, it will not take more than 10 minutes for the most popular tour. For the more distant and less popular sites you will either need to find other people or pay for the entire car yourself (650 bolivianos).
Day 1: The day tour takes us up from the valley to Stone City, a complex of open caves, rock formations, domes and cathedrals, where we walk for about 3 hours (because everyone takes pictures and we are slow, we don’t walk more than 2 km). After lunch we visit the Uma Jalanta cave for a proper caving expedition. We get helmets, headlamps and ropes, and set off for a 3 hours tour of the deepest cave in Bolivia. It’s the coolest thing I’ve done in the country. Unfortunately before the establishment of the national park, the cave has been robbed off most of the decorations. Most of the stalactites and stalagmites that could be easily reached have been sewed off as souvenirs (by to local visitors). Still, descending into the dark cave is an amazing experience. At some point we need to crawl through a crevasse less than half a meter wide. If my boobs were any bigger, I would be stuck! Do not wear anything white and do not do it at all if you are claustrophobic. If you’re not, the caving adventure is worth the 6 hours drive to Toro Toro.
Day 2: Trek to Virgel waterfall in the nearby Canyon Grande takes 3 to 4 hours, depends how slow you are and how much time you want to spend by the waterfall. We visit some more dino footprints fields on the way before descending around 200m into the canyon. The waterfall is not really impressive, but I guess it’s a walk worth doing, especially on a hot day, when you can swim in the canyon. We return back to Toro Toro at lunchtime, and I board a bus back to Cochabamba. I recommend spending at least 2 nights in the park, to justify the drag of the journey back and forth.
I have a night bus to La Paz in the evening (the latest one available, so that it gets me to town at a reasonable hour, like 7 am). I spend the day at Cochabamba just chilling. Most Bolivians big cities look the same: a mixture of unfinished bare brick houses and modern constructions that were cool in eastern europe in the 90s (and it wasn’t a good period for architecture). Cochabamba throws in a giant concrete Jesus, the biggest number of houses that have a facade, and all over looks like an affluent city. The centre is full of bars, cafes and hipster looking joints that offer fancy burgers and vegan cuisine.
I decide I need a haircut, so I walk into the fist respectable looking shop I find. It’s short hair after all, what could go wrong? Everything, it turns out. The guy googles something (I must be the first short-haired woman who ever happened to him), assures me he understood my explanation of how I’d imagine my haircut, then divides a parting on the side, and before I have time to protest, shaves everything below it. I am somewhere between shocked and amused, and tell him just to get on with it. He cheerfully asks me if I want any kind of design in the shaved-off bit. Like what, a Nike logo? I tell him not to push his luck, he’s done enough already. Now I look like an Italian professional football player.