Weekend Adventure – Toro Toro

Norte Potosi trip

Last Friday, I was supposed to go to a village in Norte Potosi for a conference on food sovereignty. Unfortunately, I was misinformed on trufi schedules (or the trufi driver decided not to show up – very possible) and I waited for an hour only to get a call while on the trufi telling me that the bus to the conference had already left. So I and Ryan, the volunteer who also works at my org, decided to explore the small town of Quillacollo just as it was coming to life at 8 AM. Their version of La Cancha market had hundreds of vendors hastily setting up stalls with fresh meat and produce while breakfast bread and pastry stands were quickly selling out. There was also a really nice church near the main plaza so we wandered through and took some pictures. The church is dedicated to the Virgin de Urkupiña and the town is known for their celebration of the festival of the same name in mid August.
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After strolling through the market, we got some coffee at a little side street cafe and then headed back home. At this point it was only about 10 and we realized one great benefit of missing this trip – we could join the group of Sustainable Bolivia volunteers going to Toro Toro national park for the weekend! They were going to leave around 4:30 so originally we would have missed it but now we had enough time to get home, pack, change money, and take a nap since we had woken up so early.

Road to Toro Toro

The trip didn’t start off too well because we went to the wrong bus stand. We ended up having to walk about 40 minutes to find the right station. Luckily, we had left early enough that we were still a half hour early and we were able to get tickets for everyone. The catch was that the bus was overbooked so myself and Abel sat in the aisle with some other travelers. But the other 13 people in our group got seats mostly together and I was able to lean on some of their legs so we were fine overall. The ride took about 5 hours including for a stop & search by police along the way. We got in to the pueblo of Toro Toro around midnight and found our hostel. It was modest but good enough for a place to rest and at 40 Bs per night it was a good deal. Plus for just an extra 45 Bs we got a small breakfast, a bagged lunch and dinner after our hike. That was an excellent deal!

Saturday Caverns

The next morning we set out around 10 AM lunch bags in hand. The first part of the day included a hike into the hills and through some mountainside caves. The hiking was fairly mild but had some great views of the valleys below and the mountain ranges surrounding us. We also came across some sheep and donkeys along the path while a few condors flew overhead. It was a nice warm up for the next adventure.
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After lunch, we set off for the underground caverns. We needed headlamps to see our way through the pitch black tunnels. The descent into the cavern was really an obstacle course. There were parts where we had to crawl on hands and knees to get through and other parts where we had to hold on to a rope and lower ourselves down to the next level. Then there were slippery rocks to navigate and even a tiny twisting tunnel which required us to lay down flat and slide along like snakes. All the while, only seeing in a small circle of light directly ahead of us. The guides Luis and Victor warned us beforehand that anyone afraid of the dark or of small spaces should probably stay behind. No one stayed behind and in the end our trek was rewarded with a cool waterfall with some pale fish swimming at the bottom.

After an exhilarating first day, we arrived back at our hostel to a huge dinner of pique macho. It’s a Bolivian dish that has chunks of beef, sausage, onions, tomatoes and  boiled eggs piled up on top of fried potatoes – exactly what we needed after a full day of hiking, climbing and crawling. Post dinner we partied a little to celebrate our day before getting a few hours rest to prepare for day 2.

Sunday Canyon & Waterfall

Sunday’s itinerary was to hike down the side of a canyon to the river and waterfall at the bottom. I thought it sounded easy enough but I was very wrong. Well, actually it was pretty easy going down, it’s the getting back up that kills you. Along the way, we saw several dinosaur footprints including the largest one in Bolivia – believed to belong to a brontosaurus. Our guides told us there are over 3,500 dinosaur tracks in the country and there is a museum where most of the fossils are collected. As we got to the canyon there was a small walkway where you could see through the bottom and see nothing but air for thousands of meters below your feet. The view was breathtaking; it was like the smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon.
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The walk down took a little less than an hour along narrow stairs along the canyon walls. Definitely not a walk for the faint of heart. When I got to the bottom, I looked up to see how far we’d come and I realized it was going to be a long climb back to the top. At that moment though I just wanted to stand under the waterfall and take a swim. After a couple of hours of alternately swimming in the freezing water and warming up in the sun, we headed back. The return was every bit as grueling as expected but we stopped several times to take pictures and rest so we didn’t kill ourselves. I really enjoyed the two days in the outdoors with all the different sights and experiences. Yet it was really only a small taste of the rich natural wonder of Bolivia.

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