We awoke Wednesday to some early morning cloud that burned off quickly and Doug, although not feeling 100%, felt he was up to beginning our drive to Cochabamba. After showering, paying our bill and shutting down Tigger, we hit the road around 8am. We had nearly 400km/250m to drive and although it doesn’t sound like a lot, and should only take four hours or so you’d think we kind of thought it would be a two day drive.
Once we got out of the village of Mallasa where Hotel Oberland is situated south of La Paz, we hit the main highway in about a half hour and it was four lanes so although not a US freeway, speeds were 80kmh/50mph. The downside was the highway drives right through many small cities and villages and at times, the traffic can be quite congested and slow. By the four hour mark we were over halfway and decided to push on as there were not many, let alone any good, spots to camp along this highway. We began on the Bolivia Highway 1 and switched over to the F4 near Oruro. Much of the highway is on the “antiplano” (the high plains) and we are at 3800-4500m / 12500-14750’ above sea level. As it’s winter, the grass is pretty brown and the farmer’s fields are empty. Coming down just after the highest point we saw some snow and stopped at a construction delay, we actually had small flakes falling on us!
According to the billboards, they are in the process of extending this four lane highway all the way east to Santa Cruz (over 400 km) and it looks like it will take quite some time. We had many detours off and on pavement and long stretches of dirt/mud and washboard road. One of the weird things we noticed is the number of dogs along the construction sections – like they each “protect” a piece of the road…..?
By this time in our journey across Bolivia we were getting low on gas; we’d filled up the tank and the Jerry Cans before crossing the border from Peru.. As mentioned in the previous post, foreigners can have issues getting gas and if they can, be charged double the citizens’ price.
Thank goodness for iOverlander! Previous travelers had pinged gas stations on the map where they had been successful (or not) getting fuel, either at the local’s price, a bit higher (where the attendant pockets the difference) or at the foreigner price and whether it was using jerry cans or straight into their tank. We understand the locals’ price is just under 4B a litre (subsidized by the government) and that the foreigner’s price will be more than double. The station attendants are supposed to fill out paperwork documenting the sale and there are cameras set up watching over them.
During our drive we passed through five police check points – nothing serious; didn’t even ask for vehicle paperwork. At two of them Fran (who was driving) had to show her driver’s license which they looked at on both sides (who knows if they could understand it!) and off we went. More than half of this road was a toll road (four lanes most of the way) and the tolls were cheap: 2-12B (no more than $1.75).
So we are about ¾ of the way to Cochabamba and we come to a small village where locals are selling gas from large containers at 6B a litre (about halfway between local and foreigner price). We filled our tank and the three jerry cans and also purchased six more gas containers for future use (we understand that the gas stations are few and far between in the southwest corner of Bolivia where the salt flats are so we want to be ready). We certainly made that shop owner’s day with the 140 litres / 36 gallons we bought. He charged us 10B each for the containers ($1.30) and we were set.
Doug was feeling unwell again, which was another reason we wanted to push on to Cochabamba so we’d have some services and have time to get that last part for the truck bought and installed before Christine and Mark arrive on Friday.
We arrived at a camping spot at five which is in a northeastern burb of Cochabamba called Tiquipaya. We had sort of reserved ahead of time via WhatsApp. The owner is not always around so he likes to know when you are coming so he can be sure to let you in. Javier is an architect who has created his own little paradise with a funky house, office, a tree house, a very unique set of outdoor bathroom block with an almost outdoor hot shower and a fish pond that he’s currently building an “underwater” room in so you can view the fish. There are cool sounding frogs at night and Wi-Fi, albeit on the slow side. The grass is green and the services and clean. We just fit under the archway gate but could not fit under the next decorative gate into the main camping area so we stayed put inside the entryway. The night was a quiet one and we awoke refreshed after a long driving day.
Cochabamba is Bolivia’s fourth largest city and is its “Medellin” with spring like weather year round and surrounded by mountains. Temps are currently reaching the mid 20’s C / mid 70’sF dropping to the single digits Celsius / mid 40’s F at night. It’s been sunny every day so far and there’s no humidity.
Fun fact: one of Cochabamba’s sister cities is Miami, FL.
Doug was feeling much better and decided that instead of taking a day to rest, we should head to the mechanic today. We left Javier’s at 8:30 letting him know we’d be back later in the day. We arrived at Alejandro’s shop (found in iOverlander) and he said he could help us with the part and a few other things we’d come up with. He told us where a supermarket was and we walked over there while he sourced the part. Upon returning by taxi, he said the part could be here tomorrow morning and they’d work on the other things for now.
Doug began to feel weak on our walk to the store so we took it easy and he sat out front while Fran shopped. Upon returning to the mechanic’s place, we learned they had fast Wi-Fi so we sat in the office. They managed to do several small fix ups on Tigger and we spent the day taking short walks and using the internet. We spent the night in the garage and the next morning the part showed up and they guy wanted $150 (yes dollars for a $25 part) for it but worse than that: it was the wrong part!
So as they worked on a few more minor things we’d ask to get done, Doug searched online and found the part at Rock Auto and it could be shipped here within 1-6 business days; not ideal but not bad. Then about an hour later he got an email that the part is NOT available and we could order from another seller on their sight. So we did and then Alejandro came out and said they figured out how to get the bearing out of the tensioner (you’re not supposed to be able to get it out…) and they found a bearing the correct size and we were good to go! Latin American ingenuity at its best.
Fran walked into El Centro and found a Tigo customer service shop (since Entel is not working for her hotspot, she wanted to try another provider to see if the problem was her phone or Entel). The walk was about 4km and it was a comfy temperature for walking. Along the sidewalks she observed so many different kinds of sidewalk finishings (many homes and business seem to personal their sidewalk):
and then sometimes it’s like this:
Anyway, after taking a number at Tigo, she was served by a lovely young woman who it turned out spoke great English and after explaining the problem, the rep put in a new sim card and no, the hotspot wouldn’t work but she took it to her tech guy and in less than five minutes it was working so she bought the sim card and some data (turned out to be cheaper then Entel) and she was a happy camper.
We had since heard from Javier that Christine and Mark had arrived and we left the Alejandro’s by 3:30 and made out way back to Javier’s where we caught up with C&M once again for happy hour.
Saturday, we all caught the local bus (looked like a mini Guatemalan Chicken Bus)
into El Centro to see the main plaza
and then headed to the huge market area to wander and get some produce. This market area, called La Cancha covers numerous blocks and is not a tourist market; just a huge locals market that sells just about anything including a “witches” section with good luck offerings,
llama fetuses (!),
potions and dried frogs. We were looking for a spare blanket for when we get back up high in the cold and found a nice big queen size thick fleece one that should do the trick for less than $10. We all bought some produce but could not find any decent bread (Bolivianos don’t eat a lot of bread so it’s usually tasteless white bread you find or really crumbly whole wheat bread).
Doug hailed a cabbie and he took us to a big grocery store where we found some rolls and long multi gran French bread style loaves that we hope will be better than bread we’ve had since arriving in Bolivia. Doug stayed with the cabbie while we three went inside and we had the taxi take us back to Javier’s where we had lunch and chilled the afternoon away. After happy hour, we all went inside and had another quiet night.
It’s nice to be in capris and flip flops again here; it’s dry, fairly warm without getting hot and cools down a great deal at night.
Sunday through Thursday, were “household chores” days and relaxing in the warm sunshine. Javier, the owner, joined us for happy hour on Monday and gave us suggestions on where to go. Mark went to get some truck repairs done during that time too.
Tuesday night, to celebrate our 1500 days on the road we took Mark and Christine out for dinner; Javier had recommended an Italian place down the road and it turned out to be a wood fired pizza place with SIXTY kinds of pizza on the menu! It really was some of the best pizza we’d had on the road in a super long time and the wine and beer that accompanied it was very good too.
Wednesday, Fran and Christine took the bus into town so she could buy a new phone and we wandered the market again and did find an souvenir section where Fran found some alpaca socks Doug had been looking for and then they went for a nice lunch at an organic place before touring the “Palicio Portales”. This was to be the retirement mansion of tin mining baron Simon Patiño.
Though he never actually inhabited this opulent mansion which was completed in 1927, it was stocked with some of the finest imported materials available at the time – Carrara marble, French wood, Italian tapestries and delicate silks. The gardens and exterior were inspired by the palace at Versailles, the games room is an imitation of Granada’s Alhambra and the main hall takes its design inspiration from Vatican City. Unfortunately you are not able to take photos inside the house but here are some from the outside:
and a couple downloaded from the web: (the main entry and the upstairs hallway)
Thursday afternoon, Mark returned from various workshops with everything but one thing done (he needs a new rim for his spare but it seems American rims are hard to find here) so we packed up Friday morning and hit the road which was so nice. We were heading with them south to Parque Nacional Torotoro after first stopping at Immigration to extend our visas.
At the office, at first the agent did not want to extend our visas as we had 11 days left (we’d read it could be done when 10 days remain but we were trying anyway) and he said we had to wait until there was only 3 days left. We “claimed” we needed it done now as we would not be near an immigration office in those last three days and he relented and extended our visas another 30 days.
We also hit a grocery store and stocked up and began the 140km / 86 mi journey. The first 45 km / 27 mi were easy; in the city, in the outskirts and then into a small town called Tarata by one o’clock. There the asphalt ended and so began 98 km / 60 mi of cobble, dirt and riverbed – yes: river bed. They are improving this road too and long stretches are spent driving on a temporary road in the dry river bed next to the road. The construction process has little regard for traffic with a major lack of signage for detours and they don’t maintain the road surface well nor allow you to drive on the new surface. We had agreed to either make it to the village of Torotoro and stop around 4pm if it looked like we wouldn’t make it the whole way.
The road was pretty scenic with red rock, mountains and fins of many colours; we saw a few condors and lots of goats and pigs and a good number of tiny villages. The river bed is quite wide and a sure sign of global warming when there’s NO water in it for huge distances; no snow melt to feed it either.
Sidebar: we’ve read there are 43000 kms of roads in this country BUT only just over 2000 of them are paved!
At 3:45 we found a wide spot in the river and decided to wait for Christine and Mark to catch up. Turns out they had waited in Tarata for 30 minutes to get gas (approval was needed by the attendant’s supervisor to sell to a foreigner at that station). So at 4:30 when they had not shown up we drove back about 9 km looking to make sure they’d not broken down – we met them and told them that there was a good camping spot 6km up the road and we had our usual happy hour outdoors before it got too cold.
Saturday morning, they were ready before us and they took off for Torotoro. We left about a half hour later and came upon a flock of parakeets in the bushes and on cactus plants.
We passed C&M about an hour later and we met in the village while we were buying gas from a tienda in 2L soda bottles. This town has no gas stations, banks or ATM’s. There are several hotels/hostels and lots of small restaurants.
Our first order of “business” was to check with the park office to get park tickets and sort out what hikes we wanted to do (there are a total of seven options offered). Tickets for foreigners cost 100B’s (about $15) and most guides cost the same but for a group of 5-10. You cannot do any of the trails with a guide.
After getting park tickets, Doug and Fran wanted to walk 3.5km to the Turtle Cemetery but C&M decided to walk around town. They made the right choice; we were extremely underwhelmed. There is a small museum building at the site with ONE turtle shell fossil, one dinosaur bone and a trail in behind that has no info but a path to follow. There were a few rock circles where maybe something was supposed to be but, as mentioned, no information.
It had begun to rain enroute to this village and the afternoon pretty much stayed wet on and off and into the evening when it rained all night. We parked on the town square (very cute with dinosaur statutes and benches) with a young couple in a VW van from French Guyana.
There was a café/restaurant on the square run by a French couple and we spent happy hour there before retiring for dinner to our respective “homes”.
Christine and Mark wanted to do the longer cave hikes the next day and we’ve pretty much been “caved” out so they left at 7:30 Sunday morning for what turned out to be an all-day outing (due to the fresh snow up in the mountains). We slept in some and after breakfast moved Tigger to a different camping spot with more sun. Today is Bolivian Independence Day and we heard from locals that lots of festivities would be going on this afternoon and into the night so the plaza may not be the quietest spot to spend tonight.
We did take a two hour hike with a guide (after learning there were none left, we went to the park office and asked if we could do the hike “sans guide” but he found us a park ranger to go with us). This hike was the El Chiflon hike to a water fall in a canyon with dinosaur prints enroute. The weather had cleared up considerably today and was partly cloudy/sunny but comfortable for walking. Our guide, Javier, took us to the El Chiflon canyon and waterfall but somehow we’d missed the footprints. He told us we could go down into the canyon to see some or see ones near the village. We opted for the latter and returned. It was an okay, but unless tomorrow’s hike is way better, no worth the 200km dirt roads to get here and back.
Way back in the Cretaceous period dinosaurs stepped onto the soft shoreline of the sea that covered Bolivia and the imprints they made were solidified by a long period drought. Later, wet weather returned and the footprints were sealed beneath the mud and sediment. This drought/wet pattern repeated itself seven times. There are several locations in Bolivia where you can find prints and we’ll see a huge site in Sucre in about ten days – Doug is super excited!
Doug had arranged a 6:30 am pick up for our hike today – Monday (it’s a national holiday and we’d been told at the guide office that no guides would be available in the morning due to the holiday parade so if we wanted to go early, that would be the only time until after lunch (which here means after two….).
Christine joined us (Mark was not feeling great) so we were picked up and taken to the Ranger Station where a guide named Tomas took us the kilometer to the mirador over the canyon. Enroute he spoke to us about the trees, the canyon and the HUGE dinosaur print we came across.
At the mirador
he gave us the option to go down to the falls or return with him so of course, we opted to go down. It was another kilometre down and down and down to the river which we had to cross twice. It was very reminiscent of hiking in Utah with lots of boulders to scramble over and tall canyon walls.
And then finally we were at El Vergel, the falls.
Then we had to retrace our steps back up the side of the canyon and walked back to our campsite, enroute checking out the dinosaur prints in the protected area.
We all washed up and hit the road heading north again around mid-day so that we could go east to the F7 highway (hoping it was in decent condition!) and stopped in the little town of Anzaldo for the night. Today, due to it being a long weekend, they had opened the under construction road so we hardly had to drive in the river bed at all.
At one point we came across a huge mud puddle with several cars on the other side of it and one beside it. We asked the ones on the other side if anyone needed help and it turned out the car on the side was stuck. We turned around, offered to pull him out and set Tigger’s winch up and pulled him out of there from behind. He then proceeded to drive through the puddle weaving at about 40kmph – wish we’d had the camera taping that but he made it.
We wandered the village, checked out the square and church, had happy hour outside and called it a day after the sun set.