As with all Bolivian journeys, getting there is half the adventure. We were a little anxious about our bus from Cochabamba to Toro Toro since we´d received conflicting information about the location and timing of the bus ride from everyone. We ended up getting our tickets from Trans Toro Toro at Av. Republica and Av. Barrientos for the 6:30pm bus.
6:30 pm: Our bus is a real character. It looks like it´s about 10 years overdue for refurbishment. The seats are almost completely ripped at the seams and look like they are ideal nesting habitats for mice and roaches. The only available light on the bus are 4 tiny, exposed bulbs. Unsurprisingly, the bus is overbooked and there are about 5 people standing on the aisle, each with a huge bundle of something.
7:00pm: The bus has finally left. WB and I are sitting in the last row and as a result every bump and rattle is experienced manifold. It´s like being on an OSIM uGallop gone awry. I can´t even dig my nose without the fear of jabbing my finger all the way into my nostril. The brakes also have a gasping hollow screech.
8:30pm: WB just saw a sign that said “92 km a Cochabamba”. We´re very happy entertaining ourselves with the thought that this journey is going to end in 2 hours at the speed this bus is travelling.
11:40pm: The bus stopped abruptly to let a whole bunch of villagers get off. People are moving all sorts of barang down, including televisions. My legs are beginning to feel numb. Economy class syndrome?
12:30 am: We are still driving uphill with no apparent end in sight. I have two people snoozing on my shoulders and I need to poop very urgently. With fewer people on the bus, the ride is even bumpier.
12:45 am: Suddenly I can spot a dozen glowing lights in the distance. A mirage? It looks so inviting.
12:49 am: Not a mirage!! We´ve finally arrived. Thank God Felix from Villa Etelvina (where we´re staying) is still waiting for us at the bus stop; the bus driver and a villager had very convincingly pointed us in the opposite direction when we didn´t see Felix at first. Hmm.
We woke up early on Saturday to look for a guide (Bs 100/day) at the Tourist Information office. Toro Toro is tiny- there are three main streets, one school, and two churches. At the office, we´re really lucky to be just in time to join a group of 4 people who are headed on a trek to the Umajalanta cave, which is 6.5km away from the town. (We´re also really lucky that the other people in our group can speak both Spanish and English and hence can help us translate! There are no English-speaking guides here.)
Parque Tor0 Toro would probably be every geog- lover´s paradise. The volcanic eruptions of yesteryear and the active seismic activity have resulted in the formation of hills that look like they have been dramatically and abruptly sliced in half. As it is the dry season now, the rivers are completely parched and the exposed sedimentation is pretty spectacular. This area also used to be home to dinsosaurs. There is a theory that the multitude of dinosaur tracks found here were made when the dinosaurs were fleeing a volcanic eruption, after which the lava swept over the clay and resulted in the fossilized footprints.
We finally arrived at the cave after hiking for about 3 hours. The trail is pretty moderate (quite a lot of walking uphill and some nasty thorny paths) and we saw (and heard) a lot of sheep and blur-looking mules along the way. Our descent in the cave was pretty exciting. Our guide had to hook up his rope several times for us to rappel down (not having helmets also made it pretty exciting) and there was a lot of heaving, climbing and sliding involved. But the best part was when we had to go completely flat on our bellies so as to crawl through the tunnels. We Asians got the last laugh then! Heehee. There were also some amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations; so old they´ve melded together to form colums in the cave. Some of the stalactites were also slightly hollow and produced music when we tapped on them. At the end of our descent, we also came to a pool of water with tons of white blind fish. It was pretty funny how they kept bumping into each other while swimming around.
We met up with our group and guide again the next day to do the ´classic´ Vergel trek, which is delightfully only 8km long. The scenery wasn´t quite as stunning as the day before, although we did get to walk along a dried river bed for about 1km and see the internal structure of what would be a waterfall in the rainy season. We also saw humongous footprints belonging to the Brontosauras today; they´re so big a baby (or WB now that he has lost so much weight) would fit pretty nicely in them. We also trekked down the canyon (466 steps!) to the falls of El Vergel, a lush oasis in this arid, arid land. On the way back, Pablo brought us to see more dinosaur footprints. There were several criss-crossing tracks made by both the herbivores and carnivores. Very cool (:
**We were supposed to go to Potosi after but there is a bloqueo on all roads leading there so we´re in Oruro now, waiting to head to the Uyuni salt flats tonight. We made this last minute decision at the bus station last night and arrived in Oruro at 2am last night, without a hostel to stay. This city is also freaking cold compared to Cochabamba. Anyway, there is also a bloqueo on the atas train to Uyuni so now we have to take the scary cold bus. Sian.
Pictures tomorrow when I can get wifi! The internet cafe here is pretty crappy.