After 13 dental visits (for Merv), it was finally time to leave La Paz Bolivia and head in the direction of the Central Highlands and further on into The Pampas and The Jungle. The day before we left Merv rotated the tyres on our truck and he noticed that our second fuel tank was loose, so off we went to find a garage to sort it for us, as we didn’t want to travel with just one fuel tank, not a good idea, as not every town/village has diesel. As the tank was full of diesel it was too heavy for us to lift it out our-selves and replace the broken mounting bolt with a new one. While in the garage we also got the engine oil changed , of course this all took a lot longer than expected, suddenly it was dark, so we ended up sleeping in the garage overnight, five star all the way!
Cochabamba was one of our first stops after leaving La Paz , a very nice stop indeed. It is set in a Valley with a landscape of green fields and small hills all round. Its soil is very rich hence it produces great crops of barley, wheat, maize, orchard and citrus fruits. There are not too many highlights to see here, the main ones been La Cancha and Cristo de la Concordia both of which are worth seeing.
La Cancha is one of the best stocked and most crowded markets we have been in so far while in South America. Here you can find just about anything imaginable and to wander through it is ‘ a must’. Its all a little crazy and at times we wondered if we were ever going to get to the end of it. Oh don’t forget to bargain always below their asking price, as no matter what price you do eventually get it for they are making a profit. (Mind you everything is very inexpensive to begin with).
Cristo de la Concordia stands on the hill behind Cochabamba and believe it or not it’s a few centimeters higher than the very famous one in Rio de Janeiro which stands at 33 meters high, one meter for each year of Christ’s life. However Cochabambions claim that Christ lived for ’33 anos y un poquito (33 years and a little), hence the up-manship! There are great views of the city from up here, plus on Sundays you can climb to the top of the statue for an even better view before you take the pleasant walk down a footpath to the city.
We continued more towards the Amazon Basin , stopping at Villa Tunari, which was a spectacular drive from Cochabamba passing between peaks and mountain lakes, then dropping into valleys of tropical forest. Mind you everybody drives a little crazy on this road, overtaking with on coming traffic, a bit scary but to everybody else it seems the normal thing to do. A visit to Parque Machia was very good, as here we got our first taste of seeing monkeys in the jungle. Also our first taste of humid, warm and sticky conditions. But as the saying goes no pain no gain ! A very positive side is that this Parque rescues injured wild animals, also birds, which otherwise would be left to die. We spent a great day here watching the monkeys and enjoying the different sounds and sights of the forest. Also we did a river trip along the Chapare River with a lovely man called Delfin Durado (yes he is called after 2 fish) He is a great fisherman and this was confirmed to us when he showed us two of his most recent catches. Delfin let us park our truck over-night in his garden, which was right beside the river bank . Mind you the yard was full of pigs, hens, goats, geese, turkeys, cocks , all of which were very noisy during the night. Not sure which made the most noise, the dreadful poultry or the thunder and lightening storm we had while there. All part of the adventure ! It was so hot when we parked we decided to stroll to a ‘bar’ for a cool drink, and ended up with a 2.5 litre bottle of coke drinking it in a Boliviano family sitting room, watching local tv with them, only in Bolivia!. This area is also famous for local chicha cochabambina, so we tried some, not for me, but basically it is an alcoholic maize brew. Merv said he could live with it, I guess he has been too long away and surviving without good Guinness!
As we were pretty much inland, there are no beaches, but loads of local people swim and have fun in the rivers, mind you some of the rivers are not so clean, but this makes no difference to them. They wash their bodies, their cars or trucks, also their clothes in the same water that they swim in. We camped overnight at some of these rivers which was really nice, having stones to park on, water and then surrounded by trees on the far side. Eventually we ran out of road and we had to take a timber bridge to cross the river, and then in another place we had to take a barge. We did wonder were we too heavy for the barge, but soon we were at ease when we saw a 60 tonne bulldozer going on to a barge, our 7.5 tonne was a mere nothing. These barges take huge trucks of all shapes and sizes, cars, buses, people, motor-bikes, nothing is a problem.
We had hoped to do a barge trip with our truck from Puerto Villarroel, one of Northern Bolivia’s river ports, to Trinidad, but when we got to the port we were told that at this time of year there isn’t enough water in some parts of the river for the large barges. This would usually take about 3-4 days. We had half expected this to be the answer so we weren’t overly disappointed. However what we were in time for was the annual Feria Regional del Pescado ( Fish Festival) serving up local recipes of pacu, dorado and surubi (yummy). You just picked your fish, and then it was cooked on the BBQ , happy days, served on a banana leaf with rice and salad, fresher than fresh. Its a muddy little place, but the mud didn’t dampen the spirit of the festival, even in the dry season it was muddy, hate to see it in the wet season!
A great bonus traveling through these parts of Bolivia, is that we were buying our diesel at the local price of 3.72 Bolivianos , approx 40c per litre, no complaints from us. We were not even asked if we were foreigners, and they never looked at our number plate. All the previous fuel stations made a half hearted effort to charge us just over 9 bolivianos per liter which is the “foreign vehicle” price, but after you threaten to leave, and state that an invoice is not required, it’s usually possible to negotiate a price of 5 or 6 bolivianos. Most of the roads we were traveling on were dusty, rough and bumpy, hence every evening when we stopped we were as dusty as the truck, nothing that a good shower wouldn’t sort though. Usually cattle , donkey’s and horses wandered along the sides, grazing as they went along, while in the mossy ponds were many huge birds. Huge trucks also travel these roads, loads of motor-bikes (which are actually the main mode of transport in this part of Bolivia) plus little tuc-tucs carrying many people. We would stop for lunch by a river, but one day it was interrupted quite quickly when I saw 2 baby caimans appear, no way was I sharing my BBQ flavored crisps with them, too precious to share, lol.
We had 2 pleasant stops in 2 tiny little places, one being San Javier and the other San Ignacio de Moxos. San Javier has one of the oldest Jesuit missions, founded in 1691 and is built totally out of timber (unlike the ones in Argentina which are all stone). San Ignacio de Moxos, an Indian village founded also by the Jesuits. It is a friendly and agricultural village , and they speak an indigenous dialect called Ignaciano and have their own unique food and traditions. We stayed overnight here, about 1 km outside of the village, by the lake, and were treated to a splendid sunset! Couldn’t ask for more after a long,bumpy,warm and dusty drive.
This drive took us two weeks to do before eventually arriving in Rurreenabaque which is located on the Rio Beni, and from first glance I don’t think it will disappoint us. Bring on The Jungle and The Pampas, unfortunately these two places will go hand in hand with the mosquitoes. Let’s hope we survive them. I guess you know what our next blog post will be…..that’s if we survive it….