The plan this week was to meet up with a gal called Rocio (a friend of a friend) in Cochabamba who was going to teach me to ride a motor bike. Unfortunately she was out of the city for a few days but said a friend of hers Alfredo, also a motorbiker would take me under his wing. He invited me along to a famous Bolivian apricot festival which sounded interesting. Apparently Bolivia have festivals for most types of fruit and is basically just an excuse to party!
I arrived at 4.30am after Bolivia’s roughest ride so waited it out until 8am to text Alfredo. Lucky again he said he would pick me up from the bus station. It took absolutely ages to find the chap, his whatsapp profiler was of course a motor bike so I spend an hour looking at all the motorbikes until I found him.
We went for a traditional breakie of api. A hot cinnamon maize drink (kind of tastes like thick mulled wine). This is everywhere in Bolivia but best bought on the side of the street it’s so yummy!
We met the other bikers and they couldn’t have looked more biker all quitted out in leather and chains I stood out like a sore thumb. They were all wondering who the hell I was and why I was here. I was starting to think the same myself and tried to explain the random situation. The drive to the festival was stunning but I struggled massively to stay away and kept dozing off. At one point I was actually dreaming I was married to Jamie Oliver. At this stage I threw a bottle of water over my head in an attempt to stay awake.
The festival was amazing . It consisted of beer, music, food and dancing and of course apricots. Anything you could possible imagine had apricots in it cake, ice cream, jams and drinks. It was amazing to see everyone walking around with bulging bags of apricots. They were absolutely delish. We spent the day drinking beer and eating amazing roasted pig and maize.
En route home we stopped off at one of the other bikers houses for some ice-cold Sangria to cool off. We arrived back to Alfredos late that night so I ended up staying in his place because it was too late to find a hostel. I was v afraid of any ideas he might have so I made up an Irish bf to keep the boundaries (Mikey Flanagan you got the honors). Photographic evidence was even required and Alfredo approves. Dinner was 6 apricots and a beer and off to bed (Alfredo kindly gave me his). The best sleep in a long time.
The next day, Alfredo was trying to organise a camping trip for us which I tried to nip in the bud saying I only had a 1 man tent. He then produced a two-man tent saying it wasn’t an issue. I eventually managed to say my goodbyes. The poa for the following day was to meet a guy I met in Argentina few months ago who also lives in Cochabamba.
En route to his I got texts and calls off UIster bank saying my bank card had been blocked because of lots of unusual activity. Apparently someone had been spending hundreds of euro on dominos pizza on my behalf. The situation would have been better if the robbers had at least good taste in pizza (my preference would be for BOCO for future reference). Anyway the card situation turned into an absolute nightmare because in order to unblock my card I needed to call the bank. The microphone on my phone is broken (caused by an incident with coffee I think). The entire day was spent trying to sort it (well most of Una’s day). Thankfully I had taken some cash out in Sucre so had a little to keep me going.
The following day I went to mercado la cancha, Bolivia’s largest market. It was outrageous there were horses heads for sales, live animals, absolutely anything you could imagine the problem is finding it. Lunch was 50c and consisted of chicken, salad, rice with spicy salsa. I was surrounded by men with gold teeth and didn’t spot one tourist all day. I was eating next to a woman who was gutting a fish and another chap fixing rubber tyres, anything goes in this place. It is notorious for robberies so unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos. Some of the sights in this place are really hard to believe. I would describe it as chaotic, claustrophic and amazing!
So with the money situation looking a bit grim I decided to go camping for a few days to Toro Toro National Park. This place is really hard to get to and completely off the beaten track. Tourism has only kicked off here in the last 10 years. The journey is hard to put into words but if I had to choose one it would be absymal. I got chatting to a lovely doctor before hand and shared a bag of maize and few doghnuts with him as we waited 2 hours for the bus to fill (this is the norm in Bolivia). The entire 7 hour journey was on unpaved rock, mud road and we were all being flung around. It genuinely felt like a roller coaster. After about 30 minutes I desperately needed a pee and with no toilets on the bus I pleeded with the bus man to stop. He was having none of me and refused. After about another hour I genuinely thought I was going to go into organ failure and with no other choice I decided to pee into my lunch box (a last resort obviously). Luckily I was wearing a dress so this helped with the pee mechanics and I had no neighbours to witness the atrocity. What I hadn’t predicted was that peeing in that kind of turbulence is next to impossible so it was a blessing in disguise when our bus got stuck in a ditch for a few minutes. I was able to do the deed and dispose of the contents out of the window. Obviously not my finest moment but needs must and all that jazz. I ended up forgetting the lunch on the bus soI hope some poor fecker doesn’t end up using it. We eventually arrived, all a little rattled at 1.30am ,The kind Doc led me to a river where he waited with me as I pitched my tent and kindly let me use his phone for light (obviously my phone doesn’t have the high tech feature of light).
I pitched the tent in a pool of mud and lots of cracked egg shells. Too tired to care I crawled into the leaba covered in mud and slept for about 4 hours until I was awoken by the sound of snorting. I was greeted by about 20 pigs and piglets sniffing me out. I decided it was safe enough to leave backpack and tent for the day as I was the only tent there. The only way to see Toro Toro is by taking a guide. Rambling through the tiny town there was virtually no one else there but after a while a I found a french lad, a Swiss couple, a grumply Spanish lady; the only tourists in all of Toro Toro. We decided to go explore the local caves for the day. The scenery in this place is spectacular and completely unspoiled by tourism. The caves are the largest in Boliva. They are definitely not for the faint hearted and the only way to explore them is on your hands and knees and by nagivating your way on ropes. Great experience.
There’s not a whole lot going on in the town but myself and Frenchie found a random woman in her kitchen baking the most delicous fresh bread so we stocked up. We tried to find wine but that was impossible so made a tough decision and settled for beer.When I got back to my tent it looked like I’d been robbed but in fact it turned out my food bag had been disocvered by pigs +/- dogs/donkeys/kids. Who knows there was a bite taken out of some chorizo and some nibbled bread. I’d say they were raging with my sad excuse of a food bag.
The next day our group decided to go explore Toro Toro’s canyon (Vergel.) This was a stunning walk the scenery was incredible. This is place is famous for its history of dinosaurs with thousands of fossils and dinosaur footprints still visible in the park. I had the guide and everyone’s heads wrecked with my dinosaur questions! We eventually reached a gorgeous waterfall in deep in the canyon. This involved us jumping over rocks to try to access it where in the process I dropped my phone into a river. She’s still alive and kicking! Lunch consisted of tomato sandwiches and a shot of olive oil!
Later that day I went for a mooch around the town which is surrounded by the most colourful mountains and lush valleys. At one point I had pigs, a donkey, dogs and a few giggling children staring at me in my tent as I was trying to make dinner. Obviously this is why most people stay in hostels or hotels. Dinner was pasta, tomato, cheese and chorizo. It was really windy so I did what you’re not supposed to do and cooked in my tent after a while I could hear giggling and two little Bolivian children appeared in my tent. I ended up knocking over the entire pot of chorizo and tomato on all of my clothes. In fairness to the kids they were dying for a freebie and I can’t say I blame them (I’d be doing the same). They put in good ground work so after giving them each some samples they were chuffed with themselves and were on their way.
Then after a while as I was in the height of eating another two giggling children appeared. They obviously got wind there were freebies on the go. I was having none of these as I was starving. They stared me out of it as I was eating. It was so uncomfortable I was left with no other choice other but to give them some grub too. They all demolished the grub and were so happy that it was so worth it. They couldn’t believe I was camping on my own and asked me was I lonely. Very difficult to be lonely in this place with the heards of animals and people arriving at my doorstep.
In the middle of my last night I was awoken by an old Bolivian man outside my tent with a flashlight. I got the fright of my life it turned out he was looking for one of his pigs (at 5am in the morning?). Anyway he soon realised there were no pigs in my tent and was on his way. I can’t recommend this place enough I loved it. It’s definitely worth the turbulent journey.
Next destination is La Paz where I’m meeting Una. I can already taste the luxury!