Cochabamba - Toro Toro - Cochabamba
14.10.2011 - 15.10.2011 26 °C
Back to altitude (2600-3600m). I arrive in Cochambamba which has a Med climate and is the fourth largest city despite having a small town feel. Famous for its chicha (fermented corn drink) and in 2000 chasing out US giant Bechtel who had bought the local water company and put up prices. It has a massive market and campachinos head in from the surrounding bread basket counryside every Wednesday and Saturday to sell their produce.
But I have my eye on things paleontology and geology at Toro Toro National Park. It is reportedly the most remote settlement in Bolivia at the end of a 142km road and is a geologist´s wet dream (or the as the guide book puts it a bit more poetically "a practical demonstration of geology on an awe-inpiring scale").
I am the only Gringo In The Village which is a novelty for me. My guide is the famous Mario Jaldin who has been exploring the park, finding caves (54 at last count) and mapping them, and guiding scientific teams since the 60s. He´s a mountain goat of a man and a bit dried out from the chicha but his knowledge is second to none. The valley is full of beds of sedimentary mudstone, sandstone and limestone, overflowing with marine fossils and dinosaur footprints. The beds have been twisted into sharp, inhospitable hillscapes that reveal their secrets.
Mario takes me and the interpreter to Umajalanta Cave. There was no warning that the penetration to the lagoon would entail wriggling and crawling through tiny vertical and horitontal gaps dodging stalagmites, water and bat droppings. But I took this and the rope descents with good humour! The lake has small blind catfish swimming round, washed down into the permanent darkness. Climbing the exit route out proves to be more straight forward, if a little wetter. We mostly rely on Mario´s head lamp which has a naked flame burning the gas from a local rock-water mixture.
The two highlights for me were the dino tracks and pictographs. We found bi- and quadra-ped tracks - brontysaurus, anklysaurus(?) and veloceraptor were the most impressive. The pictographs were on the river canyon and at the top of a nearby mountain. Mostly unprotected and estimated to be 800BC the red ochre paint still glistens bright in the sunlight. There are serpents, hills and river representing the valley, spider, condor, and other animals. I wondered if they were painted yesterday but the paintings in the top of the mountain required an hour drive and a 45 minute walk to a ricky outcrop and down the otherside. Who´d put a tourist scam in such an inaccessible place...
We had to rush back to Cochabamba as it was the national elections and curfew at midnight (see later). My driver and interpreter Javier relied on chewing the coca leaf to keep him awake as we made the four hour drive back across the mountains in the dead of night. Great stars.