Monday, 2 July 2007

In Dinosaurs Footsteps

After my visit to Amboro national park I returned to Santa Cruz and rested up a little, scratching my insect bitten legs and letting the flip flop injuries heal.

From Santa Cruz I headed on an overnight bus back towards the Andes and the city of Cochabamba.From here I wanted to travel to a remote Andean national park called Torotoro. I asked around in Cochabamba if they had any tours to this difficult to reach park. They did but at a high price, even if I could round up other travellers, not one had I seen. There are public buses to Torotoro, and I was in luck as they only leave a couple of times a week, and the next day, the Thursday had a departure at 6am. The guidebook said the journey was over atrocious roads and would take between 7 and 10 hours to cover the 130km.

I bought my ticket, just 1.5UKP. Backpack was hoisted up onto the roof of this battered old bus, and I took my seat. There was of crowd of ingigenous Bolivians surrounding the lady who sold my ticket. No one seemed to buy one. People would get on the bus, then they would get off again. People blocked the aisle, not moving out of the way, forcing other folk to push by, or even climb over the seats. I decided Bolivia was classic third world chaos!

At 6.30 the bus departed, packed to bursting with people and sacks of produce. The journey was long and very bouncy. We had one flat tire, two radiator overheatings, and two gear box troubles. All great opportunities for getting off the bus and admiring the wonderful Andean scenery. I was happy to be back in these colourful mountains. The journey took nine hours.

Torotoro national park is centered on the small village of Torotoro. It is a paleantologists heaven, as here slabs of ancient sediamentary rocks, driven high by tectonic forces, expose a huge concentration of sea fossils from 350 million years ago. Also across the park are exposed dinosaur tracks mad in mud that has now become mudstone.

I found two types of footprint, the first a three-toed biped (probably a meat eating veloraptor) plus the huge print of a quadripedal giant vegetarian beast similar to a diplodicus. Scientists estimate that these footprints were made 80 million years ago.

Torotoro park is a huge hanging valley high above a wider and deeper river valley (this river I crisscrossed many times on the bus ride). The high valley is cut everywhere by jeep canyons, formed either by the roofs of caves collaspsing or by the rapid downcutting of the rivers as the Andes rose. One particular canyon is close to the village and it was here I trekked on my first day.

Down on the canyons floor, after scrambling over many huge rocks, I reached a site where an underground river emerges from the canyon wall to form a seeries of waterfall cascades. The greenery here was dense and I saw many hummingbirds down here.

I was really happy to be here in a very traditional Bolivian village, miles from anywhere. The village is populated indigenous Quechuas. I was the only white face in town. The women here still wear traditional full pleated skirts, yet unlike the Quechuas of the higher altiplano, they do not wear bowler hats but white broad rimmed straw hats. They looked very summery as a result. The people are very quiet and reserved, certainly very different to the highly animated Spanish descendents. Each day they would huddle together, sat on the main streets kerbstone talking quietly, or even not at all. I am not comfortable with shoving a camera lens into peoples faces, so alas not pictures of these people here.

The next day I hiked south of the village. Either side of the valley folded rocks stood appropriately like Stegasaurus´spinal plates. I did my best to spot some fossilized sea creatures but could not find any.

The bus back to Cochabamba was on the Monday. The journey back was much quicker, no breakdowns! Today, 3rd July, I tried to get a bus up to La Paz, but Bolivia has done a Bolivia, and the road is blocked by some demostration. No doubt the police are firing tear gas cannisters, and rocks are being thrown as I type this in very little to do, and a little edgy, Cochabamba.