Andean adventure 

A three-day stroll through the Cordillera Real range of the Bolivian Andes is marked by raging rivers, mudslides and rain, rain, rain

"Crazy gringos."

You could see it in their eyes as the bus full of Bolivian locals deposited us in the swirling mist at La Cumbre. We could not see a thing but were so glad just to be there.

Most of the day had been spent glumly staring at the rain teeming down the bus windows in La Paz, hoping for a break in the truck drivers' strike that was blocking the road – a true Bolivian experience.

Cheerfully we waved our fellow passengers off, Lonely Planet bible clutched firmly in hand, as the bus lumbered off down the road to Coroico – comparatively a far more dangerous feat, having been dubbed by the Inter American Bank as "the most dangerous road in the world."

Our decision to walk the 40-plus kilometre route to Coroico via the mountain pass was inspired by its reputation as "the premier hike in Bolivia," at least according to the Lonely Planet. However, the rainy season brought on definite "out of text" experiences.

The first challenge presented itself early on: Where was the trail? The labyrinth of possible tracks was solved by local schoolchildren, who appeared out of the mist and pointed skyward to our intended direction.

This section proved to be my one forte on the trip, as I bounded up the 4,860 metre pass at Apacheta Chucura. My Zambezi whitewater raft guide friend, Jane Dicey, was obviously used to more oxygen than this mountain could provide, but we made it. Our reward was a pile of rocks, a patch of snow and the ever-present mist. Bueno!

Too soon our triumph turned to chills as the cheery fog turned into sleet and we scurried down the mountain in search of flat ground. Half way down a break in the clouds revealed a wealth of cascading waterfalls and, on the valley floor, the sight of an Inca-time wayside inn or "tambo". Unfortunately it had shut up shop some 500 years ago, but it did look cool, as well as offer grassy tenting sites.

Morning sounds are always the first thing to alert your subconscious mind that you are not at home. Chattering shapes that were half human and half giant loads trudged past our tent on the way back up the mountain, unaware of the shadowy figure of a llama in their wake. Half an hour later two were back, chasing the lonesome llama back down the valley.

The rain stopped long enough for us to admire this dramatic volcanic wonderland before closing in again. Walking the ancient paths left by the pre-Hispanic Incas over practically all of South America is a testament to that empire's incredible skills with stone and the paths’ architectural durability.


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