The old road from La Paz to Coroico used to be THE actual worst road in the world, also known as the ‘death road’. It’s still used for cycling thrill seekers, although a number of them continue to fall off the edge.
Luckily for us there’s a new much safer road that runs parallel to the old road with tunnels through the Cordillera Real ranges of the Andean mountains. The road climbs up to 4500m, the highest I’ve ever been in my life, before going back down into Coroico in the Yungas ranges. I chew coca sweets obsessively all the way. We have a good safe driver this time so we can relax and enjoy the ride. For most of the journey we are literally ‘in the clouds’.
Usually in Bolivia they drive on the right but for the last part of this road going into Coroico they swap to driving on the left in order to stay back from the precipice. Coroico is a small town built literally on the side of the mountain – everything is either up or down hill.
We are staying in the sweetest little cabin called ‘Nectar cottage’. It’s quite similar to our house in Australia, even the same colour. Our cottage is at the top of town which is great going down but a complete bastard coming back up. We huff and puff and wheeze and gasp all the way up and for a good five minutes after arriving each time. At night there are swarms of gorgeous bright yellow and orange insects hanging around. I watched a couple of them bite me, just out of interest. They have a long retractable proboscis that they insert into your skin. I didn’t feel anything at the time but I sure am regretting it now. I’m covered in hundreds of scabby red bites and the itch is intense.
I’ve always wondered what a cloud forest is and now I know. It’s a lot like home (northern rivers, NSW, Australia) with mountains covered in lush green subtropical forest and bathed in mist. These mountains are a lot steeper and higher though. Small settlements and cultivated patches of fruit and coca cling to the cliff sides. It’s really nice to have some time out in the forest.
About half an hour from Coroico is the wildlife refuge of Senda Verde. It’s an amazing place that started out as an eco-resort and gradually morphed into a sanctuary. The story goes that a number of years back the owners heard about a couple of animals that were being abused in a nearby village. They negotiated and managed to buy the animals and bring them back to the resort. Word spread that Senda Verde was a place that would take in unwanted animals. People started to bring in cats that grew into Jaguars, small bears that grew into big ferocious bears, unhappy parrots and the like. Others began contacting them when they noticed any animal in a bad situation and the owners would go out and negotiate to rescue it and bring it home. Now they are a registered rescue and refuge centre, no longer a resort, and also receive any wildlife confiscated by the government from illegal trafficking.
It’s a lot of hard work and money to look after all those animals. They make their money by hosting paying volunteers to do the work. I so want to come back and do this one day. One of the things I love about Senda Verde is the way they’ve turned things upside down (or the right way up – depending on your perspective). From the moment you enter the gate you are inside the cage and the animals are outside.
One of the most exciting things we saw there were spectacled bears. The photo is a bit blurry which might be because I was shaking. That bear was pretty damned close with only a thin electric fence between us. The bears are almost blind with a strong sense of smell. They put their noses up in the air and sniff. They look adorable but I think they’re smelling a potential dinner.
There was a Capybara! The largest rodent in the world. It looks like a cross between a giant Guinea pig and a wombat. They rescued it from a school where it was being kept in a small box.
The highlight for me though was the variety of monkeys. I love monkeys best.
This is a Capuchin monkey. Apparently these monkeys have the intelligence of a six year old human. Although this is measured using human tests. Not sure how a human would go on a monkey IQ test.
This is the saddest Spider monkey. I’m sure she/he has some horror stories to tell.
And the cutest of all are these tiny orange Squirrel monkeys.
Our driver Gualberto that delivered us safely here was so awesome that we’ve hired him to take us up and over the mountains again to Lake Titicaca.
More Bolivia photos here.