Our luxurious stay in Copacabana capped nearly two months in the arid Andes. Both ready for denser air and greener surroundings, we decided to head lower to Coroico and its cloud forests, mist shrouded mountains, and increased oxygen.
Until a few years ago, traveling to Coroico required a ride on the “Most Dangerous Road in the World,” named for its frequent fatal crashes, often involving buses careening off high cliffs. Lucky for us, a new road is now open and the “Death Road” as it is also known (because of the thousands of slaves who died building it), is used now primarily for intrepid mountain bikers on tours from La Paz.
The presumably well-engineered new road is not for the faint of heart however, clinging precariously to the side of a mountain as it descends 1800km over its 100km length. But it was our arrival in Coroico that was 1) dangerous; and 2) exemplary of a phenomenon every traveler in South America will relate to; we call it “Do We Get Off the Bus?”
A Dangerous Exit
As we pulled up to the “tranca,” or tollbooth, for entry into Coroico, the guy next to us overheard the bus driver telling the toll taker that we wouldn’t be going into town. Odd, since the bus was nearly full of people going to Coroico or so we thought. Our new buddy, continuing to listen out the window, more urgently told us, in Spanish, that we needed to go and he then kindly yelled down to the driver that we would be getting off.
We quickly grabbed our stuff, but as I tried to get up and head down the stairs to the first-floor exit, my backpack strap got caught on the arm of the chair. Alex worked quickly to try to extricate me but not fast enough, as the bus started moving and made a sharp right turn up the hill. Clearly the bus driver did not hear, listen, or care about what our friend told him.
Finally free, I went down the stairs to alert the driver when I realized that there was a wall between us and him, requiring me to lean out of the still-open bus door and knock on the passenger side window. As I started to lean out, the bus lurched sideways as it headed up the steep pock-marked dirt road, and my fleece jacket went flying out the door. Luckily I didn’t. Alex meanwhile, was still upstairs and he and our friend’s potato sacks went tumbling.
I held onto the stair railing with one hand and slammed on the driver’s window with the other and then held up a finger (the international sign for “wait a minute”). He came to a stop and we quickly grabbed our stuff and leapt from the bus, shaking with fear and adrenaline. I retrieved my fleece, which was lying in the dirt, having been partially run over by the bus, and we hoofed it to our hostel. Luckily, this was the most excitement we would experience over the next several days.
Do We Get Off The Bus?
“Do we get off the bus?” (DWGOtB) is what Alex’s eyes said to me when our new friend first suggested that that is exactly what we should do. We had purchased tickets on a bus to Coroico and even though we were now in Coroico, every other passenger is still sitting. The two of us being observant human beings deduced that everyone was waiting for the bus to reach the station in town. After all, when playing DWGOtB, the winningest strategy is to do what others do.
Two weeks prior, when riding in a collectivo in the Sacred Valley, Peru, we asked “Puedes decirnos cuando arrivamos a Urubamba?” (“Can you tell us when we arrive in Urubamba?”) The driver nodded ecstatically. As we neared a town that looked like our destination, the driver looked in the rearview mirror at me and said “Blah blah blah Urubamba?” “Si, si” I responded. After which he proceeded to drive 10 minutes past town by the time we realized what happened and asked to be let off in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and he wanted to charge us for the extra distance, too.
So verbal communication is not a sure-fire way to win DWGOtB. Just last wee (at least one blog post in the future) we were on a bus with Bolivians who asked us “Es este Tupiza?” (“Is this Tupiza?”) See, everyone plays.
By the time we made it to Coroico, we were nearing black-belt-level DWGOtB, and yet we failed. It turns out, we were the only people on the bus going to Coroico. Only thanks to our friend’s extra-urgent prodding did we ignore all instincts and make it safely (kind of) to our destination.
Other than the gorgeous views, our time in Coroico is most memorable for the new friends we made at our hostel and for one epic hike. Mike and Lauren, from South Africa, and Doug, from England, were the first long-term travelers we had met on this trip. It was great fun to share Peru travel tips with Mike and Lauren and hear Doug’s mind-numbing stories of his overland route from Guyana to Coroico, Bolivia. Doug’s tales are described in perfect British in his blog.
After much relaxing, catching up on email, and taking in the breathtaking views surrounding us for three days, Alex and I decided to take a hike up Cerro Uchumachi on the recommendation of the owner of our hostel. We went in search of colorful birds, but what we got was something altogether different.
We made our way up the mountain, snaking through a combination of scrub brush and dwarf cloud forest, where we were treated to jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains.
And at our feet, no fewer than 10 different orchid species in full glorious bloom. Pink, red, yellow, purple, white – some dainty, others audacious, one over three meters tall, and all absolutely gorgeous!
As we got closer to the top, we saw a new species every 200 meters or so. “Look at this one!” “Wow, look at this one!” I exclaimed, over and over again. It was hard to pull ourselves away from this wildflower wonderland but we finally made it to the top (1,000 meters above the town), caught our breath and headed back down.
The next morning we headed to La Paz with our new buddy Doug. La Paz was, well, a big city. Alex enjoyed it more than I did, and we were only there for one night, but the highlight for me was our trip to Brosso. Actually, it started out as a trip to Breick, the local chocolate maker. Alas, Breick was closed, but on our way we passed a long line of locals waiting for ice cream, a giant dancing bear on the sidewalk and a huge case full of colorful cakes.
Our hearts set on something sweet, the siren song of Brosso was calling. We beelined it for a table, poured over the menu and waited in sweet anticipation for our confections to arrive. We were not disappointed. I can honestly say this was the best hot fudge sundae I have ever had and a lovely end to a very relaxing week. And yes, Doug ordered two pieces of cake.