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Chapare Hike #2: Through Parque Carrasco

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We had such a great time during our first hike with José, that we immediately scheduled another: this time through the Parque Nacional Carrasco. Carrasco is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Bolivia, with a total size of about 2400 square miles. 5000 plant species have been recorded here, including over 200 types of orchids, and the park is home to rare animals like the Andean Spectacled Bear, the taruca (North Andean Deer), the jaguar, and the Andean Cat.

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For this hike, our group was much larger, with a total of ten people, almost all of them French. But though we never enjoyed a sense of seclusion, the pack’s size didn’t detract much from the experience. Seven hours spent wandering through the hills of pristine Bolivian nature, with some of the most gorgeous views we’ve had in the country… I think even if a hundred people were on the hike, I still would have loved it.

This wasn’t a difficult walk. The paths were clearly marked and even the long ascents were easily manageable. José paused frequently to point out strange plants and identify bird calls, and led us through the woods up to the top of a couple big hills. The sight of the mountains covered in forest, with a dense fog snaking through the valleys, was unbelievable. José had promised views of extraordinary beauty and he delivered.

Midway through the hike, we came upon a coca farmer’s plantation, hidden high up in the hills. In Bolivia, it’s legal to plant a small amount of coca, and we had a chance to see the old guy’s crops. For years, he’s lived alone in his hut, miles away from the nearest village. An amazing view but, man, what a life! He showed us how to harvest the coca leaves, a process always done by hand, and I had the chance to try it out myself.

Though it was a long day, we had a surprising amount of energy at the end of the hike. After reaching a small village which had just received electricity two weeks prior, we hopped into a couple taxis and made our way back to Villa Tunari. Parque Carrasco is perhaps most known for its caves which are home to the strange Oilbird: night-feeding birds which navigate like bats. We didn’t go to the caves, since the birds had mostly left for the season, but it’s another thing to look into, should you find yourself in the area.

If you want to organize a hike like this in Villa Tunari, you can reach José on his cell phone (71477013).

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August 11, 2011 at 6:41 pm Comments (2)

Pairumani Park in Cochabamba

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We were a bit disappointed about the lack of touristy things to do inside the city of Cochabamba. A few interesting buildings and churches, but you would expect more for a city of its size. Luckily, the surrounding areas definitely picked up the slack. Beautiful small towns, mountains for trekking and areas of incredible natural beauty, such as Pairumani Park.

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Pairumani was established as the hacienda for Simon I. Patiño, whose city palace is one of Cochabamba’s highlights. Today Pairumani is a public park, popular with families, church groups, and young couples in search of secluded areas to make out. We visited on a Saturday morning, not knowing what to expect, and had a great time.

Reaching Pairumani is straightforward. Catch a bus from Cochabamba to the neighboring city of Quillacollo where, in Plaza Bolivar, you can find another bus headed for Pairumani. Round-trip, the entire journey costs about $0.50, and takes an hour.

As with many attractions in and around Cochabamba, there was almost no information about the park available for tourists. The gum-smacking girl in the tourist office had said it was “pretty”. When I prodded her to expand on that curious thought, she added “it’s nice”. And upon arriving at the park, we were disenchanted. Just a large hill with some playground equipment and camping sites. Kicking ourselves for wasting a precious Saturday afternoon, we dutifully walked up the hill. At the top, there was an inconspicuous gate, which we almost didn’t see. Walking through it was like entering C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. On the other side, an entirely different world greeted us.

We found ourselves on a narrow, rocky ridge, over a vast canyon. Walking along the ridge, we saw old waterworks and gained an incredible view of Cochabamba’s valley, the smoggy city visible in the distance. The trail ended at a small dam, where groups of kids were hanging out by a waterfall. We clambered over the dam and continued walking up the river bed. After a half hour, we found a secluded spot to eat lunch with a magnificent valley view. The only sounds were of rushing water and faraway birds. It was the most alone we’ve felt in Bolivia, and remarkable for the fact that we were so close to the city.

Pairumani is easy to reach and provides an easy excursion into some beautiful nature. Definitely worth a look.

Location of Pairumani Park

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August 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm Comment (1)

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