El Fuerte Cave Paintings

During our Che trek, our guide (David Lebras) mentioned some old cave paintings that he found in the region after talking to some locals and looking for ruins in the area.  The prospect of exploring an area where no tourists have gone before (even David had only been there twice) seemed appealing.. so we set out for another adventure.

Day 1: Driving and Cave
The first day was mostly driving as it took us about 8 hours to get to our destination.  As night began to fall, David stopped the truck midway down the mountain, in the middle of the road that goes to a town called El Fuerte.  We unpacked the truck and headed about 30 meters off the road where we set up camp, under a ledge next to the first set of paintings.  As far as we know, this was the first time (at least in recent times) that anyone has slept there …..cool. 

Here is a link to the photosynth of the first cave:  http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=44ae1bfb-d689-4eeb-80a8-0f6c6dc7d173

In the morning, we had breakfast and admired the view of the condors soaring only meters above us. 

Day 2: El Fuerte and the Canyon
This was by far our busiest day.  After packing the truck and heading off, we noticed that we had forgotten the cooking gear back at camp :(.  Surprisingly, that made our adventure even more interesting as David decided to stop and ask the locals of El Fuerte to lend us a pot, some bowls, and utensils.  We also bought a live rooster (dinner!), and chatted with a local family who offered us some soup for lunch. 
The last time that David was in El Fuerte, he promised to return with medicine for a local farmer who suffers from bad Arthritis, so we stopped by his home to deliver the medicine that the Cuban doctor (in La Higuera) supplied to David.  The farmer was very grateful and shared some of their oranges, cured pork, lemonade, and choclo (corn) with us.  One of the farmer's relatives also told us a local legend about an Inca city that existed on top of a nearby mountain and was constructed by a man who was able to levitate rocks…

We departed for the canyon, mid-afternoon, to set up camp.  The farmer also decided to accompany us, and he showed us how to slaughter and cook the live rooster for dinner.

Day 3: The Canyon and Return Trip
On our last day, we made beignets for breakfast and went to visit the second set of paintings.  We learned that the locals (and archaeologists) don't seem to care much about the paintings - a lot of them are still buried under a land slide.

We then explored to the end of the canyon before heading back to El Fuerte.  

The trip ended with a comfortable, scenic ride back to La Higuera, sitting in the back of the Kombi :)




Last Days of Che Guevara (Trekking Days 3 & 4)

Day 3: San Antonio Canyon

Our Story:  We continued hiking the San Antonio Canyon toward La Higuera.  Looking up from the canyon, we could just imagine the pressure that the guerrillas were feeling as they edged closer and closer to La Higuera.  The canyon "walk" gradually changed to more to "bouldering" (climbing), which made the terrain and scenery even more fun.  We passed about 70 small waterfalls (between 50cm and 8m in height), and David also showed us a plant that can be tapped for drinkable water during the dry season when the rivers run dry.  The plant is called a Bromeliad and it can apparently retain its water store for about a year.  After another 5 hour day, we reached our encampment and this time set up a tent instead of hammocks as the temperature had become much colder.  For dinner, David taught us how to make empanadas, and we also decided to make pizza over the fire…. mmmmmm

Che's Story: Nothing new in the Che story other than their continued slow progress back to La Higuera.  Since the army was near, they had to hide out during the day and only travel short distances at night.  It's also interesting to note that by this time, they had been travelling for just under a year so their shoes were long worn down and had been replaced by basic pieces of leather wrapped and tied to their feet.

Day 4: Churro Canyon and Final Battle

Our Story:  Our last day was the most technical - on several occasions we had to secure ourselves with a climbing harness and rope before climbing up the rocks and boulders.  We also reached and entered the Churro canyon which was a lot smaller and denser; this felt like a real guerrilla canyon!  Here we saw the location where Che took a shot to the leg, and where he was eventually captured (both the official and unofficial locations).  Along the way, we collected a San Pedro cactus (a cactus with hallucinogenic properties) which had fallen to the ground so that David could plant it in the wall of his house.  We ended the 6 hour day by taking a trail back up to the main road and hitching a ride back to La Higuera.  

Che's Story:  At the Churro canyon junction, Che had the choice to either continue through the San Antonio Canyon to reach another remote town, or enter the Churro canyon and return to La Higuera.  At this point, Che seemed intent on returning to La Higuera - he chose to split the guerrillas into 3 groups and took his group into the Churro canyon.  Soon after, Che's group was confronted by the army.  In the battle, Che took one bullet to his gun, and one in the leg.  His group tried to flee up the Churro canyon walls where they were quickly intercepted.  Che was now wounded and his rifle had been hit and rendered disabled - he was forced to surrender.  The 3 survivors of Che's group were locked in separate rooms of the school in La Higuera.  All 3 were executed the next day.

Note: David told us that there is a discrepancy in the location where Che was actually caught.  The "official location" is located on the left side of the Churro canyon where a large memorial now stands.  The unofficial location, according to some of the locals and surviving guerrillas, was actually on the right side of the canyon….weird.  Anyways, we saw both.. ;)

Note to Other Travellers:
We really enjoyed hiking the Che Trail. Even without the Che story, this is a really fun and beautiful trek.  We would recommend doing the trek with David as he was a big part of what made the trek enjoyable, plus you could easily get lost going on your own if you aren't familiar with the area (especially the first day). 

Guide: David Lebras  Tel72683414  EmailDavidlebras@Hotmail.fr   (Note: It is easier to contact David by phone than by email as there is no internet in La Higuera.)
Tour Cost: 300bs/day/person (in our case: 2400bs for 4 days, for both of us)

Hotel in La Higuera:  We stayed at La Posada del Telegrafista (50bs/night/person).  David also offers rooms at his place for 20bs/night/person.  
We really enjoyed relaxing at the Posada, but would recommend that you buy food for breakfast before going as it's a bit pricey to eat at the Posada (Breakfast=30bs, Lunch=35bs, and Dinner=45bs per person).


Last Days of Che Guevara (Trekking Days 1 & 2)

During our Salar de Uyuni tour, we met 2 French guys who had recently done a trek in a less touristy part of Bolivia.  They highly recommended the trek and it sounded interesting, so we contacted David Lebras from San Pedro Tours and made our way to the town of La Higuera (the town where Ernesto Che Guevara was executed). The journey to get to the town was a journey in itself!… but we'll leave that for another post. :)

The trek we did follows the last 12 days of Che's life.  Just to put us in the story: Che originally went to Bolivia (with about 50 men) to initiate a revolution in South America. They chose Bolivia because it was a good strategic point to access surrounding countries (Chile, Peru, Columbia, Brazil, …).  After 11 months of guerrilla fighting, he failed to rise the population up against the government and in October he arrived in La Higuera to find out that the army had learned of his whereabouts and were waiting for him (1800 army men against 17 guerrillas left).  The trek we did was only 4 days, but Che followed approximately the same path in 12 days.

Day 1: The Escape From La Higuera

Our Story: On the first day we set out into the Canyon de La Higuera and after a couple of hours, we arrived at the junction to the San Antonio Canyon.  From there we walked to the Rio Grande and set up camp (hammocks) on the bank of the river.  The distance was about 13-15km downhill, from 2000m to 700m (about a 5.5 hour walk).  For dinner, we learned to cook a steak in the campfire on a slab of rock from the Rio Grande, and David gave Dom some tips on how to chop wood with a machete :).  

Che's Story: Che never went to the Rio Grande - at the junction, he took the San Antonio Canyon to double back to La Higuera.  Taking the San Antonio Canyon proved to be one of Che's mistakes, as it turned out that the army was not covering the Rio Grande area, and was instead mainly concentrated around La Higuera and vicinity.  The route to the Rio Grande was how the last 10 guerrillas escaped after Che was captured. 

Day 2:  San Antonio Canyon

Our Story:  We took our time in the morning and David taught us how to make beignets for breakfast in the fire.  We packed up camp and stopped on the shore of the Rio Grande for a quick swim before returning to the San Antonio Canyon junction to continue Che's story.  In total, it took us about 5 hours to walk to our next encampment which was in the canyon, near the caves where Che had to hide and wait for the army to leave.  For dinner, David taught us how to make bread (from scratch) over the campfire.  We were impressed - it's actually fairly easy, and really good!!  That night, around 2am, we were awoken by a bit of rain so we were forced to get up and relocate the 3 hammocks such that they were stacked, one on top of the other, beneath a tarp - that was was interesting!  We opted for a midnight snack and ate more of the campfire bread before going back to bed in our newly fashioned "bunk-hammocks".

Che's Story:  During their escape through the San Antonio canyon, Che's group eventually stopped at a location that he deemed safe.  To his surprise, around noon the next day, the army showed up pacing back and forth along the canyon trail only a few meters from their camp.  Over the next 4 days, they counted around 120 army men in the area (vs their group of 17 guerrillas).  At one point, a shot was fired and army was sent to his area to investigate.  Luckily, before any confrontation could happen, the radio sounded out explaining that one of the army's rifles had misfired - the investigation party was called back.

Torotoro National Park

Torotoro is a national park located 138km south of Cochabamba and is mainly know for its dinosaur tracks and caves.  

We learned that Torotoro (and Cochabamba) are not very common tourist destinations, so information on Torotoro tours turned out to be a lot harder to come by...  After lack of response to email inquiries, visiting a few agencies, and struggling to gather decent pricing / information, we decided we would instead buy a local bus ticket and try to visit the area on our own.  That night, we totally lucked out and were contacted back by one of the agencies, Exprintur, about joining up on a 3 day / 2 night tour with a couple from Switzerland - Patrik and Priska.  The price was right, so it was an offer we couldn't refuse!

Day 1:  The Town of Torotoro
Our first day started bright and early with a 4.5 hour car ride to Torotoro (that's right - 4.5 hours to go 138km...).

We arrived in the afternoon and took our time visiting the quiet town of Torotoro and its museum of various fossils and rocks collected over the past 24 years by one of the locals. 

We then wandered just outside of the town where we checked out our first set of fossilized dinosaur tracks.  To our surprise, based on our observation of the tracks, dinosaurs actually seem to be quite a bit smaller than we imagined from our childhood.  
According to our guide, Ivan, Bolivia doesn't have a lot of archaeologist.  He indicated that currently, the park is not being actively studied or excavated - all of the tracks are being discovered by locals, as nature erodes through the layers of sediment and reveals various new sets of tracks.  Ivan also told us that so far, they have only found dinosaur tracks in Torotoro but no bones - this contrasts the Tarija area (in the deep South of Bolivia), where they have only found dinosaur bones but no tracks. Their theory is that the Torotoro area was along the migration path for the dinosaurs. 

Day 2:  Torotoro Canyon and the Turtle Cemetery

On our second day, we set out on a 8km hike to El Vergel in the Torotoro Canyon where we chilled out and enjoyed the scenery.  Along the way, we also saw the biggest dinosaur tracks discovered in the park to-date.
After lunch, we took a walk to the Turtle Cemetery where, to our surprise, there were barely any turtle fossils remaining… From what we could gather from talking to Ivan, they were probably recently removed from the park to be put in a museum because they were extremely brittle (and apparently tourists and locals were taking them as souvenirs….)  Regardless, the scenery and sunset along the way was well worth the walk.  And, on our way back, we passed a local family that was cooking fresh bread outside in their horno (oven) - they were super friendly and agreed to sell us a few pieces to try…. mmmm fresh bread….!

Day 3: Umajalanta Caves

This was by far the highlight of the trip: We put our helmet and set out to explore an really cool cave.  We walked, climbed, roped, crawled, slid, and squiggled our way through the terrains of the Umajalanta cave for a distance of about 2km, and depth of 118meters.  The entire cave is actually 12km long but tourists can't pass the 2km mark as it requires diving under water (with the blind fish) for a fair distance in order to reach the rest of the caverns.
Note to Other Travellers
Originally we where planning on going on our own as Cochabamba agencies were not responsive to email price inquiries.  When we arrived in Cochabamba, we did a last-ditch effort of visiting a few agencies but since there's not a lot of tourists in the Cochabamba area, they could only quote pricing based on 2pax which was WAY outside our budget.  We lucked out that Poala from an agency called Exprintur actually followed up quickly and gave us an offer we could not refuse.  We were super happy with the service that they provided, so here is their information: 

Tour Agency: Exprintur (by the main plaza in Cochabamba)
Agent: Paola Gabriela Quispe (paolacbba@gmail.com)
Guide: Ivan Quipse (excellent guide - very knowledgeable, super helpful & friendly, and speaks excellent English)
Tour: 3d/2n in Torotoro - all inclusive with private transportation for $110/person (based on 4pax)


Cochabamba is suppose to be known for its culinary experience but if you ask us, it should be known for its market: If you want anything, you can probably find it in La Cancha.

"La Cancha" in English means sports field... and this is how it all started - this area used to have football (soccer) fields where ladies with carts came to sell food and drinks. Over time, the football fields disappeared and were replaced by market stalls. Now La Cancha is massive, with multiple markets spanning several square blocks (including a converted train station), and pouring into the streets in every direction. Each little shop/stall is, on average, about 2-3 meters wide which means that there are probably thousands of stalls!!…. We've been to many markets in our travels and we were both absolutely blown away by the size and variety at this one!

For our day of exploration, we set out to find a small guitar for Jen. After 1.5 hours of asking a lot of directions and walking in circles through the narrow aisles, we finally found what we were looking for!! It was quite the exciting and exhilarating search… along the way we saw stalls selling everything from live chickens, cameras, vegetables, suits, fabric, tools, electronics, bike parts, and of course food... just to name a few. And, we are now proud owners of a small, inexpensive (180 Bolivianos ~= 30usd) guitar to play around / practice on during our travels :).

Overall, we haven't really been blown away by the foods we've tried here so far, EXCEPT that we accidentally stopped in at this Empanada/Saltena shop called Wist'upiku and haven't been able to stop going there since - we just can't get enough of their cheese or chicken empanadas!! Yum!!

3 Days Before Dom Can Remove His Cast!!….Or Not...

When the doctor put the cast on in Peru, he mentioned that the bone would heal in 40 days and then the cast could come off. Today, we visited a clinic to make an appointment for Monday to get the cast off. After a bit of running around, we were told (in Spanish) that Dom does not have the right kind of cast for the type of fracture he has. They recommended that he should see the traumatologist (who, of course, was not there...).

Fortunately, we managed find the private clinic where the traumatologist was located, and paid him for a visit (~ $33usd). He mentioned that with this type of fracture, the cast should stay on for an extra 20 days :( and that keeping the current cast was better than changing it to the other type (which would have immobilized his pinky finger better).

Seeking medical help when you only know a bit of the language is hard, we can't even begin to imagine what it would be like if we did not speak any Spanish!

Anyway, tomorrow we are off to Torotoro national park to explore some caves and see some dinosaur footprints!! :)


We stopped in a small colonial town called Sucre in the centre of Bolivia.  From here it's a great place to either do some excursions in the surrounding areas, or chill out in the town and take spanish lessons.  In our case, we decided to just take it easy and mainly visit the town while planning out our next steps.

One of the attractions that we enjoyed was the MUSEF museum where you can see an assortment of masks that the Bolivians use in their various festivals and celebrations.
Oh, and we can't forget to mention the visit to "Para-Ti", a Bolivian chocolate factory.  We weren't able to take pictures in the actual factory but all of the Cacao beans are grown, roasted, and processed (mainly by hand) here in Bolivia.  They have many hand-crafted chocolate truffles/bonbons, plus about 18 different flavours of chocolate bars … which... we may have overindulged in.. just a little… :P
On Sunday, we went to the Tarabuco Market which is located about 1 hour from Sucre.  We enjoyed our time there, but if you've ever visited other markets in South America, your time is probably better spent elsewhere... if you decide to go anyway, make sure you explore the side streets - that's where the action lies - also, try the "Aji De Lisas" street food.. looks a bit sketchy but it was quite good (and we didn't get sick) :).


Potosi Mine

Potosi was founded in 1545 after silver was discovered.  Because of that it became one of the richest cities in the Americas until the silver dried up.  During its booming days, 8 million people died extracting and processing the ore. Today, the mine is still active and is open for tourist to visit. 

The conditions are still horrible: the mines are still a bunch of passages of varying heights, and to go from one level to another the opening was so small that we had to crawl through on our bellies.  The temperature in the sections of the mines that we went to also varied between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius!  The youngest miner currently working in this mine is 10 years old and the oldest 68.  Our guide was 12 years old when he started working.  The life expectancy is 55 years old (increased recently from 45), and for at least the first 5 years working in the mines, miners do NOT get any medical coverage.  Yet still, by Bolivian standards, this is a good job as the income is about 4 times the average Bolivian salary.

The mining tours may seem like voyerism, but they actually help the miners - with our tour operator, Koala Tours: http://www.koalabolivia.com, 25% of our tour fee goes toward the miner cooperative to help build a new hospital only for miners .

As for the tour, we started by visiting the miners market where we bought gifts for the miners: water, juice, coca leaves, cigarettes.  We could also have bought dynamite as it is legal for anybody (including tourists) to do so in Bolivia.

From there we went to the processing plant.  Nowadays they use cyanide instead of mercury to extract the silver… uhh.. that seems much safer..?!

Finally, we went on a two hour tour of the actual mine, which is located 4300 meters above sea level.  The mine is still active, and on several occasions, we had to jump or scramble up the wall of the mine to get out of the way of incoming carts.     

The God of Salar de Uyuni

While we were in the Uyuni Salt Flat, we encountered the God of the Salar... which was really nice. To thank us for visiting, he offered us giant Oreos… I can't even begin to tell you how happy Dominic was… they were so goooooooood!!! He also offered us some beer which Jen, so as not to offend him, took a sip of. She liked it so much that she crawled in the bottle and drank it all… the problem was, it also had the side effect of shrinking her to a tiny tiny person! In order to fix the problem, Dominic picked her up and blew her a kiss… so everything return to normal.

Hehe, no.. in reality, the salt flat is so huge and flat that for some reason we lose the sense of perspective so can do these crazy perspective photos. Here are a couple shots from the-making-of:

Uyuni Train Cemetery

The last stop of our tour was the Uyuni Train Cemetery.  The town of Uyuni used to be a railway hub but after all the mines dried up, the trains were left to rust and flounder for future tourists to visit :).  If your tour does not go there it's only a 30 minute walk from Uyuni……and definitely worth the trip!

In the recent years, some trains and train parts have been modified into an old rusty playground (that definitely would not pass the safety standards in Canada!!)….. we were just glad we had our tetanus shots updated before we left :).