Peace from La Paz (and how to get here)
As we drove down into the clouds the sun was setting. I never did see the stupendous valley views, only an eerie, heavy fog crowding the minivan, gradually darkening to black. Then the rain came, lashing the windscreen. Our poor pathetic wipers didn’t stand a chance. With the audacity typical of South American taxi drivers, our minivan careered down the wet black ribbon of tarmac flashing its lights and beeping its horn, swerving around gas tankers oblivious of blind corners. But as we sunk further into the valley I smelt a homecoming: jungle air. The heavy, dank smell of sod and giant leaves crept in to join us in our packed taxi and my spirit lifted. Right now I have my back to the window and the rain is shattering on the metal roof above my head, thunder cracking the sky. The drama! But I know tomorrow will start with clear skies and a soothing hot sun. I love the rainforest.
Only 35 miles as the crow flies, the journey from La Paz to Coroico takes two and a half hours and drops an incredible 2,125m. The only way to get there by public transport is minivan (seven passengers, 25BOB each – £2.50) or minibus (fourteen, 15BOB – £1.50) from Villa Fatima – a chaotic disused gas station in the north of La Paz. Perhaps chaotic is not the word, but hectic might be. The streets are littered with kids and dogs; fat ladies in massive skirts sit on the pavement with their wares in between their knees, some awake, some asleep with chins resting on their chests. They’re back to back. Taxis and vans swing around each other, and vulnerable street-carts selling giant popcorn pieces from translucent buckets a metre across. If you could see noise, the air would be thick with vendor chants, exhaust-fume belches, long horn blasts and revved engines.
It sounds crazy, but navigating Villa Fatima is surprisingly easy. Your taxi drops you outside the shop selling the bus tickets and if you can’t find it then just say, “Por favor, Coroico” and you’ll be pointed in the right direction. The van or bus picks you up outside the shop and you’re allocated a seat. Remember, if a blonde girl with three months of Spanish can do it, so can you! Just a note here, I am NOT referring to blondes being stupid. Being blonde in South America is supposed to make life difficult, but I’ve been fine so far.
It was on the pavement I met Eduardo. “These minivans are made for Japanese people!” he joked. I thought. Stuffed against the window on a snarling leopard blanket I realised he was probably serious. Luckily fate had positioned me next to an exceedingly polite, charming and friendly Bolivian. “I’m at university studying tourism,” said Eduardo, explaining the shining new book on Bolivian dancing in his hand. As the light failed I held the last page of Kerouac’s On The Road to my nose, while he peered at the first page of his dancing book. When that activity became impossible we discussed the tribes of Bolivia, his two children which I swear made him glow like an angel, his career plans, the classic South American tunes playing on the sound system, all in Spanish! Being the only gringo in the car it could have been a lonely and uncomfortable ride, but I think I have someone watching over me.
In the hills above Coroico lie several rustic eco-lodges. The one I’m writing from is called Sol y Luna and it’s perfect for the backpacker who wants to give back, but not financially. The dorm rate of only 50BOB (£5) is subsidised by luxurious cabins scattered over the jungle slope. As you wander the linking goat tracks (they provide maps of the complex), you happen upon a carpenters workshop, two swimming pools, miradors (lookouts to you and me, and over the entire valley to the river below) and a yoga room! This made me very excited. I love yoga because the positions I can do are good for my body, and the ones I can’t leave me collapsed in a fit of laughter. Those ones are good for my soul. Tomorrow there is a 90 minute yoga session for the equivalent of £3! Ignore the reservation webpage and just email them directly for a booking.
Sol y Luna is simply peaceful. This morning I went for a run and I feel I can do everything I want here – write, draw. I’m at rest.