Bolivia 2 – The Central Valleys – Sucre, Tarabuco and Cochabamba

22nd February – East of the Altiplano, the Andes gradually make their descent toward the eastern lowlands in a series of mountain ranges and valleys, that have a rich and fertile soil.

 Leaving Potosi on Ruta 5 for Sucre, we wind our way slowly down through a corridor of rugged mountains to below 3000m and both realise we can breathe easily once again.  It is heart rending to see the dogs that line this road at regular intervals, standing or laying down, their soulful eyes  follow us as we pass.

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We can only presume they are waiting for someone to throw them food or give them a home, but it is so remote in places that we wonder how they even got there.

Nothing but mountains, ravines and river beds………..

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……this continual landscape makes it impossible for us to find somewhere to pull off for the night and so we continue to Sucre, a long day of driving and we arrive after dark.  The poor looking suburbs spread for miles…..where is this ‘White City’ declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991and considered to be the most beautiful city in Bolivia with its many old, colonial buildings and elegant churches? Being situated in a highland valley, means that we once again climb higher and higher, until finally we arrive in the main Plaza area in the centre of the city and manage to squeeze into a gap at the side of the road, right outside the Hotel Plaza.  It looks very grand but it must do, as we are not driving further. It looks like a palace inside, a slightly ‘tired’ palace but still grand. I think I might not have heard correctly, when I am told a double room will be 360 peso, including breakfast and secure 24hr. parking in a locked and guarded compound.  That’s just under £36!!  We can only have the room for one night however, as next day they are full, but we will worry about that tomorrow!

23rd February – We check out of the hotel but are able to leave Moby in their parking compound.  The centre of Sucre certainly has some beautiful and well restored buildings including the Cathedral, museums, churches, palaces and administrative buildings, many of these built around the main Plaza shaded by tall trees.

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We climb the steep hills up from the Plaza to visit the Museo de Arte Indigena, also housed in an attractive colonial building.  This museum is dedicated to two local, indigenous groups and displays their very different weaving techniques.

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A guy in the museum recommends staying at the Parador Santa Maria de Real assuring us that it is ‘the best place in town’ and as it is our Wedding Anniversary, we decide to treat ourselves. At just under £40 for a room, an excellent breakfast and secure parking once again, which we just manage to get into with about  an inch to spare after removing the extra fuel container.  Originally three, big old houses, bought by the present owner and now transformed into a beautiful Parador full of character.  Behind the carved, stone pillars and huge, wooden doors leading out on to the street, the building is a maze of corridors with old, heavy carved doors and shutters, attractive floor tiles, courtyards, balconies, pillars and arches, and many lovely paintings, weavings and antiques.  Right at the top, a mirador reveals fantastic views over the city to the mountains beyond.

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We would definitely recommend this Parador with its very helpful staff and also the nearby Joy Ride bar and restaurant, which never failed to provide us with excellent meals.

24th February – We leave for Tarabuco, a small rural town southeast of Sucre amongst green, undulating mountains and valleys, at around 3300m.  A big farming area, with many settlements and bright green fields full of crops.  We see our first pigs foraging at the side of the road.

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Tarabuco is famous for its Sunday market, where the indigenous communities living in the surrounding mountains (the Tarabuquenos), come and sell their weavings for which they are also famous.  A huge market, selling everything from sacks of coca leaves, spices, tools, clothes, fruit and vegetables and handicrafts.  Hot food stalls line the cobbled streets and the local people look very colourful in their traditional dress.

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We come away with a poncho, a bag of figs, an axe and a tap to replace the one on our extra water tank which always leaves it dripping.  We had been unable to find a suitable tap before we left England……..unbelievable that we now manage to find one in a remote town in Bolivia!!

25th – 27th February – We leave Sucre for Cochabamba today along a twisting, paved road through mountains, valleys and many huge, almost dry river beds.

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The landscape hardly changes all the way, every spare bit of ground in the valley used for farming, before the forested mountains and hills rise up again steeply on each side.  Men are ploughing their small fields behind a pair of oxen, just like we saw in Sudan and Ethiopia.

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Our paved road soon changes to a bone shaking dirt road, corrugations covered with a fine, yellow dust which means we sit in a choking cloud either behind vehicles or from those passing us on this steep and narrow road.  35 degrees and this is not making for very pleasant travelling!

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The last stretch of road however, changes to cobbles, up and down around the mountains and valleys, all the way to the outskirts of Cochabamba, where we find many of the side streets full of mud and water following heavy rain.

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We head for Casa Campestre, a hotel and conference centre recommended by Hans, so we know they have camping in their big yard and will also allow us the use of a bathroom in one of the outside rooms.  The 180 peso (approx. £18) per night, also includes breakfast, but unfortunately we did not discover this until our last day!

We drive into Cochabamba and very quickly become gridlocked amongst the heavy traffic and crowds of people, many of the narrow streets closed to make way for rows of market stalls.  We escape the centre at a snails pace and park near Plaza Colon where there is more space.  Within 15 minutes, whilst we dither about whether it is OK to park without being clamped or towed away (signs indicate this), two lots of people have asked if they can stand by Moby and have their photo taken…….it is quite amusing!  The first is a really nice guy who is so excited to see our vehicle, as it is his dream to have a 110 like ours.  The second is a group of Jehovah Witnesses from the States, all eating delicious looking ice creams from the restaurant in front of which we have parked.  We will get one each also, but along comes Louis Mariscal, also interested in our vehicle as he has a 110 himself, as well as the 1978 Range Rover parked in front of us.  We have a long and interesting chat and before he leaves, he offers us parking on his land at Aurora (to the east of Cochabamba) and use of his kayaks on the rivers there.  Very kind!  However, the day we decide to take up his offer, the hotel informs us, that roads in both directions are gridlocked by demonstrations, about what we are not sure, but this happens quite often in Bolivia we are told.  Back at the hotel, we are directed to a supermarket, which must rate as being amongst one of the most amazing we have been in.  We are like children in a sweet shop, discovering many little luxuries that we haven’t had for ages, such as hot dog relish for sandwiches, mango chutney, Green Giant sweetcorn and Snicker chocolate bars!

28th February – We leave Casa Campestre for La Paz after having had a relaxing few days, but it’s also sad to say goodbye to our 3-legged dog friend.  He stays by our Land Rover each night, barks a lot at other dog intruders, settles eventually and is always there in the morning.  He loves attention, is surprisingly mobile and looks well and somebody here obviously cared enough about him, to have had his front leg amputated properly.

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We stop at a garage for fuel but are refused diesel as we do not have Bolivian number plates. We have been warned about this but fortunately the next garage is willing to serve us and fill in the extra paper work that is required for vehicles having foreign number plates.

We head out into the mountains once more to just over 4000m.  Pigs, donkeys, cows and goats need watching at the sides of the roads, and yes, the dogs again, just watching and staring.  This inhospitable, mountainous and rugged landscape is dotted with mud brick and thatched dwellings, clinging to the steep hillsides.  Elderly women, their faces shielded from the sun by wide brimmed hats, bulging blankets tied round their backs, can hardly walk up these steep roads.  Small children are out on the mountain sides also with their belongings for the day tied in a blanket, looking after sheep and goats.  Patches of emerald green dot the mountains and valleys.   Rubbish is still sadly everywhere and dogs scavenge amongst it.  A pig has found a muddy puddle at the side of the road.  He is rolling all over in it and must be so happy!

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We climb to just over 4500m.  It is overcast and looks like rain.  There is another toll and a gendarme pulls us over yet again to check our papers and that we have fire extinguishers and warning triangles.  The police are very thorough in Bolivia.

The mountains suddenly stretch away on each side, leaving a flat and wide, green valley.

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About 30km from La Paz, a line of black mountains appear in front of us many with snow on their peaks, including the majestic, snow covered Mount Illimani rising way above them all at 6439m.

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