Lugging our backpacks up the uneven steps of La Paz we manage to hop a cab for 20Bs to Villa Fatima, a poorer neighborhood on the city skirts and passageway to Death Road, the Yungas region and beyond.
Jill and I are the only noticeable non-locals and there’s organized chaos in the terminal. It’s dry, dusty and within five minutes a girl with purple painted eyelids to make her jacket calls COROICO. 10 minutos. 20Bs each and we jump in the minivan. Locals push through the windows selling a crowded bus corn, quinoa, chicken, jelly, and periodicals. We take the wrong seats, arguments in Spanish, no preocupen. An old guy beside us high as hell, swigging Cuba Libre from a bottle and talking to himself and us. We don’t know. We pick up a few stragglers on the road and begin our 3-hour journey to nature.
We wind our way up to 4700metres elevation then round a bend and were approaching the beginning of Ruta de la Muerte. The famous Death Road, a familiar sight from our bike trek two days ago. Curve our way down and the fog sets in, nerves kicking back into drive as I recognize the turns and graves of the route. Pass through Pongas, the police checkpoint, and in 15 minutes we’ve passed the old dirt road, following the new and unfamiliar asphalted road. Different route, same views. The height and drop inspires vertigo feelings and a desire to vault yourself into the jungle depths. We pass through fog, rain, and clouds for an hour, void of visibility before we see landscapes again.
Tiny winding lines zigzag in the mountains, are they walking paths…
An old brick house without walls, does someone live there…
On opposing mountains there are coca plantations, farms built on steep angles. Occasionally a family on motorcycle or a hunched old man zooms past the bus. People jump off the bus at no visible destination… is their home behind the trees…
Middle aged men with wrinkled faces and dusty hands sit with wives in bowler hats, aprons, and elaborate skirts. Pass through Yolosa, I listen to Magic Sam while Jill alternates between 100 years of solitude and speaking Spanish with our stoned neighbour, who talks about the towns, describes the view and the possibility of aliens in Tiwanaku. It’s grossly hot now and we inch our way up to the distant collection of houses on the mountains, slowly growing larger on the horizon. Three buildings, two in construction, a sleeping dog and Bienvenidos a Coroico.
Beyond the cobbled streets the backdrop seems Truman. Through every gap or town you see nothing but spectacularly large and green jungles and mountains. The sun falls perfectly through the clouds onto a green clearing. In the distant mountains asphalted road is veined beside the dirt road. Vultures circle above in the clouds that perfectly nest between peaks and valleys, hugging the mountain horizons.
Our reaction is the same as always, laughing at our fortunes. Some hostels and cafes in the plaza are the only places open. School is out and a cafe owners son pass our Huaris and Paceñas.
Tomatoes, oregano, pasta and we stroll to our hostel in the company of stray dogs. Kitchen´s closed so looks like dinner tonight is bruschetta in our cabin, in the company of rain, Janis Joplin and good conversation. The universe, travels, perspectives, people, drugs, South American spirit, sustainable living, WWOFing, dinosaurs and Che. Always the same topics, new enlightenments. Sleep in and home made bread, jams, papaya juice, eggs and coffee from the Bolivian Swiss family with an endless number of young children. We walk for a while and spend our day lounging around the pool of the supposedly empty Viejo Moreno hotel.
Reading and writing on deck chairs we look over the valley and absorb the views of the Yungas valleys. We watch the cycle of rain pass by and eat parrillada verduras and drink Paceñas. The Yungas has finally unlocked a feeling I haven´t yet been able to admit to myself. An all-encompassing admiration of this continent and its people, an overwhelming need to creatively express my thoughts. I had finally come to a halt to digest every experience I have had in the last two months and its a feeling I will never get out of. I don’t think I will ever leave this place, in body or mind.
We spend an entire day at the abandoned hotel before the clouds close in and the temperature drops with the approaching moon.
Throw on your jumpers and follow the stone path back into town, followed again by dogs but one that is particularly disliked by the neighborhood dogs and geese. It catches us between five or six fights and we cant shake its company till we get into town, buying more tomatoes and watching the city come alive on a cool Tuesday night. Tables and chairs are set in the streets and old women sell boiled chicken, colourful potatoes and vegetables while kids chase each other on tricycles. There’s a local dance happening in the town hall a band plays and women dance in their skirts and scarfs, a drunk homeless tries to bring us inside but we skip away and hole up in Bamboos Cafe for cena.
Candlelit plastic table chairs serving Mexican, with Bolivian textile tablecloths. We are sold. Red and yellow stucco walls we get vegetarian tacos and beers in jugs, reading a book on the Yungas given to us by the friendliest waiter on earth. Trails and treks outside Coroico, climbing through cloud forests and crossing waterfalls, cutting trails with machetes to Afro-Bolivian communities, Choro, Cochabamba, urpurma. Two dread locked hippies, their accent sounds Brazilian sit inside.
Do dreadlocked folk attract each other, would they make an effort to talk to us if we were the same? Classical music plays in juxtaposition with the outside. Besame Mucho and Frank Sinatra narrate the hazy outside street, romantic cobbled streets lit by a neon sign and two UV lamps strung up by a cluster of wires. Red and cream stucco decaying walls are leant against by two old women in aprons talking happily with sacks tied to their backs. Children play and chase each other on the corner; a toddler in a beanie climbs a step. Men and women pass and stop to talk to each other. An old motorcycle and a truck sit vacant on the curb. Everyone has their own pace and destination, no one is in a rush. A guy walks past holding a DVD player under his arm.
Every moment and direction is meaningful. The waiter compliments our Spanish and gives us one two three tequila and Maracuya shots, his only words in English are ´good to digest… on the house…cheers´ Todo bien.
Little moments or objects deserve our ultimate appreciation, a person, a note in the music, five white flowers facing the door. No words can describe this evening of pure happiness. We’re not on drugs but the feeling is the same we cant convey. Simple untouched beauty and a feeling of contentment of all surroundings. Two dogs stop on the corner then move on. Everything is momentary. Gracias. Ciao.
And we stroll back to our cabin on the dimly lit path, the warm onset of tequila is felt and we share more tomatoes and crackers before bed. This is definitely not going to be our last night in our lives spent in Coroico. The tranquility of this town has possessed us permanently.
By Lauren Rutter
Pdf link: Rutter_Ruta Nor Yungas