Sorata, nestled in the Bolivian mountains

Catching one of those mini van from Corioco back to La Paz was set to be two hours of extreme uncomfortable-ness, an experience I could do without.  I had a look at the van, the size of the seats, and how many people they expected to get in there.  The ticket seller said that if I wanted more space, I could buy more seats.   Hmm, I thought about this. This trip was going to cost me US$4.    I looked up and there was the biggest mamma I’ve seen in ages – I mean, her ass went half way up her back and was almost as wide as the mini van bench seat that was set to seat three people!   No frigging way was I going to get squashed next to that!!  So I promptly bought two seats and thought for US$8, it was a good investment!

The bus ride to La Paz offered beautiful mountain scenery.  It was a pity that there was so much burning off going on in the jungle that a veil of smoke meant the views weren’t so clear.

Once in La Paz, I caught a taxi across town to where the mini buses for Sorata were parked. They wait until they are full, which at the most takes an hour.  Again, I checked out the various mini buses and like the van from Corioco, I thought the seats were way too small for the number of people they wanted to get in.   Next to the driver, they expected two people to sit.  At 15 Bolivianos or US$2 per seat, I promptly bought the two front seats and felt very happy I’d made the right decision.  Until of course until we set off, then I had the best view in the house of the crazy-ass driving on crappy Bolivian roads. Oh dear.  The motion made me nod off, and an hour or so later, I woke and saw how heavy the drivers eye lids had become.  Oh no!! I made a point of looking straight at him – he sensed what I was doing and opened his window fully, and was really concentrating hard on staying awake.  Good! That’s his job.

We made it to Sorata alive. The main square was ok – nothing really worth writing about.  I did find the only internet place in town and checked emails, then bought a bottle of water and caught a taxi to my Sorata home,

What a great home I was set to have for the next three days.  Altai Oasis was joy.  It was away from town and set amongst three hectares of beautiful lush natural gardens.   All around it were mountain, some snow capped, and a river ran along the back of the property. They had a huge vege garden, a couple of toucans, geese, ducks, a llama, a cow, rabbits, dogs and a cute as a button little puppy.  There was a bbq area, an outdoor kitchen for the campers, a restaurant, a cool bar, a pool, hammocks everywhere, outdoor tables scattered throughout the grounds, and loads of paths to go walking.   I had a double ensuite cabin and whilst it was simple, I could not have been happier.

ah, the pool

The owners were a gorgeous family.  Roxanne was the gardener, her husband Johnny was the builder, and their 25 year old son Simon was a trained chef, about to move to Germany to study a masters in hotel management and tourism.  Roxanne was not only a green thumb but a whizz in the kitchen.  I ate every meal there during my three day stay – including having the tomato soup three times!  It was homemade and amazingly delicious.

Roxanne and Johnny built Altai Oasis over 30 years and you can see and feel the love that’s gone into the place.  Loads of natural wood, mud bricks – very organic.  Johnny built everything himself.   They use the produce from their vege garden in the kitchen, although this is not enough so they also buy what they need.  Roxanne makes the peach marmalade that is served at breakfast and it was delicious!  10kg of peaches peeled and sliced, sprinkled with 4kg of sugar and left overnight.  The next day it all goes into a huge pot and cooks on low heat for about 5 hours.  She freezes her marmalade to eliminate the risk of it going mouldy or rancid.

Johnny, Simon, and Roxanne - the nicest Bolivian hosts ever!

I was the only guest on my first night there. I was tired from travelling and hungry too, so I had an early dinner and turned in for an early night.  The next day I walked up the biggest mother-f… hill you have ever seen into town.  It was so steep!  I bought a few supplies and walked back to my lovely Sorata home.   When I got back, my friend Viv had just arrived.   I met South African Viv in Copacobana and we decided to keep in touch as Viv was expectantly suddenly travelling on her own.  Her travel buddy had to rush home for family reasons.

Viv and I had lunch and hung out by the pool chilling out.  It was a very lazy and relaxing afternoon.  After a late siesta, we had dinner at the Altai Oasis restaurant along with a couple of beers, and then went across to the Bar where Simon was working. He made us a couple of cocktails and we spent a lovely few hours chatting away.

The next day was hiking day.  Viv and I planned to hike to San Pedro, a big cave about 2 hours away.  We were advised that we could get dropped off by the look out and hike for two hours to the cave, and then from the cave, two hours home.  That all sounded do-able, so that was our plan.  Our stupid idiotic plan! We ordered a taxi that took us to the lookout.  We arrived there, high up on a peak, and took in the splendid view.  Mountains, valleys, roads and rivers surrounded us. With me I had a big bottle of water, a hat, insect spray, lip balm, and one very crap map that was drawn on an A4 piece of paper showing some lines that were the tracks we should follow.

Off we set.  The first hour of the walk was lovely.  We saw a couple of Condors flying around and that was awesome to see.  The scenery was just beautiful.  There was not another soul around as Viv and I followed a little dirt track in the direction of our destination.  Then we came across another dirt track, and another.  Which one do we take?  There were dirt tracks everywhere and we had no idea which track we should be following.  Viv and I both recalled Roxanne saying that we will be able to see the winding road below us when walking along the peak.

We could see the twisty windy road and decided that our best tactic is to head down towards that road.  We walked and walked.  Over three hours of walking and that road was not getting much closer.  I was tired and starting to feel a bit panicked.   The mountain was really steep on both sides of the peak we were walking along.  There was nothing around us.  Nothing. Just land, the occasional llama, and that’s it.  We didn’t see a living soul.  Eventually, we decided to try to head down the steep slope and make it to the road.

I was wearing my Merrell runners and Viv had a pair of runners on too.  We needed hiking boots, safety harnesses, ropes, and an experienced mountain climbing guide to make it down safely and alive.  Sadly, we didn’t have any of those things that we needed and just had to make do on our own.   The climb down was ridiculously dangerously steep and the ground was covered in gravel like loose stones – making it extremely slippery.    I tried to place each step by a tuft of mountain grass, to at least have something to help stop me from slipping.  It didnt’ really help all that much.  Viv was so brave, leading the way. She was determined to get to the road.  Finally, after about 30 minutes of truly crapping myself, we made it to the road.  I almost got down on all fours to kiss it – just like the Pope does when he gets off the plane.

Happy happy happy hiker I was. Finally on a road that had a sensible gradient.  We walked for about another hour and made it to the cave.  The cave was more impressive than Viv and I were anticipating.  It was massive inside and had a big lake in it – the lake was so big that they had paddle boats for tourists available for rent.

After our visit to San Pedro’s cave, we thanked God that a taxi was out the front and available.  Once back at Altai Oasis, I had a long hot shower and slept for about two hours!  Later in the afternoon, I lay in hammock reading My Sister’s Keeper, every now and then raising my head to take in the beautiful gardens around me.

Viv and I had dinner again at Altai Oasis and headed into the bar where Johnny and his wife Roxanne entertained us over a couple of cocktails.  The following day it was Viv’s birthday, so it was my shout for drinks.  Feeling rather merry, I tottered off to bed and slept like a log, dragging myself out of bed at 8am so I could have breakfast with Viv on her birthday before she left for a day of mountain biking.  I had to head back to Lima so I could catch a plane to Arequipa in Peru the following day.

It was so hard saying good bye to the lovely folk of Altai Oasis – Johnny, Roxanne and their son Simon had been wonderful hosts – they really made my stay there memorable.  I hope they have a chance to visit Australia sometime.

The bus to Lima was – urgh – just another dirty coach that took longer than I wanted it to to arrive.  I checked into a new hotel, hotel Rosario, that the lovely Swiss guys I met in Corioco recommended.   They gave Hotel Rosario such a good wrap that I was a bit disaapointed when I got there – it was just average.  At least my shower was hot and more than a trickle.  For that, I was grateful.

After going for a short walk whilst there was some daylight, I repacked my backpack and had an absolutely cracker of a meal in the hotel restaurant.  Delicious fish on a bed of mashed beans, presented in a fine dining first class way.  I was more than impressed.  And for about A$12 that included a glass of white wine, it was sensational.  I was so happy!

Next stop, Arequipa in Peru.

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