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Bolivia Day Trip: La Paz to Totora Pampa

April 30, 2012

When I looked out the window this morning, I found a beautiful day awaiting me.  The view above is looking north across La Paz, Bolivia, from the window of our home in the Serranias de Calacoto section of the city.  With my spouse in the States for a family wedding and my teenage daughter unlikely to stir until late morning because, well, she’s a teenager, I decided to take a leisurely Sunday drive.  After loading the high performance jack and a couple cold bottles of Coke Zero into the Jeep and plugging my iPod into the auxiliary port, I headed south, climbing out of the bowl that surrounds La Paz.  The roads were near empty on this early Sunday morning, making for a wonderful, stressless departure.

(Please be sure and click on these photos; they look a gazillion times better and have much more clarity up close.  Also, please ignore the dates stamped on them as I obviously fail when it comes to managing camera settings.  All these photos were taken on Sunday, 29 April 2012.)

The above is the view back towards La Paz as I neared the “cumbre” or high point of the valley just above the Apaña neighborhood of La Paz.  This is only about 4-5 miles above our house, albeit an uphill climb all the way.  From our house which sits at about 13,200 feet above sea level, you climb here to about 14,500 feet before crossing beyond the southern peaks and losing sight of the city.  La Paz hosts about 1 million inhabitants.  This photo gives you a bit of a sense of the expanse of La Paz but what it doesn’t show are the myriad valleys and canyons that cut through the landscape in all directions, each with its own unique, and always spectacular, landscapes and views.  The city of El Alto – the fastest growing city in all of Bolivia – sits on the high plain or “altiplano” directly above La Paz on the ridge at the back of this photo.  While you can’t see it from La Paz or in this photo, just over that ridge are another 1 million folk spread out on a flat expanse that continues all the way to Lake Titicaca.

Here we’re just on the other side of the peaks surrounding La Paz to the south.  The view is looking back along the road coming out of the city, which sits behind those tall cliffs.  If you click on the above photo to get the higher quality view, you can see how deep cracks have been eroded into the cliffs by the rains that pound La Paz from about November through March of each year.

This is only about a kilometer beyond the previous photo but now we’ve got La Paz to our backs and are looking south toward snow-covered Illimani Peak.  You can see dust clouds raised by a few vehicles that headed down the road in front of me.  It hasn’t rained much for 3-4 weeks so car and truck tires kick up huge swaths of fine dust, and with the complete lack of wind today, the dust really lingers in the air.  Today’s destination, the small village of Totora Pampa, sits just past and to the right of Illimani from the above perspective.  For anyone googling, this is the Totora Pampa in La Paz Department vice the bigger, more well-known Totora Pampa located much further south in Bolivia’s Cochabamba Department.

Quite a bit closer to Illimani now, we’re just entering into the area around the small village of Ventilla.  The way the lighting turned out in this photo, it almost looks like Illimani is painted onto the back portion of the scene.  The canvas-covered patch to the right of the house at the center is an open-air Sunday market where locals buy and sell mainly fresh vegetables.  At the time this picture was snapped on the outgoing trip, the market was just barely getting set up, but by the time I came back through on the return leg it was packed to the gills.

This fine gentleman waved me over just after I went around the bend above the market in the last photo and asked if I could give him a ride roughly four kilometers up the road to his home; I guess this is Bolivia’s version of a hitchhiker.  He had walked down to the market to drop off some vegetables to sell.  I talked to him as best I could on the drive up, but to be honest I could only make out about a third of what he said given his shortage of teeth.  That said, he seemed to understand me well enough and was as pleasant a passenger as can be.  He was kind enough to let me snap his picture as I dropped him off, in fact asking me to take a few and really getting a kick out of seeing how they turned on the camera’s viewscreen.  If you look closely, you’ll see that the brim of his hat says “USA” in red, white and blue letters.  His home was just off to the left of this photo, down a steep hill and past a tethered cow.  As I shook his calloused hand in farewell, I felt immediately uncomfortable with the softness of my own candy-ass mitts.  Damnit!  Even if I have to spend an hour a day out in the yard just moving stones from one place to another and digging out weeds without a spade, I swear I’m going to toughen up these office-worker hands of mine.

It’s been a pretty much continuous climb since leaving La Paz, but unfortunately I can’t provide an altitude estimate as I forgot to bring my GPS along for this trip.  The snow-covered peak in this shot is the right-most (west?) side of Illimani.  I know that somewhere along here there is a hiking trail that heads right up to the peak.  Folks I know that have done it claim that it is not too tough, although at this altitude I’m not convinced.

We’ve reached the outskirts of Totora Pampa, that is if tiny villages can have outskirts.  The stone corral was packed tight with sheep, probably to be let out to graze later in the day.  Right behind the corral, you can see a small lagoon with a stream running out of it down into the valley.  This photo does not do it justice; it was a spectacular dark green color and looked crystal clear and teeth-chatteringly cold.

Ok, we’re now past Illimani and entering Totora Pampa.  This photo shows pretty much the entire extent of the town, although it does continue a little beyond the bend.  To be honest, I didn’t know Totora Pampa was to be my destination when I left the house this morning.  In fact, I didn’t even know Totora Pampa existed.  It was roughly a three-hour drive here from La Paz at a leisurely pace, and stopping for photos along the way.  The odometer showed it to only a 35-mile trek.

This is looking back at Totora Pampa after having driven through and just around that bend at the back of the previous photo.  While I know life is probably pretty damn hard for these folk, who are dedicated to small-scale agriculture and animal husbandry, I always find it hard when visiting such places not to be envious of the apparent tranquility and nearness to nature.  As long as I could have all my modern amenities, like a giant stereo, super-speed internet, and 500 channels, this might be a place in which I could retire (smile).

This photo is looking immediately to the right from the same place the previous picture was snapped.  Those are mainly llamas, with a few alpacas interspersed among them.  There’s a small stream with crystal clear water between me and them, which you’ll get a less-than-spectacular glimpse of in the next snap.

I walked down toward the stream from where I’d been taking the previous couple of shots in order to spend some time with these two friendly pigs.  You can’t tell from the photo but the ground is muddy and marshy here and the tethered pair were using their snouts to dig down into it for grubs and roots, at least that’s what they were doing until I came along to demand their attention.

I took this photo looking back toward the road from the same vantage point alongside my pork-bellied friends.  Above the Jeep, you can see the ages-old terraces going all the way up what is a very steep hillside.  They’ve been planting and harvesting around here using these methods to extend the arable land and better capture and hold water for centuries.  The white lines that look like imperfections crossing the photo just above the Jeep are power lines.  I decided to turn around and head back from here based on my calculation that I’d be able to make it back home in time to watch my beloved Utah Jazz take on the number-one seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  I made it home in time, but the Jazz got smoked.

Passing back through Totora Pampa to begin my return trip, I decided to pull over and photograph what looked to be an ongoing community meeting, with the men all sitting on wooden chairs and benches and the ladies spread out on the steps of the village school’s cement basketball/soccer pad.  I tried hard not to bother the folks but if you click to get the close-up you’ll see all the ladies on the bottom row of the steps usings their mantas and hats to cover their faces against my unwanted intrusion into their affairs.  A close view of the sign shows that Totora Pampa sits at 3,957 meters above sea level (up to you to convert to feet) and belongs to the province of Sud Yungas in the Department of La Paz.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Andes without plenty of opportunities to take pictures of grazing llamas.  This guy belonged to the same herd I snapped earlier but had run out in front of me to cross to the other side of the road as I began to climb back up out of Totora Pampa.  I yelled at him to try and get him to look at me but he didn’t care.

As I headed back toward La Paz, I stopped to get a photo of this neat cinderblock bridge over one of the pristine streams I passed as I traveled.  One of the many cool things about being up this high is that there just aren’t that many people or animals above you to sully the waters before they make their way down to you.  Yes, I did walk down to splash my face and drink from this icy cold stream.  My assumption was that, with a good portion of the population of Totora Pampa involved in their community meeting, the parts per million of human excretions in the stream’s flow was likely pretty minimal at this moment.

Here we are pointed back towards La Paz just past the above bridge.  This ended up being the last photo I took today as just ahead I was waved over to pick up my second “hitchhikers” of the day.  This time it was a young Andean mother and her four year-old son, Wilder, along with a fabric parcel full of just-harvested potatoes.  I drove the pair all the way back to La Paz, a journey of about an hour, as they were headed to a family get-together where the fresh potatoes were to be roasted.  Poor Wilder got car sick right away what with all the twists and turns, but Mommy had a plastic bag at the ready so the Jeep’s interior was saved.  His stomach contents finally ejected, Wilder fell asleep for the rest of the ride.  I enjoyed conversing with young Mommy greatly and opted to forego any more stops for pictures in order not to disturb Wilder’s post-puke sweet dreams.  Wilder’s difficulties, coupled with the need to help Mommy load up her parcel, led me to opt against taking their photo as I dropped them off, a decision I now regret.

The 70-mile round trip was beyond wonderful, and has left me wondering why I don’t do this every weekend.  This afternoon I’ve subsequently learned that just a few more miles beyond Totora Pampa is an area with primitive roadside restaurants where La Paz families occasionally head for grilled meats and potatoes and restorative relaxation under the Andean sky.  Believe I’ll be loading up the family and heading back soon.

From → Beasts, Daydreams

One Comment
  1. Beautiful Pictures…

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