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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

El Choro Trek

Last week we completed the 6-day El Choro trek with our guide Percy, which started just outside La Paz and ended in Los Yungas. We had to take a different route to the usual one because two bridges were out. This route involved taking a minibus from the altiplano to the cloud forest. Over the course of the 6 days we experienced a diverse set of landscapes (and also did quite a lot of walking).

To summarise the series of events, one member of the group wrote about each day:

Day 1- Teresa

Our first day of the trek started bright and early as we headed out from La Paz at 7am for the two and a half hour bus ride over to where we started the trek. Unlike many of our past treks that have been characterised by rain and snow, today was a beautiful, sunny day that allowed us to walk and appreciate the beautiful landscape of the Cordilla Real mountain range. We walked for about 1 hour until we stopped to carry out a ceremony to ask ´Pachamama´ and the ´Apus´ for permission to enter the mountains and to grant us a safe trip. We arrived at our campsite and promptly continued for another hour to the beautiful glacier that peaks out among the rough peaks of the mountain range.

Despite a few of us feeling ill, we pushed through the trek and even had time to skip rocks on the crystal, blue lagoon near our campsite. Our first day was a great introduction into the amazing natural environment of Bolivia!

Day 2- Charlotte

After an easy start of the trek, it was time to start the challenging path we had been promised. We gathered at 7:40 to do check-in, and left at 8:25. Percy explained the 9 hour day before we left and it included 2 passes that were both over 4800 meters. We set out to climb both the first path with grass under our feet and a beautiful blue sky over our heads. The climb to the first pass was about two and a half hours of gradual uphill. Before we reached the top, we came to a rocky plateau, where Percy instructed us to halt. He told us all to take a rock and bring it to the peak. The rock was meant for good luck and carrying it up the last uphill portion of the peak was supposed to make the future uphill walks easier. Some of us chose big rocks, some of us chose small rocks, but Asa chose a watermelon. After taking some pictures at the pass (some with the watermelon and some without), it was time to descend into the valley. After about two hours, we reached the base of the next mountain and hiked until we came upon a plateau with a lake where we stopped for peanut butter and jelly and cheese sandwiches (as well as some watermelon). We went around the next mountain instead of taking the pass which took about two hours. We then continued on our way through some hilly terrain for another two and a half hours to our campsite. We arrived around 4:30, and we were all glad to have time to “descansa” or rest before putting up tents. The campsite even had a bathroom and a kitchen which we were all grateful for. The sunset was beautiful on the snow-capped mountain peaks. A beautiful end to the day.

Day 3-Mary Ren

Waking up to the screams of Sandy was heartwarming- it had snowed. Unzipping our tent door and finding our field and the mountains covered in a blanket of pure white was beautiful. Once everyone was awake, a snowball fight inevitably ensued. While packing up our tent a surprising smack of a snowball seemingly coming from nowhere would startle any one of us, who then began looking for the culprit. Most often we would find Erick, smiling widely, alpaca gloves covered in snow and another snowball in hand to defend himself from a counter attack. Walking up the mountain and looking down and across the land we walked the day before made my heart swell with pride and awe- I had walked all that way, me and my own two feet had made it across that plain. The summit of our third day was was difficult due to the altitude, cold, and wind. Walking alone to the top of the hill after having dropped behind the majority of the group was a difficult moment. It was just me and the giant stretch of black sand leading to the top. The wind was so strong it pushed you back with each step and took the breath from your lungs. The high-five Percy gave me at the top of the pass at 16600 feet was one of the rewarding gestures I have received on our trip. The two hour descent to our campsite was made easier by the warming temperature, and reaching the camp at lunch time was an amazing reward for everyone´s hard work that day.

Day 4- Asa

4200, 4000, 3400, the measures ticked slowly down as we sped down the mountain road. In typical Bolivian fashion, our course lay not in either lane, but the direct middle of the road, not even bothering to shift right as we whipped around the regular hairpin turns. In just an hour we had descended nearly 5000 feet.

The landscape was jarringly different around us. Instead of the jagged cliffs and sweeping, barren plains of the Andean mountains, we were now walled in by a wave of humidity and the almost claustrophobic overgrown jungle. We were still in the mountains but it couldn’t have been more dissimilar. We stood on the steep side of a lush river valley looking out across to a small waterfall that tumbled down the other face.

We spent about half an hour rearranging and unloading our things after the vans dropped us off. We would be carrying our bags our self for this part of the trek, so everybody was searching for ways to lighten the load. We finally started walking at 2 and after a quick ceremony to ask the mountains for our safe travel we got to the campsite in less than an hour.

Day 5- Jack

We started the day promptly at 8, after having our usual breakfast of oats and packing up our tents into our bags. Only being able to see some legs poking out from beneath a giant pack, resembling the person in front of us, we walked down the single lane path through the cloud rainforest. After a short period, we stopped to do a check-in, at which point Zach gave us assignments for our game of assassin (each person in the group must get their target, another person in the group, to do an action and assassinate the person). After several hours of walking downhill we stopped for lunch and the first person was assassinated! Becca managed to get Izzy to come up with a rap about her.

After lunch, the landscape remained similar: dense clouds blocked our view of the surrounding hills, but we were able to see the shrubbery that surrounded us. At some point, it started raining. Every now and then, a drop would break through the canopy, adding to the layer of water covering our packs. With the rain, the path got more treacherous, however we had the help of Erick and Annabelle at the front hollering to “keep to the right” or to “keep to the left”, and how to avoid the puddles of water. When it was dark, these calls transitioned to “watch your head” or “branch”. Fortunately most people had headlamps which came in handy. Mine had died on a previous night, but Becca was a lifesaver by illuminating my path.

Just after 9, we came across a building with a light on inside: our camp! We stumbled into what we discovered was a dining room. Our moods were suddenly lifted when we sat down and were given tea by our gracious hosts. After the long day, we had the best meal of eggs and rice that we had had the whole trip or maybe we were just hungry. However, we were all really grateful for the meal and for a bed that night. Most of us collapsed after dinner, but Victor, Asa and Chris had the energy to stay up and make some sweet potato fries!

Day 6- Libby

On the last day of our trek, the group woke up begrudgingly from some of the deepest sleep many of us have ever had. As the sun shone down on the grass, we laid out our shoes to dry and made a circle for check-in. I think every single one of us was physically drained, but we were willing to squeeze our sore and blistered feet back into our boots one last time so we could make it to the bus that would take us to Tocana. The walk was short and downhill, so we arrived at the road in just a few hours. Though we couldn’t find a restaurant in the tiny town at the base of the mountains, a woman saw our group and offered to cook lunch for all of us. While we waited for our food, the whole group went down to the river to swim, rinse off, or just soak our tired feet. Becca and I decided to wash hair in the river (using biodegradable soap of course) which turned out to be a good move since many of us did not get to shower that night in Tocana. It was nice to relax, take our time, and eat ice cream bars after probably the most physically and emotionally difficult day of the entire trip. We had made it to the bottom and everything was going to be fine.