national park Archive

Torotoro: Jurassic Jaunt

Fording a river on the way to Torotoro. yes we did make it…

Welcome to Torotoro National Park.

We took a wrong turn on the way to Torotoro National Park in Bolivia. To regain our path, we were sent down a shortcut, which took us through a farmer’s fields. This shortcut, much to our surprise, was actually a main entrance for the road to Torotoro. The road itself was at its best cobbled and at its worst a series of ditches and small rivers. Mango managed the road with elephantine grace.

The jagged teeth of Torotoro

The landscape leading up to Torotoro was desolately beautiful: valleys of red bare earth with sparse bright green bushes were crisscrossed by clear blue rivers; steep hills gave way to jagged brutal peaks sometimes sticking straight out like the prow of a ship. Dotting the land was the occasional simple adobe village. The town of Torotoro, located in the center of the park, was lovely with cobbled streets and stone buildings built alongside a river. We set up camp on its banks and were often visited throughout our stay by children who left the river to stare at our outlandish looking van.

Footsteps in prehistoric mud. One theory is that these dinosaur tracks were preserved when the mud solidified to stone

The park looked straight out of the Jurassic period. The land alternates between green rolling hills and reddish brown mudflats that had hardened over the millennia. Surrounding the park were triangular mountains. These mountains were surprisingly evenly spaced, reminding us a bit of sharks’ teeth. Our wanderings on the first day took us through a canyon of brightly colored rocks that ends in a waterfall. On our second day, we took a guided trip to Umajalanta Cave. Along our way we were shown dinosaur tracks that had been left in rock when that rock was mud (a competing theory is that the footprints we made in cooling lava). The tracks varied in size and shape depending on the species, which included the voracious Veloceraptor. The largest of the tracks in the park is from a dinosaur that resembled a brontosaurus.

Into Pachamama’s earhole to try our hand at spelunking

The formation of stalagmites and stalactites from water dripping over thousands of years

The Umajalanta cave was a series of large chambers connected by slippery and sometimes claustrophobically small passageways. One passageway involved shimmying on our sides through an opening about a foot and a half wide. Tragically, people have knocked down many of the stalactites in the cave to sell them in La Paz or even just for their own amusement. Growing at a rate of about a centimeter a century, the stalactites and stalagmites in this cave will take eons to regrow.

Slipping through some tight spaces with expensive video equipment

Filing past the famous chandelier stalactite formation


We finally see the light

On our way out of Torotoro, Mango developed an amazingly irritating pair of ailments. Mango wouldn’t start except by jump starting her with the help of a hill. Coupled with that, whenever Mango went on too steep a hill she would stall out, thus requiring a jumpstart (backwards in those cases). This came to a head when Mango stalled out on a rock in the middle of a river. This was bad, very bad. On top of that, we had picked up a woman hitchhiking with her daughter. They thought we were completely crazy. In the end, a truck had to haul us out. On the steepest hill in the park, we unloaded Mango of all baggages and ourselves so that Mike could maneuver her up the hill (she barely made it). Thus, Elliot, Andy, and I had to haul our bags up the steepest hill out of the park. Finally we made it out, although I think we pushed her about a 1/3 of the way.

Atlas goes Bolivia

Mango gets stuck in a river on our long journey out of Torotoro

-Drew; Photos by Elliot

Paracas National Reserve & a Bad Day for Mango

Half the journey is getting there. We reached the Paracas National Reservation, a stretch of coastal desert that is home to some of the densest marine wildlife in South America, on our second day on the road. After driving south from our beachside campground, we crossed through Pisco, the town hit the hardest during the 2007 7.9 magnitude earthquake that centered on the Ica region. On every street at least a few lots are still piles of rubble. Many buildings and much of the infrastructure are still clearly damaged despite the international effort at reconstruction.

After taking a minor detour, we (now a we of five, joined by Katarina Horrox) found ourselves blocked from the main road into the Paracas Reservation by a strip of sandy desert. The only way across was a private road, owned by the Hilton Doubletree hotel. After being pointlessly denied passage by the guardsman on duty, we were pushed to attempt a path consisting of tire tracks barely etched into the desert in our extremely heavy ’82 Westfalia. With Cap’t Kote at the wheel and the pedal to the floor we jostled our way to within a few meters of the highway on the other side, before coming to a halting stop stuck deep in the sand. No pushing, no friendly fisherman, could get our lumbering beast out of the dunes.

Don’t take shortcuts – even when hard-ass gatekeepers at the Paracas Hilton Hotel refuse to let you use their paved road back to the highway. A few friendly fisherman tried to help us out to no avail…

Our only option was to implore the hoteljerks for help. I, for my part, stayed with the car while Andy and Katarina did their thing to convince the hotel to help us out of our jam, and was shocked when 15 minutes later a huge dune buggy pulled up alongside our van. Turns out, while the guard was unwilling to let us use the road, the manager of the Hilton was more than happy to lend us her private dune buggy to drag us out of the sand! Everyone likes to be an authority, I guess.

Do get your ass pulled out by the manager’s private dune buggy.

Mike enjoying a victory watermelon. Mongo binging on red meat diesel, bad girl! We’ll have you back on a strict diet of murky French fry oil soon.

Upon finally entering the park, I was struck by the bleakness of the landscape. The road, almost the same color as the sandy rock around it, wound through reserve before opening up on an azure bay. The deep bright blue sea looked alive in sharp contrast to the rocky landscape around it.

Finally, the road into Paracas National Reservation.

A set of small buildings are set around the bay brimming with clusters of brightly colored boats and flocks of seagulls and pelicans perched on rocks.

Boats and birds on an electric blue bay. Hard to imagine some of the world’s most plentiful marine life is here, surrounded by desolate desert.

Ah, bird shit. Vestiges of the guano era. The stuff of Inca legend, the backbone of 19th century economies, and a spark of Peru and Bolivia’s embarrassing loss to Chile in the War of the Pacific.

After some delicious cebiche & the world’s smallest free pisco sours, we made it the spectacular La Mina beach, home of the Winter Olympics Sur. 1st event: drive a van down a 45 degree incline with a steep leftward tilt. (video) 2nd-6th events: see below


Opening Ceremonies – Winter Olympics Sur 2010. Athletes stretch in preparation of grueling trials.

Elliot Whalen, in the Synchronized Stoning event

Andrew Whalen, landing a triple axle in the Dodge My Rock event.
Michael Kote’s internal monologue the Stone Toss event: why are we throwing rocks again?

Drew Straus, executing his patented Granny Toss. Needless to say, it was a show-stopper.
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