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