Burning brakes and bat caves

Gruta de San Pedro

I escaped the hustle and bustle of La Paz for a weekend sojourn to Sorata just before New Year.  Sorata is a picturesque town perched in the valley beneath Mount llampu and Ancohuma, in the Las Yungas region (where Caranavi is also located).  Back in colonial days it provided access to the Amazon Basin, as well as the goldmines and rubber plantations of the Alto Beni.  These days, Sorata is a popular retreat for Bolivians and travellers alike, the idyllic setting acting as a base camp for hiking and mountain-biking trails.

The 3.5hr journey involved yet more hair-raising twisting trails with steep drops.  As we wound our way down the valley towards the town, the minibus I was travelling in began to emit a strong smell of burning (I suspect from overworked brakes) and I breathed a big sigh of relief when we arrived.

La Gruta de San Pedro (San Pedro cave) is a 5-6 hr round-trip hike from the town and is approximately 400m deep.  It houses bats as well as a large enclosed lagoon that can be crossed by pedal boat.  I`m quite fond of bats, and thus endured the oppressive humidity to watch them flitting and squeaking above, while unsuccessfully trying to photograph them.

The cave`s guide was 15 year old Janet, who explained she was taking her turn in the local community giving guided tours and that it was helpful she could add to her mother`s income.  In flip flops and armed with a small torch, she admitted to finding it spooky when alone in between visits, particularly when the string of electric lightbulbs fail, leaving her in complete darkness.  Children seem to be well and truly incorporated into family and community labour here.  During dinner in the town`s market-place, my waiter was 11 year old Imanol, who single-handedly served the restaurant in between watching cartoons.



Janet, the cave`s 15yr old guide

Janet, the cave`s 15yr old guide

Blurry bats

Blurry bats

Hiking past the scene of a tragic accident. In November, a minibus plunged 300m, killing 6 and injuring 9. The shell of the vehicle was visible in the valley below.

Hiking past the scene of a tragic accident. In November, a minibus plunged 300m, killing 6 and injuring 9. The shell of the vehicle was visible in the valley below.

Sorata in the distance

Sorata in the distance

Look out for Bolivia in the media over the next couple of days:

UK folks:
‘World`s Most Dangerous Roads’ – Wednesday 9th January, 9.30pm on BBC Two

Canadian friends:
David Suzuki`s ‘The Nature of Things’- Thursday 10th January, 8pm on CBC-TV

Both shows feature the spectacular Salt Flats of Salar de Uyuni.  I just spent the weekend visiting the Salar – stay tuned for a full report!

8 thoughts on “Burning brakes and bat caves

  1. Hey Joni, Thanks for your bat commentary. Bats often get a bum wrap–some of my best friends are bats. Imagine if humans could fly under their own volition–there would be no such thing as global warming.And if we could hang upside down, we would no longer need beds (or bedrooms for that matter).
    I also appreciated your thoughts on children working within the community. I am a big advocate for children helping out in family businesses or earning a little cash on the side to help their family out. Kids can learn skills, responsibility, and develop a sense of belonging within the community unlike the bubble wrap generation of many youth in North America who at times live with a sense of entitlement. Exploitive child labour is another story though.

    Love your blogs Jonina!

    • Thanks Mikey! Interesting food for thought. Family life is certainly different here in many ways (e.g. it`s not uncommon for several generations of the same family to live together). Glad you have bats for company while I am away!

  2. HI Joni, another good one. More suggestions of scary plunges. We’ll be tuning into the TV tomorrow night for another account of ‘Death Road’. I too love bats, even blurry ones, it must be in the genes. Roy x

    • Thanks dad! Not sure whether they`re featuring Death Road as well as the Salar – it seems Bolivia has a whole host of dangerous roads to choose from. x

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