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.
Look out for Bolivia in the media over the next couple of days:
‘World`s Most Dangerous Roads’ – Wednesday 9th January, 9.30pm on BBC Two
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!