8th May 2014
Our second day in Torotoro, one of the most beautiful spots in Bolivia, was every bit as good as the first. We headed into the plaza again bright and early to grab some breakfast, and hired the same guide as the previous day, the lovely Ugenio, for a third tour in the national park. Today, it was the Circuito del Vergel, probably the best route for seeing Torotoro if you can only fit one in (although I urge you not to miss the Circuito de Umajalanta if possible). This tour was just 100Bs (less than £10) for a group of up to six, so split between the four people in our group it was a total bargain.
We started just outside the village of Torotoro, where Ugenio led us through a gate into a fenced-off area on the side of a hill. As we squinted into the bright morning sunshine, Ugenio pointed out a trail of shadowy holes in the ground which, on closer inspection, revealed themselves to be dinosaur footprints. The trail was perfectly intact, marking the passage of a dinosaur as it crossed damp mud which has since hardened into solid rock. The entire hillside, protected by a skimpy wire fence, was completely covered in prints, some buried beneath mud and vegetation, but others standing out clearly on sheets of exposed rock – it was an incredible sight.
Ugenio pointed out how some of the footprints were only toes, indicating that the dinosaur who left them was running at the time, and showed us the different types, with claws indicating carnivores. Archaeologists believe that the tracks were left during a mass migration of dinosaurs which crossed Bolivia during the Cretaceous period (80-100 million years ago), the period when dinosaurs truly ruled the earth, although according to Ugenio no one is sure what provoked a movement of such large numbers. I couldn’t help picturing the opening scenes from Land Before Time, imagining all different kinds of dinosaurs migrating together!
From there, it was a pleasant walk of about an hour, following a dry riverbed which featured still more dinosaur footprints, as well as some fossils. The most impressive footprint was absolutely huge, big enough for me to comfortably curl up in the heel, and must have belonged to a beast unimaginably big in proportion! There was plenty to see in the riverbed, from natural bridges of rock which made great photo ops, to a semi circle of step-like, staggered rock ledges which formed a natural amphitheatre, but the most breathtaking sight was at the top of the hill: the view from the mirador over the canyon. This included a semi-circular metal bridge right over the canyon, with gaps between the floor and the railings that made the drop hundreds of feet into the canyon seem worryingly close, but the view was spectacular. The floor of the canyon, dizzyingly far below, was laced with twinkling blue pools and thick, green clusters of trees, surrounded by towering, orange-brown walls of parched, dusty rock.
We headed down into the depths of the canyon – following a steep, winding path of rock steps, shouting at the walls opposite to hear our echoes bounce back – until we found ourselves on the near-dry riverbed at the bottom. Ugenio led us along a narrow, clumsy path over, under and between huge rocks, over the river and back across again, past a beautiful waterfall with rainbows playing in the spray and the point named ‘Beso del Canyon’ (kiss of the canyon) where, thanks to an illusion, the tops of the of the cliffs on either side seem to touch as in a kiss.
We stopped for lunch under a jutting lip of rock, which provided shade from the burning sun, and found ourselves overlooking a series of brilliantly blue pools fed by a small waterfall. Unable to bear the dry heat any longer, we all changed quickly into our swimwear (for me, that involved clabouring to the far side of the river to hide behind a big rock – boys have it so lucky sometimes!) and headed down to the numbingly icy water for a swim. The pools were deep enough for jumping, and pretty quickly the boys were all jumping in from one of the highest rocks. Way back at the start of our trip, in Minca in Colombia, I chickened out of jumping into a natural swimming pool and regretted my fearfulness ever since. So, this time, I was determined to jump in. Sam and Joe, a friend we’d met in Torotoro, helped me climb up the steep, smooth rock, and Joe held my hand as I gingerly stepped out to the slippery, curving edge overlooking the pool. Knowing that if I hesitated too long I would never manage to move my legs, I counted to three straight away, bent my legs, and jumped. A flash of thrill and adrenaline, then the electric shock of icy water hitting my body, so cold it almost knocked the breath out of me. I swam as quickly as possible back to the edge, teeth chattering, and lay in the sun until I was warm again, so proud of myself for jumping. It was great fun and not at all scary, and now I feel as though I’ve made up for not taking the plunge in Minca. As Joe pointed out, you’ll only be here once – a good policy for embracing every new and difficult experience travel throws your way.
After lunch, we headed back the way we’d come along the canyon, climbing up the same steep staircase – so much harder on the return journey, and eventually back into town. It was a stunning walk, surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the park, with it’s hump-backed rock hills and rolling green fields, and swimming in the cold but perfectly clear pools was fantastic. If we could have spent longer in Torotoro, we would have, but the two days and three tours we had there were absolutely brilliant, easily one of our best stops in Bolivia!