August 2012

Discovering Outdoor Activities in Cochabamba

Cochabamba, also the city of eternal spring, has one of the most temperate and pleasant climates the world has to offer, though not according to the local populace. Being a landlocked country prevents indulgence in the standard tropical pastimes of beach lounging, swimming and waterskiing. I went on a mission to discover what surrogate activities the fresh-air starved tourist can undertake instead..

By: Michael O’Keeffe
Projects Abroad Volunteer
London- United Kingdom

Punata Fairy
Photo: Michael O’Keefe

Juan Pablo, JP, one of the directors of Andes Xtremo, will happily run through the alternatives to sightseeing. From paragliding through hiking, rock climbing, or bungee jumping they provide plenty to keep the average adrenaline junkie fully satisfied.

A morning’s paragliding in tandem will set you back around B$350, but a week-long course which will apparently turn you into a reasonably-proficient solo-flier costs around B$2660. “People often go paragliding expecting a similar thrill to skydiving” Cautioned JP, “but it is a very different kind of thrill, much more tranquil.” The team leaves from their office on La Paz around seven or eight in the morning, heads for the take off area, Huayllani, about 30 minutes away, and aims to return early afternoon.

If you want a more intense experience, about one hour away they organize bungee jumps off the bridge of Llavini, about 60 meters in height. “We are currently waiting on a new rope as the last one wore out” JP cheerfully informs, “so we hope to be running bungees again by next year.” For the energetic nature lovers they provide one to three day hikes through the surrounding countryside. Among JP’s suggested hikes is the Tunari Peak to the northwest which can be scaled in one or two days depending on which route you would like to take. At 5030 meters it’s a hard climb, but another route through the Tunari area visits 25 lagoons in just two days. They provide the equipment, all you need are warm clothes, good boots, some food and water.

Hiking to the top
Photo: Catriona Knox

For those of a brave disposition who don’t fancy the more adrenaline fuelled thrills of hiking and paragliding then it’s worth a trip to Punata. Here, every Tuesday the agricultural market gives a new imagining of Dante’s trip through the nine circles of hell, minus the famous historical figures. This intense but potentially quite enjoyable experience really does provide a front row seat to Bolivian rural lifestyle and custom.

The locals will chat freely with new faces, though levels of enthusiasm vary. Many have been coming to the market longer than they can remember and, though no one seems to know how old the market actually is, they are certain it has been running for more than 100 years. Not for the squeamish or for vegetarians, among the more interesting sights are the bags of piglets, each of which costs around B$200, or a scrawny cow for B$300. Additionally, those who are going bald can buy long lustrous locks of human hair. If you have an iron stomach, or are not sufficiently strong-willed to resist peer pressure, then you’ll probably try the maize based chicha or the Mocochinchi cider which contains a very suspect-looking shriveled peach. After six o’clock the small, plain disco-tecas fill up with rowdy, dancing farmers and townsfolk.

The small shuttle buses, trufis as they’re known locally, run all day from Av Republica between Guayaramerin and Manuripi. They leave as soon as they contain enough people to make the journey worthwhile. The trip costs B$5 each way and takes just under an hour with some beautiful scenery along the way.

Carrying the pigs to the fair
Photo: Michael O’Keefe

On the moderate end of the spectrum, Quillacollo boasts a buzzing town centre and a beautiful church. It’s worth a visit anytime but from the 14th to the 16th of August it plays host to the Virgin of Urkupiña festival. This pagan-catholic celebration derives from the legend of a young shepherd girl to whom the Virgin Mary appeared and instructed her to take stones from around the Calvario, a small hill, and bring them home. On arriving home she found they had turned to silver.

Beginning with a large parade of traditional dancing on the first and second day, the final day boasts a mass and then a 13 kilometer pilgrimage from Cochabamba out to Quillacollo and then to the Calvario. Here people use pickaxes to hack at the large rocks on the hill’s summit to remove stones. These are then blessed and taken home to be returned the following year. The larger the borrowed stones, the more money, success or luck you are said to borrow from the virgin.

In Plaza de la Integration under the shadow of the Calvario, dozens of women working for the municipal government undergo back breaking labor to have the area ready in time. “We still need to plant grass, plants and trees all over this area” says one of the younger workers, “there is still a lot to be done, but we will be ready in time.”

The festival is so popular that Providence, Rhode Island in the USA has been hosting an imitation festival annually for the last twenty-two years. The 203 and 252 trufis run regularly from Plaza colon and cost under B$3.

Photo: Juan Cristobal Quiroga

View of the Christo from above
Photo: Olivia Withman

Quillacollo church
Photo: Michael O’Keefe
Lake Titicaca
Nestled between two mountain chains, the lake straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru. Before the vast plate movements that changed the geography of the planet, this area was a large inland sea called Lake Ballivián. Eventually the altiplano was raised to a height of about 4,000 meters, resulting in the formation of what we know today as Lake Titicaca. In present times it is 230 km long, 97 km wide and, at a height of about 3,820 meters, it is considered the world´s highest navigable lake.
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