Paul has chronicled his Bolivian journeys on the Choro Trail into three sections. Be sure to check out his previous entry, Choro Trail – Bolivia Part 1.

It was a beautiful crisp morning with birds singing and a gentle breeze flowing up the valley. While sipping away at my hot chocolate, I went through the trail ahead in my mind. Downhill, promised the guidebook, and in around 13 miles and 8 hours, we would descend over 6,500 feet to arrive at our next destination, the famed backpacker stop, Casa Sandillani, where a Japanese man had settled over 50 years ago. Downhill, yes, that sounded very fine.

Waterfalls played a peaceful lullaby in the silence of the valley, belying the treacherous, rock-strewn trail slicked by the persistent spray. I was thankful more than ever for my Columbia Powerdrain shoes. As we wandered down to the village of Choro (the trail’s namesake), I was surprised by tiny fields of mountain strawberries, like bright red confetti scattered on a dark green tablecloth. Packed full of flavour and plump with the abundant mist of the falls, they tasted just like the strawberries we’ve gathered in British Columbia and Washington State, so far away from the Andean foothills we were perusing now! Cruising along, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, we smiled smugly at each other over the guidebook – eight hours to walk to Casa Sandillani? Nah! Not for us!

We confidently crossed the bridge at Choro, and then… I realized I must have misread the guide, or that we had taken a wrong turn. We started to go up.

Now we’re not talking a short rise or a little hill. Endless, enduring Incan flagstones tripped ahead, one after the other, jostling for place amongst the equally ambitious jungle growth in the relentless race for the sunlight somewhere up there, beyond the dripping, humid late-morning mist. And it just kept going… up.  At 7,200 feet in Bolivia and climbing… we pulled at our shirts, trying to relieve ourselves from the clinging humidity.

Close to an hour later, with all our water gone, we stumbled onto a level spot where some very smart local lady had shrewdly decided to set up another tienda (store), selling that blessed Coca-Cola and other beverages. It seems she was from a family of clever businesswomen; it was her daughter that had sold us food and lodging the night before. Doubtful now of that guidebook, we asked her for directions. I was pretty sure the angle of her finger pointed up. Still a good five hours from our destination, we were still supposed to go up? Where was that promised downhill amble?

Despite the slog, the views were amazing and the birdsong animated our steps. I amused myself by detailing an emotional letter to the guidebook company, thinking about nice, choice words for the author of “downhill.”

In a little while we reached another suspension bridge, but this one, unlike the previous bridges, was missing some boards. When I say missing some boards, I mean complete sections more than 25 feet long, and what boards that remained were questionable at best. Buoyed by the kind of manliness that we (very mature) men push each other to, we scaled the rusty cables that dangled 40 feet above the bridge, pretending not to notice the alternate route skirting the boulders below. That was for sissies, of course.

I started up, smiling at the steep upwards angle “descending” the next hill. We stood at the entrance to several temping mining caves, looking at each other sideways, but this time common sense did get the better of us.

Just as we were getting dizzy from the humidity and not enough water, there appeared several adobe huts, and out of one of the adobe rooms popped an elderly man who offered us some lemon-like fruit. He was going to hike all the way down to the end of the trail that day. It was supposed to take the rest of this afternoon and another half-day to reach the end of the trail! The locals are made of different stuff.

The local valley-dwellers aren’t the only ones made out of that Stuff. When we did arrive late that afternoon at Casa Sandillani, we met two hikers from La Paz, who had started at 6 AM that morning and were planning to continue hiking to the end that same night, something that would take us just over two days.

We tried the lemons the old farmer had given us. Of the hundreds of types of oranges, lemons and limes that exist in the world, we get a grand total of about eight in North America, all carefully chosen for looks and taste. This little organic knob smelled fresh and tangy when my knife bit into it, but unfortunately all of that lovely citrus flavour must have been all in the peel; the flesh was strangely mealy and bland.

We rolled into Sandillani at about 4:30 pm, feeling our age and ready for a break. Over two gallons of water down, and I was still dehydrated. I hadn’t really eaten anything since that morning besides that fruit and a couple Jolly Ranchers. I was looking forward to marinating in a well-appointed camp site and drink.

The drink helped. Finally able to open my eyes out of that one-foot-after-the-other mental mode, I became aware of the wonderful changes in the world around us. The hemming foliage had been cleared away, revealing a masterfully painted blue-and-green backdrop of billowing valleys and hills, draping down from the white-sheeted peaks from which we had come, some 30 miles away.

Later, we went and chatted with some biologists who were working in the area, documenting a local bird similar to the famous birds of paradise found in New Guinea. Lightning bugs flashed around us, the final touch to the magic feeling of the warm night.

Too much good food and drink kept me buzzing with the lightning bugs late into the darkness. I reread the guidebook… and encountered a missed paragraph about the uphill portion of the day! Finally, the gentle sounds of the remote outdoors lulled me to sleep in that way that cities never can. I fell asleep looking forward to tomorrow and to meeting the legendary owner of Casa Sandillani.

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