Paul has chronicled his Bolivian journeys on the Choro Trail in three sections. Be sure to read the first and second parts of his story!

Our last day of traversing the Choro trek in the Bolivian Andes dawned. Suddenly, it didn’t feel like the third day. I had slept very well the previous night.

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Sunrise on the Choro Trail

I was very much looking forward to chatting with the legendary Tamiji Hanamura, on whose land I had camped. He sat on his stone stoop, wrinkling a smile at me, registration book open on his thin knees. I introduced myself in very rusty Japanese. Mr. Chomik, my high school Japanese teacher would have been very impressed that I had remembered anything at all.

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Sunrise, Casa Sandillani

Tamiji Hanamura had left his home in 1955 at the age of 23 looking for a change of scenery. He came from the mountains of Japan from what I think was the area around Kyoto. He went by boat, from place to place, visiting all the major ports along the way.

In happily describing his oft-repeated tale, he dwelled on the beauty of South Africa (where my wife is from) and the ugliness of other countries (which shall remain nameless). When he got to South America, he landed in Sao Paulo and made his way across the country. After almost dying on his journey, he finally arrived in Bolivia in 1960.

It was there that he decided to stay. After following another old trail that cuts across a mountain and bisects the Choro trail, he decided to stay right there in these foothills. Over the following years, he painstakingly cleared out the two-acre hillside alone by hand, raising a Japanese garden out of the rocks, eking out his place of peace in the world. He was the only person to live in the area at the time and he received visits from only three or four hikers in an entire year, and not many others.

As word of this accommodating, generous soul got out and the Choro trail became popular among tourists, he started to see more people. Sandillani turned into a small village, with more people farming the hillside and taking advantage of the trekkers. These days, around six people a day in the high season stop by his little garden home.

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The valley in the morning

He has drawn maps by hand of all the countries and continents in the world and pretty much every country has a note or a signature of someone from that country who has come through and visited him. Once he knows where you’re from, he ducks into his dark house there on that remote hillside, and, eyes sparkling, pulls out stacks of postcards. He loves postcards and gets them from everywhere. He showed me all the Canadian ones. I sorted through pictures of Mounties at Lake Louise, skylines of Vancouver and Montreal, wildlife like polar bear and elk and of course dozens of pictures of the Rocky Mountains. I haven’t been to the Rockies in years, so it was a bit of nostalgia for me as well.

Tamijisan turns 81 this December (the 11th). He’s doubled over when he walks and his garden isn’t as meticulously cared for as it evidently once was. His only lifelines are passers-by, and a travel company that delivers to him his much-loved postcards. I asked his permission, and he said I could share his address for those who want to send him a picture of their country. He loves mountains. If you want to send him mail, here’s the address:

KOA Travel

Freddy Cespedes

Murillo 707

Casa de Japones

La Paz, Bolivia

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Sunlight streams over the valley

Finishing the trail

My Irish hiking buddy and I spoke with the locals and they said it was about 2 to 2.5 hours (less than the 3 to 4 hours described by the guidebook) to the last village on the trail, and they were able to confirm that it is downhill.

We had a big lunch on our minds for when we hit Chairo, and that cozy goal pushed us along the final morning descent. We passed by a young guy who had spent the night on the trail about an hour out of Sandillani, yet another local who had attempted to do the hike in only one day. He said that it was only 30 minutes further to Chairo, the end of our trek.

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A glimpse of Chairo from the trail

It wasn’t even 10 am, and we could already feel the humidity at 1,300 meters (5,265 feet). A rooster crow alerted us to the fact that we were indeed near civilization. Rounding a ridge, we saw the town below us. We were surprised, as it was supposed to be another hour and a quarter before we got there. The good night’s sleep and eagerness to finish the trail had helped us zip down the trail as fast as the locals and arrive before most places were even open.

We found a ride for an impressively high price (gringo rate) and bounced along 16 km to Yolosa, where we would catch a ride back to La Paz. As we passed through orchards of citrus fruits and cocoa plantations, we had plenty of time to chew over the accomplishment of the last three days. Plenty of time to recall the barren peaks we had crossed, on a trail that had brought countless people from the high plains down to the tropics over the centuries.

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Arriving in Chairo

I thought too, of the endearing hardworking simplicity of the lives of the timeless deep valley inhabitants I had met and the calm of their days, sheltered on these trails. I was already starting to forget my complaining and soreness. I knew I would miss the peace when I got back to the big bustle of La Paz city. I looked out the window and understood why a solitary Japanese man would choose to rise alone to mist and green valley. How wonderful it must have seemed, to finally find peace, to answer a call so far away from the catastrophe and the complexities of a world war.

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