El Choro, Bolivia

The El Choro Trek is a three day trek that’s easily accessible from La Paz in Bolivia. I wanted to do different trek here in Bolivia, but without my own transport, many of the treks are difficult to get to. And while I tend to like hiking alone, the easiest means to do this trek is via a tour. This means I wouldn’t be carrying any food or a tent, as there will be a porter along with us to do that. This is the first time not having to carry all of my own equipment and it doesn’t feel quite right.

DAY 1 – La Paz to  Challapampa

The agency I booked through picked me up at 9.30 and I met the two other people I’d be hiking with, a french guy who spoke spanish well and some english, and an argentinian born girl who had been living in New Zealand most of her life. She spoke english and spanish perfectly. The guide with us only spoke spanish and his porter english and spanish. So, spanish became the spoken language of the trek and with my meagre understanding I decided hike alone for the most part.

The trek begins very near the start of the Death Road in a snowy mountainous area at a altitude of 4,800m. It was freezing that high up with an icy wind, so we couldn’t wait get started.

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The first 100 metres of the trek climbed to the highest point of the trail, 4,900 metres. This was the hardest 100m I’ve ever climbed in my life. With such thin air, I barely got 10 steps before having to stop and get my breath back, and I was only carrying half my usual weight! Eventually, we crossed over the ridge and the cold winds ceased. Ahead of us along the valley we could see the trail through the valley and a set of ancient Incan ruins at the base of the slope. The ruins were once a rest stop for travellers on the trail. Food and shelter was always offered for free.

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The trail weaved down the side of the mountain towards the ruins and it began to slowly get warmer, so we started shedding some of our warm weather clothes. At the ruins we stopped for a rest and watched as a Llama train came by. The Llamas and their master were returning from a delivery earlier in the day.

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We pushed on along the trail that from time to time was obscured by low cloud, through fields that housed other ancient ruined buildings and walls.

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Eventually, we came to a pair of newer buildings that were being used as farms raising Llama’s and drying several different kinds of small potatoes… We stopped for 30 minutes before pushing on.

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Much of the rest of the day was spent walking through the low cloud, so visibility was only several metres, meaning the focus went on the ‘road’ we were trekking along. We were told that it was originally built by the Tiwanaku, a race of people who would eventually become the Incans, and had been repaired by the Incans, so it was difficult to tell which was which. In the clouds, the stones get very slippery.

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Our day ended upon reached the very small settlement of Challapampa, where our guide and porter set up the tents and cooked our dinner. From the high point of 4900m, we had descended to 2400m. And while it rained during the night, it was a lot warmer.

DAY 2 – Challapampa to San Francisco
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Today we hit the Cloud Forest, a fairly untouched area of the valley which is usually covered in cloud. For only short periods of the day the clouds parted, but for most of the time, we could see the cliff edge, but beyond it only cloud.

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The trail meandered along the side of the valley for much of the day, climbing and descending small hills as we trekked along the thinner ‘Incan road.’

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The valley disappearing in cloud…

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…and opening up again.

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One wonderful part of the day was the plentiful different species of wild flowers that were growing along the sides of the trail. My super zoom camera getting great close up shots of most of them.

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We stopped for lunch at a small set of huts and rested for a while. Most importantly they served cerveza! Beer, in spanish.

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The rest of the trail was fairly straight forward, again with plentiful wild flowers. We eventually reached San Francisco, a tiny collection of huts, where the guide and porter erected our tents and cooked our dinner.

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DAY 3 – San Francisco to Chairo
We left San Francisco just after day break and headed away down the hill towards a river.
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As we slowly worked our way lower through the forest, we met a couple of wild donkeys who, after being initially fearful of us, just stood there and let us go past as if we weren’t there.

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We arrived at the river and crossed on a fairly new wooden suspension bridge. We were alerted to the carcass of a horse in the river under the bridge. We stopped on the other side and prepared ourselves for the climb to come, known as Subida del Diablo – the devil’s ascent.

The Subida del Diablo gets its name because it’s a very difficult climb up slippery Incan paving stones at a fairly steep incline that just keeps climbing.

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Once at the top, we stopped for a break at a place owned by an old Japanese man. Stories say he is a war criminal fled to South America after World War 2, but who knows. There is a camping spot at the back of his property next to the cliff line giving wondrous views along the valleys until the clouds again came rushing in.

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The trek continued for some time along the trail high up in the mountains. From time to time we could see the river below us, but clouds would race in to cover it quickly. Eventually, we started our decent until we could see the village of Chairo below us. It didn’t take us long to get down to the village where the guide ordered us lunch from the local cook house and we sat eating until our van arrived to take us to Choico, where death road finishes.

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We waited in Choico for an hour before catching a minibus back to La Paz. 3 hours later I was delivered to my hostel for a well deserved shower.

Overall, El Choro was a good hike where we spent much of our time climbing down. By the end, our calves were sore from the constant descending. While the low clouds meant that much of the view was hidden from us for parts of the hike, it was still good to get out into the wilderness and away from the city for a while.

Next, I head down to southern Bolivia to the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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