71 kilometers, 3 days and 3600 meters of altitude difference – just looking at these numbers should have told me that El Choro would be a challenge for me. However when Emma told me she was doing a multi-day hike with her tent and still looking for people to join in I didn’t think twice and not 10 minutes later we were buying food supplies. A third member was added when I was told about Matthias, a swiss biologist who was planning to start the trek on the same day as us. And so we went to his hostel and arranged for a taxi to bring us to the start of the hike the next morning.
The special thing about El Choro is how many different vegetation zones the trek passes in just three days. Starting at 4900 meters up in the bald mountains and ending at 1300 meters in the humid djungle I was made to believe that except for the first hour we’d only be going down. And for the first day this was actually true. Thick coulds surrounded us and made for a dramatic atmosphere, permitting spectacular views of the mountains every now and then.
As we started going down and the dry stones were slowly replaced by green grass we passed several ancient ruins, lamas grazing beside the path. The small stream slowly turned into a decent river as the landscape kept turning greener.
And though my backpack was heavy, the main challenge that day was not to slipp on the wet stones and grass while going steep into the valley. Even falling back behind the others I felt I did a good job when we arrived at the campsite that afternoon. The spot was gorgeous and after cooking on our gas stoves and chatting for a while we all retired to our tents.
On the second day the cloudforest turned into a full blown djungle! Waterfalls and streams crossed the path, occasionally turning the path itelf into a small current. Carefully minding my steps in order not to fall or wet my feet I really couldn’t keep up with Emma and Matthias any more and we mostly met up at nice viewpoints to take little breaks together. For the first half of the day the beautiful nature made me forget all about my hurting shoulders and back. Butterflies surrounded me and I spotted at least half a dozen hummingbirds, not to mention the rich green plants.
Then however it really strated to bug me that I was so slow. Despite my hiking boots and socks I developed a huge blister on my right foot and my hurting legs and back made me go slower and slower. It really didn’t help that the path kept leading us down to the river only to go steep up on the other side after crossing. When we finally arrived at our campsite I was so relieved! This place was even more remote that the previous one, with an amazing view of the valley and the moon shone so bright that night that we didn’t even need our headlamps.
On the final day we woke up to pouring rain. Luckily it stopped after a short while, but the rain had made the picturesque waterfalls and streams overflow so much that I slipped off a piece of wood after what must have been 20 minutes of walking and from that point onwards my feet were soaking wet.
This morning was a constant up and down the hills and both my strengh and my self esteem started crumbling under the conditions. While the other two securely crossed rivers and climbed the paths at an amazing speed I stepped into puddles and cursed myself for being in such bad shape. I thought I had gotten to an age where I stopped comparing myself to others, focussing on my own needs and strenghts instead, but I guess realizing my own lack of fitness has always been a sure way to make me feel bad about myself. Gladly Emma and Matthias were nice and understanding. Though they’d go at their own pace, leaving me far behind, they patiently waited at nice spots and viewpoints to take breaks together, share food and good conversations. For a couple of hours I was in a bad place, but when I finally decided to go as slow as I needed, taking plenty of extra breaks, my mood started to change again.
I began taking in my surroundings again, the flowers and wildlife, spotting a tiny snake, a big green lizard and two bright blue butterflies as big as my hand. Though I was too tired to chase them with my camera my mood finally lit up again and from our lunchbreak onwards I really enjoyed the last couple of hours of our hike. Still I was happy and exhausted when I reached Chairo where the others were already waiting for me.
To finish off our little three day adventure we now only had to get a ride to Coroico where we had planned to relax in hammocks for a day or two before heading back to la Paz. And this is where my post would end, had we not bargained so hard in the village that we ended up in a tiny old car that wouldn’t start unless it already moved. Driving along the uneven dirtroad was already a challenge for my stomack that was craving real food, but when a big truck passed us on the narrow street the real dilemma happened. Two of our car wheels got stuck deep in the mud. Tired as we were we now had to push, pull and lift the car together while our driver tried to place several big stones under the wheels.
At least we were already so smelly and dirty that leaning against a muddy car couldn’t make a difference any more. After pushing and pulling for several minutes we attempted a last try. Slowly the car moved, but then whith a sudden noise of shattering glass it rolled back into the mud – our driver had pushed against the car window which was now in pieces all over the place. Luckily I had somer plasters on me and he only suffered some minor cuts, but just minutes later he stuck his injured hand into the mud again. Finally a car arrived and pulled us out of the mud so we could continue our ride in the now windowless vehicle. We were so happy to finally get going that we didn’t even care about the pieces of glass all over the car or the fact that for the last 20 minutes we had to take the infamous deathroad (nowadays only used by mountainbikers) because the new road was closed for maintenence.
In the end we made it safely to the beautiful guesthouse Valle Bonita where we treated ourselves with hammocks, yoga classes and the best breakfast I’ve had in over a month. So despite all the ups and downs of this trip I would say that my first multi day trek carrying food and equipment was a success. I am glad I spontaneously said yes to it. Maybe next time I should look for equally unsporty people to join me, but then I really enjoyed Emmas and Matthias company and maybe this is also a great opportunity to learn to ceare less about others and just take my time.