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2003-01-30 - 4:53 p.m.

Parque Nacional Torotoro

Okay, so the reason I was so intent on getting to Cochabamba was because my friend Darin was volunteering there, and we had tentative plans to try to get to Parque Nacional Torotoro together. It's not an easy place to get to (but my guidebook says it's worth it) - in the rainy season, you usually have to fly. In a small plane. That was the big allure for me - the small plane. I mean, sure, fossilized dinosaur tracks are cool, and caves, and waterfalls, but come on. Tiny plane!

So Darin made some calls, and I visited some travel agencies, and we rounded up a few other people so that it wouldn't cost so much. In the end, we decided to just do the trip ourselves, and forego the tour agencies (and saved a great deal of money in the process).

We hired a plane owned by the Free Swedish Mission, with our very own Swedish missionary pilot. The plane held six people, including the pilot.

We tried not to worry when we saw this sign.

And I tried not to panic when we got into the air.

We talked the pilot into flying through a canyon on the way there. Darin saw a condor.

Twenty five minutes later, it was over. We were in Torotoro, and were greeted at the landing strip (ie, dirt field) by Mario, our tour guide. He's been leading tours of Torotoro for over thirty years. And he was amazing. We thought it couldn't get any better than the plane ride, but each day seemed to surpass the last one. First, he took us to some fossilized dinosaur tracks.

And then it started to rain. Because this is the rainy season, and sometimes it rains. And sometimes it rains a lot. That afternoon, it rained a lot. Mario found shelter for us in a small cave, which we soon had to abandon for higher ground. We watched the water in the river rise higher and higher, until it covered our first cave. It was like a flash flood, except for the part where we were perfectly safe.

On day two, we went caving. I've never been in a cave before. There was lots of scrambling around over rocks, and shimmying through narrow passageways. We even did something that kind of resembled rappelling, except that 1) the distance wasn't very far and 2) I don't think they call it rappelling when you're really sliding down on your stomach. Mario brought some helmets with lights on them for a few of us, which I thought was pretty cool, until I realized the "light" was actually an open flame. After visions of setting myself and other people on fire, I made Mina wear the helmet, which she did with her characteristic generosity.

I'd actually have some photos of things like stalactites and stalagmites and underground waterfalls, but the batteries on my digital camera died. Luckily, I remembered that I could switch out the batteries from my regular camera, but it didn't occur to me until after we went caving. Here's a picture of my tripmates (Jeanette, Mina, Darin, Annie) and me, immediately after our caving expedition.

And here are some pictures of the walk back to Torotoro from the cave.

On the third day, we walked to a canyon.

And then we walked to the bottom of the canyon, and to a waterfall, where we went swimming and had lunch.

And then we got to go back on the plane, which was still cool, even though we'd already done it once. Our Swedish missionary was late - he'd flown to Sucre to pick up some Americans who were stranded because of the blockades. We had a panicked hour, where we feared he wouldn't come at all, and we'd be subject to yet another night of rice and potatoes. But he came at last, and flew us through the rain and the clouds back to Cochabamba. Because it's the rainy season. And that's what it does in the rainy season: it rains.

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