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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 2 June 2011

June 2nd: Coroico in Northern Bolivia

On June 2nd 1976 I was in Coroico in Bolivia.  Coroico is a little town to the northeast of La Paz; it lies in a deep valley towards the jungle at much lower altitude than the capital and so was a popular holiday spot for people from La Paz.

I found Coroico a good place for walking.  The countryside was warm and peaceful, both tropical and alpine.  On this day I walked out towards a hill I'd seen on the horizon but it wasn't easy to access so contented myself with walking round the villages.  I recorded this in my notebook:
I've come to a little village, the one more or less on the pass, a collection of houses with little plots, rectangular adobe places with little light and bolted doors, a larger two-storey building with windows and piles of bottles inside, a little school with a demonstrative teacher.  Yards and the road itself full of drying coffee.  Coffee and mandarins and bananas and oranges.  Insects galore and humming-birds, martins and buzzards flying over.  A large house across the valley, two storeys, red roof, outbuildings and probably a garden, down below more or less in the jungle.  Cleared patches on the hills opposite with terraces cut for agriculture.  And beyond virgin hills, bush and pasture stretching up into the clouds.  A group of kids goes by, 3 boys and 3 girls with milk and coke bottles, shyly saying "buenos tardes."
I was directed back to Coroico by a group of black children sitting outside the village.  I saw a number of black people in the area, the women wearing the same sort of clothes that mestizo women wore.

Another good walk was up the hill directly behind the town.  You walked up a great steep street with uneven cobbles, a gutter in the middle and carpenters shops, and then you were on the trails.  It was a steep, sweaty scramble to the top.  I recorded this in my notebook:
Can see for miles, green mountains rising in folds and white tops on the La Paz side, one fine peak with snow over to the right of the La Cumbre area.  Roads twisting around the hillsides, and the different villages situated in different valleys, all far beneath me now.  The river curling right down at the bottom, one bit where it goes through various stony channels.  Hills away on the other side are barer but you cannot see so well because of the vegetation up here.  Smoke rising from the hills to the immediate right from where there is bare grass.  Can see the little chapel above Coroico very small now and the shapes of the cows in the pastures nearby.  And all between is the green of the shrubs, with lighter patches where the cover breaks.  Beautiful flowers, the universal purple flowered bushy big leaved plants which turn red, yellow bushes, smaller red and white flowers, all sorts of ferns.

Mainly insects is the noise now, of all sizes, an occasional humming-bird.  Below there are the big bees in black and yellow, deep purple martins hunting them.  And humming-birds galore.   Lower flies a red winged sparrow-hawk and lower still the vultures.  The wind is changing carrying the smoke my way, fewer noises now from below, occasional dogs or kids from the school, today's trucks and buses from La Paz.

Behind me the summit, a little altar with bottles and candles under a shelter, cairns all over, rotting orange-peel.  A mauve butterfly fluttering past.  The village to the right with big irregular space between two lines of brown houses.  Further down a flight of little parrots with red in their tails.
The culture of Bolivia's Afro-Bolivians has become better known over the years.  Michael Jacobs has a relevant section in his travel book Andes.  It seems they are descendants from slaves at the mines at Potosi, who fled to these Yungas valleys and have stayed there.

Coroico in 2008:  Picture by Kristin Miranda, CC
Coroico in 2004:  Picture by Scott Henderson, CC

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