For a while now I’ve wanted to try the sport of canyoning. The idea behind it is simple: find a big canyon full of waterfalls and abseil/rappel your way down them to the exit of the canyon. It sounded like the perfect way to combine my fear of heights with a love for waterfalls and nature in general. While in the hostel in Bolivia I noticed the tour agency offered canyoning trips, and decided this would be the perfect interlude between the mountain biking mission and the upcoming mountain we were going to be climbing.
When we got back from riding, Angus and I booked for the next day and headed straight to the spot where the buses leave for Coroico (where the canyoning is). We hopped out of the taxi to a barrage of little old ladies trying to get us into their minivans. It was genius, we didn’t even really have to barter as they kept lowering their prices in front of each other, then it was just up to us to choose one when the price was good.
The minibus ride was pretty unpleasant, but the views tended to make up for it. Coroico is in the Yungas, an area of Jungle to the North-East of La Paz which also contains some epic plus-sized valley networks. The now infamous “World’s Most Dangerous Road” is in this valley network, so for me it removed any desire to ride it, as I had now seen the views. Riding down a gravel road does nothing to tingle my man-bits.
We got into Coroico just after dark and taxied to a hostel I’d seen on Hostelworld, called Esmeralda. Turns out it was actually a flash hotel. Angus and I were both pretty phased about moving again so treated ourselves to a $16NZ hotel room and a $5 NZ all you can eat buffet. Did I mention I love Bolivia?
We got up the next day pretty late and tried to order a taxi. We couldn’t get one for 20 mimutes but we were due at the tour office in 10. Therefore we ran into town to the square and then propositioned a taxi from there. I was starting to panic a bit as I was really keen to canyon and didn’t want to waste the money and trip out here. The taxi started taking us away from town and towards the canyon, which I thought was a bit suspect. After a mangled Spanish conversation and some help from SpanishDict for ipod touch, we turned around and got dropped off at the office – which was on a street just off the square. Turns out the canyon and the tour company shared the same name, who’d have thunk it.
|Coca coca coca!|
However all was well and we piled into our vehicle for the day, the noble Toyota Noah. This thing was pretty marginal on the narrow gravel roads with sharp switchbacks but we got to the canyon no trouble. There was a good walk down to the first waterfall, during which we got to see some coca plantations. Then we suited up and got into it.
|Geared up with the guide.|
The guides were incredibly professional, far more so than what you would expect if you have heard the rumours about Bolivian adventure tours (in general I have found this to be the case). The equipment was also clearly up to the task and well maintained. We were quickly taught safe practice for rappelling, but it was mostly pretty basic stuff. Then it was into our first waterfall, which was a simple one only a few metres tall. From the start I loved the experience and I’d love to get into some more technical and bigger waterfalls.
|The first fall,|
We did about 8 waterfalls over the next couple of hours. The biggest was 12m, so nothing huge. The experience is great though, and for someone who had never even abseiled before this it was a perfect way to taste this sort of thing. It’s pretty hard to describe the feeling of jumping down a rock wall in a gorgeous jungle canyon while a thick sheet of water is cascading next to and sometimes all over you, but it is definitely an experience worth having.
|It's hard smiling for the camera with water in your eyes.|
Eventually we popped out into the bottom of a sunny gorge and head down river to a likely spot for lunch. Behind us was another waterfall in another canyon, and we were on the bank of the gorgeous main river. Lunch was great, and made better by the scenic surroundings, with large bright blue butterflies floating above us. It was a perfect moment.
|I've had worse picnic spots.|
After lunch we jumped off a ledge into a pool for a while until that got boring, and then hiked out of the canyon, a climb I would estimate to be a few hundred vertical metres. We climbed back in the Noah, grabbed our gear from the tour office and headed to the bus station.
Disappointingly, there were no buses available to La Paz as they were full. Not getting home was not an option as we were leaving to climb a great dirty mountain the next morning, so we were forced to fork out for a taxi. To be fair, I have taken more expensive taxi’s home from town in NZ, but it was the principle of the thing. The trip was much smoother and quicker this way (it took maybe an hour less than by minibus) and the driver spoke a bit of English too.
|Dancing girls, everyone's fave.|
We arrived in La Paz to find a festival was on. Apparently it was student day, and our hostel was across the road from the University, making it the main route for the inevitable parade that accompanies every festival in South America. The streets were packed and it was a bastard physically getting into our hostel, but we got in and settled.
We went for a look at the parade but you can only look at costumed dancers for so long so we went to the bar to drink heavily. I was planning to have an early one but between the festival and the good people I met in the bar I somehow ended up going out to some local club. It was a pretty good time during which I bust out my ruthless dance moves and drank far more than I should have. Highlights included watching one of my new buddies spew on the street, classy behaviour from a petite English girl. Those I was with were continuing on with their evening in a fairly big way but I decided to peel off and at least get a couple hours sleep before trying to climb a mountain. I was pretty happy to get back to the hostel and collapse into bed fully clothed, having done the worst thing possible before my next adventure.
|More photos here.|