The South Yungas

La Paz comes as somewhat of a culture shock with hordes of people milling about throughout all the nooks and crannies of the city.  Eventually, I get sorted and enjoy afternoon walks through plazas noting the mash-up of traditional Bolivian garbed ladies set against the younger modernistas.

I reconnect with Cass and family as they arrive in La Paz. While Nancy and Sage look forward to some tranquil days around Lago Titicaca, Cass and I hash plans for a modified south Yungas loop taking in a portion of the transition zone between Bolivia's dryer Altiplano and its lush Amazon Basin before climbing back towards La Paz along the base of Nevado Illimani, the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real.

After a quick morning rush hour descent to the suburb of Irpavi, we quickly leave packed mini-buses behind and transition onto a quiet dirt road climbing up towards Hampaturi dam and onwards to La Cumbre at 4650m.

At the Pass, we peel off onto a lovely single track decent down into the middle of a canyon where we camp stream-side while a steady tracery of truck lights high above mark the upper reaches of the canyon throughout the night.

Morning brings more sinuous fun as we descend the remaining stretch of the canyon towards Unduavi as dry Altiplano formations slowly merge with the rich loamy smells of Bolivia's Amazonia.

A brief climb from Unduavi brings us to the start of the notorious El Camino de la Muerte. If you're this close, you have to ride it, no?

Fleeced of 50 Bolivians (25 to enter, 25 to leave...) we mix it up with a steady stream of tour groups. 

 as we steadily drop 2000m into the steamy heart of the Yungas. 

A sweaty late afternoon grinder brings us up out of Yolosa into the fruit rich pueblo of San Pedro de Loma, where a mother and daughter graciously fill our frame bags with mandarins as we cut through banana groves along verdant hillsides. 

Foreshadowing a never ending display of south Yungan kindness to come, we run into another local a few switchbacks later who offers us a patch of grass at his chicken coop for the night while calming scratching his mosquito bites with a machete. 

The medium-altitude areas of this ecoregion are prime coca leaf areas with crops lining almost every inch of hillside and leaves drying around every corner.  A Cass-sized bag ready for delivery in Trinidad Pampa.

Hard to pass by delicious fruit shakes after the relatively food barren Altiplano.

Afternoons spent hunkered over the GPS eyeballing the amount of descent back down into the steamy lowlands after climbing the better part of the morning become the norm.  We chuckle over a one estimation of "15 minutes..." as sweat pours down the inside of my sunglasses. 

Prime football pitches are the cornerstone of every pueblo.

With stomach and frame bag brimming with fresh Saltenas from Chulumani the following morning, 

we roll along the dusty roads

before continuing our run of delicious almuerzo's in the hillside pueblo of Irupana.

Our timing also coincides perfectly with a main street packed with fantastic bus graphics.

Another brake pad thinning descent brings us back into the coca lowlands of La Pazuela where bags are readied for the evening coca rush hour.

Morning brings a steady climb back up through tiny little pueblo's like Pasto Grande on a nearly carless road etching its way along the edge of Rio de La Paz.

Coka Quina becomes a late afternoon sugar boost norm.

We roll into Lambate on the morning of day five to a festival honoring the pueblo's new municipality. The square is alive with Andean Panflutes keeping

pleated skirts and new inductees swinging.

Off to the side, tires are continuously kicked, squeezed, and spun.

Our quick stop-off for pan and queso is quickly abandoned as yet another wonderful display of Yungan kindness greats us with interest in our travels and generosity, as we are handed plates of food, and bottomless cups of beer and Coka Quinoa.

Recharged, we climb back up into cooler air towards Tres Rios, leaving the Yungas proper behind.

Winding up towards Abra Pacuani at just over 4500m the following morning

brings altitude smiles

and an up close appreciation of the rocky face of Nevado Illimani.

We make a Coka Quina offering to the Andean goddess Pachamama as we crest the pass.

Looping round the corner reveals the glaciated northern face of Illimani, which stands sentinel over La Paz from afar.

Before long we find ourselves on pavement slicing through mini-bus jammed streets climbing the final stretch up into La Paz before one last mural shot.

While the geographical differences between the Altiplano and the south Yungas region are starkly apparent, I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced the subtler warmth and laughter of those living within its verdant canyons.  The generosity and kindness was palpable as we were continually approached with open hands for hearty handshakes or cheered on from afar.  

Special thanks to Cass. It was an absolute honor to ride with you and trip highlight.

ROUTE:

La Paz – Irpavi -  Hampaturi dam – La Cumbre – Down alternate canyon road through Pongo to Unduavi – Death Road – Yolosa – San Pedro de Loma - Trinidad Pampa – Coripata straight to Chulumani – Irupana – La Plazuela – Pasto Grande – Chiltuhuaya - San Antonio - Lambate - Tres Rios – Abra Pacuani – Valle de la Luna – La Paz