Bolivia is certainly a country of much diversity, both in terms of its cultures and people groups but also in its wide variety of flora and fauna. In just a short journey of 2 hours heading up out of La Paz and down into Las Yungas all of your senses can become engaged as you see, hear and feel the changes as you gradually descend in altitude.
From Villa Fatima, you can either opt for a bus or more comfortable transport in a private or shared taxi. Once loaded, you first begin to wind your way up and out of La Paz, through a more peri urban area of the city. As you leave the city behind you begin the steady crawl upwards into the mountains in order to reach the pass so that you can begin your descent. As you climb further up you can feel the air getting chillier and thinner, leaving you hoping that it wont take long to reach the pass. It is a relief to reach the top marked by a small deserted lake, save for a small number gulls (who seem to be able to get everywhere!).
From the lake you can then begin your steady descent down into Las Yungas. At the top the landscape is very bare and barren, with rock faces exposed to the elements with some covered in snow and ice. As you begin to descend, you can begin to see small amounts of grass appearing and moss begins to cover some of the jagged rock faces, as you descend further the grasses begin to get longer, and the occasional flower can be seen along with a small shrubby bush or two. Further still, the shrubby bushes become larger and trees begin to appear along with more colourful flowers. Finally you descend to the lower regions where banana trees can be seen along with fox gloves and multicoloured hygrengias.
During the descent the temperature gets considerably warmer, and the air richer with oxygen. The noises also increase as you begin to hear the birds chattering, and the insects buzzing.
On one such trip down to Las Yungas, we spent some days staying at the Castillo del Loro (Castle of the Parrot). Sadly the hotel was a bit of a disappointment, whilst it looked beautiful, it had fallen into somewhat disrepair. The castle had been built back in the 1930's by paraguian prisoners for one of Bolivias many presidents. In an attempt to try and make a visitors stay more authentic the owners had decided to try and keep the place looking pretty much as it did when it was built, by keeping in use much of the old furniture. However, in doing so they seem to have neglected the need for renovations and upkeep. The majority of the relics to be seen lying about the place are quite literally falling apart, from the bedroom furniture to other random pieces of furnture lying about the place. The bulding itself could also have done with some serious repairs as much of the woodwork was rotten.
We discovered a more serious need of repair in our bedroom on our last morning. All that night it had been raining quite hard, by the morning we were surround by a number of puddles dotted about our room (which was on the 3rd floor), which would explain the seriously damp smell about the place.
Despite the arquitecteral issues, we were kept well fed with two full 3 course meals a day, though by the end of 5 days with soup twice a day, the novelty had somewhat worn off. The location was also quite beautiful and we all very much enjoyed our time being out of doors in a semi tropical environment, surrounded by beautiful butterflies displaying a whole range of colours, and of course the rivers. The hotel was situated at the convergence of two rivers, one cascading down alongside the hotel and the other running below it. Each day we enjoyed exploring different parts of the rivers and had fun just watching the wildlife and throwing stones into the river.
An environment such a world a part from where we live just 2 hours away in La Paz.