We arrived early in Cochabamba following an overnight bus journey from Sucre. Again we waited in the bus station for the hostel to open, and again were treated to the sights and sounds of a bus terminal dragging itself into action. Our dazed state was rumbled by a rotund ticket woman, complete with hair curlers, aggressively poaching unsuspecting bystanders from the crowd and pushing them onto her 5am bus to Santa Cruz. How many actually wanted to visit Santa Cruz remains unknown, but we managed to remain un-plucked.
After a short walk around the groggy Saturday morning streets of Cochabamba we parked for brekkie in Cafe Paris (best coffee in Bolivia so far) and tried to plan our couple of days here. Cochabamba is situated on the lower perimeter of the Bolivian altiplano at just over 2500m above sea level. It is a wealthy city by Bolivian standards, fuelled by the surrounding agricultural land that has fed the region's people for millennia as well as a strong manufacturing industry. Bolivians say Cochabamba, the city of Eternal Spring, is where you come to get fat.
The city definitely seems to be the most consumer-driven of those we have visited in Bolivia thus far. Imported cars and well-appointed apartment blocks fill the north side of town. An alternative theory as to Cochabamba's comfortable setting, is that it has for many years been the centre of Bolivia's cocaine trade, with much of the investment in local business and development coming from the cartel. Any Netflix watchers among you need no further hints than the words; Pablo Escobar, Medellin.
Our search for an open Tourist Office was fruitless. We were hoping to organise a day hike up to the highest local peak, Tunari (5,000m), but after much to-ing and fro-ing we had to console ourselves with staying in the valley during our stay, as no one was heading up there over the weekend. We started with a long walk to the north of the city for a visit to Palacio Portales. Simon Patino, a tin baron, built the palace at the very peak of his powers, with work completing in 1927.
The gardens were shaded and formal, the constraints of the site affected their relationship to the house itself somewhat, as the ground falls away sharply to one side. Supposedly modelled on Versailles, but the topography of the site, in my mind, does not allow such parallels to be drawn.
Beautiful gardens, but the talk of Parisian Palaces did them no favours. It seems that many gestures of opulence need a frame of reference to justify or contextualise their extravagance. Set against that Palace in that city, the gardens are fantastic, why draw a parallel with something completely different? Just be proud of your own creation... Anyway.
The cloisters to the rear of the palace had an alluring intimacy and privacy, but seemed to be accessible only by two smaller doors from the main house. This may have been Patino's intention all along, and the cloisters were to be a private area of reflection. A beautiful house, sadly not for sale.
The next day we joined the locals for a traditional Sunday morning trip up to the Cristo de la Concordia. The cable car up and back had six cabins in total, so we got to enjoy another Bolivian tradition, queueing.
We were told that the concrete Christ the Redeemer on top of the hill is in fact taller than the bloke in Rio de Janeiro, fact checking required I think....
Looking South across Laguna Alalay. The infamous K'ari K'ari landfill hidden by the hills in the middle ground, is known as one of the largest and foulest dumps on the continent.
Gorgeous weather up top though and we had some great views across the city. As well as the Tunari mountain range that was to remain beyond our reach this time around.
The day before our night bus to La Paz, we headed out for an undeserved but much enjoyed steak lunch at El Estancia. Undisputedly the best meal in Bolivia thus far, largely due to the attendance of a rib eye the size of my face!