When we got to Bolivia, we knew we definitely wanted to do one thing: pick one place and just relax and catch up on life somewhere peaceful that we didn't have to spend a dozen hours on a bus to get to. Bolivia isn't a huge country, but many of its most interesting regions and cities are double-digit hours away from each other by bus. So while we had heard great things about Cochabamba, Toro Toro National Park, and Sucre, the thought of turning Bolivia into a whirlwind six-places-in-fifteen-days affair wasn't appealing at all, especially after doing just that in Peru. Therefore, we picked Coroico, a town much lower in altitude than La Paz (and therefore warmer!), but only 2.5 hours away by bus. Even better, it's very close to where The World's Most Dangerous Road -- a curving, unpaved, cliff-hanging 64 km-long road that is now used as a famous mountain biking route -- ends, so we could essentially bike there and take the bus back to La Paz after a few days. We booked ourselves two spots on the bike ride through Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, packed our bags, and off we went!
The WMDR used to be the main road used by cars and buses linking Coroico with La Paz, but a newer, suposedly safer, and paved road was finished in 2006, so the WMDR is now mostly used as a famous downhill bike riding route. It starts about a 45-minute drive from La Paz at 4700 m altitude, and ends near Coroico, at 1100 altitude. The road takes many turns, is often quite narrow, and hugs the cliffs the entire way (drops of hundreds of meters can be seen on your left if you dare to look down), often with waterfalls on the right (mountain) side. It's not a technically challenging ride by any means (after all, people like me can do it!), and you can pretty much go as fast or as slow as you want. Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking made sure we were more than safe, with many stops along the way. They also took all the photos so that we wouldn't have to risk smashing our cameras if we fell (which means our camera is still intact but the photos are unfortunately of low quality).
The ride was really fun, with gorgeous views, breathtaking cliffs, and overall it was very easy as it was almost completely downhill. It is certainly not for those scared of heights, but if you've got that under control, you'll be fine. My only complaint would be that our guides made the group stop too often, which I think was mostly a safety protocol, but it meant that if you were one of the faster bikers, you spent a lot of time waiting around at each stop for the slowest ones to arrive before you could take off again.
One of the highlights of the ride was actually the ending point, La Senda Verde. This is an animal rescue organization that rescues all kinds of animals from abusive homes where they are often kept illegally. They also take volunteers and allow overnight guests to stay there as a sort of retreat. When we arrived, we were greeted with beers by the volunteers, were fed a yummy pasta and salad bar lunch, and then got to hang out with the rescued monkeys. The majority of the animals are birds and monkeys, but they also have snakes, a large cat, and a bear. We learned that the animals--and in particular the monkeys--have all kinds of life stories: some were trained to be street performers, dancing to make the owner money; some were trained as pickpockets, so you have to make sure you do not have any valuables on you when you're near them, or they'll take cash our of your pocket and run away with it!; some were simply kept as pets and neglected or abused. The animals that play nice with others roam free, but some of the have to be kept in enclosed areas for everyone's safety. I have never really interacted with monkeys like this, and the spider monkeys charmed my socks off. They are so friendly and curious, they come right up to you, and wrap one of their large arms or even their tail around your arm and lead you around (who's the pet monkey now?!). They also like to crawl into your arms or lap and give hugs. Amazing!
After our lovely afternoon with the monkeys, we headed up to Coroico, which was only a 20-minute taxi ride away. The town itself doesn't have too much to offer, so it was a good thing we had chosen to stay about a 30-minute walk uphill and above town at Sol y Luna. We chose a bungalow with a private porch, complete with a hammock overlooking the town and the valley, and an outdoor kitchen, so we could buy all our food to cook our meals and not have to trek into town every time we were hungry. This ended up being the perfect retreat for us: for three days we read in the hammock, cooked delicious meals with fresh vegetables from the town markets, and caught up on blog-writing. Two things I've really missed are having our own living space to hang out in, and cooking dinners. Our bungalow offered opportunities for both of those things. I loved waking up every morning to the sounds of the birds (tucans and parakeets, I believe), walking out to the porch and drinking coffee overlooking the valley. After three days of pure relaxation (and entirely too much condensed milk and dulce de leche consumption--the town was "out of fresh dairy products until Thursday"!), we were ready to hit the road for the long haul down to southwest Bolivia for our 4-day jeep tour around colored lagoons, deserts, and salt flats.