Samaipata: Tranquil Gateway to Parque Amboro

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 12, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

After our adventure in Potosi, we bussed back to Sucre briefly to catch a flight -- from one of the world's most dangerous airports! -- to Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia's southern lowlands. Disembarking, a sticky tropical humidity blasted us full force. Our highland woolens and jeans were suddenly extremely inappropriate for this new climate. Sweating profusely, we boarded a "micro" (definition: a geriatric van with one tire in the grave, jam packed with passengers) for Samaipata, a hot, bumpy, windy three hour drive.
Samaipata is off the gringo trail primarily due to its inaccessibility. This pretty village of 3,000 is a model of how an influx of ex-pats can benefit a rural community. Over the past five years, Germans, Dutch, Austrians and other Europeans have quietly moved in, opening small restaurants, posadas, and shops which employ locals for fair wages. Samaipata's cobbled streets and pretty central plaza are pleasant places to wander on sunny afternoons, and this is exactly what we did often during our week's stay here.
Parque Amboro is a cloud forest thick with giant ferns (species present at the time of the dinosaurs), vines, pine trees and bushes bearing various types of berries. Of course, a cloud forest tends to be, well, cloudy, and so it was at the end of a strenuous, muddy six hour hike. We reached the "mirador" in anticipation of a hard-won panorama view, only to be met with total white-out. The cloud, icy, wet, and thick, had settled in atop the mountain leaving just a few meters visibility in all directions. 
Samaipata's main claim to fame is its proximity to El Fuerte pre-Incan ruins which we explored with great interest. The ceremonial city was built in the shadow of a huge black outcrop in the shape of a serpent. Upon this rock were carved animal shapes, seating, alcoves for icons, and two canals leading from the pinnacle, thought to have carried sacrificial blood as an offering to the gods. Once the Spaniards found this place, the resident Incas became slaves, working their terraced crops on behalf of their conquerors and constructing colonial houses from Incan-cut stones. 
We stayed in a great place in Samaipata, "Posada del Sol", an apt name given the week of glorious weather we enjoyed. The garden here, where one can relax among flowering trees and bushes, hummingbirds, butterflies, and two sociable parrots, is a worthwhile stop for a family that needs a respite from the rigours of travel (as we did!). The food was special, too: an all-day menu that included Burritos (a taste of home -- yay!!) and chocolate pancakes. Not very Bolivian, but then, llama, stale buns and potatoes are easy to top. (Our very favorite Bolivian food, quinoa, in soups, stews, cereal, etc is actually not that easy to find, perhaps because most of this delicious grain that is not eaten by the farmers is for export.)
We were fortunate to meet another family here, Norwegians, with two girls, 11 and 7. Oliver became fast friends with the kids, Camilla and Emilie, and endless games of Monopoly and a fun Norwegian card game called Hoppi Halva (sp?!) ensued.
The day we left Samaipata, April 21, was Oliver's 12th birthday. It was hard to find a gift for him, so an IOU on an El Fuerte postcard was the best we could do. In any case, the day was saved by chocolate pancakes AND being invited to sit in the cockpit of the plane for our flight to La Paz. Oliver was whisked away by a flight attendant and remained in the cabin for the duration, including the landing. He was even allowed to sit in the pilot's seat (see photo) -- a birthday treat unheard of in post 911 USA!

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Dad on

Fabulous! A great description of the cloud forest. Thanks...

Marisol de Valparaiso on

Hi Annet, Michael,Oliver :
We are happy for you,Beautifull places in Bolivia.
Regards. Marisol y Mary.

Maury Mulligan on

Thank you! Wonderful to hear from you. And happy 12th, Oliver.

Denice on

HI Annet, Michael and Oliver,
Great to hear from you all! Love the photos and your travel blog updates of your fabulous adventures! Glad you are having nice weather! Happy 12th birthday Oliver! What a treat to sit in the cockpit on your birthday!
xoxo Denice

Katie on

I just love following your travels. I am so happy for the three of you. Hugs!!!

J.L. de Jong on

What an adventures! I enjoy reading about it and seeing all the pictures. Thanks, J.L.

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