Back to Life Again

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  , Santa Cruz,
Sunday, November 6, 2011

When a supersized Double Whopper Combo is the sole highlight of a visit somewhere, I know it's time to move on.   La Paz leaves me uninspired and just wanting that unidentifiable something...anything to get me in the mood again to explore.   Pretty much up to Iquitos I did a fairly decent job staying off the Gringo Trail but the past few weeks have found my travel plans fully merged with every other adventure seeker South American style.   Even remote Colca Canyon was filled to the brim with everyone from bongo players at the base to old folks on the rim.  

A random conversation yesterday morning with an Israeli guy made it clear to me I need to bid adieu to the masses and chart my own adventures.   A ten dollar daily budget including onward transportation is fueling this dude's trip around Latin America.  Yes, ten measly George Washingtons.   36 Lone Shekels.  A wheelbarrow full of 3,619 Zimbabwean Dollars.   So how does he manage?  Well, he bangs the bongo hoping for cash donations, asks people for their scrap food, occassionally sleeps in a hammock outside and hitchhikes around as much as possible.   And bathing and laundry seem to be the first expenses cut to keep within these strict cost control measures.

Back in Panama I had met a German guy with shoes held together with black electrical tape on an $11 a day budget and thought that was extreme and suspiciously low.  Well obviously it can be done.   Both guys do not participate in any tours, see any local sites costing admission, eat out,  or really put any money into the local economy.  In other words, why travel?  I am here to experience anything and everything our predictable lives back home can't offer, and sometimes that just means having to let the cash fly out of the wallet.  And to think I spent three times his budget on a pair of shoes I bought solely for Colca Canyon and tossed after the rocks and dust trashed them.  Oh the wasteful fat I could trim.

My more than an $11 a day budget originally called for a tour of the Solar salt flats near Uyuni with their unique other worldy scenery.  Being a Bolivian "must see" poses a dilemma...the Gringo Trail funnels seemingly every backpacker and tourist with more than 11 bucks a day to blow there for three day tours in four wheel drive vehicles. As much as I love all things natural, I really just need away from the masses at this point.  Do I put up with a dusty convoy of 30 trucks all converging on the same sights or find my own must see places?

The bus ride from La Paz to Uyuni is a minimum of 16 hours if the bus decides to complete the journey without a breakdown.  Since the risk of dropping a transmission at extreme elevations over bad roads really isn't in my DNA or my more than an $11 daily budget, I looked into a 30 minute flight but the first available is Wednesday.  Also, most of the salt flats are around 15 to 16,000', and this high altitude has been screwing with my body enough aleady to make me think twice about more fun times high above where humans are meant to live.  Actually it screws with most people who dare venture this high, and I just need down to more benign people friendly heights (but away from the people!).   Sorry, salt flats, other areas beckon and throwing a dart at the map gave me Santa Cruz over you.

Apart from really just being a random selection, Santa Cruz seemed  the natural direction to head due to warm weather and lack of tourists.  Faced with the choice of a bone jarring 16-20 hour bus ride mostly over steep mountain roads versus a quick one hour flight, of course you know by now the airplane won (though at a cost 7 times over the daily budget!)   About 20 of us lifted off in an early generation 737 for the quick flight and barren mountains turned to flat green plains. Stepping off the plane in 1,000 foot high Santa Cruz was like stepping into Michael Jackson's oxygen chamber.   My lungs filled deeply for the first time in weeks and the warm, humid air out on the ramp just felt so amazing.  Is this really still Bolivia? 

Feeling healthy again for the first time in a while also gave me back some energy for an adventure and in the spirit of the Israeli and German guys, the city bus into town saved on an $8 taxi.  And to think that a taxi would blow 80% of someone's daily budget.  Wow.  My new sense of frugality pushed me right onto that crowded bus with no idea where in the world I'd land and somehow I made it to the city center. From there I negotiated a cheap taxi ride to the hostel, and I felt so satisfied that I was able to accomplish a cheap miniadventure all in Spanish. Yep, things are definitely looking up after La Paz!

The ride into town made me wonder if I was transported to another world.   Real restaurants, real grocery stores, wide streets on a grid, orderly traffic and no grit or grime...what is this place??!!   Santa Cruz seems to be just what the doctor ordered to get back on track and on the right path this week. I wandered around the flat town a few hours and just enjoyed feeling no exertion for a change.  This is Bolivia's largest city as well as economic capital but you'd never know it based on how quiet and peaceful the place feels.   This is the anti-La Paz for sure and a laid back place to plot the next course.

How I Got Here:

Hotel to Airport - taxi - 20 minutes - 40 Bolivianos ($6.50)
La Paz to Santa Cruz - Boliviana de Aviacion - 1 hour - $65
Airport to City Center - Bus - 25 minutes - 6 Bolivianos (80 cents)
City Center to Jodanga Hostel - Taxi - 5 minutes - 10 Bolivianos ($1.40)

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