Simon's place

Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
Trip End Aug 25, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, May 25, 2013

After nearly two months, the longest we've stayed in one country, we left Ecuador, flying from Guayaquil to Lima, Peru, then on to La Paz for a 'technical stop', whatever that is (we stayed on the plane) and then finally on to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The views of Lake Titicaca and the snow-topped mountains around La Paz were spectacular, and leaving the airport at Santa Cruz we saw a group of rhea on a roundabout, which cheered us up after our long flight.

The taxi driver was more or less incomprehensible - I need to get used to the new accent. He was chewing coca leaves mixed with lime (the chemical not the fruit) and smoking, all the time honking and weaving around the traffic, while explaining that he had been awake for 24 hours... The driving here is crazy. There are no lanes, so you just go where you want to, cars sometimes three or four abreast if the road is wide. There are traffic lights, but they are often ignored. The only way to cross the road is to practically walk out in front of the traffic to get it to stop, and after a few days here we've become quite adept at spotting a gap or slower moving vehicle. Luckily most cars patiently wait for pedestrians. There is lots of hooting and the occasional snarl up when two cars refuse to give way to each other.

We have been staying in a hostel called Residencial Bolivar, whose primary attraction is a tame toucan called Simon (said with a Spanish accent it sounds slightly less silly). Thomas is obsessed with birds, and bird training, so had been looking forward to spending time with Simon, and both kids quickly made friends with him.

Santa Cruz is an unpleasant mix of very poor and very rich, with beggars and children on the street, run-down buildings and graffiti-covered walls living side by side with some of the smartest shops and the best restaurants we've encountered for a long time. It makes me feel very uneasy, though we don't feel unsafe.

Our first task was a trip to Ruta Verde, a travel agent, to organise our "cruise" in the Amazon region. We had to pay around 2000USD, in cash, in dollars, and it took us most of the next few days to accomplish this. We'd saved up some dollars from Ecuador, but not enough (we only have one card with a daily limit). After much trudging up and down looking for different banks, we discovered that we were unable to take dollars out of the cashpoints with our particular card. Next we went into several banks and tried to take dollars out over the counter... It took us most of the day to establish that (a) there was only one bank that would do this, (b) we needed not only a passport but also an immigration slip (c) you have to take a ticket and wait your turn and (d) the banks close at 4pm. So with gritted teeth we returned the next morning and 3 hours later emerged with our dollars. Another peculiarity of the cash points here is that they can only dispense the equivalent of about £100 at a time because with large amounts the wad of bills clogs up the machine!!

We had 4 nights in Santa Cruz before we took a nights bus to Trinidad for our 'cruise' (of which more elsewhere). We left our main bags at the hostel, taking only a small rucksack each with everything we needed for the next 6 nights. Paul had to wear his poncho as he has no other jersey, but as we get strange looks whatever we do, it made no difference.

We had to vacate the hostel in the morning, so packed, then went to the Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN) offices to buy a bird book. Bolivia has no proper bird book, a huge omission, so we had to make do with a photographic guide to the commonest species. We also bought some lovely notepads with this painting paper.

That done we headed for a local holiday resort called Biocentro Guembe to hang out for the day. They have a giant aviary, the biggest I've ever seen, full of macaws, parrots, toucans etc. though its not clear where the animals come from... They also had lots of tortoises which izzy loved. The kids went swimming, though it was really too cold, and also canoeing, and then played a game of football with paul while I watched the (wild) birds and capybaras.

We were almost the only visitors in the huge resort, which made it a bit eerie, but we had fun anyway, and left around 6.30 to have a small meal and even smaller drink before our 10 hour bus journey. The bus station was crazily crowded and chaotic, as bus stations always are, and we were very glad we only had our little bags to look after. I wasn't feeling well, so was a little worried about the journey, and though we all survived, the toilet was worthy of its own bog blog...
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