Santa Cruz

Trip Start Jan 10, 2008
Trip End May 29, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  , Santa Cruz,
Sunday, April 27, 2008


For our final destination in Bolivia we made are way over to Santa Cruz: a tropical lowlands city far removed from the cold, mountainous regions we have visited thusfar.  Besides the weather, we had heard and read that SC was completely different from most of the Bolivia that tourists know and as such is not accomodating to tourism either.  Besides from what we heard and read about the city you might think this strange because itīs actually the countries largest city, boasts the best nightlife and enjoys temperate tropical weather.  It took us a while to grasp what was so "different" about Santa Cruz but it didnīt take long to understand why the city isnīt exactly tourist friendly.  To begin with there is a serious lack in budget accomodations and we had to dish out $20 each night, outrageously expensive lodging in Bolivia.  In fairness, the buffet breakfast (included) was tops and witnessing the antics from the pair of tucans that lived in the courtyard made it worth the price.  The other major budget traveler downside is that you have to walk a long distance to everything and its really tough to manage the city without a car.  We realized this first thing in the morning when we had to walk for about 20 minutes just to have our routine batido and empanada.  So it turned out the city was really big and spread out but actually you can take away positives from this as well.  I can best explain this with a quick history of Santa Cruz.  
Only 50 years ago, Santa Cruz created adequate infrastructure allowing it to export itīs vast supply of fruit to its neighbors.  Before that time the city was quite small and poor but once the fruit started flowing the city grew exponentially outwards forming concentric rings around the old center until wallah, huge spread out city.  The point is that rather than lots of high-rises and modern buildings what comprises most of the city is modest smaller residential buildings or local stores and the people are spread out rather than concentrated all in one place.  The result is that the city still feels like a "small town," which is the positive I have been trying to explain.  Aside from that explanation, there is a humorous aspect you can take away from that history; the most prosperous city in Bolivia is built on fruit exportation.  Perhaps Iīm being narrow minded about this (certainly the US has taught me the contrary about agriculture) but it just seems really humorous in that "funny because itīs true" sort of way that in this vastly poor country the wealthiest people are the papaya and banana farmers.
Anyway without a car, the city didnīt have very much to offer other than really tasty ice cream and a succulent grilled fish I had outside the market.  We did our best to walk around but it was unbearable to walk farther than the edge of the first concentric ring, so our choice of sites was limited.  Even though the city actually has seven or eight more rings Iīm pretty certain the outer ones were probably just as repetative as the inner that we saw extensively.  Regarldess, we did manage to entertain ourselves and had a great time at Parque El Arenal that has a man made lake where you rent dilapidated pedal boats for about $1.25.  We also arrived during the weekend so we decided to give Bolivias best night life a try.  We started off in the center with a dissapointing meal that fortunately had a good blues band before we headed to the heart of Equipetrol (bar district) on avenue San Martin. We decided to make the most of our one night by repeating the following pattern until we exauhsted the entire strip: enter a noncover bar, have a beer, dance for a few songs, exit.  
At the end of the night, while I satisfied my drunk craving for a lomito sandwich and watched the endless stream of drunk, rich white kids wander back and forth is when I finally understood what makes Santa Cruz different.  The Cruceņos, as the people are called here, are what really set it apart.  Based the solitary reason that they are a little more European they feel isolated and superior to the majority of Bolivians who are clearly indeginous.  The evidence is not just in simple facts like having more money or owning a car but politically as well.  As recently as 2007 the city resoundly voted against nationalizing agriculture for this would take money away from them and give it to the poorer, indeginous people.  I canīt really blame them for wanting to keep the money they earned but I was saddened when I heard our cab driver say only negative things about the people from La Paz, AKA the poor folk.  Interestingly, this is probably why there arenīt many tourists around because most people go to Bolivia to experience the rich, unique culture that only the indigenous people possess.  If only the Cruceņos could appreciate it too.  I certainly will miss all the strange and wonderful things that these people had to offer.  Between the wonderful textiles, coca-tea, tasty empanadas, great beers and of course really good fruit juices I leave Bolivia with fond memories. 

Santa Cruz was indeed a pretty odd place...its weird to go anywhere that is not tourist oriented since we stick pretty close to the gringo-trail. But we had a relaxing few days, the weather was warm which makes me happy, and it was a nice chill end to our Bolivian adventure. The toucans in our hostel were awesome....Ive never seen birds like that up close, they look fake with these super bright blue eyes and plastic-looking beaks. It was kinda sad because their wings are clipped so they hop around the courtyard like bunnies, but also really entertaining because theyīd have wars with each others beaks, and steal the food from the breakfast buffet. I also had fun on the peddle boats, though I let Asaf do most of the peddling while I took in the scenery :) And of course, I have to mention the ice cream because it was absolutely redonk-good .... they had like 50 flavors with cookie chunks and other amazingness. We paid a few visits to the place...until I felt ill. The bars were cool, definitely had a euro-feel to them, though I felt both old and inferior in dress....god, I miss heels. When I get home Iīm gonna immeadiately put on a dress, some heels, straighten my hair and prance around. Hehe. Overall, I really enjoyed our time in Bolivia in general - it definitely lived up to and perhaps surpassed my expectations. There is a lot to offer in this country in terms of natural beauty, history, food, and culture and I leave it with fond memories.
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