Santa Cruz and Samaipata

Trip Start May 05, 2013
Trip End Nov 06, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz Department,
Friday, August 9, 2013

Unable to book our preferred dates in the jungle with Madidi Eco Lodge we formulated a plan B, to fly to Santa Cruz in the lowlands and then work our way back upriver to Rurranbaque, only a plan at this stage as we have not booked anything and are really just making it up as we go along!

Jumping into a taxi we head up to the airport in El Alto for our flight from one of the highest airports in the world. Soon after take off which seemed to take a lot longer than normal, presumably down to the aeronautics of the thin air at altitude we were flying through the Andes. The views of this most impressive of mountain ranges were breathtaking and for the first time, at least on this trip, we gain a true impression of how massive this range is. The flight lasts an hour and after a while we are over the lowlands and can see the many rivers snaking below us. It will seem really odd not to be cold at night and wrapping ourselves up in fleece jackets at night, at least for a while.

On arrival we decide to jump into a taxi rather than the bus, on the basis that we haven't a clue as to where we are going and taxis are cheap anyway. Thirty minutes later we are in our hostal, ResidencialBolivar. A marked difference from our room in La Paz, this room is tiny, hot and stinks of drains, back to reality! The best things about this place are the pleasant courtyard gardens with hammocks and the resident toucan that will come and sit on your arm (and eat your breakfast given half a chance!). The staff are basically sullen and unhelpful, more interested in playing computer games than helping guests and as for the breakfasts! I have rarely seen scrambled eggs that bounce of the floor when dropped! At least the toucan likes them, although I doubt he will ever fly again...

Having consulted our, next to useless guidebook, we venture out in search of a parrillada for a serious meat fix ( this area is the big beef ranching part of the country). We grab a taxi and head off to El Arriero, one of the more well known. It takes the driver many wrong turns and a lot of stops before WE find the right place (these drivers would not last an hour in London!). We arrive early at around 8.00 pm and the place is only just getting going. I guess they keep Argentine hours here where most people don't even think about eating until 10pm.

Seated at our table we forego the extensive wine list in favour of a couple of beers and share a delicious and huge steak but not before we have consumed our starters of chorizo and antichuchos (cow heart), the latter being a first for us and now a firm favourite! An expensive meal by Bolivian standards but incredible value when compared with Europe.

To be frank there is not a whole lot to do in Santa Cruz it is short on tourist sights but big own places to eat which seems to be the main occupation of the locals here. Apparently, there is a big Japanese community here, although we have yet to experience it and have seen no evidence so far. Some sashimi would be great but as it is difficult to imagine anywhere further from the sea, I fear we will be disappointed.

There is not a whole lot to see in the city in terms of tourist attractions, it seems mainly to be a commercial centre. It is so very different from La Paz and the highlands, not so much the scenery, although that is a given, but more the attitude of the people. Out on the streets, everyone seems much more laid back and ready to party. Maybe it is the weather?

One thing we do notice immediately is the increase in poverty and begging on the streets compared with elsewhere in South America. There is a lot of it happening in La Paz but even more here, which is urprising, given that this is one of the wealthiest cities in the country and the economic powerhouse of the nation. Lots of elderly people on the streets but, perhaps even more concerning are the number of children, sometimes with, sometimes without, adults. I went out for a walk one morning and came across a street off the main Plaza where children as young as 3 were being made to dance every time someone walked past. Late in the evening, I returned the same way only to see the same kids, still jigging away on the sidewalk. Further along, young mothers, some no more than 16 years old, are curled up in doorways, trying to get their kids to sleep. Heart rending to see all this going one in a clearly, otherwise affluent city.

be frank, I think we made a bit of a mistake coming here as we would have been better going straight to Madidi had they had the space available for us? I was following a suggested route in Lonely Planet, the first and last time I shall do that as, unless, i am missing something, there is not a whole lot here o hold ones interest for more than a day or two. Incidentally, i know our Lonely Planet guide is a couple of years out of date, butvit really is not very good at all. Wrong addresses, incorrect websites and the maps!!! Even if you have the eyes of an eagle and can read them, they bear only a tenuous link with the reality on the ground!

Santa Cruz is a pleasant enough city, some decent food, particularly in the Parrilladas but we have had enough so are heading up to the hippie hangout of Samaipata and the nearby ruins of El Fuerte.

Samaipata is a very small town up 1600m up in the hills a 2.5 hour drive from Santa Cruz. It is popular as a weekend retreat from Santa Cruz and a significant number of foreigners, mostly from Europe who have set up home here. Its main attraction is the pre Inca ruins of El Fuerte, high on hill 10 kms away. The town is situated where the rainforest meets the Chaco and the Andes and has quite a temperate climate, one of the reasons so many foreigners have set up home here I suppose.

We start by getting a taxi to the collectivo point on a street near the football stadium. Naturally, the taxi driver does not have the faintest idea where it is - Santa Cruz surely has the most clueless taxi drivers in the entire world! Not one has known even the most straight-forward of places and has to stop to ask several times before we each our destinations! Unsurprisingly, they still manage somehow to quote a fare even though they haven't a clue where the destination is!

Eventually we find the street where the collectivo stop is supposed to be. There is virtually no activity around here, probably because of the Independence Day national holiday. We really haven't got our timings right in his country yet!! I manage to find a guy loitering around his taxi who agrees to take us to Samaipata but, because of the holidays, no one else is around to share the collectivo so we get off straight away, although we do end up paying to have the car to ourselves.

Loading our bags into to back of the car, we nearly squash a chicken in a bag, lying on he floor with just his head and feet poking out. It The driver is a nice chap who wants to practice his English and along the way he passes me a book, an encyclopaedia of about cock fighting around South America. Suddenly the trussed up chicken in the back makes sense. It is a breeding bird used for fighting!

The drive takes us along the plains out of the city through a number of villages on a dead straight, wide metalled road for most of the way but interspersed with pieces of dirt track and sleeping policemen, just to keep the drivers alert along the way!

The sunshine turns to rain along the way and the temperature drops considerably. The plains give way to the hills and gorges, waterfalls etc. it really is a quite a pretty drive, but seems to go on forever but eventually we reach our final destination where the dusty streets have turned to mud, hopefully temporarily.

Posada del Sol, the place where we are staying is a pleasant place to while away a day or four as we will do. Owned by a Texan/Bolivian couple it has pretty good food which we sample on arrival as it has been a long time since breakfast. Fed and watered we head off to explore the town. Not a lot seems to be going on presumably because it is a national holiday and the streets seem deathly quiet. When we reach the main Plaza, the whole of the town seems to be in there knocking back beers like they are going out of fashion and dancing the afternoon away. By South American standards it is still a pretty quiet affair. If ever there was at own where not a lot happens, this is it!

We spend some time wandering the town and the surrounding countryside and pleasant though it is, it does not live up to Lonely Planets enthusiastic descriptions. As we continue our walk, Carolyn gets stung by some sort of giant wasp so it is a quick trip to the pharmacy for a remedy. Usually, when we are travelling it is I that am prone to accident and disaster but this is the second time in the space of a week that she has been bitten or stung by these vicious Bolivian insects!

The weather improves somewhat so we decide to visit El Fuerte. As is often the case, debate continues as to the purpose/ age/ significance of El Fuerte. Whatever the age and purpose, it is quite an impressive site. Lots of zoomorphic carvings of serpents and pumas etc and it is all quite nicely laid out. Some say there is evidence of Inca activity, some argue that carbon dating put human habitation at some 1500bc. More recently, new age hippies have claimed it is a landing ramp for ancient spacecraft!

We spend a couple of hours at the site and have it more or less to ourselves. Some beautiful scenery around and the ruins are very well looked after but I am not sure it is worth the trip to get here?We spend a couple of hours at the site and have it more or less to ourselves. Some beautiful scenery around and the ruins are very well looked after but I am not sure it is worth the trip to get here. We stop for a drink in a very nice bar in the corner of the plaza and get chatting to the Australian owner who has settled here and is building his own place out in the countryside. He has been here for a few years and confirms that we have seen pretty much all there is to see in the few days we have been here so we are minded to return to Santa Cruz.

The Posada we chose to stay in, started off so well but then the owners went away for a few days and the place seemed to go to pot. The food, which started off so good, deteriorated, as did the service and indeed the weather. Huge thunderstorms took hold overnight and, in the morning, having had our fill of Samaipata we decide to head back to Santa Cruz mainly to organise our ongoing travel into the jungle, which seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time. Our first leg involves an overnight bus to the jungle town of Trinidad from where we get a small plane to Rurrenbaque. That at least is the plan. If it all works out, I shall be amazed!
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Sue on

Really enjoying the blogs. How's the Spanish coming on?

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