Bonus day in Santa Cruz

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Well, here you have it, a live blog... yes, it is actually being written on the date displayed! Up till now most of my blogs have been a couple of days or even a week after the event, due to internet availability. But with time to kill in Santa Cruz before our train departs this afternoon, we´re wallowing in being online.

Yesterday afternoon, Rich found a Lonely Planet South America for $40, so we have guidebook again, hurray! In the evening we returned to our favourite Chinese on Calle Junin, near the plaza, for a meal and some beers... ended up getting into a rather weird but very interesting conversation with a local doctor (along with a British woman named Jan, who´m we´d met at our hostel).

This morning, after another yummy breakfast of salteñas (the Bolivian national mid-morning snack, which we´ve grown addicted to, along with the excellent home-made lemonade) we took a bus to the Botanical Garden, about 40mins out of town. The place turned out to be totally infested with mosquitos (we should have suspected when the lady at the gate asked whether we have repellent!) so we ended up beating a hasty retreat. No doubt it´s lovely in the dry season, when the little blighters aren´t around... most of the Garden is in fact natural forest, and the birdlife is marvellous.

Walking back into town from the market area, where the bus dropped us off, we saw the most incongruous sight... several blonde men with white Texan hats, denim dungarees and shirts button all the way up; women in dark frontier-style dresses and wide-brimmed hats trailing behind them. Odd? No, apparently this is a normal sight around Santa Cruz, and none of the locals bat an eyelid.

These are the immigrant Mennonite farmers who have settled in the area from the USA and Canada. Apparently there are more than 60,000 of them in the countryside around Santa Cruz... even so a few of their kids and babies we saw looked decidedly inbred!

So this afternoon it´s "Adios Bolivia" as we board the train to the border with Brazil. This is a good time to reflect on what we´ve experienced in this country. We´ve had real highs and lows here - some of our most amazing experiences in South America (the Death Road bike ride, the Pampas and Uyuni tours), and our worst (the bus accident, of course).

This country has so much to offer the traveller, I dare say more than Peru. The scenery is dramatic, and the contrast between the high-altitude Altiplano and the tropical lowlands is simply mindblowing. South Africa adopted the pay-off line "The World in One Country" many years ago, but as far as I´m concerned, Bolivia is also more than worthy of the label.

But, let´s face it, the food is crap... in fact, the only good and interesting thing to come out of the Bolivian kitchen is the salteña!
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