A Travellerspoint blog

Full Circle


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Back again in my beloved Samaipata. This time was very different, as we were staying in town, with running water, electricty, and proper beds! Luxury compared to my last visit. Whether deep in the jungly valley, or up in the relative civilisation of town, Samaipata is a special place for me.

Staying in town meant I could explore the near surroundings, which I did very enthusiastically. After dumping our bags at a hostel (we had a yurt for two!) we quickly set off up the nearest hill, to the local mirador. I was so excited, I practically ran the entire way, arriving at the top some 30 minutes before Celesta. Turns out all my time at altitude in La Paz has helped my fitness somewhat, Samaipata being at a mere 2000m.

Drooling over Samaipata

Drooling over Samaipata

I don´t know what it is about Samaipata, but it must be something in the air that made me come over all giddy, and excited to get moving, exploring, and in the nature. It does not surprise me in the slightest that Samaipata hosts a whole community of expats, from all over the world, people have flocked to this little patch of paradise and set up home. I am sorely tempted.

Although our hostel was impressively empty, we managed to recruit a third member to our party, Michelle from Australia, to join us for a waterfall trek the next day. After some ridiculously stingy haggling, we beat the tour agent down to her lowest price, after I suggested we needn´t pay for water, as we could bring our own. Hey, every boliviano counts! To celebrate, we decided to check out the only bar in town, which we were delighted to find was run by Rudy, Udi and Doody. I kid you not. Somehow our ´just a couple of drinks´turned into extended happy hour, free drinks from the barmen, and shots all round. The next morning we arose bleary-eyed, furry-mouthed, and not at all physically inclined for a 3 hour mountain hike.

But as soon as we had summited the first mountain, I felt infinitely better, and after being given the go ahead by our guide, stormed off in the lead, determined to get to the waterfalls as soon as possible. Although my route was rather dubious (bum-sliding down a slippery mud wall to land in the river) Michelle and I arrived an hour sooner than expected. We were joined a while later, in a rather more dignified manner, by Celesta and the guide, who had obviously followed the correct path. We spent a couple of lovely hours exploring the series of waterfalls, swimming, and an extra fun activity just for me: getting eaten alive by all kinds of insects. The perfect antidote for a hangover! (I mean waterfalls, not insect bites.)

Happy Waterfall Chasing

Happy Waterfall Chasing

Both Celesta and Michelle left the following afternoon (after our failed attempt at morning wine-tasting), leaving me as the sole guest at the hostel. This was not at all awkward as the lovely couple running the hostel insisted on taking care of me, and making sure I was alright fending for myself. The next night I was joined by a few more guests, and our wonderful hosts insisted on cooking us all a ´family lunch´. It was such a lovely atmosphere, I ended up extending my stay just a few more days...

As soon as I arrived back here, I knew I would end up staying longer than just a couple of days (a week in the end)! It´s so peaceful, and easy, that the thought of heading back to Santa Cruz, and crossing the border into Brazil just seemed like far too much effort. So I delayed, and then I delayed a little longer, and then I delayed just one more day....and then finally I said my goodbyes, and left.

Now knowing I was not going to be joined by Jorge, I had made the decision to cross into Brazil by myself, heading towards Rio where I would be meeting Becky in a couple of weeks. So back to Santa Cruz, for one last stay at the French hospedaje, and then onwards to the border! This was a journey I was, for some reason, excited about. Between Santa Cruz and the border town, you had to take an overnight train, which was a prospect I was incredibly keen for! (There were buses available, but frankly, I´d had my share of those at this point). I somehow made friends with Fernando, the conductor from Colombia, who kept sitting in the empty seat next to me to make sure I was okay. He knew the couple across the aisle from me, and after the lady gave him an orange (for his journey), he promptly turned around and gifted it to me, which I don´t think was the original intention. But anyway, extra snacks.

Watching my final Bolivian sunset from the train window, I actually got a little emotional at the thought of moving on. 3 months, I had grown accustomed to this country, this people, and how things worked (or didn´t more often than not). I had enjoyed wonderful hospitality everywhere I went, stunning scenery whenever I ventured outside, and met beautiful people I will cherish for always. Not that heading to a new country would erase any of those things, nevertheless I felt a little daunted at having to begin again with a whole new place. So with a mixture of excitement and butterflies wrestling in my stomach, I snuggled down into my seat, and watched the last of Bolivia disappearing behind me.

My final view of Bolivia

My final view of Bolivia

Posted by rcally 19:10 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Jungling


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Trinidad is hot. That was my first, and is my lasting, impression. After months of somewhat chilly temperatures, I was happy to be back in tropical climes. Hello frizzy hair, sweaty face, and most importantly, ice cream.

Wandering into town on the first day, we set about finding some tourist information, to point us in the direction of Trinidad´s delights. The ´tourist office´was a kiosk, occupied by a sleeping man. I actually had to shake him to wake him up, although, he didn´t seem too fussed that he´d been caught sleeping on the job, and set about telling us where we should visit. First stop, as in any good South American town, the central plaza. And this is where all of my dreams came true! Well maybe not all, but one big one. There, climbing one of the many trees in the plaza, was a SLOTH. A happy little sloth, going about his daily routine, completely unaware of the human life rushing around him. I actually squealed out loud. I may have even clapped my hands and jumped up and down. I definitely embarrassed Celesta, but I honestly don´t care, because I SAW A SLOTH!!!

Our next destination was the local national park, interestingly sandwiched between the main highway and the airport. Not quite a nature paradise, but packed full of wildlife nonetheless. Birds, snakes, turtles, caiman/alligator (I don´t know the difference), and yayayayayay another sloth!! We were pausing in the shade when I spotted this guy inching slowly across the floor. I immediately jumped up and ran (okay, maybe I skipped) closer to get a good look and take some photos. Not wanting to disturb him too much, I crouched at a safe distance and watched him make his slow progress around the edge of the pond. I soon realised I was between him and his tree destination, and froze on the spot, trying hard not to dance with glee as he headed straight for me. Glee turned to an awkward backwards shuffle as he reached one hand out towards my bare leg, probably thinking ´what an interesting white tree this is.´If you notice his claws in the picture below, you´ll understand why I wasn´t keen for him to start scaling me. Again, I may have squeaked in excitement. Eventually, he reached a real tree, and began his steady ascent.

So ugly, but so darn cute. And check the manicure!

So ugly, but so darn cute. And check the manicure!

I´m not sure what happened the rest of that day as I was floating around on a cloud of sloth happiness.

Actually, we moved accommodation, to the centre of town, but that´s boring. (Not all boring: the only available taxis were motorbikes, and let me tell you, riding on one of those, with your backpack bouncing around behind you, rucksack sqashed between you and the driver, with nowhere obvious to put your hands, is a test for your balance and nerves! Sorry Mama).

The next day we braved the mototaxis again, to get to a lake where we had been promised we could swim. On seeing the slimy green water however, even the thought of paddling our feet lost all appeal. We were quickly persuaded to head further around the lake, to a hotel with a swimming pool, where we basked for the afternoon, the only two customers enjoying this little bit of luxury!

That night we packed up our small rucksacks, ready for our mini adventure into the jungle, starting early next morning. Most backpackers when in Bolivia, head to Rurrenbaque for their jungle fix, pre-packaged trips neatly provided by hundreds of agencies, each offering "guaranteed animal encounters" (how can you promise this without interfering?). This type of tourist hotspot hadn´t appealed to me, but seeing as Celesta and I seemed to be the only tourists in town, and our man Roger was the only ágent´offering this trip, we hoped our trip would be a little more authentic.

Picked up before dawn, we quickly stopped off to pick up a couple of extra passengers - a TV presenter and her cameraman, who were joining us for the day, to film the boat trip up the river. I´m not quite sure how to describe Milena the tv presenter, so let´s go with the word eccentric. If any of you have watched daytime South American tv, you´ll know that dramatic, over-the-top personalities, and slapstick humour are preferred. Think 70s Brucey, and you have the general gist. Thankfully we only had to put up with her antics, frequent stops for filming, and hundreds of selfies, for a few hours, before we returned them to the river bank, and we continued our 2 person tour!

Morning sunshine burning the mist off the river

Morning sunshine burning the mist off the river

I´m finding it hard to find the words to fully describe this trip, it was so incredibly, well, incredible. To be completely surrounded by nature, with only the sound of the boat motor is just ughhh, I can´t even think of an good enough word. We saw birds of all kinds, capybara (giant guinea-pig kind of creature, please refer to Google as I did not get a picture), and the wonderful pink dolphins. They were hard to get good glimpses of, but we saw plenty from the boat. We stopped off to meet an elderly gentleman living in the jungle, completely solitary, living off of the land, and basically kicking ass at life. Here we were treated to freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, pressed by his amazing hand built machine.

Hand made and home grown

Hand made and home grown

Onwards down the river to where it joined another huge river (I forget the name), mooring at a beachy bank for a swim. Just as we were washing off our all-natural mud mask, we were treated to the absolute delight of a passing schoal of pink dolphins. We froze in the water, and I could have cried when they came within just a couple of metres of us. Again, it´s a hard thing to describe, but I just marvel at nature, and the absolute beauty I have been so lucky to witness.

Just before our unexpected swim with the dolphins!

Just before our unexpected swim with the dolphins!

With the sun setting early, we headed back up river to our jungle home. Initially only booked for one night, we had quickly agreed to stay two nights, when offered to us on the boat. We were dropped off with Raquel and Angel, who had both lived their whole lives here, and would be taking care of us for the next couple of days. This was rural jungle life. We fished, we saw caiman, we ate piranha, we scavenged for lemons/cocoa/platano, we swam in the river to wash, we got eaten alive by insects, we got up at 5am to search for monkeys. This was only successful the second day, and I was thrilled when we saw 2 different types of monkeys! High, high up in the trees, it was beautiful to watch these little families, whilst trying to avoid the really crunchy sticks, and risk scaring them away.

As amazing as this experience was at the time, I´m afraid it´s been slightly tainted. On leaving the jungle, and before moving onto our next destination, Raquel and Angel had kindly offered we stay a night at their house in town, with the rest of their family - children, grandchildren, sons in law, dogs, and parrot. Looking forward to a slightly comfier sleep, fewer mosquitoes, and a good wash, we gratefully accepted. After one night, now clean, and reunited with our big backpacks, we bade farewell to the family, promising to return one day, and jumped on a night bus back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It wasn´t until I went to charge my camera a couple of days later, that I realised they had stolen my little bag of chargers, and other electrical bits and pieces. Thankfully, I had been suspicious enough to keep my valuables with me, so nothing of real value was taken. But I am sad that they weren´t as genuine as they seemed, and that it affects how I now remember that experience.

Happy families....

Happy families....

On arriving back in Santa Cruz, I hadn´t quite made up my mind on what I was doing next. At that point, Celesta was heading in the opposite direction, and I was waiting to see if Jorge would join me, and we travel to Brazil together. Having about a week to kill, in Santa Cruz, was not something I was overly excited about, so I was easily persuaded by Celesta to jump in a car with her, to her next stop, and a place that already held a special place in my heart.

Samaipata....round two!

Posted by rcally 17:11 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Jes-U-Wot?!

(Seriously, I still dont know what a Jesuit is).


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After a couple of days recovering in Sucre, I made a decision and jumped on my next night bus; destination: Santa Cruz de la Sierra. With zero plans (surprise, surprise!) or knowledge of the city, I was pleased when I bumped into Celesta, a girl from my first hostel in Sucre, on arrival at the bus terminal. Together we tracked down some accommodation, another one of these mysterious French-filled hospedajes!

Arriving on a Sunday did not give the best first impression of this city, with everything shut up and seemingly run-down. However, the central plaza was again, beautiful, full of trees, overlooked by the cathedral, and ideal for people-watching. Despite being the second largest city in Bolvia, there didn´t seem to be much on offer by way of exploring. We found the one park, and ate a lot of ice cream! We quickly made plans to head onwards, north, towards the Jesuit town of Concepcion.

Another leafy plaza

Another leafy plaza

After a four hour drive in a kombi (minivan), we were dropped off in the dusty town of Concepcion, not really knowing what to expect. It was bigger than we both expected, though unsurprisingly rather deserted. We explored the town, easily do-able in one afternoon, as all the points of interest were centered around the church in the....central plaza! I´m not sure if you can tell from the photos below, but it felt like this part of the coutry was stuck in an era long since passed. All of the buildings looked similar, as below, there were rails for horses, and we saw several buggys. German-looking men strolled around in straw hats and overalls, not quite chewing on grass. I half expected there to be a cowboy shoot-out, or a spontaneous barn dance, at any given moment.

Guess what this is!

Guess what this is!

The main Church

The main Church

A unexpected addition to this unassuming town was a beautiful lake, just a couple km walk out of town. It was extremely hot (and did I mention dusty?!) so it was lovely to sit by the water and paddle.

So, having explored all there was to explore in this quaint old town, the next day we climbed back on a bus, half-decided to visit the previous town of San Javier. Once we had disembarked in San Javier however, we realised it had no more to offer than Concepcion, so simply had lunch, and waited for the next bus to come along. We had already decided to head north, to the jungle town of Trinidad. Getting there though, proved to be a little more complicated than we had been informed. Our journey ended up as 4 different buses/kombis/cars to San Ramon, San Pablo, Guarayo, and finally arriving in Trinidad after midnight. We stumbled across the road from the ´bus stop´into the first hotel we saw and crashed into bed.

Posted by rcally 16:38 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Will the Real Capital City of Bolivia Please Stand Up?


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Arriving in Sucre to a hostel I had looked up, I had to grit my teeth somewhat when Chilean clinger jumped out to join me. Thankfully, the only beds available were in separate dorms, so that put an end to our time together, shame! (Maybe I sound harsh, but it is oh so fair).

Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia, but is far smaller, cleaner and quieter than the overshadowing La Paz. Buildings in the centre all have to be painted white (or owners receive a fine) making for a pretty - if rather sterile - appearance. Colonnial architecture rules here, and the central plaza is my favourtie in Bolivia. Despite all this, it was here I was most aware of homeless lining the streets, children everywhere trying to make a few cents - car washing, selling sweets, juggling, and chalk drawings on the pavements. Pretty heartbreaking, and a heavy contrast with the seemingly perfect facade of the city.

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After a couple of days, enjoyed by simply wandering the streets, and exploring the wonderful food market, I was treated to a sudden visit from Jorge. He had a few days off from work, so jumped on a night bus to come and find me. I might add, without telling me his arrival time, not knowing where I was staying, or having a phone to make contact... Obviously I eventually found him, after wandering around the bus terminal for quite a while at 7am.

We found another hostel, as my current place was full, which we soon realised was completely occupied by French people. I don´t know why, or how, but I have come across several places where I am the only non-French occupant!

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We had a lovely few days together, generally lazing around town, enjoying the sunsets (with beer) and me being treated to Jorge´s cooking. Did I mention he´s a chef?! He likes to cook, I like to eat!

Sadly, he had to head back to La Paz, leaving me to fend for myself amongst the French. The day after he left, I gave myself food poisoning (I knew there was a reason I shouldn´t cook!) which delayed my leaving Sucre. This was fine really, as I didn´t actually have a clue where I was heading next...

Sunset from the Lookout

Sunset from the Lookout

Posted by rcally 08:11 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Patience in Potosi


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Fun fact!

Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4100m!

And my goodness, that is high. It is built up a mountain, which turns your average gentle-stroll-around-town into a literal breath-taking uphill climb. I had heard dubious reviews of Potosi, which apparently had no more to offer than its´ still working mines. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful town centre, jam packed with churches, plazas, and colonnial architecture.

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I arrived here from Uyuni, just a few hours by bus, with a new friend from Chile who I had got chatting to at the bus stop. Together we found a hostel, and checked out the delights of Potosi. I opted not to see the mines- I don´t particularly agree with this type of tourism. The working conditions are apparently horrendous, and I´d far rather spend my money to support improvements of working life, than paying to gawp at individuals in their daily lives. Instead I explored the town, walking and generally getting lost- my preferred method of getting to know a place.

I had also been told of a thermal lake, el ojo del Inca, just outside of the city, so I spent a lovely afternoon here with my (then) Chilean friend. At 35 degrees, this bath was the perfect way to defrost after the sub-zero temperatures of Uyuni. The man overseeing the lake directed us slightly downhill to some old Inca bath ruins, supplied by another three thermal lakes.

el Ojo del Inca

el Ojo del Inca

Two nights were sufficient in a place this small (and high!) and so I made the move onto Sucre. Unfortunately, so did the increasingly irritating Chilean, who squeezed in next to me in my taxi/bus for the three hour journey.

A beautiful ride through the mountains, saw us winding at hair-raising speed, dropping down to 2810m altitude. Much more manageable! Now all I had to do was rid myself of my unwanted partner, and I could hopefully really breathe easy!

Posted by rcally 08:09 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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