Sorry for the long silence… but Internet connections are hit or miss in Bolivia! Let me tell you what I’ve been up to!
I arrived in Santa Cruz, which is a tropical city in the eastern part of the country. I didn’t do much here, except lay around in a hammock for two days at my hostal, Residencial Bolivar. They have a toucan named Simon that lives freely (not in a cage-although his wings are clipped.) He is pretty friendly and will hop right up to you and sit on your arm.
I´m not going to lie: This is the reason I chose this hostel!
There isn’t that much to see in the way of tourist attractions, but Santa Cruz is a pleasant enough place to relax for a day or two. It has a lovely square that is fronted by a massive church where you can climb to the top of the bell tower for a fantastic view of the city.
Santa Cruz is also where I discovered salteñas, these empanada-like pockets of dough stuffed with beef, chicken, potatoes, veggies and some spice that is similar to some Indian dishes I’ve had. Delicious! They have since become my go-to snack.
After two days of nothing, I joined up with a French girl I met in the hostal to take a shared taxi to Samaipata, a village 2.5 hours southwest of Santa Cruz. Shared taxis are common modes of transportation in Bolivia; in the end there were five adults and one baby on board, but it honestly didn’t feel too crowded, although the afternoon sun made it a very hot ride. The cost: $30B ($4 US.)
The drive took us through lush greenery that slowly morphed into rolling green hills before transforming into mountains that loomed over us as we swung around turns at a speed that was a bit too fast for my liking!
Samaipata means ´´Rest in the Highlands´´ in Quechua, the language spoken by the indigenous people. This quaint little town certainly calls for a more laid back attitude. Strangely, it has a pretty big population of expats who run restaurants and hostals. There is even a wine bar here that would be at home in New York and was opened by an Australian couple. The village is a charming mix of small European and wild west frontier, with a bustling market that is balanced by a peaceful square surrounded by little cafes, where you can wile away the afternoon with a book and coffee.
Nature is the focus in this area, since three ecosystems converge here: Andes, Amazon and Chaco (which looks similar to a desert, but technically isn’t.) This means that you will see a palm tree standing a few feet from a pine tree, which was an odd sight for me.
Amboro National Park is the place to see these different landscapes and there are three separate entrances into the park for each ecosystem. I saw just one, the Andes. My guide actually called it Tropical Andes and there are ancient giant ferns scattered throughout the area. They are as tall as palm trees and have no roots, which means that they fall over quite easily. Instead of roots, they create a little nest at their base which helps them latch onto the earth. The hike we did was not technically hard, but the altitude made some portions feel a bit tough. It was also quite windy, especially at the summit:
I spent another day relaxing at some waterfalls with a group from my hostal. We took a local bus from town for about $3B and paid $10B to get into the private land where the waterfalls are located. The falls are a 10 minute walk from the entrance, with a few steep parts that feel a bit harder than they look due to the heat and altitude. There is a sandy beach to relax on and the water is refreshing rather than cold.
I also visited El Fuerte, a pre-Inca fort whose purpose is still debated: some say it was a ceremonial sight, others argue it was just a fort. We walked from town for 45 minutes and then up some steep switchbacks for almost two hours to the reach this sight. It was a hot, windy, tiring but rewarding walk. The fort itself is interesting to see although the ruins are very worn down and it´s hard to identify the actual purpose of any of the remaining structures.
My hostal in Samaipata, Hostal Andoriña, was ok. A bit hippie for my taste. But overall the place had a pleasant location with a nice viewpoint where you could relax and soak up the view of the town. The best part of my experience at this hostel was the people I met, like this German girl Nikki. Also exciting (at least for my taste buds) was the arrival of a girl named Kim Marie, from Astoria, Queens. She is traveling indefinitely and often offers to work at hostals in exchange for room and board. She was here to cook and she is an awesome chef! She made homemade gnocchi one night, eggplant parmesan the other, berry and peach crumble and chocolate truffles for desserts. It was so delicious and a welcome break from traditional food. I think she is probably too hippie for New York, but perhaps to edgy for Samaipata. She dreams of opening her own cafe somewhere one day, and from what I’ve tasted, she will be a success.
I could have spent another week here taking hikes and relaxing, but I decided to move onto La Paz by way of Cochabomba…