Friday, March 27, 2015

Coming down ... to tropical Bolivia!

Sleepy Samaipata.
We were umming and ahhing about where to go to next.  I had done much of the Andean side of Bolivia all those years ago and wanted to also see some things that I had not seen before. A tip off on Samaipata; sub-tropical climate, not that far from Sucre and set in the stunning wilderness in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental (parallel mountain range to the Bolivian Andes). And at 1650 metres above sea level. I repeat 1650 metres above sea level!!! That may not seem like a big deal, but considering that we had spent the last several weeks in very high altitude (equals cold and hard to breathe) this was a more than appealing option. Next destination SOLD!  Buses being buses in Bolivia, we arrived at our destination at 4am.  Luckily it was a small and safe enough place for us to hang around in until dawn broke and the hour was reasonable enough for us to go and look for some accommodation.

We finally settled on La Posada del Sol.  We only stayed a night as we felt that it was overpriced for what it offered.  A gringo(foreigner)/local partnership, perhaps they had gotten a little too comfortable and forgotten about what really mattered.  You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that; it was totally geared at money, money. And don't, I repeat don't do your own laundry! Having said that, we did meet a wonderful couple at the cafe there; Roy and Raquel from Cochabamba.  Roy was a professor and specialist in Andean rock art and Raquel a batik artist.  Really lovely people whom we spent hours chatting to.

We ended up spending the next few days at the friendly, family-run Residencial Kim. Basic and clean rooms with a lovely courtyard and kitchen (always a deal-clincher for me) with lovely and helpful staff.

Fresh fruit at Residencial Kim.


The place to see in Samaipata is the mystical pre-Inca site of El Fuerte, or the Fort. Just an uphill from the village but most easily accessed by public transport. We had also made some new English friends at La Posada, so we decided to go along together.

With Cat and John on the way to El Fuerte.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1998, it is not actually a military fortification, but is generally considered a Pre-Columbian religious site built by the Chane people, a pre-Inca culture of Arawak origin. The sculptured rock is known as one of the most impressive examples of rock art in the world. Extremely well kept it took us a couple of hours to walk around and take it all in.

Sweeping views of Samaipata.

El Fuerte.

El Fuerte.

Up close and personal.

A Room with a View.

El Fuerte.

El Fuerte.

Perspective, El Fuerte.

Samaipata flora.

Beautiful Samaipata.

Next stop, a couple of days in tropical Santa Cruz. Many years back we met a Bolivian/ English couple in Melbourne, who now live back in England (love to you both Raquel and Bodhi); Raquel's family hail from Santa Cruz.  We told Raquel we'd go visit them, but she insisted that we go stay.  All I can say is that her parents, Emma and Angel, have got to be two of the most hospitable people I have ever met, and that goes for all of Raquel's family, who simply could not do enough for us in the few days that we were there.  Angel went out of his way to cook for us, and various family members to show us around.  And the mangoes from the tree in the backyard ... OMG! These are the 'travelling magic moments'!

Climate wise, what a difference from the Bolivia we had seen thus far, it was both hot and humid. And so we spent the next few days just hanging out with the family; a relaxing difference from the usual sight to sight that we have been doing over the last few months.

Plaza 24 de Septiembre.

Plaza 24 de Septiembre by night, with the cathedral in the background.
With Raquel's mum Emma, sister Lorena and little niece Mishell.

Thanks for cooking for us Master Chef Angel.

Showing us around Santa Cruz.

A day trip to  Porongo with the family.
Yucca pancakes (tortillas) in Pongo.
Alex getting ready to eat sonsos, made of yucca.
In Rio Pirai.
Angel with little Mishell.

Saying goodbye to the family.
With the emblem of Bolivia, painted by Angel.

At the Santa Cruz bus terminal ... baby it's hot inside!

And so another adventure had come to an end.  To see and experience new and different things is great, but it's really the people that you meet that make that experience extra special. With a smile on our faces, off we went to our next destination. Cochabamba and Toro Toro here we come.


Next: National Park Toro Toro (one of Bolivia's hidden secrets) and Cochabamba. 

Dedication: To the wonderful, wonderful Burgos family who let us into their home and treated us like their family. You went out of your way to feed us and show us as much as you could in the few days that we were in Santa Cruz.  We want you to know how much we appreciate your kind, warm and loving gestures.  You will always occupy a very special place in our hearts.  Angel and Emma your family should be honoured to have you!

Dedicacion: Para la linda, linda familia Burgos, que nos permitieron entrar su hogar nos trataron como su propia familia. Hicieron de todo , darnos de comer y mostrarnos la ciudad y alrededor en los pocos días que pasamos en Santa Cruz. Queremos que sepan que apreciamos muchísimo sus buenos, calurosos y amorosos gestos.  Siempre ocuparan un lugar muy especial en nuestros corazones. Angel y Emma su familia deben estar honrados de tenerlos en sus vidas.

"Don't count the things you do, do the things that count." – Zig Ziglar

Friday, February 06, 2015

On a high!

Colonial Potosi.
Very high, actually, Potosi is arguably the world's highest city, at 4090 metres above sea level. Even then the nearby Cerro Potosi dominates the landscape. It's a place where it's exercise just breathing and headaches are the order of the day, as the body tries to adjust to much less oxygen. Having said that, the Salt Flats most certainly gave Potosi a run for its money.  In this high altitude panadol and I have been besties! And that's coming from the gal who hates to use any medicine unless there is no other option!

Potosi, with Cerro Rico in the background.

Potosi is a lovely place to just hang around and take it easy. The two main things it is renowned for is its silver mines and the National Mint (Casa de la Moneda). As I have gotten older, there are just some things I can't do anymore, the mines being one of them.  I did the tour in 1999 and was not going to do it again. Also known as Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), the peak's huge supply of silver has led to both immense riches and appalling suffering.   I simply was not prepared to view those appalling conditions, which I viewed in 1999, again! If you have time, it is worth taking a look at what conditions look like today.

The Mint (La Casa de la Moneda).
We partook in a three hour guided tour of the Mint (also known as the Mint of Potosi in the colonial era).  It is famous right across the Americas as it is the mint from which most of the silver shipped from the Spanish Main came.  Potosi's first mint was constructed in 1572; its replacement (this one) is a vast and striking building that takes up an entire city block! It was built between 1753 and 1773 to control the minting of colonial coins. The history we were provided with was mind-blowing; tragic on so many levels, especially the number of black and indigenous slaves who died working there, all in the name of money. Pun intended! Without a doubt, a Potosi 'must see'!

Inside the Mint.

The Mint; constructed between 1753 and 1773. 

Potosi architecture.

The streets of Potosi.

I love the street life in Bolivia, and Potosi is no exception.  I am a sucker for markets, I admit that. But I have to say, Bolivian markets aren't for the faint of heart.

Negotiating my veggie fix in Potosi ...

... when all of a sudden I turned around and saw Billy Goat Gruff!

The locals doing their meat shopping.

Word of mouth is a great thing, and someone told us about the Eye of the Inca (El Ojo del Inca), a natural warm water lagoon only a short bus ride out of Potosi. Along with some new friends from Mexico and Germany, we jumped on a bus and took off for the day. It was a 20 minute walk from where we were dropped off by the bus and we spent a pleasant few hours there.  It's supposed to be 25 metres deep and even at the edge it drops 1.5 metres, so watch out if you can't swim! South America doesn't really do life jackets either!

El Ojo del Inca.

Taking a swim.

With Jana and 'Brujo Intenso".

Alex with Jana and 'el Brujo Intenso'.

Livin' La Vida Loca! El Ojo del Inca.

Walking to a thermal springs town close to Ojo del Inca ...

... where the water's very hot!

Potosi by night.

A little bit of llama meat anyone?

Next on the list was the delightful city of Sucre; nowhere near as high as Potosi, but still high at 2810 metres above sea level. It delighted in 1999, and it delighted all over again in 2014.  Alex loved it! We had the absolute pleasure of staying in the serene and clean Wasi Masi Guest House, run by Roxana and Fabio, and with a whole heap of equally happy and helpful staff members, including the gorgeous Miriam. What was originally meant to be a stay of a couple of days, ended up being a week. We had a type of ensuite room with a super comfy bed, private shower, TV room, small kitchen and balcony.  We were in heaven! A vegetarian's dream come true ... we milked those markets, bought loads of fresh produce and cooked till we dropped.

Genteel Sucre.

Proud, genteel Sucre really is Bolivia's most beautiful city.  It is the symbolic heart of the nation. It was here that independence was proclaimed, and while La Paz is now the seat of government and treasury, Sucre is recognised in the constitution as the nation's capital. A glorious collage of white-washed buildings with gorgeous patios and cobble-stoned streets, the government has (sensibly!) placed strict controls on development.  This has indeed kept Sucre Bolivia's poster child. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991.

Recoleta lookout, Sucre.

The cobble-stoned streets of Sucre.

Recoleta lookout, Sucre.

Playing in the rain, Recoleta plaza with monastery in background.

Sucre by night.

In Sucre, we took the time to walk around and take it all in.  We found a great place called Metro Cafe, which made excellent coffee, so we went there often.

Chicha; a popular, fermented Bolivian alcoholic drink.

Not all is good in the land of Sucre!

Flower seller.

With Miriam's daughter.

A fresh juice from the market.

Bolivian mask.

Bolivian mask.

Whilst in Sucre, we also were able to observe the Day of the Dead, celebrated on 31 October.  It's a holiday observed in many Latin cultures and focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.  This often takes place in the actual cemeteries.

Drummer, Day of the Dead.

Inside the Cemetary, Day of the Dead.

Paying homenage, Day of the Dead.

We also decided to go on a day trip to Tarabuco on the Day of the Dead, which wasn't such a smart move. A small, predominantly indigenous village 65 kilometres southeast of Sucre, it is known for its colourful weavings and sprawling Sunday market.  We went on the Sunday, but it was virtually desolate ... it was the Day of the Dead ... quite literally!

The desolate Tarabuco Sunday market.

The Tarabuco locals.

Still a few people from the surrounding countryside, Tarabuco.

Tarabuco artwork.

And like all good things, Sucre too was coming to an end. We had relaxed in a beautiful city, cooked great food in 'our' kitchen, made some great friends at our hostel, drank great coffee, and witnessed and partook in some cultural events.

Saying goodbye to our friends at Wasi Masi.

Until we meet again!

Thanks for a wonderful stay in Sucre.


Next: Samaipata, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

"Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter" – Martin Luther King