Day 1 – 5 Dec 2016
We got to Cochabamba first. As you might remember from our Potosí post, our direct flight was ‘converted’ to a one stop. We only saw Cochabamba from the air, but we could tell that this is a big city, still in the mountains, but with some more green areas with agriculture, unlike Potosí, that was all earth brown when seen from above. When we arrived to Cochabamba, we have been told that our flight is delayed for around 3 hours =). Well, since we did not have anything to do (B actually suggested to get a cab and see the city center and come back) we caught up with our blogging and eat something before we jump on the next flight. While our plane leaving the taxi area, M realized that there are some planes next to the runway, which are covered with some rust and apparently left there to rot. It was interesting to see a ‘plane cemetery’ after the train cemetery in Uyuni.
After our short flight (around 30 minutes), we got to Santa Cruz. Now, this city is all green when seen from the plane, with rivers flowing in the green, and it was a good sight after spending so much time in the desert. The weather was really hot and altitude was relatively very low (around 190m). When you get out of the airport, you will see taxis waiting; we also heard that there is a shuttle bus that you can take. But after all the delays, we did not want to wait for the bus and also we needed to arrange the Amboro park tour. In the taxi, we removed the legs of our pants and removed all the layers except the t-shirt =). After all the deserts and the highlands, Santa Cruz looked like a different country. It was green with bunch of palm trees and finally some flat areas. We passed through the city center and get to our hotel (Bed and Bar Backpackers). The receptionist was really helpful, he gave us couple of maps and a booklet of the city. And also some great tips on where to eat and what to eat. We asked him about the Amboro park tours and he also suggested some companies. We already talked to one of the companies he suggested (Nick’s Adventures Bolivia). We decided to pay a visit to the other company called Amboro tours as it was very close to our hotel.
While we were walking to the tour agency’s office, we passed through the main square called Plaza de Septiembre 24. This is the main touristic area, but we did not stop here as we really wanted to arrange the tour first. We got to the office (it was a little bit too hard to find it first), and met with the tour operator. We were a little bit confused as the operator was mostly silent and did not seem to be really interested in arranging the tour for us. But he answered all the questions we had and they had good reviews online. M found the price a bit high and tried to bargain but the company did not budge on the price. Finally, we arranged the private tour, including the driver, guide, and translator for around 1250 Bolivianos per person. This is a 1 night/2 days tour which includes all the meals, transportation etc. Our operator mentioned about the translator and he said that he is French, which we thought it will be also cool since we lived there for a while. Also, getting the money was a little bit tricky: the public banks had very low limits, therefore you should prefer one of the private banks where you can withdraw up to 2000 Bolivianos.
After arranging the tour, we were really happy as this tour was the main reason why we were visiting Santa Cruz in the first place. At the hotel, we were advised to try Pique Macho at the Irish Pub at the main square. He specifically mentioned not to worry about the fact that the pub is Irish, the cook was from Bolivia and he was supposed to be really good. We got to the pub, and it has a nice view of the main square. Well, of course with the view it is a little bit pricy. We tried some of the local beers (Huari and Peceña Black). Pique Macho is a dish with fried potatoes, sausages, chicken, beef, onions and peppers. We did a mistake and ordered the double size so that we can share. In the end, we got a massive plate and it was hard to finish, but we definitely recommend to try. After this great meal, we stopped by the tourist office to get some information, they suggested us to visit the Parque Urbano where they had a water and music show. Then, we wanted to sit and look around in the main square. B wanted to try the Somo Frio. This is a special cold drink that they serve on the street. It is made out of a sweet corn that grows in tropical climates. It was sweet but the corn part was not that interesting. The liquid felt really good and refreshing, in a hot and humid climate. The square was lively, there were a lot of vendors selling coffee, fried fruits, somo and bunch of other things.
We walked to Parque Urbano from the main square, Plaza de Septiembre 24, and it took around 30 minutes to get there. We were really surprised to see most of the intersections did not have a traffic light. They use the grid system, but they rely on the fact that the one on the right side has the right of way (we think, or rather, hope). And all intersections has some crossings for the pedestrians where some drivers do not respect at all.
Visiting the park was really interesting, where you can see what locals are doing during their free time. It is possible to rent some pedal powered small carts and go around the park, which we did not do. Some parts of the park was dark for some reason and we realized some young couples are flocked in these areas for some privacy (not like in Chile where couples do not need any privacy at all =). We saw some groups of people exercising with some music. The dancing water show was okay, but there were a lot of different music from the surrounding mixed to each other. After our visit to the park, for some reason we still did not know, we took an Uber (yes, it works in Santa Cruz, but the Uber car was also a taxi, which was strange) back to our hotel. We returned a little bit early as we needed to get ready for tomorrow, arrange our bags, etc.
Day 2 – Santa Cruz – 06 Dec 2016
Today we were picked up from our hostel at 8:00. Marcos, our tour operator also came with the driver and he was very serious as usual. Marcos asked the driver to stop by a supermarket where we can buy some sandwiches for the breakfast. We got some sandwiches and tried the empenada with the cheese and powdered sugar, it is recommended. Our drive was supposed to be 2.5 hours until the village Bueno Vista where we would met our guide and translator. After driving only 40 minutes, we realized that there was something wrong on the road. Our driver told us that there is a blockade. Our tour operator mentioned the delays due to weather and ‘social unrest’ couple of times. They also made us sign a terms and conditions paper where social unrest is mentioned a lot of times. But of course, we did not think that it would happen to us. The tour operator told us on the phone that we needed to wait for 40 minutes, and if it did not clear, we would have to come back. We started waiting and we occasionally heard some shots coming from the distance. There were a lot of people walking towards us from the side with their luggages in their hands and it was drizzling at that time. Then, we saw a lot of “moto taxis” coming to pick them up. After waiting around 1 hour, we moved a little bit and we realized that it was actually only maybe 100 people blocking the main north entrance of the city (it is a three lane highway). But then we realized that there are more than one blockage. Protesters were chasing the moto taxis away, moto taxis are the only way to breach the blockade. We heard more shots and kept waiting in the car. Everyone was so used to it, even people walking with their luggages where smiling. All the cars waited patiently until the road was cleared by the police. At some point, after waiting around 2.5 hours, we passed the final blockade point where we did not see that many people either.
The rest of the tour was quite smooth. Once you get out of the city, you start to see a lot of fields. Some of them is for cattle, we saw the white bulls and occasionally some cows as well. Finally, we got to the Bueno Vista village. It was a small and nice village with a large main square where we met our driver Miguel and translator Gregory. They were the ones who would make sure that we survive in the jungle. Our first driver took us to the 4×4 which is the only way to get into the jungle; well, we learned that there is another way later. All our food and personal items were loaded to the SUV and we started driving. The journey was fast (in Bolivia, all our drivers were racers) but with a lot of beautiful sights. First, we passed a very large river, where our guide told us that sometimes it is not possible to pass the river by car if they get a lot of rain. Then, we drove through small communities. Inside the park, there are some communities living. They are governed by special rules and until the ‘red line’, people are allowed own land and have homes there. We kept passing a lot of small streams, the view was stunning.
Finally, we got to our camping area where the SUV left us and returned back to the village. Four of us were the only people in the camp site. The camp site is called Mataracu and it is built by the state in 1993. But sad to say, the camp rangers are not visiting this place and it is completely abandoned. Next to our camping site, there is the Mataracu Hotel – Camping, which as far as we heard from our guide, is quite expensive. Miguel and Gregory prepared us our first lunch while we were setting up our tent. In case of rain, we set it up under the roof of the lodge that they had in the camping area. Then, we had our lunch in the cooking area, we had great sandwiches and we were promised to have some hot food tonight once we find some dry wood to burn.
After lunch, which was around 2pm, they took us out for our first hike. It was our first time in such a humid and dense jungle and we were enjoying it a lot. First we saw some caterpillars and a lot of butterflies. And at this point, we started getting some light rain and put our rain jackets on to get some protection. Miguel told us about the symbiotic relationship that a kind of ant and the tree has. The tree provides all the ants’ needs and the ants in return eat everything that tries to grow on the tree. Gregory told M that these small ants have a very powerful bite and asked M if he wants to try. M was not brave enough, so we moved on =). He also found us a fruit that we have never tried before, a small peach size fruit with a lot of seeds, green outside and white inside. Miguel suddenly stopped without a reason and he said Tucàn. This is a very iconic bird especially B really wanted to see. M had a glimpse of them, but they were fast to move to another tree. B was very sad that she missed the opportunity to see one. Remember, wild life really do not like your presence most of the time.
Miguel stopped us in front of some plant where he explained that it is edible and it has some medicinal properties. We saw a butterfly with a tiger eye and snake face pattern on the wings. We passed by a leaf cutter ant colony. Gregory told us that there is a hierarchy in this colony where depending on the body size of the ant, they are assigned to different tasks. He also told us that ants use a form of slavery where only few ants are working in the colony and they attack other colonies to capture slaves. We were fascinated by the size of the colony, we couldn’t even see where the colony ended. Our guide taught us how parasite trees work. These are the plants that start growing around a tree and they send their roots to the ground. Some of the roots that we see in the movies, which usually the Tarzan hangs on, are these parasite plants, which eventually kill the tree that they grow on. And also Miguel caught an insect that was climbing on him. This insect was really interesting as all the body parts were resembling some small tiny and long tubes. It was almost as big as our hands and there was not a way to spot it due to its dark color. Then, we realized that although we are surrounded by a lot of wild life, we have to get either really lucky or very experienced to be able to spot them in this jungle.
Our final stop for today’s hike was a waterfall. We first arrived at a canyon where we were able to see the direction of the water going downhill. We climbed on couple of rocks to get a better view, but due the rain, the rocks were very slippery to climb on. Finally, we got to the waterfall. We have seen this many times in pictures or in the movies, but nothing matches the reality. It was really stunning. There was a quick debate about the temperature of the water, but then no one cared, and including our guide and translator, we were all in the water. It was not that easy to swim in it due to the lack of salt and also the current. We got closer to where the water hits the pool. Actually, due to the velocity, you will feel like the water is pinching you. We did not want to leave this place at all, but it was getting late and we did not want to walk all the way without sun light.
Our way back, we had to switch to the headlights and torches. The forest itself is also a natural umbrella and sunscreen. Our way back, we saw a ‘small’ tarantula. For us, it was giant, but for our guide it was a very small one. Miguel found some dry wood, so we were good for the hot dinner and the breakfast for tomorrow. We made our way back to the camping site.
Gregory told us that Miguel would cook us Pique Macho. It is a relatively complicated dish, given that we are in the middle of nowhere and they do not have proper pots, skillets etc. We told Gregory that we love that dish and tried it before. The end result was really good, we had a great cook and a guide! We also realized an interesting relationship between Miguel and Gregory. Gregory is living in Bueno Vista for not a long time. And Miguel is great at making fun of his accent or the way he acts. But, Gregory got used to this and he is not that bad at answering back =). We, later, realized that Miguel is one of those personalities where he likes to talk to almost everyone, making jokes around and most of the time finishes his sentences with a big laugh. According to Gregory, he even over-laughs at things =). But we really liked the way they were acting and seeing life.
Then, we headed to our tent. It was raining outside, but we were under a roof. It could have been perfect if we did not have the music and kids shouting around coming from the next door, the hotel. In the end, we took a very long journey to be outside of regular city routine and it is not so cool to have something like this in the middle of the jungle; of course this is our personal opinion. But we focused on the sound of the insects, birds and the rain and fell asleep almost immediately.
Day 3 – Santa Cruz – 07 Dec 2016
It was our last day in the jungle. Miguel woke us up early around 6:00. We discussed about today’s plans. They advised us not to go to the other waterfall, as we have to walk over a lot rocks; and as you know, with rain, they are really slippery. Then, they suggested us another 4-hour hike and after that, we will visit a small pool very close to the camping site. They also had news for us: Due to the rain last night, they were not really sure if the 4×4 SUV would be able to cross the river. So, they told us they summoned a horse cart for us to cross the rivers and get out of the jungle. It was great news for us and we thought that it would be much better to ride the horses instead of being stuck in a fast car =) Then we had our breakfast. It was great again, Miguel was able to make us tortillas (the omelettes) and we were ready for our day after this great breakfast.
We started the hike for the day. Gregory explained us about the ‘walking trees’. These are the trees where the new roots are trying to reach the ground, and once they reach it, the old root dies, and the plant moves. And it looks like the tree has many ‘legs’. And they showed us the termite nests. These nests are fascinating. They are above the ground at least 5 meters and they are usually very large. When, you get close and if you knock, you will be able to see all termites coming out of the nest. Then, Miguel explained us about the tree exploitations that they had in the forest. In one case, people were stealing Mahogany wood from the forest and they even had their own trail which ends in the main road. We did this trail and they explained us they have been caught by the park rangers. Miguel also told us that once they came across some of these people, but then they diverted their way to not meet them, as that could have been dangerous. Miguel was joking around saying that he had no idea where we were going and asking Gregory if he knew where we were. It was Gregory’s first time on this trail, so he was not sure either. Of course, as promised, we reached the main road where we tried to spot some birds, but animals are too smart to live close to the places where there is a lot of human activity.
We got back to the camp again. Gregory told us that he would take us to the pool and we would have around an hour there by ourselves before the lunch. We got to the pool around ten minutes. It was very beautiful. And somehow, we also started getting some actual sunshine, without clouds, a clear sky (well, partially). We were really excited to get it, Gregory also showed us a point that we can jump into the pool, then he left. We realized that no one was around. Initially, we were thinking that we should put swimming clothes on, but then we thought that there is only one actual way to be part of the nature =). M did this before but it was B’s first time skinny dipping. It is a great feeling to see only nature, nothing else, and for a second, feel like you are actually part of it without any clothes, accessories or electronics. That one hour passed so fast that we did not even realized. We packed and we were ready to leave then we heard Gregory’s call to come get us.
At the camping site, our lunch was waiting for us. Our final dish was pasta with some sauce. We needed this fuel to keep going, for us, these hot meals are essential for our mood and our body’s well being.
As we packed our bags, our horses arrived =) We put all bags on the cart and jumped on the cart as well. Gregory arranged a space for himself around the bags where he was the only one lying on the cart =) Our journey started. It is a great feeling to be on a horse cart, no engine sound, slower, but you can observe more and you can also observe how horses act and manage the cart. We started crossing the small rivers and they had to ‘convince’ the horses to cross a small bridge in between. We started to see a lot of fields with various trees and some cattle ranches owned by the community. Miguel even caught a bright yellow bug for us out of the blue, as always. He also jumped out of the cart couple of times to get us some fresh fruits (mango, mandarines) from the fields. We had to get off the cart all of us, for the horses to climb a hill. Of course, we do not want to overload our horses. We arrived at the final (and the largest) river and we did not have any problems with crossing this one as well. Our driver was waiting on the other side of the river. We said good bye to the horses and jumped on the other car. We arrived at Buena Vista village to drop Gregory and Miguel. We asked Gregory’s email and phone. We told him that we will post this on our blog in case someone wants to arrange a tour with them. We know that tour company does a lot of things for us and if anything goes wrong, it is good to have a company to be in contact with (and also complain at). However, we also think that the price we paid was a little bit too high. So, in case you want to get a better deal, here is the information: Gregory Legrand, email@example.com, +591 68 13 43 32. If you can reach to him, he will get to Miguel as your guide and arrange all necessary things for you. We had great time with them and we definitely recommend them to everyone.
Our new driver was one of the ‘racers’ and we were able to get back to Santa Cruz luckily in one piece and it was pretty quick. One interesting fact about gas stations in Bolivia is that you need to get out of the car when they are fueling. Actually, everyone must leave the car but you can wait next to it, which was bizarre =) Finally, they dropped us at the hotel, where we returned our camping equipment which was also included by the tour company.
We wanted to have a traditional Bolivian dinner and we went to Casa del Camba restaurant as advised by our receptionist. It was interesting as the waiters had Mexican hats and there were some girls walking around with those hats and asking if you want to have a picture with the hats. M got a keperi, which is a brisket and comes with some rice with cheese and salad. B got a spicy chicken but sadly it was a bit cold. We tried some local beers like Paceña and Prost. Overall, it was a good dinner, but we were super tired after the forest, so we left right after dinner and crashed at the hostel.
Day 4 – Santa Cruz – 08 Dec 2016
This was our last day at Santa Cruz. We woke up a little bit late to give ourselves some time to rest. We went to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre square to explore some of the old buildings. We started with the Catedral de Santa Cruz. You can actually get to the top of this cathedral to get some nice views of the city, but it is not that high. We realized that a lot of young people were also doing the same thing and some schools were visiting the cathedral as well. Then, we walked around the government buildings. They have the ‘Palace Theater’ building which used to be a be movie theater but sadly it was closed, we are sure that it was magnificent back in the day. As mentioned before, they sell a lot of things on the street, we also saw a drink with some fruits in it. We wanted to try it, M thought that it was a fruit he never had before but B was sure that they were apricots =) Then we had lunch at cafe 24 which is very close to the main square. M had some catfish here, which was very delicious.
After lunch, we headed back to our hostel to pick up our bags and went to the airport. We had really great time at Amboro Park; Santa Cruz itself is a nice city, but park was definitely the highlight of our visit. We did some blogging at the airport and our flight was on time this time, without any connections =). We were happy about this, as we did not want to arrive really late at La Paz.