Bolivian Country Bumpkins
January 15, 2007 - to our family and close friends Well,
it's been over a week for us in Bolivia now, and the primitive
essentials of "travel survival Spanish" are becoming easier. We have
spent almost a week in Santa Cruz on arriving in Bolivia, and from a
traveller's perspective, it's just another city. Santa Cruz de la
Sierra (full name), while not the capital of Bolivia is the largest
city in Bolivia (population approx 1.5m people) and feels a bit like a
big country town, but a bit dirty poluted and busy.
Now there is one story
we have heard about Bolivia that can't go untold! Apart from being a
bit of a history/geography lesson, it is a funny, but i believe true
story. You are probably aware of these 2 facts - (1) that Bolivia is a
landlocked country (has no coastal access), & (2) that Latin
American countries (especially Bolivia) like their fiesta's (parties).
But from what we hear Bolivia has not always been landlocked. Bolivia
used to extend to the coast between Peru and Chile, until Chile decided
that they wanted that land, and so went to war with Bolivia to try to
force it from them. Apparently, just as the war was breaking out
someone put on a big fiesta (party) somewhere in the eastern part of
Boliva, and the Bolivian soldiers decided to stay home and go to the
fiesta rather than going to the war. And so the Bolivians lost their
Well, apart from learning funny stories about
Bolivia, we have spent our time doing our Spanish course, practicing it
as we walked around looking at the city, trying to get our emails &
website set up while we've still got reasonable internet access, and
getting to know some of the volunteers at the Christian TV station. As
well as catching up on some much needed sleep, after the busy-ness of
getting ready to leave, lack of sleep on long flights & jet lag!
back to the Spanish...can you just picture us sitting in the tourist
info office trying to speak to the lady there who doesn't speak
English...trying to ask some questions. Well Michael and I had divided
our questions up and while he was asking a question i sat there
searching our phrasebook for about 5 mins, finally putting the right
words together, to ask where to get a Yellow Fever vaccination. After
asking the question i then had no idea about the directions she gave
me, so asked her to show me on the map where it was. Well it still
didn't help...but fortunately
later that day we found that we can easily get them where we'll be
living on the border with Brazil. And it seems like we'll be border
hopping at least on a monthly basis to get our Bolivian visa's renewed
The organisation we will be working with here, have
a Christian satellite TV station in Santa Cruz and we are staying near
to that, in a rented room of the house of a cousin of a lady in the tv
station. Hope you can follow that one! While here we have the
opportunity to learn a bit about videoing documentary presentations as
there is a need for this to be done in Guyaramerin (where we are going
We haven't spent much time there, but from what we've
seen it's pretty amazing what is accomplished at this little TV
station. When you see their premises and the equipment they have to
work with, it's really amazing what is accomplished. Yet this TV
station reaches much of the population in Bolivia with a positive
Christian message via free-to-air broadcast, and covers most of the
Spanish-speaking world via satellite.
Last Tuesday we decided to head out of town
for a few days and see some of the real country! We went to visit the
lovely town of Samaipata up in the early foothills of the Andes Mts, a
couple of hours out of Santa Cruz. It s just not good for country
bumkins like us to be in the city for too long. Oh what a feeling -
like a weight off our shoulders - as the shared taxi drove into the
countryside and we were soon surrounded with fresh air, natural beauty,
and then the beautiful cool mountains!
Samaipata is situated
at about 1600m above sea level and enjoys a lovely, relatively cool
climate (i.e. you only sweat 8hrs a day as opposed to 24 hours a
day!). It is a quaint, friendly town with cobbled rock-paved streets.
We had intended to get out to visit the nearby national park while we
were there, but we ended up just having a relaxing few days instead.
Wednesday we ended up doing some horse-riding around the mountains...something
a bit different for us. It was a really nice way of enjoying the
mountain scenery (ie not having to climb the mts yourself...a nice
change for a hiker), despite our lazy horses that clocked in on the GPS
with an average 4-5km/hr!
On Thursday morning we went for a
walk up a small mountain on the edge of town. It seems strange to be
at 1900m elevation and not be feeling cold, but I guess the latitude
may have something to do with it. We could often see birds of prey
soaring around the mts, and of course we imagined them to be condors
(as we knew they were in the area), but were disappointed to be told
that they were vultures! Although, after visiting the zoo today, we
are somewhat confused, as the birds in the "condor" cage were the
vultures that we'd seen! So I guess we can be glad that we didn't
spend our $100 going on a day hike near Samaipata to see the 'condours'
because maybe they weren't. We went for the free self guided 'vulture'
walk instead...and were much relieved to find that the vultures don't
feed on the remains of weary hikers!
In the afternoon we hired a couple of bicycles which was rather an experience. The
bikes looked like quite respectable mountain bikes at first appearance,
but Dani's bike didn't have a quick-adjusting mechanism on the seat,
and when Dani requested them to adjust the seat 15 minutes of mucking
around with different sets of pliers resulted in no success to loosen
the completely stripped-out nut that was holding the seat post in
place. (Mmm, now I understand why we use spanners and not pliers to
adjust hex nuts!) We decided to go anyway, and found that the fun had
only just begun. The front gear mechanism was inoperational on both
bikes - Dani's was stuck in 2nd, and Michael's was stuck in 1st.
Furthermore the gear change lever on Dani's bike was loose, which meant
that the bike was permanently set to top gear unless you kept firm
pressure on the lever. We persisted despite these problems and enjoyed
an hour's ride along the road to Cochabamba - one hour was nice, any
longer would have been frustrating - we're not too surprised that the
word for "maintenance" doesn't appear in our phrase-book! Welcome back
to the joys of a developing country! But then again, i guess you can't
expect too much for bike hire when it costs $1.70 per hour!
food in Samaipata was good. There was quite a range of options from
cheap local eateries where a meal for two cost about AU$2 to a gourmet
lunch in a gorgeous Dutch garden cafe where we spent a massive AU$8 and
were still a bit hungry (they advertised "slow food" and picked the
food fresh from the garden to cook for your lunch)! Generally in
Bolivia we've had rather a mixed experience with food while we're
living as travellers. We quickly learned the phrases "vegetariano" and
"sin carne" (without meat), and have got by quite well. There was one
time I ended up with a hunk of meat in my soup, but that was my own
fault for forgetting to ask if it was "sin carne" or not!
thing that stood out to us in Samaipata (which may be a common feature
in rural Bolivia for all we know) was the "cowboy-style" horizontally
split doors on almost everything. It seems like every door (even to
our hostel room) has to be split in two halfway up the door, and it's
quite funny for us to see people looking out from their houses through
the top half of their doorway!
Well as I write this we're
currently driving back to Santa Cruz in the back of a smelly 'shared'
taxi. We're not exactly sure what next week holds for us - we'd hoped
to head out to the school, but the director Jeff & Fawna are in the
US for another week or so, as the school is currently in their summer
vacation. So we'll probably see if there's anything we can do to help
in the tv station at Santa Cruz while we get stuck into more Spanish
lessons and wait for them to arrive.
I mentioned earlier that we went to a zoo today (Sunday)...It's the first
zoo that either of us have been to outside of Australia. It costs a
bargain price of $1.70 per person (yes you are probably getting the
picture that things are cheap here in Bolivia...even bananas...sorry
but got to rub it in...a big hand of 12 bananas costs less than $1),
and, getting back to the zoo the animals are all south american
animals. They are quite well looked after, and it was interesting to
see some of the beautiful colourful birds (some which are close to
extinction), wildcats, deer, monkeys, turtles, tapirs, wildpigs, birds
of prey, snakes(!?) and so on.
Well, that's it for the moment.
Hope you are all well, and thanks for your emails, texts and prayers.
It's been great hearing of home.
Danielle & Michael