No one can say we were not warned about the charms and challenges of the Bolivian way – often in stark contrast to those countries already visited. But it’s fair to say we were not prepared for some of the antics to follow.
The problems began when we crossed the rarely-used border in some Bolivian backwater called San Matias. Turns out on Saturday arvos, the local immigration office is closed. With no ATM and little cash on hand, we could not stick around waiting for the Bolivians to get back to work, so had to leg it straight to Santa Cruz. “We can just go to immigration in Santa Cruz”… Hmmm. More on this later.
First up was a new, until now undiscovered, form of torture. As accustomed as we are to overnight buses, we did not take into account the standard of the buses with the associated Bolivian roads and freezing temps. We set off at 1400 wearing singlets and shorts due to the tropical climes. How were we to know that the bus windows do not stay shut overnight due to the potholed unsealed roads rattling them open and thus leading to hypothermic conditions. As a result catching sleep was simply a sporadic, short-lived distraction from the rattling fridge. On the positive side the bus didn’t breakdown and arrived on time, far exceeding our now, adjusted expectations.
Thankfully we arrived and stayed in a little tropical paradise in the middle of the lovely city of Santa Cruz. The hostel and hammocks were a godsend and we were able to warm up again since we were back at tropical temps. There was even a toucan at the hostel to help us remember the good old days back in the Pantanal (see earlier blog).
Luckily for us, we had a great sleep and some great food here and we had soon forgotten all about the bus trip from hell.
Next on the to do list was to sort out our undocumented arrival into the country. We assumed it would be a simple - whack a stamp in the ol’ passport and “welcome to Bolivia” - type process to which we have come accustomed. What followed was an insight into systems-Bolivian style, the ultimate temper-test that not all of us would pass.
Arriving just after opening we found lines streaming out the door and along the footpath. We got into one and watched as the other progressively marched into the building whilst we languished in the mid-day sun. An hour later we made it inside to queue up for a ticket so we could queue again to speak to someone.
Finally we were seen. And it was not good news. “You are illegals”. Right. So tell, us – how is it our fault we were allowed to cross a border at a time when the officials are napping? We are then told in order to rectify our illegal status, we must pay the big bucks ($45 each – a lot in Bolivian terms and an unexpected expense). After trying to tell old mate that he was mistaken – and that we are Kiwi’s therefore we get to sail across borders free of charge, he is again explains en Español that we must cough up.
It is at this point that Hayley exclaims that the situation is akin to the excrement of a bull. So now, the already rocky relationship with old mate descends to new lows – he stands up, screws up the paperwork he was working on and points to a nearby bench upon which we are to sit. It turns out we are not the only ones at the end of our tether.
Having now been sent to the naughty corner, we wait for the remaining people to see old mate. Once complete he gestures for Sophie to come back to the desk. When Hayley tries to accompany her, he refuses despite her promises; ‘I’ll stay quiet’…
In order to get things moving again - commiserations are made with our official and Hayley’s behaviour is explained away as an unfortunate mental disturbance.
From here it is explained that we must:
• Go to a specific bank to make payment in order to turn the illegal into legal.
• Go get photocopies of your passport.
• Return to immigration (after siesta of course).
• Line up like a chump again, several times.
• Finally get your stamp
• And, don’t forget – your fate is in his hands.
So the simple administrative task, turned into a day-long, expensive battle with the authorities.
Relived it was over, we jumped into a collectivo (big shared taxi) and headed to our next port of call – the gorgeous hillside-village of Samaipata.
Since arriving in this town, our Bolivian woes seemed to melt away and enjoyment levels are steadily on the up. This country is beautiful, affordable and a really good place to practice our Spanglish!
Our three days in Samaipata were spent relaxing in our beautiful hotel interspersed with some swimming, walking and eating. This is more like the life we have become accustomed to.
We visited some pretty pre-incan ruins in the country side (ruins all start to look the same after a while though
The ruins themselves
Do you think permission was granted by coke to display this?
Relaxing to say the least
Getting through a few books while here
HPL's company vehicle
After all this time relaxing, we felt ready to tackle the next bus trip to Sucre, but were better prepared this time for what was to come. Layered up with all our merino and mentally in a good headspace, we boarded the bus fearing the worst (particularly after horror stories from Nic and Jorge who had done the same trip a year or so earlier). Our fears were allayed however and the bus trip was fine – amazing how one becomes accustomed to non sealed roads and travelling with chickens and other animals. We were lucky compared to others who spent the night on the floor. At least we had springs in our seats to help with those airborne moments through particularly big potholes.
We had been told of a blockade in Sucre but did not really know what this meant. At 0600 after a couple of hours sleep, the bus stopped. As far as the eyes could see were trucks lining up along the road, not able to get in due to this “blockade”. Luckily there was a very helpful Bolivian tourguide who spoke excellent English and took it upon herself to shepherd the tourists off the bus to walk. A short two hours later we reached the blockade and the amazing sight of taxis waiting to take us and our cumbersome packs to our hostel. As difficult as the walk was in jandals and laden with packs, it was actually quite stunning to watch the sun rising over Sucre (glass half full much?).
Our first view of the blockade
A big trek was ahead of us
We settled into Sucre for a week of Spanish lessons to brush up skills learnt (and not practiced enough) way back at the start if the trip.
Before school started for the week, we attempted to do a couple of trips to see some dinosaur footprints and a local market. Our plans were thwarted however due to the “damned blockade”. When will it stop interfering with our lives?
Sucre has proven to be a charming wee paradise to spend a week swotting up, getting down with the lingo and hanging out with like-minded travellers.
It is a Unesco Heritage site famous for its striking white-washed buildings. Equally famous are the protests/blockades etc. Apparently these guys have an aversion to paying taxes. The blockade lasts for pretty much the entire week we are here.
Loving the cheap feasts about the place
Good views from the church top
Interesting items at the local central market
Which then leads to delish Jugo con Leche (Juice with Milk
Interestingly Bolivia grows a total of over 200 varietals of Potatoes which is why every meal comes with chips or Potatoes
Goobs wearing hats - BEFORE they are actually hats
Hat tour was definitely an interesting thing to see. Crazy factory conditions
Pretty colonial town
All our new amigos at the hostel we stayed in had a little communal feast. We made pizza and the resident chef (another crazy traveller from Norway) whipped us up some chocolate fondant (with help from his trustee Polish helper). Was a good night and opportunity to say good bye to our new buddies.
On the final day in Sucre we managed to make it to the markets which we were unable to make it to the week earlier. A good day out with our mates checking out the indigenous culture and textiles.
With a gap in the mayhem/blockade we plan to take the opportunity to head south to Tupiza, as word on the street is an entirely new blockade starts in a few days.
From there we will jump in a 4x4 and spend 4 days exploring Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s famous salt flats.
Thanks a lot to Aidan for the creative genius in naming our blogpost!