We arrived in Samaipata at 5 AM, after a long ride from Sucre. The bus didn’t have air conditioning or toilets on board, but we could open the windows for some fresh air. We stopped a couple of times during the drive for food and toilets. We got off the bus and had to find our way to the hostel. Together with a Dutch couple that also got off the bus at Samaipata we were able to find our way. We asked for directions to the central plaza. The Los Aventureros hostel was located a couple of blocks from the main plaza, alongside a dirt road. Once there, we had to wait for an hour before anyone from the hostel let us in. We chatted a bit with the other Dutch, and ate ‘breakfast’. Cookies and a kind of serial we still had with us.
After we were let into the hostel, we had to wait for another hour and a half before anything in town would open. The wifi in the hostel was very good for Bolivian standards. We walked back to the main plaza and got some breakfast in a French styled cafe. Angelo enjoyed some crepes and I had a continental style breakfast. After breakfast we walked around town to do some sightseeing. It is just a small town, so we were finished quite fast. We returned to the hostel to check-in and relaxed for a bit. Near noon we returned to the central plaza for some sandwiches for lunch and to find a taxi cab to take us to El Fuerte.
The ancient Inca site of El Fuerte was a 20 minute drive. It is an Unesco World Heritage site since 1998, located on a hilltop 8km from Samaipata. It is believed to be an ancient temple or site of worship. Or, depending on who you ask, an ancient UFO landing site. Around the site there are multiple ruins of the Spanish conquistadors also. Although many of the historical carvings and figures in the rock face have eroded away, it was a very interesting place to visit. Furthermore, it was also the first Inca site we visited on our journey. We spent an hour or two exploring the El Fuerte site. Together with the Dutch couple we met on the bus — who also visited the site — we walked back to Samaipata. It took us two hours, but the views of the surroundings made it worth it. To conclude our single day visit to Samaipata we got some dinner in town, and enjoyed a drink in one of the few bars.
Transportation between Samaipata and Santa Cruz was limited to shared taxis. The three to four hour journey was 30 Bolivianos, or €4 per person. We had breakfast in the hostel, and returned to the French styled cafe for lunch before we left Samaipata. We got into a minivan with 9 people for our trip to Santa Cruz. At the end of the afternoon we arrived at the shared taxi company in Santa Cruz. We had to take a taxi cab to get to our hostel: the Loro Loco hostel. Santa Cruz is laid out in rings around the central plaza. It is one of the biggest and most culturally diverse cities in Bolivia. Here we left the altiplano behind us and entered the Amazon rainforest region. The elevation of Santa Cruz is only 417 meters, and the climate changed as well. Temperatures near 30°C and a very high humidity.
We relaxed for a while in our hostel. Besides us there were only a handful of other guests. Even though the hostel had a swimming pool, we didn’t use it. We had contact with two girls from New Zealand, who we also met on the bus from Sucre to Samaipata, and decided to meet for dinner. They heard about a restaurant with typical Bolivian and regional good: Casa de Camba. It should have been the most ‘typical’ Camba experience, but it felt very touristy. We ordered a buffet of typical dishes and shared a bottle of wine. The flavors were pretty good, but the ‘typical’ experience in all was nothing special. It was a nice evening nonetheless.
Breakfast was not included at the hostel, so we had to get our own. It is quite common in Bolivian hostels that they don’t serve breakfast. Luckily for us the supermarket was just a couple of blocks away. We got some bread, tuna and juice. After breakfast we set out to see what Santa Cruz had to offer. We dropped out laundry off on our way to the city center. It was a 30 minute walk to get to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, the central plaza of Santa Cruz. For Bolivia’s largest city it has very few high buildings. We decided to get some lunch at the Irish Pub at the plaza, before we would do some sightseeing.
Most of the interesting sights of Santa Cruz lay near the Plaza 24 de Septiembre. We visited the cathedral — which has some really nice woodwork on its ceiling — and hiked up the bell tower for a better view of the city. The plaza itself was very well maintained. We also visited a church a few streets behind the plaza, and walked to the El Arenal park. Santa Cruz doesn’t have a lot of sights to offer. We walked back to the plaza to get a nice ice cream. We spent a while watching people pass on the street. We did a short visit to the bus terminal (which was still a 45 minute walk) to buy our bus tickets for the following day. On our way back to the hostel we picked up our laundry. Everything was nice and clean again, but a piece of my underwear went missing. For dinner we planned to go to an Indian restaurant — which the Lonely Planet highly recommended. We took a taxi cab to the neighborhood, but couldn’t find the restaurant. Eventually we ended up in a popular place for a steak and creme brûlée as dessert.
The bus to our next destination (Cochabamba) would leave at 8 PM. Hence, we had another day in Santa Cruz. With very few sights left to see, we decided to sleep in and visit the zoo today. We had a relaxed morning, enjoyed our breakfast and could check out at a decent time. Before we left for the zoo, we got Bolivia’s most popular dish: chicken. Everywhere around the country you’ll see chicken being sold. We chose for the deep fried chicken, it tasted pretty good. Especially the fried bananas that they served on the side.
It was just a 15 minute taxi cab ride to reach the zoo. The entrance fee was very cheap: just 10 Bolivianos. The zoo is known for that it contains most of the animal species native to Bolivia. We started with watching the birds in their cages. There even was a big bird cage which we could enter, with multiple species of birds flying around. We took a couple of selfies with a toucan and parrots. Next up were the mammals. The highlight of this section were the couple of jaguars. It was a pity to see that their cages were really small and badly maintained. We finished with the reptiles, which were pretty much only snakes. The zoo was a nice way to wait for our bus. We shortly returned to our hostel, and went out for dinner nearby. We ended up at a street side burger restaurant to enjoy the streeto food burgers. We arrived on time at the bus terminal, but our bus didn’t leave on time. An hour later then planned we finally left Santa Cruz behind us.
At 9:00 the next morning the bus came to a sudden stop. At first it looked like we ended up in a queue (file?), but we had the feeling it might be the same situation as in Sucre: a road block. Lots of people left their busses and started walking with their luggage. After a while we decided to do the same. With all our equipment (for me 15kg in total) we set out. Eventually it took us three hours to get to the road block and nearest village. The locals had build a mountain of tires and put it on fire. The streets were filled with rocks, tires and car wrecks. We bought some bread in a kiosk for lunch and rested for a bit. Then we continued walking for half an hour before a police pick-up truck offered us a lift. It was only a short ride, we got dropped of at the end of the village. We continued on foot to the nearest crossing. There we arranged a ride in the back of a truck to our destination: Cochabamba. We reached Cochabamba at 3 PM. We had walked for four hours in total today.
Our original plan to spend a nice day in Cochabamba turned into a very short visit. We settled ourselves in our room, and explored town for a while. Cochabamba is a popular destination for Bolivians to do some shopping, and they have the second largest statue of Jesus Christ in world (44cm taller than the famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit any of these highlights. We strolled around for a while and decided to get dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. It was a very posh restaurant, and the quality of the food was amazing. Definitely worth spending a bit more, especially after an exhausting day like today. We got to bed early, because we want to leave for La Paz tomorrow morning.