Savannah Grace

Santa Cruz and Samaipata, Bolivia

Ammon and Sasha’s trip continues:

We made it in late to Santa Cruz on our flight so it wasn’t until the next day that we got a chance to step outside and see what we had gotten ourselves into. Having talked to many people over the years about South America, Bolivia has continually been mentioned as a place that many people spent (or wish they had spent) longer in. Obviously there is something to the place, and I can honestly say that within the first hour of walking around Santa Cruz my inner travel soul finally woke up, looked around, stretched and said “now you have my attention”. It might technically be the 7th country we’ve been to already on this trip but it finally feels like the beginning of something.

Santa Cruz is the biggest city in Bolivia with over 1 million people but still managed to feel like a small provincial capital, especially in the centre where we were. It is not the capital of the country and receives little love from the powers that be up in La Paz. There are also few tourist sites in town so while Bolivia is very popular on the “Gringo Trail”, only a small percentage of visitors descend to the lowlands of the Santa Cruz region for any length of time.
What was nice for us is that we have finally left the Caribbean vibe and entered a Spanish one. Soaking up the atmosphere in a beautiful plaza in front of a colonial-style catholic church is the new time killer. Santa Cruz has a nice, very relaxed and family-oriented plaza without hassle where vendors in uniforms wheel thermoses of coffee and tea around for sale by the cup, little old ladies walk by in traditional dress and couples stroll hand in hand and (most shockingly of all) less than half of people were staring at their smartphones. Gasp! Could it be? In the big city? Something still resembling a traditional and authentic culture? And I haven’t even started on the Mennonites yet.

Central plaza of Santa Cruz
Central Plaza

 

Los Pozos market area
Random park near our hotel in Santa Cruz

Decades ago the Bolivian government welcomed the first Mennonite settlers into the Santa Cruz region (mostly from Paraguay and Canada) and today there are dozens of farming colonies scattered about the state, not far from the city. Our hotel was in the Los Pozos market area and the area is full of Mennonite families in town for trade. Most in Bolivia are of a more conservative style and they were easily identifiable by their lighter skin and clothing. The men invariably wearing overalls and either white cowboy hats or plain ball caps, the women in long dresses and headscarves or wide-brimmed hats. It just wasn’t what we were expecting to wake up to.
We were also pleasantly surprised to discover much more affordable prices in general (our hotel room was $10US), a well organized and easy to use city bus system and a relatively slow-speaking Spanish which we could sometimes understand. That Sasha could understand anyway. I still mostly suck at this other language thing…
After a day in Santa Cruz we caught a shared minibus (called a trufi) to Samaipata, a small town 2.5 hrs to the west and starting the climb up into the Andes. It sits just under 2000m so we felt the altitude a bit  and definitely felt the difference in temperature. After weeks at humid 30C+ temps, we were struggling to adjust to the teens.  It was warm while it was sunny but temperature probably played a factor in our not staying longer than 2 nights. It is a beautiful area and a popular one as well with a significant expat population and international traveler feel despite being so small. There are quite a few little restaurants, cafes, guesthouses and travel agencies within a couple minute walk of the central plaza. It was obviously the off-season though because most places were closed most of the time and opening hours/days seemed very random. It didn’t matter because its just a nice place to take it easy and relax anyway.

Samaipata

 

 

Pretty setting of Samaipata

Our reason for being in Samaipata was to visit the El Fuerte ruins about 10km away. The ruins sit on top of a nearby hill with great views. There is still some mystery as to who originally made the site and its original purpose but it is definitely pre-Incan and possibly dates to 300 AD. The original site was apparently ceremonial and is a large carved rock with many niches and holes as well as faded carvings of geometric designs and animals. The Inca and later Spanish also used the area as a more administrative settlement or as a fort to watch over the local trade routes and some ruins (mostly rock walls and building bases) are present nearby from that time as well. As far at the site is concerned, it isn’t overwhelmingly awesome but the views are great and it is well laid out with a set walking path and elevated viewing platforms to see the ruins without being able to actually touch/destroy them any further. A typical visit involves a taxi taking you and waiting for 2 hours while you go around the circuit. We finished a little quicker because there was hardly anyone else there.

El Fuerte

 

The dark carved stone is the old pre-Incan stuff. The lighter is Incan

 

Even the viewing walkway is kind of cool

 

Ammon

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