I got settled in after my short flight at the coco jamboo hostal, which was well located centrally a few blocks from the square, and sorted out plans to meet up with a friend of mine Cinthya who had been amazing and taken a week off her work as a strategy consultant (this place is the corporate capital of the country!) so we could go travelling round together. I had a huari (Bolivian brand of beer, my favourite here) while I waited and had a chat with the barman who told me a bit about the area and that he wanted to start learning English one day! Then eventually dinner of steak at the same place when Cinthya arrived at cafe Lorca, before a cocktail at a nearby place with a great view of the main plaza (la pascana) and then out to circo for some dancing, where I finally learned my first couple of Latin moves! It was so hot in the club though… don’t know how they bear it here! We cooled down in the square which was really nice and tranquil at this time afterwards for an hour or so before turning in.
“You have been here over a month and have only partied with gringos?!”
Harsh… but accurate for the most part really!
Three of the Sucre group had made it Santa Cruz too and so I spent a few hours the next day at their hostal which was nearby …and amazingly had a pool… which was extremely welcome in the heat! A couple of us also did a bit of souvenir shopping (finally have something for mum!) before heading out to the “super exotic” Irish bar in the plaza for a drink, dinner from a fast food complex, followed by a final cocktail with a beautiful back drop of the plaza cathedral (Catedral de Santa Cruz) to wave them off as they returned home the next morning.
For us the next day was Parque Guembe, which is a nice resort full of wildlife and an impressive complex of swimming pools. After doing the guided tour and a bit of wandering around we spent most of the remainder by the pool given the heat but there was also a kayaking lake and mini golf that looked pretty good but will have to be another time… we just about got back in time for some food and an event with a speaker… I understood some of it! Not much though, but also said a quick hello to Cinthyas family who were there too.
The next day was going to be museums and cultural visits but after speaking with a traveller finishing her stay at my hostal I decided to last minute change plan and head to the waterfalls at espejillos. This turned out to be awesome and I even found the cramped trufi (which is treated like a bus with people getting in and out… but is actually just a car and we had to squeeze into the front seat) as well as motorbike taxis getting drenched going through fords. The treat of the waterfalls at the end of it was well worth it and we had a nice picnic of empanadas by the top one.
We got back to town just in time for a salsa class (finally) which was awesome, and entirely manageable given the crash course Cinthya had given me earlier while we were waiting/hoping for someone to take us back as we missed the planned transport! We split to shower and change for “Parlana” which was a language exchange event at a cool bar called Panorama where I spoke to a couple of locals and it wasn’t long before we had a group for beer pong! A couple of rounds of that, then some dancing to the electronic music which got very dull very quickly, we left and went to a different bar and control over the jukebox!
The next day we went on a hunt for a good chifa restaurant. Chifa is effectively a mix of Chinese food and a local touch, thus far I hadn’t tried it as I’d heard mixed reviews and have favoured more traditional dishes or good old comfort food depending on mood. They seemed to be closed at funny times and so we instead were directed to the Ventura mall (which is quite impressive) on the other side of the city so jumped in a taxi. We found our chifa in the food court as well as one of the guys from the night before who was chilling with his girlfriend about to see a movie so we ate with them before they headed off. We wandered around for a bit before heading off ourselves after a hasty and fortunate wallet retrieval from the food court… we hit a few cultural spots and galleries then relaxed at the hostal and had a think about plans for the rest of the week.
Lomas de árena (sand hills) was the next day’s plans. After reading a few reviews we tried, unsuccessfully, to find somewhere to hire a quad bike. This was because apparently cars generally had difficulty navigating the terrain to get to where we wanted. After the fruitless faffing we hired a taxi and possibly unsurprisingly… the car got stuck and so ensued a time of trying to dig it out of the sand. It was never going to work in hindsight, but we were rescued by a passer by in a 4×4 and towed out. However it still left us some way out from our destination. So we wandered around the area and eventually found someone who was willing to take us there on the back of his bike… probably in no small part due to Cinthyas charms! The bike fared better relatively but in the end also succumbed to sandy oblivion and could take us no further. This meant walking the rest in the blistering heat and lack of shelter as we had not timed it well with high noon.
With heavy sneakals (my shoes were full of sand) we eventually came across an area that apparently used to be a resort but no more. There was sign of life and we eventually got let in by a really nice guy who prepared some hamburgers and a pitcher of lemonade for us. Could not believe our luck! In no particular hurry to get back out into the sun, we took our time and eventually journeyed on by foot when it was much cooler and bearable. There was one other group at the hills when we got there but they didn’t hang around much longer and we had the place to ourselves. I’d seen a few deserts by now (yes I’m spoilt) so it was nothing new to write blog about but what was quite interesting was the sudden transition between desert and greenery as it had a sort of oasis type feel to it. Either way after the day we’d had so far it was a really nice place to relax and watch the sunset.
Ah yes, the sunset… didn’t really think that one through… we made our way back in the dark on foot until the pick up point that we’d managed to convince the guy from earlier to come and get us. Apparently he’d been waiting a bit before we reached him but still was happy to take us back, not just to the park entrance but all the way to Santa Cruz, which was a result. His light didn’t work so the two of us used our phone lights to guide the way and happily we stayed on the whole way home! We walked past a restaurant that was apparently traditional (pacumuto) plus I was starving, so we dived in and had some barbecue type food, and importantly buffet of vegetables! (Id not eaten many of these in a long time so gorged myself here). I barely had space for the actual meat (very average so no biggie and cheap) but drank loads of chicha and mochichinchi to rehydrate.
We then spent a few hours into the night at Cinthyas house and I spoke to her mum and sister. Thankfully without the hustle and bustle of the event I’d first met them my ability to understand was greatly enhanced and had a really nice chat on a personal level that I cannot imagine would even happen in Europe with people you’ve just met (…sober). I also learned a huge amount of medicinal knowledge about all the fruits and how to prepare them in various manners to treat an array of ailments, with an account of a diabetes cure by drinking juice made from the “segunda cáscara” (second shell, i.e. Not skin but white pithy bit) of a grapefruit. With my background I remained sceptical but no smoke without fire? It seems to be pretty widely accepted here, with people regularly turning to natural remedies to avoid unpleasant side effects of conventual medicine, and I got a few personal testimonies for certain issues now resolved in such a manner.
I also have to mention the empanadas here. I was super full after my meat and veg binge but politely accepted the various samples of fruit from the garden which paired with some of the chat and Cinthyas mum also brought out some empanadas. These were incredible! I hadn’t cared much for cheese empanadas here as they had tasted a bit sweaty… apparently it’s the age they’d been sitting around… but this one was exquisite!
In the early hours I said my goodbye and impulse bought some flights to cochambamba the next day as we had pretty much run out of day trips in Santa Cruz by now. Unfortunately I ended up with the 5.40 am flight out despite my best efforts which meant about 30 minutes sleep…. NB try and use an iPad or better yet a real computer to do this, apparently the airline websites doesn’t work as well as intended on the mobile.
So as a result, not much later I was back and we got a taxi to the airport. I attempted a casual enquiry as to whether there were anymore empanadas going. Possibly to subtly as it wasn’t twigged… but nonetheless we were on our way and despite some semi debilitating yawns were determined to make the most of our 10 hours in cochambamba. First up was climbing the mountain (big hill… but I’m tired and it’s at altitude) up to see the Cristo de la Concordia monument, which is the second largest Jesus monument after Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. The views were awesome, the city looks a bit like La Paz but more beautiful from up there. We strolled around at the top a bit, saw some kids get shouted at for climbing the monument and then headed down markedly quicker than the ascent. There were still people running up and down the stairs… mad.
We then had a short break with a relatively substandard empanada… grumble… but some really nice Api and Tojori. I can’t really compare these to anything European … but they were a bit like chicha in that they were natural, thick and sweet beverages. Interestingly as a curveball these were also hot… why not. We sat down in a square afterwards and I started nodding off but we powered through and went to an archaeological museum. I vaguely remembered some info on the paleobiology I’d learned at uni which was relevant here and so focused on that to keep my brain awake and shared what I was capable of sharing with that level of cognitive function. We just about had time to squeeze in a late lunch of pica macho (not a great rendition thereof, and I think most ultimately got transported and eaten by Cinthya’s dog) but I still like this stuff. Then back to the airport, we split to shower and change for Friday night out (I think that was a joke…) but ended up crashing for the night and between us managed about 29 combined hours of sleep.
We reconvened the next day somewhat later than intended on account of unplanned falling asleep… twice!! And I’d decided after enough meat and cheese again it was time to try something healthy and so lunched at a vegan place then walked to the last couple of viewpoints in the north west part of town and parque arenal. On the way we also stumbled across a dance school and managed to persuade them to squeeze us in for the last hour so I got some more salsa in and tried merengue for the first time. The teacher was quite impatient, which suited me as I need to learn fast …but was pretty harsh too. Apparently he shamed someone by pointing at me on one of the few bits I could do and saying even the gringo can do it! I didn’t notice this until being told afterwards on account of my brainpower being entirely spent on trying to stay upright leaving nothing left for Spanishing. It was awesome though and by the end of it we could do a little pair routine… that I could see myself repeating ad absurdum in a club at my nearest opportunity.Earlier in the morning I’d booked an awesome restaurant called jardín de Asia which was Japanese fusion place and we had amazing lomo (beef) and llama (actually llama) saltado/a with a local cocktail and a blissful bottle of French fizz, it was so nice to have some nice wine… I’d definitely had enough of Peruvian / Bolivian stuff. The ambience and whole experience was excellent. Then on to an open roof club with live music called favela which was quite cool but not really the vibe we were after so didn’t stay long. It was also Brazilian music which I’d suggested might be the case given the name and was no place to show off my new moves! So it was back to circo like last week and we had a great time. There wasn’t quite enough space to try the four step pass ( I have no idea what it’s called in English really, but imagine something that needs space) but we got pretty much everything else in!
The next day was cotocá, a place we’ll know for its culinary delights and religious significance (Virgin Mary appeared here according to legend). We wandered around the various spots, ate/ drank and got some suitably cringed friendship bracelets which this far in the whole trip I’d managed to resist, arguing that I’m not on my gap yah but have now relented.
Raspadillo – slush puppie type drink with many flavours of syrup
Batido de tamarindo – fruity blend, gringos beware motezumas revenge apparently. But it was good, I was restricted to just a small amount and had no problems.
Tablilla – peanut brittle
Arepa – Bolivian version is just the crispy cornflour and cheese part but without a filling
Sonso – the longer sausage type thing which is not too different to arepa but not quite as good as it lacks the crispiness!
Some more snaps of the following few days… including where I got interviewed by some school kids. I like it here but really should get back on the road soon!