Published: September 1st 2008August 31st 2008
Our last few weeks haven´t really been much to write home about with a lot of disappointing towns and hours and hours of bus rides.
We took a long way round to arrive in Santa Cruz but were immediately disappointed with this city too after getting our hopes up that it would be somewhere to spend a few days. In reality there really isn´t that much to do, it´s not that pretty and our 2nd of 2 days there consisted of a citywide strike so nothing was open at all.. no breakfast.. no lunch... no fun!
We left Santa Cruz with a new travel plan lined up to visit the places that Che Guevera spent his last days. Unfortuantley for us Santa Cruz region decided to put up blockades on all the roads out of the city on the day we decided to leave which meant an interesting journey to get us to Samaipata our first stop on the Che route. After getting a taxi, walking though the blockades, another taxi and walking again we reached Samaipata along with Ben, our new German travelling companion we'd met in Santa Cruz.
Samaipata is famous for one thing.. El Fuerte
which is an ancient Inca ruin carved into a huge stone at the top of a local hill. On our second day we decided that this would be the thing we'd do here so made our way there along with Anthony from Holland and Claude, a real charachter from South Africa. We had a great day looking round the rock and made it all the more interesting trying to make up our own suggestions on what it was for.. the favourite being a copy of a spaceship just waiting for the right person to come along and start it up.
Along with Ben we'd planned to leave Samaipata bound for Vallagrande the following day but as has been the case for so many of our recent bus rides this didn´t really go according to plan. We'd spent a lot of time asking people from the town what time the bus left for Vallagrande, the answer ranged from 0900 to 1400 so we decided if we made our way there early morning then we would be almost guaranteed to get at least one bus at some point.. especially as the guide books said there were 3 each day. We waited
by the police checkpoint from 0930... and waited.. and waited.. and waited some more. Until the bus finally decided to make an appearence at 1630!! For 7 hours we sat there amusing ourselves playing with the local children, seeing a dog get run over and hoping that the next vehicle coming along would be for us. Bolivian transport is not fun!
We got on the bus and of course there were no seats available for the 3 hour journey (which turned out to be nearly 4) and stood in the aisle just pleased that the bus had finally arrived and we hadn´t waited all that time for nothing.
Vallagrande is quite a small town.. so small that most restaurants don´t even bother to open and there is no ATM and only 1 hostel! But the hostel was ok and we were looking forward to all the Che activities we had on our list. Our first point of call was the tourist information where we found out that we could do a guided tour for 70Bs... why would you do this when everything is in the centre of town in easy walking distance???
The museum with the Che
room is on the plaza so we enjoyed our morning spent reading all the posters with information on his life and the last few days, there were accounts from those who had taken photos of him while in the laundry room (more on this later) and even the suit he wore when he was executed complete with the blood.. nice! After the museum we walked up to the small local hospital which was to be the highlight for us all.
Here in the hospital grounds sits the laundry room where Che was brought after he had been executed, and presented to the world press on top of one of the wash sinks. The original room and wash sink still sits there although surrounded by a small fence now, and you can go right into the building and touch, sit and in some cases (Dale & Ben!) lie on the sink to imitate his position for the now world famous photos. We all found this quite special that you could get up so close and loved looking at all the graffiti that had been put up over the years to remember such a famous man... what he did may not
have been right but he certainly has made an eternal impression on a lot of people who come to visit this place.
You can also visit his final resting place (until he was excavated in 1995 anyway) here in Vallagrande. He, along with 5 of his group were buried underneath the airport runway and there is now a small morseleum for them. Unfortuantely for us what we didn´t realise after walking down there was that you first needed to visit the tourist office to get the key so we only managed to have a look at the outside of the building and didn´t actually see the graves they were laid in.
We didn´t need to spend anymore time in Vallagrande because we´d seen all we needed to see so we couldn´t believe our luck when we found out there was one direct bus to Sucre a week and it was on Sunday.. the exact day we needed to go! What we didn´t get told however was that from Saturday there were to be more blockades across the state that ran to Sucre and beyond. We got on the bus from Vallagrande ok and survived the 7 hour trip
though the night on terrible roads and with some of the worst passengers we have had to endure yet... cocoa leaf chewing, cocoa leaf spitting, smoking, drunkeness, terrible music on one radio and really loud static on another because the cocoa leaf man had fallen asleep another radio! We arrived in Serrano at 1am in the morning to be told that we would not be getting our connnection bus to Sucre becuase there were none running, that was it, no more information and we were just left to sleep on the bus that evening. We got up at 6am hoping that it was all a mistake and there would be a bus but after waiting around on the plaza for 2 hours we realised that we were stranded and we didn´t know how long for!
We eventually spent nearly 3 days stranded in Serrano. This is a very small town with one restaurant, no internet and NOTHING
to do. Three days were spent getting up at 0530 and sitting on the plaza desperately trying to get information on when the buses would start up again so we didn´t miss one as soon as they did go. We managed to
amuse ourselves by befriending the locals and making the most of the cheap as chips meals in the one restaurant. The funniest moment of our whole stay was in this restaurant when we had already ordered 5 plates of food (at 90p each) and Dale joked that he would like another... they didn´t understand the joke and brought him yet another plate so that made 6 plates of big meals between 3 of us and yes we felt like we should have rolled back to our hostel!
At last we received news that the buses were running so we booked ourselves on the first available one at 7am the following morning, so relieved that we weren´t going to be stuck there for any longer.. apart from anything else we were running out of cash and there were no ATM´s in this town. We got up yet again at 0530 to have time for a quick breakfast in the market before needing to board the bus at 0630.
There seemed to be no urgency at 0645 when the bus driver eventually decided to wake up and start to load the luggage, but we got our bags on safely and
were still standing around at 0700 waiting for the roof furniture to go on. Sophie was just about to get on the bus and had her hand on the rail as the whole bus started to roll backwards down the hill, assuming the driver was moving it to a better position she stepped back just as the bus started to pick up speed and roll faster and faster down the hill. Everyone just looked on open mouthed as the bus then started to turn and roll directly towards the church with no way to stop it before it mounted the kerb and crashed straight through the church wall and into the church itself! No one could believe what had just happened and we were so shocked we didn´t even think to take a photo of the bus in the church before the driver hopped in and drove it back out again taking yet more of the church with it! It was a miracle in itself that no one was killed because there were people on the bus, people behind the bus, kids playing around the bus and men on top of the bus loading on the luggage. We 3 could
just not believe that our one way out of this town might have just been lost becuase of such a careless accident.
Here in Bolivia though something like a bus crashing into a church doesn´t stop anyone and after the 1 policeman in the town had done his job.. probably his first ever as it is so quiet... the bus was loaded up some more and off we went minus the back bumber and lights!
We did fear that this accident was going to put a bad omen on our whole trip but we arrived in the beautiful capital city of Sucre safe and sound and it was yet another town that we immediately knew we were going to love. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage city and for that reason it is forbidden to paint the houses in any other colour than white or teracotta which gives it a lovely Spanish village feel as you walk though the cobbled streets. Our hostel was conveniently located right next to the best market you have ever seen and each morning we enjoyed fresh fruit salads, fresh eggs, fresh fruit juices and yes you guessed it.. fresh bread! You
Dale and his little friend
Who loved to listen to the ipod
really could get the most bizarre and strange fruits in this market and we enjoyed sampling them all to see which we liked best.
Dale was keen to do yet another bike ride much to Sophie´s disappointment so along with Ben and another Australian recruit Rachel we booked ourselves into a tour around the Sucre area including the Dino Park Sophie had looked forward to seeing. Unfortunately the Dino Park was not all we had hoped, for an extortinate amount of money we endured a guided tour with a man who had clearly tailored his tour for 5 year olds and kept asking us ´can you remember which dinosaur makes these prints´
and ´how do you feel when you hear the roar of the dinosaur?´
Impressed we were not and we were even less happy to find the dino footprint viewing terrace had been built 250m away from the prints themselves making it impossible to have any kind of view of them without paying additional money to look through the telescopes. Disappointed we left after 30 minutes with 3 of the 4 of us looking forward to the biking day ahead!
The day itself was great although mountain
The checkpoint in Samaipata
Where we waited for 7 HOURS!
biking it was not.. road biking with huge HGV´s passing you every 2 seconds it was but it was mostly downhill on tarmac and we all enjoyed gaining confidence and getting some speed up on the smooth roads. We even ignored the fact that our guide clearly had no idea where he was going and made up the route as he went along! After a while we reached a smaller dirt track and made our way down to a small village where we got to sample chicha, a fermented grain drink that Sophie could not even bear to sip and Dale referred to as tasting like cow dung.. anyone for a souvenir bottle??
By this point all our behinds were suffering quite badly but we had booked a tour which ended up by a river beach where we could all relax and swim after a hard days cycling. The guide tried his best to try to put us off this but we persisted and wanted our moneys worth so continued about 9km further along a cobbled road towards the beach all trying our hardest to ignore the incredible pain we were all in. We reached the end of the
cobbled road and the guide said our lift back up again was here... but no.. we hadn´t seen the beach yet so we told him to send the lift away and we´d get back another way. The beach beckoned and we rounded the corner to be greeted by... a quarry dump with a muddy river to the side of it and the smallest amount of dirty sand you had ever seen. This was what we´d waited all day for! Undeterred we rested on the rocks for a short time while our guide scratched his head over how we were going to get back up again. After a while Dale managed to flag down a pickup truck who was happy to give us a lift to the small village on the back so we squeezed in with the bikes and set off to the small village where we caught a minibus back to Sucre... we were all so happy that the 20Bs each we´d paid for private transport back again went to good use!!!
We spent our last few days in Sucre soaking up the sun and taking in the sights around town. For our last night with the 4
of us together we found an air pipe smoking bar and enjoyed an evening smoking mango flavoured tobacco while relaxing on the sofas.
We have loved every minute in Sucre and it is a city where you could get caught up for weeks on end and we have met many people who have done just that but with only 30 days left in South America we are moving onto Potosi to play with dynamite and meet the miners....
There are more photos below