Che Trail - VallegrandeDay 343 Tuesday 18th September
Che graffiti on Laundry wall
Moving on today so we were up at dawn and packing our bags. Because we had to check out at 7 we missed breakfast but once we got down to the bus terminal we picked up Saltenas, which are sort of like a spicy Pasties with a quails egg (sometimes) and olive inside. They are sort of a specialty of Argentina/Bolivia and when you get them warm are bloody beautiful and this morning they went down a treat.
Our journey today was with a bus company called “Trans Copacabana” and I (Scott) had chosen them as I thought we had used “El Dorado” a few times and thought we would just check out another company. I had also seen plenty of the Trans Copacabana buses around and they all looked brand new and really flashy but unfortunately the bus we got must have been the bus they used for spare parts to keep the other ones going. To compound the problem I had also foolishly chosen the front seats thinking it would be a double decker bus (that gives great views ahead) but it ended up being a single deck and we were stuck
All roads lead to Che
behind the driver with no leg room. The biggest problem of being stuck behind the driver is of course that it allowed us to observe first hand his lack of driving skills. It is sort of a bit like not seeing the kitchen at the restaurant you eat at….you just rather not know. We nicknamed our driver Cheech as he looked remarkably like Cheech from Cheech and Chong, and he drove generally with one hand on the wheel whilst shovelling coca leaves in his mouth, skulling Coke and chain smoking. All of these things he did well but changing gears was a bit of a challenge and he crunched gears so often I was waiting for the gearbox to haemorrhage.
Our bus like most coaches have a wall with a door between the passengers and driver and our door only had a knob on the driver’s side (three knobs if you include the driver and co-driver). To our distress they would lock the door so no one could open the door from the inside meaning if we were in an accident we would be locked inside the bus….great safety. The trip started by us stopping twenty minutes from the
Spot the Puma and Jaguar carvings
bus terminal so Cheech and the co driver could get a bite to eat, and they thoughtfully allowed about twenty food sellers to crowd the aisle of the bus and then locked them in with us, while they went off for a feed. After about five minutes of the food sellers bashing on the door and windows to get out one of them came back and opened the door to let them off before locking us in again. We were stuck there for 30 minutes before we got underway but another ten minutes down the road we stopped so Cheech could buy more coca leaves. It was another twenty minutes before we escaped Cochabamba and was on the road to Santa Cruz.
The terrain started out fairly dry and sparse like a lot of the country in the high plateau region of Bolivia but as we descended trees became more predominate and we were soon driving through thick vegetation. Cochabamba sits at 2500m and Santa Cruz is at 500m so it was a steep 2 kilometre drop into the Amazon basin. Despite the amazing change in scenery the one thing that didn’t change was the vast piles of rubbish
that lined the road. We have never seen so much rubbish and it was clear where most of it came from as the drivers and passengers pelted anything and everything out the windows. I know Bolivia has a lot of serious social issues that are more pressing than littering but for such a beautiful country it is rapidly becoming the world’s biggest rubbish tip. At 12.30 we stopped at a lunch spot that looked so bad even the vast majority of locals on the bus didn’t even eat at, but next door was a small shop and a fruit store.
At 1pm we got underway once more and it was a long very hot drive to Santa Cruz, but along the way we were stopped by a police checkpoint here we all had to get off the bus for a hand luggage inspection. As we have said before these are fairly basic inspections and we were standing there minding our business waiting to get back on the bus when an odd man who was travelling on our bus came up to us and started acting agitated. He kept saying they have no right to go through people’s luggage and
he had expensive chocolates he did not want opened, just remember the temperature in the bus is about 30 degrees. Why would you be carry expensive chocolate on the bus and so what if they looked at them because they would be a chocolate puddle by now. We politely smiled and backed away because we did not want anyone to think we knew him especially the police. He eventually walked up to the bus to see what the police were up to, where do these nutters come from and please do not stand near us. We were soon on our way without incident and arrived at Santa Cruz about 6.15pm. We hadn’t really felt up to doing a bus trip today and for our troubles had a real crap one so we were more than happy to stumble off the bus. We managed to pick up a taxi to our hotel without any trouble and booked into the Hotel Alaska for two nights. When we checked our emails we discovered that our friends Donna and Ken were in the next town. Samaipata is a 3 hour journey away and we contemplated moving on tonight but we were just too buggered
The roof is cactus
and opted to do it tomorrow. Went out looking for dinner and discovered that we were in a fairly rough end of town with next to no food options. After wandering around for an hour we settled for a feed at an Austrian cake shop (what else would you expect in Bolivia) where we got a good steak. Day 344 Wednesday 19th September
We were woken at 5 in the morning by a massive thunderstorm, our first since Colombia back in April. The thunder was deafening and from our very small window in the bathroom we could see it pelting down with rain outside. Because it was only a short journey to the next town we could sleep in till 8 before getting up and having breakfast. Our room was on the second floor whilst the kitchen was on the floor above and we soon discovered that the entire hotel was flooded. Because yesterday was so hot they had left a lot of windows open all night and the rain was so heavy it literally came cascading down the stairs. The strange thing was that no one (except the cook in the kitchen) was making any
Shelley and Donna
attempt to mop up the puddles of water throughout the building. We were keen to get onto Samaipata to see Donna and Ken but we didn’t want to be heading off in the rain so we took our time getting ready. The rain wouldn’t stop so at 11 we decided to just go for it and so checked out. The best and easiest way to get to Samaipata is by collective taxi and on previous occasions we have got them from the Hotel who have phoned for us to be picked up but unfortunately at this one we had to get a taxi out to the Collectivo taxi stand. The rain seemed to increase as we stood outside waiting for a taxi and so when one finally arrived we got drowned loading our bags on board. Got dropped off at the Collectivo station where we arranged for our ride to Samaipata. It is 30 Bob ($4.30) each in a taxi that holds 4 people or you can take the whole taxi for 120 Bob ($17.20) and as we didn’t mind sharing a taxi with someone we decided to wait. After 10 minutes of standing around outside the taxi office under
Scott and Ken
the awning wet and miserable we just opted to pay for the whole taxi.
The streets of Santa Cruz were completely awash as we made our way out of town and at one point we were held up for thirty minutes as cars had to crawl through a lake of water that had once been a large intersection. The rain did eventually ease but it never left us as we climbed back up through mountains on our way to Samaipata. As we went along our driver stopped a couple of times to pick up lollies and to pee, which isn’t unusual but then he also stopped to wash his face at a stream and then started sticking his head out the window. It had been hot in Santa Cruz yesterday but today with the rain it was actually cold and now that we were in the mountains the temperature was dropping. Thankfully we didn’t have to drive too long with his head out the window but we were unsure if he was ill or was trying to stay awake….damn our lack of Spanish.
Got dropped at the doorstep of the Posada del Sol Hotel where we managed to
Overview of the rock
grab a room for two nights. Donna and Ken were staying here and the lady running the place told us they were in town (3 blocks away) and would be back later. It was now 2.30 and it was still drizzling so opted to wait at the hotel for their return. At 5.30 we finally got to sit down and have a drink and catch up what we had done since we had last been together back in Sucre over two weeks ago. Because the weather still wasn’t very good and it seemed too hard to stop talking we stayed at the hotel for dinner and talked till they turned the lights off on us at 11 at night…always a subtle hint to go to bed, and so we did. Day 345 Thursday 20th September
The breakfast at the Posada was pretty good and the coffee was better than the usual rubbish. Over our feed we all formulated a plan on what we wanted to do whilst in Samaipata and it started with us heading into town to organise a tour for tomorrow. Samaipata is a small sleepy town of 9700 which has grown into a
UFO landing strip?
sort of thriving tourist meca, mainly because of its location next to the pre Inca site of El Fuerte. In recent years it has gained popularity because of its proximity to where the legendary freedom fighter Che Guevera met his end. Hadn’t actually considered on doing the “Che Trail” (as they call it) because I thought it would be too difficult but thankfully Donna had done her homework (good girl) and discovered it could be done in a (very) long day with a tour company. Initially she had quotes of near 600 Bob but in town she sniffed out a deal for 390 Bob ($58) each so we locked it in for Friday.
With this sorted we went on to what Shelley and I had wanted to see whilst here and that was the site of El Fuerte. We started with the small museum in town that was free with a ticket to the main site and contained a small assortment of artefacts and details but didn’t hold your attention for more than five minutes. After the museum we got a taxi to El Fuerte for 80 Bob ($11), which included two hours at the site and the return
trip. The site sits on a hill 10 kilometres from town along a rough dirt road so I guess it wasn’t a bad deal. At the site we paid a guide another 80 Bob ($11) to give us a 2 hour tour….again probably not a bad deal when split 2 ways.
El Fuerte is a huge sandstone outcrop at the top of a high hill that has been carved and worshipped for thousands of years. The first people to come here they think was way back in 1200 BC and concluded with the Incas in 1530 AD and finally the Spaniards, and everyone that lived here left their marks upon the bare face of the stonework. It is covered in niches, channels, seats and stairs and although badly eroded still looks fairly amazing. Why the fascination for this piece of rock above all others? Well the anthropological and archaeological theory is that it stands at the junction of three significant terrains in Bolivia. Firstly the high Andean Mountains brush close by here in the West, secondly the Amazon basin spreads north from here and thirdly the vast sparse Chaco region is to the South. Amazingly standing on the site
the change in terrain from North to the South of this site is really obvious and abrupt. With the meeting of the three terrains also meant a meeting of the different people who lived in these different terrains. Interest in the site doesn’t just sit with the Archaeologists as “new agers” are drawn to this site due to the heavy crystal content in the rock that “exudes positive energy” and it has become a mini mecca for a multitude of religious groups. The site was also labelled as a landing strip for UFO’s and although I am no authority on how to land a UFO I personally couldn’t see it as such.
You used to be able to walk all over the rock, which of course has damaged significantly the carved features but thankfully access is now restricted to a raised platform around it, which I think also gives you better views. Surrounding the main lump of rock is a large range of buildings that were built over successive generations most of which are residential. It is estimated that 90% of the site still lies buried in the surrounding bush but most of that would be residential buildings. The
Spanish House in front
site is impressive but wasn’t as big as I expected and at the end of the day is just a large carved piece of rock so 2 hours was as much as you could spend there.
At the conclusion of our tour we paid the guide and got the taxi back to our hotel where we stopped for lunch and then stayed there all afternoon talking. We also had to arrange with the hotel to stay extra nights and although initially being told we couldn’t later we were then told we could by Trent the owner. We soon got the feeling that he isn’t very good at running a hotel and did too much socialising (drinking), and although he agreed we could stay the extra night on Friday night we all had a bad feeling about it. Also in the hotel was an Aussie guy who was perhaps 40 and had wwwwaaaaayyyyyy too much to drink and started out friendly and drunk, became annoying and then down right psycho. By the time he got to that level it was 8 at night and we had resolved to go to town and look for somewhere else to eat. Before we
could get away the Aussie guy knocked back a couple of Vodka shots and proceeded to fall over knocking stuff everywhere…time to go.
Couldn’t get a feed where we wanted to, so walked a bit further dinner was okay and although we all wanted to party on, we had an early start so we headed back to our room at 11pm Day 346 Friday 21st September
Up extra early this morning at 5.30, and this was because we not only had an early departure on a tour but we also had to pack our bags. Trent last night gave us an extra night at this hotel but unfortunately we needed to change rooms and because we were going to be out all day we had to move our stuff out. Couldn’t move our stuff to the new room but we left our bags in Donna and Ken’s room because they were lucky enough to be able to stay where they were….well that is what we were told.
After a rushed breakfast at 6.30 our guide and driver turned up to take us on our tour along the Che trail. Che Guevara the legendary figure
Looking towards the Amazon
who alongside Fidel Castro managed to wrestle control of Cuba from the dictator Batista in the 1950’s went on to attempt similar grand socialist uprisings in the Congo and Bolivia, both of which failed spectacularly. He came to Bolivia with the belief that he was going to liberate the workers from repression in Bolivia and then spread his socialist revolution throughout South America. He arrived in Bolivia in 1966 with a small band of followers expecting the multitudes of workers to join behind him but unfortunately Bolivia probably wasn’t a good choice. Although Bolivia was ruled by a dictator and the people lived in poverty they couldn’t really understand the need for armed revolution and were content to live their simple lives living off the land. Recruits were hard to find and initial successes were followed by a series of defeats. In the end CIA trained soldiers cornered the small remnants of his revolutionaries and captured Che along with 2 others and the following day executed them. The tour today was to visit the key places of these events.
Our guide spoke good English but unfortunately he persisted in chewing massive amounts of coca leaves to the point that
Looking towards the Chaco
it was hard to understand him. We did have a nice sized and comfortable van to travel in all to ourselves and we were able to stop for photos whenever we wanted to. After driving for nearly 3 hours we stopped at the town of Vallegrande where we got to look over the small but interesting Che museum. From here we were joined by a local guide/caretaker and driven out to the Senor de la Malta hospital to see where Che’s corpse was displayed to the world’s media to prove he was dead. At the back of the hospital is the original laundry shed with concrete laundry tub where Ches body was put on display. Today the laundry shed is covered inside and out with Che graffiti and has become a shrine to the man. At the museum we had seen lots of photos of Che on that concrete wash basin on the 10th
October 1967 and it was strangely moving to see it now and realise that although that had been the point that the dream and all the ideals had ended, it had also been where the legend had begun. I wonder if they had just buried him
Che Trail - Vallegrande
Laundry Room in hospital grounds
rather than displaying his corpse too the world whether he would be as worshipped today as he is? Another burning question is that if he had stayed around La Paz he may have gained more support from disgruntled miners, but he moved to a more rural area and was preaching to relatively contented farmers, and thus no one wanted to join his revolutionaries.
From here we moved onto his mausoleum located on the edge of town between the small airport and the town’s cemetery. After putting Che on display for 3 days they threw him into a common grave along with 6 other revolutionaries and where he laid remained a mystery till 1997 when they discovered his remains after looking for them for 2 years. His remains were returned to Cuba but a mausoleum was erected on the spot he was found. It was a lovely small building filled with photos of Che and grave stones for him and the other 6 fighters found with him. Outside were lots of trees planted by people associated with Che including his eldest daughter, and it was interesting to see most were Eucalyptus trees. The strange fact we discovered on this tour
Che Trail - Vallegrande
The Laundry tubs where his body was put on display
was that the CIA asked for a death mask to be made of Che and also had his hands cut off and sent back to America for conclusive he was dead. Our guide had told us that the hands were still in the USA and we imagined them sitting in a tub of formaldehyde on the desk of the head of the CIA, but we have read that they were returned to Cuba.
From here we moved onto see the grave of “Tania” a female revolutionary (and lover) of Che who was killed on 31st
August 1967. She was in a graveyard along with other revolutionaries who were killed, thrown into a common grave and then only recently recovered. All these fighters had code names like “Polo”, “Pacho”, “Willy”, etc in an attempt to protect their identities and “Tania” was in fact Haidetamara Bunke, an Argentinian German. After visiting these graves it was midday and we were given a “snack” which consisted of bread rolls, tomato and spam like ham, which of course we had to assemble into a sandwich whilst sitting in the van. We had sort of expected a proper lunch at a restaurant but the girls
Che Trail - Vallegrande
More graffiti on the Laundry walls
went to work and knocked up rolls for us all and we sat and enjoyed our “snack”.
The final destination of the day was the town of La Higuera which was a very long bumpy 3 hour drive over a rough dirt road but the scenery along the way was spectacular. Bolivia is an amazingly beautiful country filled with incredible vistas and today was yet another good reason for why we came here. At 3.30 we made it to La Higuera and stopped for a beer at a small restaurant where we could also buy souvenirs, and of course Shelley had to pick up a Che beret. From here we walked up through town and onto the school room where Che was executed.
After his capture on the 8th
October he was walked the 2.5hrs uphill and held in the town’s school building along with his fellow fighters “Willy” and “Chino”. The next day orders came down from “above” to kill them and they were gunned down where they were held. The gunman was told to make it look like they had been killed in a gunfight and so he was shot 9 times with the final bullets
Che Trail - Vallegrande
Photo of Che's corpse which is likened to Jesus
through the chest and throat. The school house is now a low key museum with an odd collection of stuff but after looking around it a bit we learnt that it is in fact not the original building and this is a new building. From here we jumped back into the jeep and started the long journey back to Samaipata.
Really enjoyed today and glimpsing a very interesting moment in history. Have mixed feelings about Che, as I admire a man that had grand ideals about what is right, and the courage and conviction to strive to gain the freedom and rights for others. On the other hand he was involved in the shooting of soldiers and police, some (or maybe all) of which probably didn’t deserve to die and left grieving families behind. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Whatever you may think of Che, there is no disputing that in October 1967 in a small corner of Bolivia the man became a legend and his face will forever beam forth from a million T-shirts.
It was a long dusty drive home with only a small pause at a town where our driver had to
ask for directions from a couple of colourful locals. The two old men standing on a corner could have been two old guys standing on any corner in any country town in the world. Shelley and Donna wanted photos of them and they were only too happy to oblige although they couldn’t really understand why. Didn’t get back to Samaipata till 9.45 and was greeted at the gate of our hotel by Trent the hotel owner who had a story to tell us…..oh dear. Ended up that he had overbooked the hotel and only had one room left and either Donna and Ken or ourselves would have to move to another hotel in town. We already had our bags packed so it was an easy choice for us to move on. Ken and Donna however were rightly very unhappy about having all their stuff cleared out of their old room and moved into another whilst they weren’t there.
We were all pretty pissed off with the turn of events but to give Trent his due the night’s accommodation was going to be free so that took the sting off it slightly. After a feed at the hotel’s restaurant we
Che Trail - Vallegrande
The memorial headstones in the Mausoleo
grabbed our bags and were driven to the other side of town to the Hostal Andorina. The hostal was really funky and we got a great room although we nearly had a cat with us all night and it took a bit of an effort to remove it from the room. It was nearly midnight by the time our heads hit the pillow. Day 347 Saturday 22nd September
We had a great night’s sleep and a brilliant breakfast with a huge pile of fruit and homemade bread, before putting on our bags and walking back the 5 blocks to the Posada del Sol. Should have probably got a taxi as part of it was up a steep hill but it at least got our heart going for the morning. At Posada we paid our bill and met up with Donna and Ken and then had a “moment” with Trent the hotel owner who had now stuffed us around on our next hotel. Prior to him double booking us at his hotel we had him organise a room back at Santa Cruz with someone he knew there but this morning he denied he had done it and
Che Trail - Vallegrande
Photo in the Mausoleo Del Che
it wasn’t after a bit of coaxing that he realised he had and was able to give us details to where we had to go….the guy is just so disorganised.
He did however ring for a taxi for us and we were underway by 11 and on our way back to Santa Cruz. Paid a bit extra to be dropped back at our hostel rather than the collectivo station which saved a bit of stuffing around and then booked into the Hostal Los Adventerous which was more like a family home than a hostel. Trent had carried on endlessly about the place we were going to and how it had a huge pool with a bar in it. Well it had a pool with a bar but the water was a milky white colour with a strange slick on top that wasn’t exactly inviting. The whole time we were staying here there was a lot of cleaning going on that gave us the impression that the place had been closed for a while and they were just reopening the hostel, so maybe they just hadn’t got around to the pool yet.
After dropping off our bags we walked
Che Trail - Vallegrande
Graffiti on wall outside Mausoleo
down the road to a nearby mall, picked up some money and some supplies for lunch. Santa Cruz is a city of 1.5 million people so it is a fairly vast sprawling city and the hostel we were staying at was a fair distance from the centre on one of the town’s many ring roads. It wasn’t a rough area but there wasn’t a lot around us within walking distance other than a boring mall. Back at the hostel Shelley and Donna went to work making up ham and tomato rolls for lunch and we had a great afternoon sitting around the pool talking. Shelley had talked so much by this stage and combined with the dust from the road trips had almost completely lost her voice. By 7 that night we thought we would try and get a bite to eat and although the people at the hostel nicely offered to feed us we decided to try and find a restaurant. The woman warned us that it perhaps wasn’t safe for us to be wandering around and got her son to drive us to a nearby restaurant.
The restaurant we were dropped at was like a huge barn
and was packed with people some of which were attending a wedding reception. Before ordering food we ordered a round of drinks and that is where the trouble started and finished. Rather than getting the “grande” (large) beers that were listed and priced in the menu and what was on everyone else’s table they gave us small beers. It was such an obvious “Gringo rip off” that Donna immediately challenged them about it and they tried to bluff their way around it without too much success till Donna just said “should we go” and the vote was unanimous so we left.
Ken had spotted a restaurant down the road so we gave that a go and got a fairly decent feed. Our driver returned at 9.30 and picked us up and got us home where we sat up a bit longer chatting. Day 348 Sunday 23rd September
At the Hostal Los Adventerous we all shared a 4 bed dorm room which only cost 70 Bob ($10) each and it wasn’t too bad. We were all awake by 8 so Ken switched on the tiny television in our room to watch the Formula 1 race in
Che Trail - Vallegrande
"Tania" memorial headstone
Singapore. Watched that a while before going downstairs for our breakfast. We didn’t need to check out till 11 so we all took our time to pack our bags and dragged them downstairs where we sat around the pool still chatting like old friends till 2 when we decided we should head out and find another hotel in town. Donna and Ken were getting an overnight train to Brazil while we had decided to stay in Santa Cruz another couple of days before pushing onto Paraguay. We have been really lucky on this trip and others with the people we have met and travelled with and Donna and Ken have been great value and we will certainly be keeping in touch.
Left our travelling companions and got a taxi to the Alaska Hotel, which was the hotel we stayed at when we first arrived in town. It is a fairly basic hotel but it is cheap and near the centre, but this time we got a newly renovated room with new mattress, fridge, TV (including a huge number of cable channels) and air conditioner. Being Sunday next to nothing was open, but there were lots of families wandering around
particularly down around the plaza.
We haven’t heard many good stories about Santa Cruz and in fact have spoken to people who have fled the place in terror so we didn’t have a lot of high hopes for the place and we can sort of understand the bad reviews. The plaza is really lovely but the streets are filled with sleeping (assume homeless) people and every corner has an old woman (or a woman with a child) begging. The state of the roads footpaths and buildings are pretty bad so the whole impression is fairly grim. Once again we are unsure if we are just walking the wrong areas but we both felt that this town wins the award as the worst town we have been in, in Bolivia and perhaps South America….but it is still better than Bulladelah.
We grabbed a bite to eat at the Alexander Café (which was one of the few places open) before wandering around some more and buying supplies and then returning to the hotel. Had a late dinner at another restaurant we found open nearby and had in fact ate at when we were last here. Across from the hotel was
Che Trail - Pucara
Typical Bolivian valley town
a function centre and a huge party was underway on our return, which included heaps of fireworks. It was sort of ironic that we had decided to stay an extra couple of nights to rest before we head in to Paraguay and there was all this loud music and fireworks…oh well it is Bolivia. Day 349 Monday 24th September
Because of the noise last night we had a short sleep in and then breakfast upstairs. Last night the WiFi wasn’t working and discovered it wasn’t working this morning either. We also discovered that today is a holiday, it is Santa Cruz’s Birthday and most things were closed. We walked to the plaza and watched the parade, which is probably the hundredth parade we have seen in South America….perhaps we should have a parade to celebrate. My observation of parades over here is that they seem to contain an endless stream of community groups and each one has its own banner/flag. Some of the groups are probably stuff like the Lions Club, Rotary, the fire brigade, etc but some of these parades contain over a hundred small groups so you start wondering what are they….town’s barbers 1965
to 1975, women who like knitting scarves, bus drivers who drive safely (small group), cheese empanada makers, etc. In small towns you actually start wondering if the only people watching the parade are visitors as the entire town is out on the street marching. We had thought about marching ourselves under a banner that simply said “just visiting”, perhaps with a coat of arms that incorporates a backpack and a bus.
We ended up stopping at a local restaurant called Picolo’s for a milkshake. This place is big and was packed with people, the food looked good and the milkshakes were great. From here we grabbed a taxi to the bus terminal to buy our tickets to Paraguay, the ticket office was the usual dodgy office and because it was the holidays they were enjoying a drink or two. We were assured that the bus had a toilet ha…ha I have heard that before and air-conditioning for the 24 hour trip. We will try and not think about it till we get on board and face what we get.
Later in the afternoon we walked back to the Plaza to see if anything more was happening and found
a pseudo Irish Pub that had overpriced drinks so we only stayed for one and moved onto Alexander Café for dinner.
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