Samaipata, Amboro & Vallegrande

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Samaipata, a small village of 3,500 inhabitants located at the foot of the Andes, was our base to explore the national park Parque Amboro. We stayed a German-run guesthouse called “Landhaus” which had a beautiful patio, an outdoor breakfast area and a swimming pool (220 BOB without breakfast for a three per night).

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The day after our arrival was Leonard’s fifth birthday. Unbelievable that five years are already gone!

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Of course, we had a nice cake for him which the Landhaus prepared for us 🙂

First, we visited “El Fuerte”, a historical archaeological site which was used by the Guaranis and later the Incas for spiritual celebrations (50 BOB per adult). Consequently, the name is a bit misleading and in fact it was given by the Spaniards when they used it as a fortress when fighting against the Incas. The first stones on this site where actually set before Christ which was impressive.

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There’s a well-prepared boardwalks which provides different perspective of the carvings on the great rock and the foundations of the houses. Also the vistas of the surrounding mountains of Amboro National Park and Northern Chaco are spectacular!

After the afternoon cake we went to the local zoo of Samaipata (20 BOB adult, 10 BOB kid) which is located 2km south of town. Here many animals could run around freely on the premises which gave it a more authentic touch. Among the most fascinating were tucans, lamas, monkeys and turtles. Leo enjoyed his birthday a lot!

The next day we headed to Parque Amboro without a guide. Initially, we intended to take a guide but after talking to a tour agency and seeing pictures of the trails we decided to go without one. Thanks to maps me we know where a lot of hiking trails nearby Samaipata were located and hence we drove to the closest one. The road was pretty bad and most likely the worst one we have taken on this journey so far:

After an hour drive for 12km we arrived at the top where a young lady collected the entrance fee of 15BOB per adult and told us that we could not go unattended. She suggested that we should talk to a guided which arrived just 5min later. Irina negotiated quickly and immediately were we ready to join the group for 40 BOB per adult.

The goal was to see giant fern and ideally some animals. However, our Spanish-speaking guide set the expectation pretty low by explaining that most of the animals live in the northern part of the park which is lower and warmer. Since we were in the southern part our main focus was flora.

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On the start of the trail we saw this ant colony:

After 300m uphill on a wide dirt road we entered the forest where the trail got narrower and more authentic. We saw a lot of different berries and flowers on the way and stopped at two lookout points. Unfortunately, they were covered by clouds most of the time such that the vistas were not as spectacular as on a clear day.

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After another 20min uphill we arrived at a spot were the giant fern (helechos grandes) grew. They were all of different size but could grow taller than trees. We learned that each of them grows at a pace of 1cm per year. It was amazing to encounter farns which were around 20m tall – 2000 year old plants!

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We walked the same way back and enjoyed the great variety of flora which is a mixture of Andean, Chaco and Amazon landscape. The views of the valley where Samaipata is located were spectacular!

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The last stop of the day was at the Cascadas de Cuevas, a popular waterfall ca. 30Km away from Samaipata. The entrance was 20BOB per adult and a well-prepared path led to the three levels of the waterfall. Many locals took a bath in it but since it was late afternoon we opted out and just took a couple of pictures.

The next day we left Samaipata for Sucre. On our way we took a small detour to Vallegrande in order to see Che Guevara’s mausoleum. 5Km before Vallegrande we had to stop for 40min caused by a road blockage due to a motocross race on the main road! We arrived around noon at the entrance and the lady told us that she’s on the way to her lunch break. We explained that we have a long drive before us and begged her to let us in for 10min which she eventually agreed to.

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The mausoleum contains a mass grave of Che and six of his fellows. Above it there are four flags: The Argentinian one (he was born there), the Cuban, the Bolivian (he got killed and buried in the area of Vallegrande) and the Peruan (nationality of one of his allies). Behind the grave is a memorial of individuals who fought for the Cuban revolution. Outside of the mausoleum were trees planted for Che and the six others.

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Apart from the mausoleum there’s a small museum with a lot of historical pictures, replicates of his cloths, arms and old newspaper stories. The entire museum is not that old: After a big project was launched in the late nineties the bones of Che and his companions were discovered and extracted in 1997 from a mass grave near Vallegrande. Most the remainder of his body was sent to Cuba and still lies nowadays in a grave in Santa Clara, Cuba.

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Entering Bolivia, San Jose & Santa Cruz

We started early from Corumba (Brazil) to Puerto Quijarro (Boliva) because we have read a lot of negative things about this border. Brazilian customs was straightforward and took us 10min. Also Bolivian Immigration was easy – we got a 30 day visa without a tourist card in 15min. The longest procedure took place on the opposite site of Immigration at the Aduana where we needed to apply for the car import permit (Orden de circulacion/declaracion jurada) . Here we spent more two hours due to the lengthy process.

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First, we had to copy the entry stamp and the vehicle registration and then we had to register the vehicle online with Sivetur. Here’s the needed website: http://apad2.aduana.gob.bo:7777/turista/parametro.jsp

Since our Brazilian SIM card had no signal at the border we had to find the nearest internet cafe to complete this task. With the registration number and copies in hand we went back to the office and were asked to wait outside. After an hour or so we were handed over the import permit without a vehicle check. Bienvenido a Bolivia!

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The next task was to find a gas station which was ready to sell us gas at the national price. Bolivia discriminates foreigners and charge more than double the price than for Bolivians. For this task the iOverlander app turned out very helpful where other travelers have posted their experience with selected gas stations. The first one we stopped at on our way to Santa Cruz refused to fill straight into the car and hence we had to buy a 10l canister. With our new tool kit in hand the nice guy at the pump gave his temptations & we had 20l for 3.74BOB/l ready to be feeded to Oscar with a self-made cone 🙂

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We stopped overnight at San Jose, a town which is part of the Mission circle. There’s a Catholic convent built in the 17th century with impressive towers. It’s located at the central plaza and worthwhile a stop if one is in the region. For dinner we set a new record on our journey: We had four plates with a quarter of tasteful roasted chicken with rice and noodles for unbelievable 40BOB (~$6.50).

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The next day’s drive to Santa Cruz was very scenic with mountain ranges and varying landscape:

Upon arrival at Santa Cruz we bought an Entel SIM card (10BOB) at a Entel Multicenter (apparently the best coverage in Bolivia) and Leo and Lothar got a haircut (20BOB per person). As we arrived early we had some time to explore around the city center. In contrast to the guide book comments the architecture with white-washed buildings and a beautiful cathedral Santa Cruz at the Central Plaza.

For dinner we found a nice roof top terrace at from where we could watch an outdoor Semana Santa service:

Before heading to a higher altitude to Samaipata we picked up our next travel buddies from Santa Cruz’s international airport: Welcome cousin Julia and boyfriend Paolo! Let’s have two great weeks together 🙂

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