22 – 31 July
Similar to Cochabamba, Villa Tunari does not make it easy for the average backpacker to leave either. I guess that’s a good sign as it indicates that these places are still authentic ones to travel to, without receiving too many tourists yet and without catering to them and their needs. That’s what makes it interesting and is the adventure I am looking for. I do have to admit though that it can be a little frustrating at the same time. Here is why: I get up early in order to catch a bus and to get to see what is on the way to my next stop, Buena Vista, supposedly a 4-hour busride further east. I already know that there only is one official bus leaving at 8 PM but various locals have confirmed that there are several buses passing throughout the day that are heading to the very destination. Thus, I walk down to the main road and wait… and wait… and wait… for a total of two hours. One single bus passes me, without stopping, even though I try everything to get the driver’s attention and he definitely must have seen me waiving at him. After two hours of melting in the straight sun and breathing dust and smog of the highway I give up and decide to go for the nightbus instead.
We leave at 8 PM sharp, however, due to several stops along the way the trip takes longer than exected (and than promised). Instead of arriving in Buena Vista at midnight we pass it about one hour later. Being aware that there is not a single accommodation listed online in the entire village (it is a very small village) and considering that I arrive in the middle of the night I am realistic about my chances of finding a place to stay and spontaneously decide to stay on board to continue to Santa Cruz, 2nd biggest city in the country, where we are supposed to arrive at 2 AM. We eventually get in at 4 AM but are not dropped off at the bus terminal but somewhere in the suburbs of this 2 Mio. city. Half of the people just stay on the bus, get comfortable for the upcoming 2-3 hours and wait for the day to start – one reason might be that Santa Cruz is notoriously dangerous, especially at night. I am not sure how to interpret this uniquely strange situation but since I am still super tired and won’t be able to check into any hostel at this early hour anyway, I figure it might be my best option to stay on the bus as well for a while and to pass out. What a challenge to get here…
Wandering around Santa Cruz for two days makes me realize that this city does not really have too much to offer next to its wonderful temperatures. It probably does not help that it is Sunday and thus the streets empty and the majority of shops closed.
I take a collectivo up to Buena Vista, and arrive during the day this time. As soon as I get here I am glad I decided to stay on the bus to Santa Cruz the last time I passed this place as it would have simply been impossible to find a place to stay at 2 AM in this sleepy little town. Even during the day it seems that half of all places (shops, restaurants, tour agencies and guest houses) are shut down – and I am not sure if temporarily only. I find a very basic place and get to know Simon (from France) who just arrived here as well.
Together, we go for a walk to find out what’s going on in and arounf town and to look for a way to explore nearby Amboro National Park in the upcoming days. All agencies and official tours are way overpriced so we almost start letting go of the idea to visit the park at all when one of the motor-taxi guys who we talked to earlier shows up and makes us an offer to take us into the park. We bargain him down to a price that seems to satisfy both parties and are very curious what the next day will bring, as this is clearly not the most common way to visit the park.
It’s a one-hour bikeride down a bumpy dirtroad including several river-crossings that are certainly not of advantage for the motorbikes but eventually make it to the park. What follows is a beautiful trek through the jungle, passing rivers, swamps with caimans and exotic birds, monkeys, fresh puma footprints, plenty of crazy trees and plants and countless of different types of insects. Even though our ”guides” that usually work as motor-taxistas in Buena Vista seem to be just as lost as Simon and I most of the time, we somehow manage to find our way back to the motorbikes a few hours later and all agree that it has been a fun day and a great adventure.
When I return to Santa Cruz Simon takes off and heads north but Marcus arrives in town before flying out to Rio. We spend the weekend exploring Santa Cruz’s nightlife and enjoying some stand-up comedy. One gig is completely in Spanish, thus, very difficult for us to follow but the other one is Marcus performing himself, in a beautiful venue right at the plaza.
During the hot days we take two approaches to find a way to cool down a little bit. Our first attempt is heading down to the river as on the map it looks like it would be framed by a nice park that might allow us to chill out for an afternoon. When we finally get there after a long and sweaty walk through the entire city we only find a very dusty and dodgy neighbourhood in very poor conditions instead of a park – supposedly one of the most dangerous parts of of the city, as we are told later on.
Our second idea is to take a bus to a waterpark with pools and waterslides (the only waterpark in the country) a little out of town. We are very excited and cannot wait to dip into some refreshing waters and hardly believe our eyes when we see an empty parking lot, a closed gate and only some dusty ruins of what must have been a vibrant waterpark at some point in the past – right now it is closed for maintenance at least.
For now, after these days and experiences here, I have seen enough – or actually, since I have not really seeen anything, I just have enough of Santa Cruz and feel ready to move on…