Of Moneys and Giant Tree Ferns
06.13.2012 - 06.16.2012 75 °F
Day 3 – 6 Samaipata
Got up the next morning painfully aware of all the gear that was missing but really glad to have the basics to get by. I managed to track our bags on the internet only to discover that they were still sitting in Fort Lauderdale as I had feared they might. Spent the morning calling Delta who deftly delivered another string of platitudes, increased our stash of cash, and considered our options. Since the Travel Gods were firmly in control of our fate, we decided to continue with our plan to travel to Samaipata a small town about 2½ hours west of Santa Cruz on the edge of Amboro National Park. Negotiated a taxi to the place where we could catch another taxi to Samaipata. Found a guy to take us there for 30 Bolivianos each or about 4 dollars a piece for the three hour drive. The taxi could hold 7 passengers along with the driver and since he had only collected six people we needed to wait for another passenger to come along before we could leave. I quickly did the math and gladly paid the extra fare to send us on our way.
We picked up another older woman on the way out of town with a mountain of stuff not the least of which were carefully packed eggs or something equally fragile. When we stopped to fill up with natural gas, the fuel of choice in the Bolivian lowlands, I took the opportunity to use the bano and missed out on the big excitement of the journey. Bridget wanted something out of her pack, and Anne, the ever attendant mother, promptly opened the back of the van where upon a mountain of stuff rained down not the least of which was the old woman’s fragile cargo. The benefits of not knowing the language helped shield the onslaught of the old woman’s rage. Anne had no idea what she said but it was something akin to a long string of expletives to chasten the careless gringa lady that tipped over the apple cart. From there it was a long stony silence for the next 2 ½ hours to Samaipata.
Leaving the flat countryside, we quickly ascended into the mountains along a series of steep forested river valleys. We passed through several towns and villages that all looked very poor and ratty, but as we ascended into the mountains we began to see some very large, well attended homes with grand vistas of the valley below. Many of the steep hills were cultivated and I wondered if it might be coca they were growing but it turns they were just vacation homes of wealthy people from Santa Cruz.
Samaipata is a really quaint village that sits at the top of a large river valley. We stayed at the Hostal Andorina, a small B&B run by Andre’ an ex-pat from Holland and his Bolivian wife. The next morning we found a small tour company to take us to El Fuerte, the Fort, a large archeological site on top of a mountain some miles out of Samaipata. Our guide, Tibu, informed us in Spanish translated by Anne, that El Fuerte is one of the oldest archeological sites in South America, more than 2,000 years old, and used by the Incas and a variety of pre-Incan civilizations as a sacred religious site for prayer and sacrifice. The Spanish provided the moniker “El Fuerte” speculating that it must have been a military site due to its advantageous position on a hill perched in a high bowl with mountains surrounding that provided a watershed for the some 2,000 people that resided there in centuries past.
The hills of this particular location were particularly dry as compared with the surrounding country-side and dominated by a long needled pine tree and Eucalyptus that were introduced from Europe and Australia in the last 50 years to control erosion. As you can imagine, the erosion is still prevalent and the pine and eucalyptus are doing a splendid job of crowding out the native plants. It seems that the Do-Gooders ability to screw up the environment is a universal human attribute.
El Fuerte is an amazing site and a strong reminder that this rugged landscape has a rich history that goes far beyond anything you might learn in your basic history lessons. After several hours we returned to Samaipata, caught some lunch and decided to go check out the Refugio Zoologico, a sanctuary for rescued animals. This small, unassuming enclave was about a 15 minute walk from town. As we entered, we could see several large enclosures with a variety of parrots and monkeys and several standard farm animals grazing nearby. We were greeted by a young woman that took our 40 bvs entrance fee and proceeded to walk through. Then came the monkeys. Several species of Howler and Spider monkeys were just out running loose and immediately came over to visit the new arrivals. Swinging from trees and bushes, after all of about 30 seconds we each had a monkey perched on our shoulders. One larger Howler Monkey, took an immediate liking to Anne, and perched on her head, he proceeded to howl letting all of the world know just how much he adored his new friend. There was a large black spider monkey that liked to swing from your arm and several baby howlers that were content just to nuzzle in the crook of your neck and lick the salt from the sweat on your hands. Unfortunately for the monkeys, our recent arrival from civilization meant that our hair was free from any fleas or lice, but they checked all of our hair just to make sure there weren’t any goodies to be found. It is difficult to express just how super cute they were. The contrast between any zoo or rescue center I have visited in the states was vast, and the staff there was actually surprised that similar facilities don’t allow such direct contact with the animals. The animals that were caged were only contained to prevent them from running off or if they happened to be biters. It all just seemed so sensible.
That evening, after booking a trek for a hike to a cloud forest the next day and catching a bite to eat, I went and found an Internet Café to check and see if there was any word on our luggage. An email from the LAN representative indicated that unfortunately our bags had not arrived that day as hoped and more alarming was the admission that at this point no one really knew where they were. The reality that we could spend the rest of the trip without most of our belongings seemed to have moved from possibility to likelihood. Despite the absence of numerous creature comforts, I was really mourning the loss of my hiking boots and the power cords for my computer and battery chargers for cameras. The loss of warm sleeping bags would also mean that we were in for some very cold nights during upcoming treks on the altiplano.
After dinner, I ran into Andre’, the owner of the hostal. As we told him of our adventures and plans to hike the cloud forest the next day, he mentioned that he might have some hiking boots that would fit me. I thankfully jumped at the offer. The boots were quite old and worn but they fit reasonably well and provided a big step up from the very light canvas crocs that I was wearing.
The next morning we met our guide, Renaldo. A young guy with a family who’d grown up in Samaipata and spent 6 years at the University in Cochabamba studying tourism and botany. He spoke English reasonably well, but with Anne speaking Spanish he quickly dropped back into his native tongue.
The cloud forest was nothing short of amazing. Within a few minutes of hiking up a steep trail we moved from a relatively dry climate to dense jungle. On the way we encountered several Green Toucans, a Carpenter Bird that looked and behaved much like a large Flicker, and a mother Howler Monkey and her baby. Renaldo’s knowledge of the medicinal properties of numerous plants was very impressive distinguishing a large variety of medicinal plants from what appeared to the untrained eye as a mostly dense green forest. The giant tree ferns were super cool. With a hard trunk like any typical tree at the top is a large top-not with giant fern fronds eminating from it. Large leaves are up to 8 feet in length and a good 4 feet wide.
The hike took about 6 hours and I was really thankful for the boots since many parts of the trail were steep and muddy. Not the terrain for lounge shoes. The fact that our hosteler had completely saved my bacon was not lost on me as I contemplated where I might come up with another set of boots.
When we returned that evening, I stopped be the internet cafe to attend to what had now become the luggage ritual and the email from LAN informed us that our bags had in fact arrived and would be delivered forthwith to our hotel. The Travel Gods had smiled, and we all let out a huge sigh of relief.
It rained hard that night and on Saturday the 16th we packed up, caught a taxi and headed back to Santa Cruz to collect our things and fly out to Sucre. Apart from the fact that our driver kept falling asleep while negotiating a windy, narrow mountain road the return trip was uneventful. As we approached Santa Cruz the rain came harder and we quickly received an education in the benefits of infrastructure. All the Tea Party nut jobs that don´t think the government is providing any value would do well to make that drive. It is amazing and not very pretty when you concentrate a lot of people in one place with no government services like garbage collection or storm drains just to name a couple of key items.
We returned to the Residencial Bolivar, the kids glad to see the toucan Simone, and Anne and I happy to be done with the luggage saga.