Our bus cruised up to Samaipata, but didn´t stop. We realised that as the final destination was actually Santa Cruz, we had to be pro active and request the stop. A bit difficult when you don´t actually know what it is meant to look like. Either way we got off in the nick of time and end up being at the far side of town. It was a bit of an abrupt end to the long bus ride, but nice to have arrived finally!
Samaipata is a popular place for young and rich Bolivians to visit for the weekends. That combined with the ´Day of the Dead´coming up on the following Tuesday meant that a lot of hostels were full. After a few rejections we stumbled up the hill towards the plaza and found a dutch own place with dorm spaces available. It was more expensive than usual, but we expected this with it being suh a tourist orientated place.
Although a bit of an eye sore from the outside Andorina was beautiful from the inner courtyard space, peaceful with indian chant music being played on our arrival. Breakfast was included, so we decided to stay. It was our only oppertunity for jungle experience and Al was generous enough to use some unexpected inheritance for some activities´that otherwise would have been unaffordable. So we felt like we were on holiday in Samaipata and not scrimping as much as we usually do. After a week on the road it was nice to have some luxuries.
A problem that became apparent almost immediately after arriving is that there was no ATM in the whole town. The only way to get money out was from Western Union with 5% commission. Unfortunately it was closed for the weekend, so with only 10bl to our name we had to use our emergency dollars for the time being.
It was evening betime we had found a place to stay so we headed out to a place for a beer. We were recommended to go to the Latino bar to catch happy hour. Recommended by the hostel´s volunteer, a camp Aussie called Sunny, who in time proved to know nothing and spent his days reading. We discovered on arrival that happy hour didn´t exist anymore. By then, we had comitted to staying for a drink. Al got a taste for the cubre libres, and I the local beer. After a couple we transferred to a place on the plaza but tried get to bed before too much carnage. Sunny hadn´t mentioned that we needed a key after 10pm, so after a lot of knocking, Sunny came running up the road…and instead of letting us in, he convinced us to go for a drink in the Kareoke bar. Before long we had a tequilla and lots of terrible singing commenced.
So, the next morning, Sunday, we were feeling much more worse for wear than we planned to feel! After breakie (fruit and bread with tea or coffee) we went on a mission to book some treks and plan our time in Samaipata. With pretty much everything closed we found one travelling agent open. We didn´t bother to shop around and booked a day trek to a giant fern forest and then a jungle lodge for 3 days, 2 nights. Inbetween trying to fit in some horseriding.
We were told there was a place on the edge of town where we could organise horseriding, so feeling a little fragile, we felt a walk would do us good. The place was called Park Zoolgica, with lots of exotic animals to see as well as horses. On our walk to it we passed big plots of land for sale and beautiful houses, clearly the rich and famous set up camp here. It was certainly tempting to investigate the land prices in the area!
We reached the park and were pleasantly surprised by the variety of animals there. Animals everywhere, running wild, and a baby spider monkey called Shakshuka ran straight up to Al and held his hand.
He was adorable! We booked our horsriding with ease and enjoyed playing with the monkeys for at least an hour.
So the following morning we were up and at it raring to go trekking! With our guide we jumped into an old skool roofless jeep and meandered up to the entrance of the protected area. Wih a couple of jeeps already there and some groups of Americans milling around, we didn´t waste anytime, and began our walk. Throughout our day Al continued to enoy photograping whatever wildlife he could. The forest was beuatiful, but not jungle, more like thick woodland with a huge variety of flora and fauna to see. Not so many animals though, butterflies and birds…and armadillo tracks. Our trek took us to the top of the mountain where the trees cleared and ade way for a meadow full of butterflies and a staggering view. We settled on a jutting our rock for lunch and as our guide called it, a pause. Ahead of the American groups, we enjoyed it all to ourselves for about half an hour before they caught us up.
We were back at the jeep by 4pm. We both really enjoyed the trek, but it hadn´t quite given us the jungle ´fix´we were after. We were beginning to realise that it was semi tropical jungle, not the amazon, that Al so desperately wants to experience. With the jungle lodge pending, we were really excited for more jungle experiences to come, but admitting that it will not be tropical jungle with Macaws. However, Amboro is untouched virgin ´jungle´, so that in itself was going to be epic!
Rounding our day off with a meal at Latino bar, which Al spoiled me to, we enjoyed a bottle of red and retired. It was to be an early start on the horses the following day.
With an 8am start on the horses, we were up at the crack of dawn raring to go. We rocked up at the park where our guide (Danny, a 14 year old french kid) was getting the horses ready. He gave us the life story for each horse so we could decide who would ride which horse. I opted for the friskiest one, who immediately proved that she would be a handfull. A I approached Flora her ears went straight back and she swung around and tried to kick me. She missed, but it knocked my confidence before I had even mounted her. Great! I also had an interesting greeting from a howler monkey, who decided I was a climbing frame and I literally had to peel him of my face!
All eventually saddled up, we left the park. My horse was very jumpy and it took a little while to get used to eachother. I did however manage to stay in control. I later learnt that Danny would even dare ride her.
With a hand drawn route we picked up from our hostel, we set out. Danny had not ridden this route before, so it was really nice to all have a unique day out. A foal and a dog from the park followed us. So in convoy we rode out of town and up the mountain, which provided a great view of the forest and Samaipata. I didn´t expect the foal and dog to follow us for long, but they followed us for the entire day! Feeling more confident after an hour or so we had many impromptu gallops. It was great to be able to gallop whenever we felt like it. In the past I have experienced too many horse treks where it is all very controlled and the guide makes very little oppertunities to gallop. Our horses really wanted to go, and they galloped FAST! It really felt like we were in the wild west! The foal was a tease to the horses and would eat grass then gallop to catch us us, this made our horses chomp at the bit, desperate for more wild galloping.
We stopped for water and a snack after a couple of hours. None of us had eaten breakfast, so it was nice to stop for a little while also allowing the horse to graze. When it came to get our horses ready to go again, Flora´s ears were straight back once again. This time she swung around so fast I didn´t have time to react. She kicked me really hard! Luckily on my uper thigh, so nothing broken…but a hefty bruise to follow! OUCH. I had to pick myself up and get on my horse and not let her know she had scared me, which was pretty difficult.
After 4hours of riding in the mountains, passing tiny settlements, we stopped on a grassy meadow and football field for lunch. We let our horses grazed. Mine firmly tied up without a chance of monouvering herself into kicking position this time. The Sun was blazing down, not a cloud in the sky all day. Really was beautiful to be in the mountains, free on our horses. Some ham sarnies later we mounted our horses once more and continued. Al put his indian turban on to escape the relentless hear, I thought he looked like Lawrence of Arabia, especially with the back drop of red sandstone rocks and a dirt road. Classic.
With new energy and with us now on the return part of our loop, the horses were sprightly and I think they would have galloped all the way home if ew let them. As we approached the town again the horses were trotting pretty much the whole time almost impossible to make them walk. On the last roads towards the park the galloping got faster and faster. Al and Danny raced all the way back, but I refused to let my frisky beast do that. Especially with the occasional oncoming traffic appearing around bends in the road.
Back at the park, we gave our horses some carrots and tried to come to terms with our aching jelly legs. We chilled and played with the monkeys before making our way to a beer on the plaza. The day had been brilliant, the most enjoyable horse ride I have ever had, despite being kicked. 8 hours of riding only cost us 15 quid. A bargain and great value for money!
We had dinner at the Latin bar for the last time and enjoyed perhaps one too many Cuba libres before hitting the sack…via stumbling into a small bar with a man playing the charanga excellently.
The following morning we checked out and headed towards the tour agency where a cab was waiting to take us to the jungle lodge. Goodbye Samaipata, hello a very hot a queasy 45 min drive into the jungle. We hit Amboro and were dropped off at the top of a hill
where we waited to be picked up in another jeep for the final 20 mins towards the lodge. The view where we waited for the jeep was great. Thick, dense green jungle with a clearing where our lodge awaited us. I couldn´t wait to get to a hammock!
Along with a dutch couple we piled in the jeep and descended into the jungle. We weren´t able to check in immediately, so we all opted to go on a small trek to the waterfalls before lunch. En route to the waterfalls our guide told us about medicinal purposes for
various plants. As soon as we found the reached the waterfall we couldn´t get into the pool quick enough. The water was freezing though, and it was an in & out job! In one area of the pool, it was bottomless, with an entrance to an underwater cave. The place was amazing. We wre very excited to be there. Al and I would have been happy with very basic accomodation and food here, but it soon became apparent that this was catered for rich, unfit westeners who wanted to relax in a jungle resort with a little trekking. It wasn´t necessarily going to be the intrepid jungle experience, but we were more than happy to accept a little luxury in the jungle and treat the 3 days like a mini holiday. With all meals included, and a nice big breakfast with unlimited tea and coffee we soon got the jist of it! After lunch we hung out at one of the cool waterholes and enjoyed the bird and butterfly watching.
Time soon crept by and before we knew it we were checked in and in a hammock with a beer. Ahhhh…this is the life!
The following morning we went on a hike up to a view point with a guide. It was fantastic, with huge 200year old trees, tarzan-esque vines with flora and fauna galore. Al, as ever enjoyed practicing his wild life photography skills!
Back intime for another tasty lunch and a relaxing afternoon in the hammocks and a couple of cans of Pacena. We agreed with the dutch couple to have an early dinner and go on a night trek with them and a guide. We all wanted to see some jungle animals!
The sun was down, our bellies full from dinner, we set off with our torches across a astream and into the dark jungle. It was by far the darkest place I have ever been. I couldn´t see Al, who I made sure was close at all times. The only light we did experience was from the millions of glow bugs and the stars in the clear sky. It was magical to watch, like mother nature´s fairy lights. Staring into the black jungle constant flashing from the bugs was an incredible backdrop, and when I moved my eyes to the sky the darting glow bugs diffused into the starry sky. Stunning.
We intermittently would stop and be silent, listening for nocturnal creatures, then we would turn our torches on and look. With no luck in any sightings, but hearing lots of animal noises, we settled on the roots of a huge butress tree for about half an hour. We definately heard some animals walking very near us, however we weren´t lucky enough to see anything. For me tough, it was a fantastic experience to be in the jungle at night, the sounds of so many creatures at once along with the visuals from the glow bugs was enough for me.
Back in the lodge, the guide told us he thinks the predominant animal sounds we could hear were from a small jungle cat that looks a bit like a leopard. I was dubious if this was true, but either way, it sounded cool!
On our last day in the jungle we got up for sunrise and trekked to another looking point where it was good to spot condors. We went on our own this time and were really quiet so we could try and spot any early morning animals about. As soon as we entered the jungle we heard heavy prominent footsteps scurry away from us, unfortunately we didn´t catch a glimps of what it was. Our morning walk was the best, with the morning mist and dew and the cool morning air. We reached the viewpoint by 7am and enjoyed the brilliant view of the ancient volcanoes which dominated the landscape on Amboro. It was a really enjoyable last trek, despite to mammal spots. We did however see some very fresh poo that looked like cat poo…maybe therer were jungle cats in the jungle after all..
Inbetween a huge breakfast and lunch we chilled in the hammocks and Al persued more butterfly photos. Just as we were getting ready to go for lunch we were finally rewarded with the animal spot we had been hoping for. Al with his identification of monkey noises, led us towards a tree that was full of them. They were moving in convoy with babies to a tree on the other side of the road. We crept up really close and sat quuietly under the tree canopy and watched them pass us over head. We were elated to see so many monkeys in the wild. A perfect end to a great few days in the jungle.
After lunch, we reluctantly left the lodge and got picked up by a cab who drove us to Santa Cruz, our last destination before Brazil. The tarmac road that led us into the large city was lined with massive mansions and lush gardens. Quite different to the rest of dry, arid, poor Bolivia. Already I felt that we had left Bolivia, and now we were entering a gateway to Paraguay, Argentinia and Brazil. Weird, but I felt sad to be leaving the chaotic unorganised west as we drove to the affluent, cosmopolitan east.