A little bit of R&R in Samaipata

Trip Start May 01, 2010
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Trip End Apr 30, 2011


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Samaipata is a sleepy village nestled in the furthest eastern reaches of the Andean foothills located at a crossroads of different ecosystems: the Andes to the west, the Amazon and pampas to the northeast, and the dry Chaco to the south and east. Its picturesque countryside and laid-back feel has made it popular with wealthy Bolivians from Santa Cruz who have holiday homes here, and also many Europeans who have emigrated here and set up B&B’s, restaurants and tour companies.

The 17 hour bus journey from La Paz involved going through two police checkpoints in the middle of the night. I had my bag searched and Tom got woken up by a policewoman poking him with a metal rod! Then we all had to file off the bus and wait while the police searched it for drugs. When we finally reached Santa Cruz in the morning we jumped in a shared taxi to take us the remaining 3 hours to Samaipata, passing through an amazing landscape of sugar-loaf sandstone hills.

We checked into the lovely Posada del Sol, a small B&B with flower-filled garden run by the very hospitable Trent (from Texas) and Chary (from Bolivia) and then had a delicious lunch at Tierra Libre. Walking back to Posada del Sol through the leafy village square and quiet dusty streets, we decided we liked Samaipata so much that we would stay for nearly a week.

Much of our time here has been spent doing nothing more energetic than reading, playing scrabble, eating at the wonderful restaurants in town and taking advantage of Cafe Latina’s happy hour where a glass of chilled Argentinian white costs 5 Bolivianos (50p). We have had a few active days though. One afternoon we met up with Davit and Christina, a couple who were on our pampas tour, and walked to a nearby animal refuge which looks after injured wildlife. They had lots of animals including a blind night monkey, a colourful toucan who let me stroke its beak and a Geoffrey’s cat which only had one paw (it got caught in a hunter’s trap). A friendly howler monkey climbed on me and wrapped its tail around my neck which didn’t bother me until it started licking my face! I also got pooed on by a parrot which at least is supposed to be good luck. Not so for Christina whose new spider monkey friend decided to pee on her lap!

We also took two day trips with a company called Roadrunners, run by two great guys, Olaf from Austria and Frank from Germany, both of whom have lived in Samaipata for some years. Our first trip was a hike up Cerro Cathedral, a dramatically wind-sculpted sandstone mountain in the area called Codo de Los Andes. The going was very steep and often involved walking along a tiny path with a precipitous drop to one side (not for those with vertigo!), but we took it easy with lots of breaks and reached the top in a couple of hours. It was so windy at the top that at one point I had to get down on my hands and knees. During lunch we were lucky enough to spot a condor flying past.

The second trip with Roadrunners was to Amboro National Park, a 430,000 hectare area consisting of tropical rainforest in the north section and cloud forest and dry Chaco forest in the south, where we were. It is home to many species including spectacled bears, jaguars, tapirs, peccaries and over 800 species of bird. The inner sections of the park are very difficult to access (a recent expedition took 17 days to cross from one side to the other) and so are well protected but the outer edges suffer from slash and burn agriculture which the authorities do nothing to stop. August and September are the months that farmers set fire to their fields and new areas of forest and, as we have experienced in much of lowland Peru and Bolivia, the sky is permanently hazy due to these fires. The area of Amboro we visited also suffered recently from the unusually cold temperatures experienced by much of South America a couple of months ago when Amboro received 20 cms of snow, which is almost unheard of in this tropical area. The snow combined with high winds caused many big trees to fall down and the tree ferns, for which this area is famous, lost their green fronds. Fortunately these will grow back and already we were seeing lots of re-growth but the open spaces created by the larger trees falling might change this area altogether as more light falls to the ground allowing new species to grow. The tree ferns may also suffer in the long-term as they are no longer shaded from above and protected from the wind. We hope this won’t be the case as they are wonderful plants, a relic from the time of the dinosaurs.

Today is our last day in Samaipata and we will be sad to leave it. We have loved our time here and could easily have stayed for longer. Tonight we take the 8pm bus to Sucre, only another 15 hours!


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