One day, O called me and said that if she didn’t escape from Santa Cruz she would throw herself in front of the next passing micro (bus). I tried to convince her that that was a very bad idea because medical care here is substandard and even if she did happen to die immediately it would be all over the news and not in the tasteful glossed-over American way but showing her bloodied dead body lying in the road while some women wail tearfully about what a good person she was and the theme music from Titanic swells in the background. When that failed (perhaps O hasn’t seen the Bolivian news yet) I agreed to accompany her to El Jardin de las Delicias, some waterfalls about an hour out of town.
Of course, given her spontaneity we instead wound up in Buena Vista, about three hours out of town where we walked about aimlessly unable to find the good coffee place, the parks office, or the hostel we had chosen. We resigned ourselves to eat cheese empanadas and walk to the marsh to birdwatch when after coming very close to being attacked by a large dog we accidentally located the parks office. You see, we were on the border of Amboro National Park. There we talked with a park guard who said he could have his son take us on his motorcycle to an ecovillage, likely arriving before dark if of course the river wasn’t too too flooded, where we could stay the night and go hiking the next day before having to return to the city and work. In a split second O had agreed and we suddenly found ourselves hugging teenaged biker boys riding into the sunset. (I’m not really exaggerating.) The journey took about two hours in which we had to dismount from our bikes and cross rivers about ten times. Since I expected that we would be at a waterfall all day I was wearing sandals; for once poor wardrobe planning worked out. We arrived at a pasture in the dark to find another teenaged boy waiting to walk us the rest of the way (about 3km according to a sign I spied).
The road was very very muddy and I lagged behind O and Franklin, as his name turned out to be, who both walk at superhuman speeds. It soon got too dark to even see them but luckily I had a flashlight. Because I am still a neurotic Bolivian traveler, I always have a flashlight, toilet paper, crackers, a towel, and at least a liter of water. O did not have any of this; nor did she bring a change of undies. Soon we encountered a woman on a horse who also accompanied us. At this point my sandal choice no longer seemed wise as I had mud squishing between my toes and no traction. At one point I just tipped over and fell into a large mud puddle making some interesting noises on both the way down and the way back up. Something akin to aaaaaaaaaaahshiiiitsqueeeeelch.
We finally arrived to camp and were met with dinner and tea. Dinner was the same thing I ate every morning in the campo: rice, meat, and potatoes all mixed together in a bowl…except infinitely better because it also had tomato sauce. We learned a bit about the village and how it fits within a nationwide network of community tourism locales, set the schedule for the next day, washed our feet, and went to bed. I wish I had written down some of the stuff our host and guide Dalmiro (D) said because not only was he intelligent and enthusiastic about his work but he was also very funny in an understated Bolivian sort of way. I also wish I had taken a photo of him because he reminded me of someone that I haven’t been able to figure out and maybe you readers could have helped me out.
That night, despite being in the campo my phone rang (it was the guy who’s stalking me even though I told him I have a boyfriend whom I based loosely on the ex-BBT, A, and Wolverine) and I was so confused because my bed was facing the wrong way. Also I had a dream about giant insects and howling monkeys…probably because there were bats in our cabin and the monkeys outside were howling.
We woke up at about 6:30 to walk to the marsh to birdwatch. Neither O and I are really birdwatchers but we played along at being silent-sitter-ers with binoculars. D regaled us with a story about why flamingos have red legs that are always in water, a story I was super proud to be able to repeat to my friends later in understandable Spanish. As it turns out all the animals went to a party. Here D expounded at length about several details like the invitations, the seating configuration, and the dances performed with the only relevant details being that the flamingos had painted their legs in red and white and black and were quite flamboyant dancers and that the snakes got super drunk super quick. The drunken snakes determined that the flamingos were wearing snake skins, got super heated, and bit the flamingos who in an effort to keep their fevers down and legs from swelling stuck them in Lake Poopo in Oruro. (I don’t know if the flamingos in Florida went to a different party or just retired there.) On the way back to breakfast we stopped at an almond tree where D told us that sometimes worms lived in the nuts and you could eat them and they too tasted like almonds. I’m not sure why you would eat the worms instead of the nut but I did anyway much to O’s shock and horror.
Besides grubs, breakfast was a delicious yucca and cheese fritter (sonso), oranges, and tea made of cedron.
Being fortified we then set off on the “interpretative trail.” D told us all about the ajo tree which you can use to cure a snake bite, as a mosquito repellant, or an opposite sex repellant. We saw some tiger tracks (and heard the story of the tiger caught by the Mennonites who I later visited in the zoo. The tiger, not the Mennonites), some giant armadillo tracks, and several interesting trees about which I asked an appropriate amount of questions. We ran into a trail of biting ants and since we could not circumvent them because a tree had fallen on the alternate path we rolled up our pant legs and ran through them. I got bitten about four times on each foot which immediately began to swell but it was ok because we had arrived at the river. Again I was faced with the dilemma of “how appropriate is it to strip down to my undies?” We did it anyway and neared the edge. O stuck a toe in and reported that it was cold but knowing that I would never get in if I tested the water first I just jumped right in, much to O’s shock and horror. We swam for approximately ten minutes before our appendages went numb. When I came out I noticed D putting away his binoculars. I wonder if he was observing the lovely gringa fauna because I was later told that Bolivian women, no matter how tight their clothing or how short their skirts, never jump into rivers in their undies.
(This actually falls into the category of things I wish A had told me earlier. Things like: don’t wear that gold chain. Someone will steal it off you on the micro; Don’t swim in only your undies. It is not culturally appropriate; You have marker on your face. )
We returned the way we came braving the ants and arriving at home base to a delicious meal of lentils and rice and beet salad. It annoyed me a little that O insisted on choking down her beets even though she hates them and I love them and would have gladly taken them off her hands. After packing up our things we arranged to return to town on horseback and by taxi which turned out to be infinitely cheaper and significantly more uncomfortable. It was a little awkward because Franklin walked with us instead of riding and due to this and the fact that I am not really a good rider our voyage took about as long as if we had just walked instead. I am proud that I didn’t fall off my horse dismounting when we arrived because not only had my ass gone numb but I also really really had to pee. After a quick potty break we arrived in Buena Vista (freezing cold due to two hours of inactivity and wet underwear) and caught a bus to Santa Cruz. Technically we caught a bus to a town about an hour outside of Santa Cruz where we had to wait for a shared taxi.
There is no rhyme and reason to transportation in Bolivia so every time a shared taxi arrived everyone would make a mad dash for it, pushing and shoving and piling on top of each other. Unfortunately O and I share the non-pushy characteristics but in a strange chain of events we ran into an English speaking Bolivian couple who in their skill at shoving and trampling saved two seats for us….and so we arrived safely to our respective houses.
On the journey I shared with O that I am trying to be more spontaneous and she admitted to wanting to be better at planning and thinking things through. We will either be a good team or we will destroy each other. I’ll keep you posted.