Driving through Santa Cruz on a weekday morning is fascinating, yet slow. The traffic combined with the complexity of the streets makes small distances seem much greater. My incredibly gracious host family for the time I was in Santa Cruz brought me to the buses which we were taking to Samaipata and for the weekend. Arriving about 15 minutes after we were supposed to meet meant that most of the other students were there already and on the buses. I was a little nervous about meeting them all for the first time, after all, we are all part of the same exchange family here no matter what for the entire year. Fortunately, I was able to hop onto the bus with a mixture of Americans, French, and German kids who were all very social, loud and happy. I got to speak a little German, listen to some french music, and hang out for the couple hour drive. As we left Santa Cruz, we got to know each other as we admired the scenery and towns we passed by. It was an absolutely beautiful day, not too hot, and we were off to a good start.
The road from Santa Cruz to Samaipata is very curvy but relatively smooth all the way. It takes just a few hours to drive, and in that time you gain a bit of elevation. As we drove, I took lots of pictures with a new friend Moritz, who also had brought his camera along. This trip was one I was very much anticipating for its photographic opportunities! About two-thirds of the way up the road, we stopped for the first scenic spot and mandatory flag picture with everybody. The road curved to follow the outside edge of a crescent valley, which wrapped around an incredibly stunning red and green mountain with huge exposed faces contrasting the dark greens. This is one of the furthest places south and west where significant amounts of rain regularly fall in central Bolivia, and everything was very lush. After we all piled back into the buses, we continued to our final destination of Samaipata.
Samaipata is a little oasis of a town at the entrance to some of the most stunning scenery in Bolivia. From Samaipata, people can access the Amboro National Park, the cloud forests, waterfalls, ruins, great hikes, as well as many artsy shops, a cute downtown, coffee shops, and museums. When we arrived we settled into our lovely hotel on a hill that faced north towards green mountains. As we settled in, I took some quick videos with my drone, the first in Bolivia, as well as of the other exchange students hanging out in the sun. It was great fun and we had a nice lunch at the hotel.
Afterward, we headed towards the pride and joy of Samaipata, El Fuerte. This 2500-year-old fort and UNESCO World Heritage Site is in one of the most spectacular places I have ever been to. It is roughly 10 km from town and up a significant climb. The very curvy and in many places substantially washed-out road to the top was an adventure in itself, which included driving through a stream and some serious bus driving skills.
Sitting atop a small mountain, this vast historical site contains many elements of what used to be a very significant town. Built by the civilization of the Chané of the Mojocoyas before being taken over by the Incas and Spaniards, it is much akin to a lower altitude Macchu Picchu.
The site contained over 500 buildings or structures and still, you can see carved into the rock chairs, conference areas, sacrifice areas, rooms, and writing. Due to its exposure, every passing year does have a negative effect on the clarity of the more intricate carvings. A total of seven steps leading up to the main temple represent the seven phases of the moon. Walking the path around the site in the gorgeous sunset light was stunning and we took even more
On the walk down I also met some Germans who had been here in Bolivia for over 10 years, and it was really cool to talk to them and here how it had taken them so long to come to see El Fuerte and what they thought finally seeing it. They were really nice, and after the battery in their car unfortunately died, they got a ride back to town with us on our buses. The road down, as the sun was setting, was even more gorgeous than coming up, and the valley below us was glowing.
As we came back into town, we walked around the little square, had some ice cream, and then went back to the hotel for dinner. For the two vegetarians, there were some burgers with bean patties which were very good, as well as a buffet of soup, salad, and bread. After dinner, we all hung out together, singing to a vast range of music, playing games, and relaxing from the physical exercise of the hike. I, of course, had to take some star pictures, but clouds were rolling in and blocked a lot of the view.
This was an incredible start to the trip, and a great introduction to my new Rotary family here in Bolivia! And the weekend was just beginning!
As always, you can see all the pictures on my https://charlesbingaman.smugmug.com/organize/Projects/Samaipata