Posted on August 3, 2015
Off the Beaten Path in Santa Cruz
Our trip to Bolivia started with spending the first 2 hours of our 8am flight sitting on the plane still parked at the gate in deep fog. Ugh, glad we got up so early. Thankfully the plane we were on was the same one scheduled to go onto Santa Cruz, Bolivia from our layover in Paraguay. Good news for us as we were 1 hour late and still made our connection.
Our airbnb.com host, Carlos, had pre-arranged for a taxi driver to bring us from the airport to the edge of town and we were happy to see he was still patiently waiting, holding a sign with our names on it, when we exited customs. It was a crazy hour-long ride through town and down dirt roads swerving around people, dogs, cattle and avoiding giant potholes and piles of dirt? Yup, dirt! Only a few of the main roads are paved the rest are dusty dirt paths. Needless to say we were coated in dust by the time we reached the entrance to the Lomas de Arena Regional Park where Carlos was waiting with his Range Rover 4×4 truck. From there, it was a another adventure getting to the lodge piled into the front cab of the truck, plowing through puddles, gunning it up sand hills and bouncing back and forth through all the tire tracks. Oh and not too mention the grazing cattle and horseback cowboys which we had to avoid. I’m pretty sure the cows would win in a stand off!
The lodge is like an oasis in the middle of a savannah of blowing grasses and sand dunes. The main house is decorated with eclectic and unique traditional and historical Bolivian finds and the separate guest house provides adequate privacy and comfort. The pictures online do not do it justice. Carlos is incredibly handy and built the houses himself 15 years ago and is a talented metal worker in his spare time. His son David and his wife Evelyn and their 2 children live next door and help with the running of the lodge. Carlos only hosts 2 guests at a time so the place was basically ours.
Evelyn is super sweet and wonderfully hospitable, but unfortunately she speaks English like I speak Spanish so our conversations were limited to when Carlos could translate. We opted for the full board option ($25/day/person) as there are no restaurants or stores nearby and we were not sorry we did! Although with the amount of food they serve we would have been fine with just the half board (breakfast/dinner). For our first meal we had steak, fries, rice and a delicious onion, tomato and pineapple sauce on top. So so soo good. From there our other meals continued to amaze and delight with breaded steak, roasted chicken, sausage spaghetti, 3 sausage and chicken paella, tortillas de patatas, fried plantains, rice, potatoes, salad, fruit, vegetables, fresh bread, just to name a few. So much food, and every bite was incredibly flavorful. We left here with a few extra pounds for sure, but that may not be such a bad thing for Aaron!
With 4 dogs, 3 cats, 1 rooster, multiple chickens, a flock of geese and many wild birds it can prove to be quite loud around the house at times and is like living in a zoo. Most of the time it was quite entertaining except for when the rooster would crow in the middle of the night, and Aaron found out the hard way not to try and pet the chickens. They are better observed form afar or on your dinner plate. The yard is full of flowering bushes and fruit heavy trees and the fresh bouquets around the house made such a warm and inviting place to visit.
Our king-sized breakfast was appreciated on our 3 hour hike in the morning to the sand dunes. The sun was high and hot and walking through sand is tough on the calves. Not too mention the lack of physical training between the 2 of us! We watched some other tourists try their hand at sand boarding, but we stuck to running down and hiking around the top of the dunes. We came across a crystal clear lagoon next to the dunes and were so happy for the opportunity to wash off the blowing sand. A wonderfully refreshing and fun activity. Upon returning to the lodge we spent the afternoon napping and relaxing in the hammock. Another full day of having fun and we slept well under our mosquito net, or as I like to think of it as a princess tent!
It’s not an uncommon thing to have a brief power outage which meant we got to enjoy our breakfast by candlelight one morning. This only seemed romantically appropriate as it is was our 6 month wedding anniversary!
We wandered along the riverbed up the road from the lodge for a bit but when we tried to cross we got stuck in quicksand up to our knees! We never did find a path to follow and our legs ended up pretty scraped up by bushwhacking through waist high brush, plus we started thinking about the possibility of stepping on a snake and quickly hightail it back to the road. The winds were picking up and making it uncomfortable with all the blowing dirt so we headed back to the lodge and spent the day booking the next week of our travels, napping (seems to be a common thing here!) and reading in the hammock. At night we opened the bottle of mead (honey wine) that we have been carrying around since we began this crazy adventure to celebrate a great start to our new life together. Our wedding guests received a bottle of this wine in January and were instructed not to open until January of 2016. Trust us, it continues to get better each month you let it age.
The next morning we took another 3 hour hike and enjoyed watching all the beautiful birds and butterflies. We took a different route through a more forested area and had to maneuver our way around some large mud puddles and downed trees. To our surprise we had looped back around by the sand dunes from the other day and we were happy to have the opportunity to go swimming again. As we started back towards the lodge we caught a ride with a Bolivian and his German girlfriend in their truck. This was a welcome bonus as the sun was beating down and it was getting hotter by the minute. We really have been blessed to have met so many nice people in this country already. No surprise we spent the afternoon relaxing, Aaron worked on the blog, played a few games of cribbage and rounded out yet another great day with a movie in bed.
Arrived at the airport a little early (Carlos insisted we needed to be there early) for our flight and unfortunately both of us were feeling a bit under the weather this day. I spent a few hours wishing I was in bed instead of on a stained bank of chairs in the airport and Aaron tried to entertain himself and ignore my complaining! On the positive side, Aaron was excited to finally find a place to buy a Bolivian SIM card for our cell phone. We only have a limited amount of data but it should come in handy when wifi is not available and we are in need of directions/info/etc. Plus we can now make local phone calls. It was a tough decision (not really), but we opted to purchase the 35-minute flight for $52/person opposed to the 8-hour unreliable $10/person bus ride from Santa Cruz to Sucre. We are getting too old for long bus rides!
I had the pleasure of sitting next to a crazy first time flyer on the plane. She was constantly fidgeting, using my tray table and reaching across in to the seat pocket in front of me. She read every word on the safety card, twice, and retightened her seat belt about 10 times. Not to mention the constant chatter and high pitched giggles despite my best effort to explain that I did not understand! Oh the funny people you meet while traveling.