Let the fun begin! First up was a short trip on a bus to the border. I’ve perfected the Spanish for stop at immigration and I completed the formalities with the Brazilian office. Then it was a gentle stroll over the friendship bridge and into Ciudad Del Este. Despite the name, the friendship bridge is really not that friendly. It’s one of the world’s most popular smuggling roots and Ciudad Del Este itself is home to one of the cheapest markets in electronics in South America. It also does a fine job in counterfeit goods and various other illegal activities.
As soon as I entered Paraguay, I was offered everything under the sun. The place is an ugly sprawl of huge electronic superstores, sat alongside tiny market stalls. It’s an absolute mess, but a fantastic assault on the senses. After withdrawing money from an ATM and successfully, after a huge amount of mis communicating, managing to exchange the larger notes for smaller, I tried to find a bus to take me to the bus station. I failed emphatically with this and walked instead. From there I took a lovely bus to Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital. I had considered staying there for a night, but with Dengue Fever rife and various security issues, I decided to plow on and found myself a bus to Santa Cruz.
Now i’ve been blessed with busses so far. And when the rusty, beaten up Trans Bolivian Express pulled into the bus terminal, I felt like I had found an old friend. It was a noisy monster, which needed its tyres frequently pumped up regularly. Gear changes were kept to the minimum and boy did it enjoy a good lurch to the left or to the right at various times. There was one thing going for it though and that was it served food! Now, the fact that you couldn’t actually see what you were eating due to all the lights being broken was a small problem, it had food!
And the roads themselves were fairly alright. So good that I drifted off to sleep. I awoke at four in the morning to an empty bus. Uh oh. I ran off and found that we had arrived at Paraguayan immigration. Exit stamps received, everyone then had to get all the bags off of the bus so they could be searched. This happened numerous times over the rest of the journey. The border crossing as I would come to find out is incredibly remote and again is a notorious smuggling route.
With the border officially crossed, I forced myself to stay awake so I didn’t miss the Bolivian entrance stamp. I had to wait another seven hours traveling across the Gran Chaco desert on terrible dirt track roads as the bus struggled to stay upright. I’ve never even come close to crossing a border like it. A few bag searches later and Bolivian immigration cleared, it was time for the home straight of another ten or so hours. In total the journey took 37 hours. A new personal best, beating the Sumatran haul by one hour! Santa Cruz is the largest city in Bolivia. It also doesn’t have an awful lot to do. So when I met three other backpackers who were making the short trip to Samiapata, I thought I’d join them. It was a good choice too. This small village is nestled within the hills and has a very slow pace of life. The hostels are kitted out with hammocks and roof top balconies perfect for reading a book and relaxing. Other than enjoying locally brewed beer, whilst appreciating the scenery, myself, Anthony and Charlie did take a short trip up to El Fuerte, a pre and post Inca UNESCO world heritage sight.
We were the only ones up there and the place itself was pretty impressive. We had taken the advice from others to take a guide and that really payed off as there is very little information about what you are seeing. However, with Rolando’s help the history of the place became a little clearer and rather than looking a big slab or rock, we were instead seeing a place of amazing scientific knowledge, home to gritty sacrifices and important gatherings.
Sometimes acting on impulse goes well and I can say that going to Samiapata rather than staying another night in Santa Cruz was a great idea. After passing through quite a few cities, it was nice to finally be able to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery that South America is famed for.
Unfortunately all roads lead to Santa Cruz around here and so I had little choice but to return with Charlie, Anthony and Sandra on another shared moto. At one point Bolivia went very Asian. For whatever reason the main highway had four piles of dirt blocking our side of the road. As the road began to tailback, our driver and a few others decided queuing was for the weak and veered off to the side, mounting the high curbs, passing over the central reservation and claimed a lane on the opposite side of the road as his own. Cars veered out of the way and by the time a few other drivers had joined us we had occupied half of the other side of the road! Dirt blockade cleared we then repeated the process in reverse and had an empty highway to enjoy. Oh and this all happened whilst a couple of chickens were trying to escape from the man next to me who seemed to be having an issue keeping them in his bag.
The following day, I went for a look around Santa Cruz, which was terribly underwhelming and hot. Upon returning to the hostel, I enjoyed one of the benefits of backpacking in South America and that is the swimming pools, which seem common in many accommodations. The addition of a waboba ball made it the perfect way to waste some time before catching an evening bus towards the Amazon basin.