Bolivia: Santa Cruz and Villamontes (15th to 16th December) – by Joern

The decision to ditch the Africa Twin had not been easy. I felt a little nostalgic, but nothing more. I have enjoyed many a trip on the bike, but at the end of the day it is a lifeless object and we were both confident it was the right decision. It also meant entering Bolivia at the airport in Santa Cruz instead of at the border to Argentina.

We found the Europcar office at the arrival, which turned out to be nothing more than a freestanding counter manned by a single person who did not speak a word of English. Granted, I should have prepared by learning more Spanish than the about 25 words I at this point have learned, but still. A car rental agency at an airport might suspect the odd non-Spanish speaking customer arriving. Anyhow, we managed to communicate and get the contract signed. All carbon copy forms filled out by hand, as she had no computer and no internet. Welcome to Bolivia. Obviously the Toyota RAV4 I had reserved was instead a Hyundai Tucson. I have yet, at any car rental in the world, to receive the actual car that is pictured on the webpage. It is always a “similar”. I am seriously wondering if they really have those cars at all or if they are just bait.

Lorraine was immediately sceptical of the size of the car. She likes smaller cars that are easier to manoeuvre and my failed attempt to park the car in the very small garage at the hotel convinced us to go back the next day and swap it for a Suzuki Grand Vitara, two door model, which, let’s face it, also looks a little more like adventure than a family car that just happens to have four-wheel drive. Happy with the trade we headed south.

P1010865 Our little Suzuki Grand Vitara 4×4

Some of the stranger sights in Santa Cruz: We saw many many Mennonites in Santa Cruz there are roughly 70000 Mennonites in Bolivia primarily from German and Dutch descent with a few local converts. It was easy to spot them but very difficult to get photos as they were reluctant to pose and quickly walked away when spotting our camera.

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P1010846 An old constellation in a park in Santa Cruz

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One of the stranger feats of architecture spotted in the city

The original plan was to head for Sucre, but instead we opted for a more adventurous route that would take us in a loop south to Uyuni and then save Sucre for the trip back to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is located in the tropical part of Bolivia in the lowlands which was clearly visible as the mountain landscapes we had driven through the past two weeks was now replaced with rolling hills and lots and lots of lush vegetation. We quickly also noticed the presence of millions of white small butterflies that just seemed to be everywhere. As we crossed a riverbed and stopped for photos Lorraine stood for a moment with her hand held out and within seconds a butterfly had landed on her finger and just sat there and had a rest. Unfortunately for the butterflies the count of white spots on the front of the car also increased rapidly.

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Just some of the millions of butterflies. We literally spent 2 entire days driving through swarms of butterflies.

At the little town of Villamontes we decided to call it a day and found a nice hotel that had a kind of colonial look to it. So far all towns we have passed through including Santa Cruz had a beat up look to them and this one was no exception. There is the occasional newer or well restored house, but a lot of them look badly maintained if at all, built of clay or wood with a simple roof of metal plates. Of course neither heating nor isolation is needed.

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The ordinary buildings and streets of Villamontes.

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The lovely town square.

The town squares however are the exception. The one in Villamontes was absolutely stunning and as well kept as anything you will see in Europe. Stone arrangements with plants trimmed in different figures, little patios, benches, playgrounds, sculptures and what looked to be a scene for music, weddings whatever. What a contrast to just two streets down. And of course decorated with nice lights and a Christmas tree reminding us of the season.

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This will be my first Christmas on the southern hemisphere, so to me it is quite confusing to sit outside having dinner enjoying a nice summer evening the week before Christmas.

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