Santa Cruz to Quijarro
Oct 19, 2009
|We woke up fairly early in the morning and had our breakfasts. We were chatting somewhat to Hugh before leaving the hostel. His main task of the day was trying to get a visa for Brazil. Just like us, he‘s planning to do some days in the Pantanal and then head to Rio de Janeiro.
Today we were hoping to find a tour into the jungle as we heard that it is possible to go into the jungle from Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is fairly close to the Pantanal and the jungle in the Amazonas. We thought it maybe cheaper doing the jungle trip in Bolivia than doing that it in Brazil. We ended up going to two different travel agencies - one was run by a Dutch woman living in Santa Cruz (why?) and the other one by a local man who had the most square jaw we have ever seen.
It turned out that it’s not as popular for people to try to get into the jungle via Santa Cruz as we expected. All the tours on offer are expensive private ones instead of group excursions. Some of the trips to the Noel Kempff park even involves private planes. This was clearly beyond what we were willing to pay. The tours seemed quite interesting though but nothing really remarkable. As a result, we decided that we should go into the jungle in the Brazilian side, into the famous Pantanal. Even though Brazil is a bit more expensive, there is probably more people there and so the tours might be cheaper. And we get to see the real Amazonas.
Once we had made up our mind, we went back to the hotel to pack and check out. It was so hot during the day that Marcus even had a second shower for the day - only after having been out walking in the city for two hours or less. Afterwards, we headed straight to the nearest internet café. Today was Marcus dad’s 70th Birthday. Marcus had already during the summer bought a few presents for his dad and we had prepared a number of birthday congratulations and put them on Youtube. Once again - Happy Birthday Pappa.
After calling Marcus’ dad and ensuring that everything was all right we proceeded to the Terminal Bimodal to try and get tickets for the train to Quijarro Quijarro is located on the border to Brazil and we need to get there in order to get into Brazil. The town is located some 12 hours by train or 15-16 hours by bus (on dirt roads).
The bus terminal was about 20 minutes bus ride away from the central and doubled up as the train terminal. We were hoping to get the semi-express train to the border which departed later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the train was fully booked! (We were quite surprised as buying our tickets four hours before departure should be considered advance planning in south America, but we guess there must be some backlog of travelers that needed to leave after getting stuck in Santa Cruz for the weekend).
Now we had a choice between the slow train the next day or getting the bus. The slow train would be slower than the bus but we heard that the road is dirt road and will be very bumpy. As we weren’t keen to stay for another night in Santa Cruz (it’s not a particularly inspiring city!) given there wasn’t much to see, we opted for the bus.
As we entered the bus terminal we were bombarded with people trying to sell us tickets to everywhere and people that generally tried to help… It seems like the two of us attract salespeople like a jar of honey attracts bees. We generally find it a bit annoying and we don’t like it - we always feel like someone is trying to rip us off. Instead of talking to these people we proceeded to the various ticket counters to make our enquiries. It does really pay off to speak Spanish and Iris’ new Spanish skills have definitely come to handy as Marcus normally struggles to understand numbers in Spanish…
After speaking to a few different bus companies, we went will the last one we spoke to as they promised bathroom on board and nice fancy double decker bus with cama seat, that is seats that can be recline almost to horizontal like a bed.
Afterwards, we went back to central plaza by a mini bus and had some very nice lunch at the plaza in some trendy new place that also served amazing ice-cream. The lunch was much better than expected at 25 bolivianos and we were very surprised when the dish came out in nice white plates that was very nicely decorated just like you would expect in some more expensive places. The starter was really nice and the main course was also pretty good. The pudding was a slice of cake with loads of cream and we were not too keen on it.
We wandered around for a bit more and went to the internet café again before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags to get a taxi to the terminal. We were slightly annoyed when the taxi driver decided to charge us 50% more than what we were told by the receptionist (15 bolivianos instead of 10 - roughly GBP 1.50 instead of GBP 1). But as we were by then slightly pressing for time, and in no mood to argue, we decided to just accept the higher price, result of creative pricing.
Shortly afterwards, we were queuing for the bus. To our shock, the bus was nothing like what we were told and we have clearly been mis-sold. The bus was definitely not double decker, and there was no bathroom on board. The chair was not a cama, not even a semi cama. When we were sold the tickets, we were shown a seating plan of the bus that showed that we were not right at the back but in fact we were! To add insult to injury, the bus conductor curiously ask us how much we paid for the ticket and the reaction shows us that we probably have paid a lot more than the locals.
This is the first time we have been so blatantly cheated here in South America and we were pretty annoyed. But from our research earlier we know that most other buses were more or less fully booked and we knew that complaining will lead us nowhere and so we decided to bite the bullet instead.
There turned out to be quite interesting people on the bus. Most of them seemed to belong to some religious group - Chrisitans most probably. In front of us were two guys that were wearing Jesus costumes, sandals and long hair with beards. In a vain attempt to save our soles they turned around to try and talk to us. Their English was too limited and we were not too willing to speak Spanish so their attempts were futile. We did however find out that they were from Peru and traveling. On board were also quite a few women wearing head scarves. We guess they were probably nuns. With so many people on the bus with a divine connection we expect our ride to be fairly smooth given the protection God normally bestows on those who follow him…
After two hours on the bus, the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. We were a bit surprised by this development but decided to take it easy. Eventually we were told that the gasoline has run out! But how could that be possible right after our petrol stop half an hour ago? Despite the amount of religious people on the bus it broke down. Must have been Marcus and my bad influence…
As it turned out there was some mechanical fault and there was a leak so the petrol was dripping out… Marcus was convinced that we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere with only mosquitoes to entertain us for hours, but fortunately, the ordeal only last 45 minutes. (The bus was a Scania, made in Sweden, so of course it was not a badly made bus, just badly maintained one. According to Marcus… Just in case you are curious.) We were quite relieved that the bus didn’t break down any more en-route to Quijarro although both of us were somewhat concerned that it might.
The rest of the trip to Quijarro turned out to be quite an ordeal. The road was a dirt road and it was obviously very bumpy. I managed to sleep pretty well throughout the night whereas Marcus was really struggling. He only managed to get some sleep every so often. My sleep was pretty decent…
When buying the tickets in Santa Cruz we were told that we would get to Quijarro by about seven in the morning. Unfortunately, we think it might have been a bit of a white lie as well. We only ended up in Quijarro by around ten in the morning. By that time we were fairly tired and very glad to get off the bus.