First and foremost: Happy Birthday Mom! I love you and hope you have a wonderful day. Tell Poppy to treat you to a nice supper and maybe a movie. 🙂 Hopefully it is a quiet and peaceful day.
As for my travels…Samaipata! A truly gorgeous and charming village. I am thinking a combination of Vilcabamba and Baños from Ecuador: peacefulness and adventure wrapped into a stunning landscape. Wow!
We stayed at a nice place right off the main square, Paola Hospedaje, which has a wonderful terrace on the top floor where our room was. We ate at several nice restaurants, such as Tierra Libre and La Vaca Loca (fantastic ice cream!), as well as the excellent French bakery. It was a peaceful time. I read two books, finished my word searches and sudokus (leaving only crosswords left, though I do not mind), and had lots of sleep. Really there were only two snags in my book. One, we ended up staying there six days because there is not an ATM in Samaipata. We were directed to Mairana, a neighboring village 20 km away. We rode bicycles there (lovely except steeply uphill the entire way back) only to be told the ATM is only for member cardholders, then directed to the Western Union and denied for not having passport identification. We returned to Samaipata then took a collective back to find the place closed and not opening again until three days later due to the weekend and a holiday! Se we were a little delayed with very limited funds. And the trip to Mairana ruined our plans to cycle to Las Cuevas which has several cave and waterfall features. Blast! The other mishap is that I forgot that I have been away from daylight and sunshine. I now have lovely tan lines on my arms and chest, as well as not entertaining what-so-ever burns on the fronts of my legs. Quite painful and guaranteed to peel. Who has ever had their legs peel? I have not, and I am prone to a good sunburn a few times a summer.
Anyways, we did see Zoologico El Refugio, an animal refuge. They have several monkeys (mostly uncaged, but a few less well-behaved which are in cages), an ocelot, over 20 turtles, dogs, a peccary, many birds, land beavers, etc. It is run by a woman who takes in volunteers to take care of the animals. All proceeds from the quite inexpensive entrance fee and cafe go towards supplies for the animals. It is a great place to get close and personal with the animals. The monkeys were really friendly and very entertaining.
We also went to El Fuerte, the “Fortress,” a pre-Inca archaeological site. It is the world’s largest monolith. The entire structure has been carved out of a single stone, 250 m long with a 60 m width. It is believed to have been built by the Chané people, a pre-Inca culture of Arawak origin. During Inca expansion, there was an Inca city built near the temple. Later the Guarani warriors conquered the area. Then the Spaniards also built a settlement near the temple before abandoning the settlement and moving into the valley where Samaipata is located today. Thus, the surrounding building foundations on and near the temple are of Inca and Spanish origins over the original Chané monolith.
Finally, we also went to the Yungas of Amboró National Park, with Michael Bledinger Tours. Our guide was fantastic, quite knowledgable. For once we had a nature tour in English where it was not a memorized presentation. He also had answers for random questions too. The only sad part is that this is the rainy season, thus a lack of fauna. There was heaps of flora, though. And they have these giant ferns which grow to tree-sized proportions. Despite the slightly overcast day and lack of animals, the cloud forest is enchanting. There are more species there than further north or south because it is the climate mixing zone, providing a combination of the luscious trees with the more hardy trees in optimal diversity.
Our guide also dabbles into real estate and was telling us about recent expansion of Samaipata. Santa Cruz is the fastest growing city in Bolivia and many people build these astounding summer home chateaus in Samaipata. He said that in the last ten years, real estate prices have dramatically risen. We are talking about a good sized home (not including the land purchase price) at $250,000 to 500,000 USD. That just seems absurd! That is an INCREDIBLY large amount of money.