BOLIVIA – ROUTE OF CHE & OLD TRADE ROUTE

BOLIVIA – ROUTE OF CHE & OLD TRADE ROUTE

Today we left the beautiful town of Samaipata to head on to Vallegrande and at night we arrived in La Higuera  taking the old trade route and the route of Che. It took us about 2,5 hours to get to Vallegrande passing through beautiful landscapes full of cactus, mountains and evergreen landscapes. In Vallegrande we had lunch and visited different sights in memory of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

First we visited the mausoleum of Che Guevara which is situated just a couple of meters from where they found the bodies of Che and 6 other soldiers in 1998 after they had been searching for 30 years for their dead bodies. The mausoleum shows many pictures of Che’s life: as a baby, in school, with his family, going on a motorbike ride through South America and during the Cuba revolution and all his fights.

Then we continued to the washing room of the hospital in Vallegrande where Che’s dead body was exhibited for the first time to the international press for 2 days. Our local guide told us all the important stories. In the second night Che’s body disappeared and was taken by the military. Before both of his hands were cut off and sent to La Paz to verify the identity of Che. Until 30 years later his body was found by Cuban and Argentinian scientist after 2 years of searching. Afterwards they took these parts to Santa Clara in Cuba – the place of his biggest victories. The washing room in Vallegrande is the only original place that still exists of these times and has been conserved as a tourist site. The hospital is still working. Actually the nurse who washed the dead body of Che Guevara is still alive and keeps living in Vallegrande and can be visited (but as you can imagine she must be tired by now telling this story over and over again ;)!).

Afterwards we continued on a long ride off-road to the small village of La Higuera. Here we spent the night in the charming little “Casa del Telegrafista”. A french lady named Oda renovated this beautiful place whose “living room” where our food was served was the room of the “telegrafista” who send the telegraph to the United States that Che was in this region. It is a very cute small place with 4 rooms and Oda serves delicious food! I would definitely recommend to stay with her in La Huigera.

After a delicious breakfast we visited the monuments of Che in this small village and the school where Che was killed. From here he was transported by helicopter to Vallegrande but actually they hung him on the helicopter so that everyone could see that he was dead.

Afterwards we went on a 2 hour hike to the “Quebrada del Churo” where the military captured Che and two other soldiers. Once they captured him, they took him to the school in La Higuera which was a steep walk up the hill. For us it was a nice walk through corn plantations and thick forest as well as beautiful views of the surroundings.

Then we continued our journey on the old trade route to Villa Serrano passing many mountains and beautiful countrysides. Just before arriving in Villa Serrano there is another village called “Nuevo Mundo”. Near there you can do a hike to the waterfall Pajcha but unfortunately we did not have time to discover it. Villa Serrano is a small town but very famous in Bolivia because they have built the biggest ” charrango”a typical guitar which even made it to the guiness world records. So the village itself is very famous for the construction of charrangos which are ordered from there nationwide.

Then we continued our trip  to the capital city Sucre. On the way we stopped at different view points from where we had a wonderful view of the beautiful countrysides in the surroundings. The best was going to the top of the mountain “Calle Calle” where we enjoyed an amazing view of 360 degrees.

On the way to Sucre we also made a stop at the Lamboyo canyon where we went for a small walk and were lucky enough to spot the biggest hummingbird “patagona jiguis” which has the size of about 30cm.

BOLIVIA – FROM SANTA CRUZ TO SAMAIPATA

BOLIVIA – FROM SANTA CRUZ TO SAMAIPATA

Now it was time to discover more places in Bolivia! Early in the morning we took a flight to Santa Cruz with the airline Amaszonas. After an hour seeing impressing landscapes from the sky, we landed and actually were a little disappointed because the climate was not as nice as we had been promised but at least it was not raining. All the locals we met were actually talking about the weather because normally there are spring temperatures in this region but  the so-called “Surazo” was bringing the cold breeze from Argentina and Chile! Our driverguide Javier picked us up and we drove through the different rings “anillos” to get an impression of the city Santa Cruz.

Afterwards we started our journey to the little town Samaipata. We passed by many plantations of mandarinas, yuca and mango trees. On the way of the 4-hours ride we made different stops. First we took a steep ride offroad to the “Refugio de Volcanes”. It is a nice route also for mountain bikers (a group of bikers actually passed us). And if you have an additional 1-2 nights I would definitely recommend to stay in the ecolodge of the refugio to go for some great hikes and explore the beautiful surroundings. I must say that this landscape of the “Refugio de los Volcanoes” has actually been one of the most impressing and beautiful ones during my trip in Bolivia. We were very lucky as we were able to observe condors at this amazing place!

Our next stop were the waterfalls “Las Cuevas”. It is just a short nice ecological walk of about half an hour to see the three waterfalls. Another attraction in this surrounding is the “Laguna Volcanes”. Here you can go for a hike around the lagoon and walk through subtropical forests with palm trees and bamboo. Furthermore there is a hotel resort with a golf course for people that look for more luxury vacation.

Our next visit was to “El Fuerte” which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It is said that it is the last place where the Incas arrived. There they have held many ceremonies and it was a place for political, religious, spiritual and cultural encounters. It is the only and biggest stone in the world with this carving and a size of 220m to 66m.

Afterwards we arrived in Samaipata. This small town lies in a valley and has about 4.000 inhabitants. Its name is Quechua and means “rest in the high altitude / descanso en las alturas”. And it definitely is a charming town to rest – we loved this little colonial town!

Near there is the Amboró National Park which is perfect to go for a great hike through the cloud forest and take a deep breath of the pure fresh air and just enjoy the beautiful nature by walking through dense woods of fern.  Surrounded by these plants, we felt like in Jurassic Park. It is a wonderful place to observe a variety of flora and fauna.

Unfortunately we were not able to do all the activities that are possible in this region. For example, you can also go on a tour to see condors where you go for a car ride of about 2 hours and then 2 hours of walking up the mountain. It can also be combined with a visit to the waterfalls. Another possibility is to do a 6-7 hours hike to Bellavista where you can observe beautiful flora and fauna.

Furthermore you can visit the colonial town Totora and take a ride to the city of Cochabamba where you can visit the ruins of Incallajta on the way. Actually it is also recommendable to start your trip through Bolivia arriving in Santa Cruz as it lies at an altitude of only 416m and this way you can travel your way up to higher altitude places crossing the whole country until La Paz.

BOLIVIA – IN LA PAZ 3600 METERS CLOSER TO THE SKY

BOLIVIA – IN LA PAZ 3600 METERS CLOSER TO THE SKY

Bolivia has always been on my travel list and finally I got the chance to go! I would say this country has a similar “problem” like Colombia as nobody really knows what the country has to offer: All you have heard about Bolivia are probably the salt flats in Salar Uyuni, the Titicaca lake and that it is inhabited by many indigenous people! Well, let me tell you there is much more to discover in Bolivia and I will be happy to share my great experiences in this beautiful country in my following blog articles with you!

Before going to Bolivia you should get prepared for the altitude. You arrive at El Alto Airport which lies at an altitude of 4.000m and then you go down to 3.400m to La Paz. About 2,5 million people live in La Paz which is actually not the capital city of Bolivia even though it is the seat of the government. The city is situated in a valley and surrounded by majestic mountain ranges.

To discover the city we decided to go on the red cap city walking tour to get a better insight in the culture, history, people and customs of La Paz. The meeting point for this approximately 4-hours walking tour is every day at 11am or 2pm at the San Pedro Plaza. Here our guide already had some interesting stories to tell at the San Pedro Prison which is located next to the plaza. It is one of the world’s most interesting prisons right in the middle of the city. Actually there used to be prison tours which is now illegal because once a girl was raped in there, there are many drug-related problems and it is quite dangerous to take the risk going there as it might cost you some pocket money to get out again. Actually the San Pedro Prison is a small city itself with shops, hairdresser, cafes etc and nowadays people live there because it is cheaper.

Our next stop was the Rodriguez market. It is an impressing vibrant market which expands through many streets. Here they sell just everything: different kinds of potatoes, vegetables, clothes, kitchenware etc as they do not really have supermarkets in the city. This is the best place to try local products. Our guide also told us that you always should buy from the same lady – also called “cholita” or “caserita”. She is also there to listen to all your problems but if you decide to buy your potatoes from another “cholita” one day, she will not be happy about that and might throw potatoes after you.

We also learned about the traditional clothing of the “cholitas”. The typical hats they use might be cheap in Bolivia but they also get very expensive ones from Great Britain or Italy which they use for important festivities. Furthermore it has a meaning how they wear their hat – if they wear the hat in the middle it means they are married and if they wear it on the left or right they are single. Their skirts which are also called “polleras” can have up to 10 layers – they use it not just because of the cold weather but also as they want to make their hips look big because they want to show their fertility – so actually chubby is beautiful in Bolivia! Another interesting event in La Paz is watching a Cholita wrestling which is supposed to be a sexy show. You will also see many Bolivians with gold in their teeth – with this they actually show their wealth.

Our next stop was the famous witches market where you can get talisman or powder that are supposed to bring you luck, love, fertility and fortune – but it is most famous for the dried llama foetus the witches are selling for good luck. These lama foetus are used throughout the country by burying them under new constructions as an offering to the goddess Pachamama and it is believed that it keeps construction workers safe. Then we passed the San Francisco Church and visited another local market where we enjoyed a delicious typical fruit juice before continuing to the Plaza Murillo where the presidential palace and national congress are located.

After this interesting city tour we decided to take the cable car to get a great view of the city. First we took the yellow cable car to the viewpoint “Mirador” and from there we were heading down south taking the yellow and green line and enjoyed an amazing view of the city surrounded by impressing mountain landscapes.

Once we arrived at the final station of the green line in downtown La Paz we took a taxi to the famous moon valley “Valle de la Luna” which is just about 10km away from downtown. It actually is a maze of canyons and huge spires. These sandstone and clay formations were created by the persistent erosion of mountains by strong winds and rains of this area. There are two walking paths – one of about 45minutes and another one of 15minutes to enjoy these beautiful landscapes! Then we returned to La Paz excited about the next adventures that would await us in Bolivia.

CAPURGANÁ – HIDDEN PARADISE ON COLOMBIA’S CARIBBEAN COAST

CAPURGANÁ – HIDDEN PARADISE ON COLOMBIA’S CARIBBEAN COAST

Bienvenidos a Capurgana! This little piece of land on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast has always been a place where I wanted to go. Unfortunately it is not so easy to get there and therefore I have not made it there yet! Even though there are actually many possibilities to get to Capurgana which are the following:

1) direct flights between Medellín and  Capurgana on Mondays and Fridays or every day during high season (Easter week and Christmas – New Years Holidays with Searca Airlines)

2) daily flights between Medellín and Acandi (with ADA Airlines) and a 30 minute boat ride between Acandi and Capurgana

3) from Medellín 8 hours and from Cartagena 6 hours by bus to nequocli – from there by boat to Capurgana for 1,5 hours

4) if you have a friend that is pilot who can take you directly there in his little aircraft 😉 – which was luckily my case!

I was lucky enough that the first cruise ship was coming to Capurgana and we were taking care of the passengers and showing them this beautiful hidden place on Colombia’s Caribbean. As my boss is a pilot we went from Bogota to Capurgana by a small 4-seater aircraft! By the way – this is one of the reasons why I just love my job! The landing strip appeared just after passing the jungle and mountains and it was in the middle of town! As there are not many arrivals, the brandnew (and only paved “road”) is also used for playing football and motorbike races by the locals, so we were happy that we had free access to land safely.

I have already been travelling to a couple of remote areas, but I must admit that I am always surprised again by the airport “infrastructure” of these regions – which is basically not existing, just two souvenir shops, a room for the check-in and some seats to await the plane! The airport in Capurgana had another “attraction” with a parked old damaged aircraft which was a drug plane that was found there only about 50 years ago. At the moment they are actually thinking about taking it to the ocean to make it a living place for the underwater world and a tourist attraction for divers – as Capurgana is also a great place for diving and snorkeling!

The little village counts 2500 inhabitants and it basically has no motorized vehicles. Just a couple of years ago they permited motorcycles here which means that you will find some motorbikes there but most likely you walk, go by bike, horse or “horse-carriages” that take you everywhere and are the taxis of the town. Years ago, Capurgana was home to the indigenous community Kuna that lived from planting chili (“aji”) and coconut there. Actually the meaning of Capurgana is “land of chili”. Later boats full of people from Cartagena and Montería came to buy coconut and afterwards these people stayed to cultivate coconut and reemplaced the indigenous communities. Once Panama gained its independence in 1930, the majority of the indigenous tribe Kuna stayed in Panama where they still live today.

For travelers, there are great possibilities of hikes in Capurgana and its surroundings. Of course, you can also just relax on the beautiful beaches or go diving and snorkeling. The walk to “El Cielo” is about 9 kilometers through the jungle and it takes about 2-3 hours. It is very flat and you will cross rivers by passing through little stones. Furthermore you can observe the flora and fauna of this region. For example, you can see many bird and butterfly species as well as howler monkeys. El Cielo is a small waterfall where you can take a refreshing bath before heading back to town again.

Another hike is to Sapzurro which is a little more demanding as you will need to go up a steep hill about 1km and also down again to Sapzurro. On the top of the mountain is a great view point to see Capurgana on one side and Sapzurro on the other side. In total the walk is about 4 kilometers and takes around 1,5 to 2hours. Here you can also observe the beautiful flora and fauna.

From Sapzurro you can head on to La Miel which means crossing the border to Panama. Here you can find a beautiful beach to just relax, have a typical lunch or go snorkeling! There are always boats that can take you around between Capurgana, Sapzurro and La Miel.

We stayed at the Hotel Tacarcuna Lodge which has nice little cabins with a hammock in front of it, a big pool and nice restaurant. And if you go for lunch or dinner, you should not miss to try the delicious food at the small restaurant “Donde Josefina” on the beach – it is one of the best food I ever had prepared by Doña Josefina herself! If you like off-the-beaten-track destinations, nature and quite relaxing beaches, then Capurgana on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast is the place where you should go – it’s just beautiful!

COLOMBIAN SAFARI IN THE RESERVE HATO AURORA

COLOMBIAN SAFARI IN THE RESERVE HATO AURORA

Finally I got the chance to travel to the natural reserve Hato Aurora and ecolodge Juan Solito in Casanare. With an area of 17.000 hectars it is an “open” zoo and similar to the Pantanal in Brazil.

Since 20 years the family has been conserving the reserve and 8 years ago they opened the ecolodge Juan Solito which provides accommodation for 40 pax by now. It is a true paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers will feel in heaven here! About 350 bird species, around 20.000 capybaras, deers, around 600 horses, 650 cows, crocodiles, anacondas and monkeys can be found in the reserve. Every day you can explore a different part of the reserve by doing some nice hikes, going by jeep or canoe along the river or horseback riding.

Even pumas and jaguars have been registered in the reserve Hato Aurora but of course it is very hard to spot them. Jorge, one of the eight brothers, is obsessed with the idea to see the jaguar one day. In 2009 they started to take pictures and since then they have registered 19 different jaguars. At the moment they have 31 installed cameras – in 2014 they even installed 106 cameras in the area to trap the jaguars. They have started to give them names according to the fur pattern in order to be recognized by others as well and also to prevent that others kill them.

Julio is the brother who takes care of the animals and food production. In his finca near the ecolodge Juan Solito you can find trees of mangos, oranges, avocado etc. Furthermore he has a chicken house where the eggs are produced and he is taking care of the horseback riding. He shows you how to catch a horse with the lasso and saddle it afterwards. Nelson manages the whole operation of the reserve. He actually is a multi-talent as besides that he also draws paintings of the daily farmers’ life and composes “llanero”-music and of course sings himself and plays the typical instruments together with his brother Julio. Of course, they gave us a presentation of their music skills while we were there!

From December to April (dry season) you can go with a private charter flight directly from Bogota to el Hato Aurora. The other possibility of getting there is taking a plane to Yopal and from there go by a 4×4 vehicle to the reserve which takes another 4-5 hours.

Our trip was definitely an adventurous one! We took a small private aircraft to el Hato Aurora and landed on the green runway in the middle of nowhere! Julio took us around with his jeep to see the variety of animals of the reserve. Then we had a delicious lunch in the main house of the Hato Aurora served by their mom. In the afternoon we picked up some cameras of the jaguar trapping to see if a jaguar had passed in the last month around there – unfortunately we did not get to see this impressing animal!

Then we continued our tour around the reserve looking to find an anaconda! The brothers and Giovanni, one of the guides, went along the wetlands as they know the special places where it is probable to find this majestic animal. After just a couple of minutes they actually found an anaconda and got this huge heavy animal out of its nest for us! To be honest I was pretty afraid but once they got the anaconda out for us, it was just interested in returning to its place. After this amazing experience we were heading to another place to see the beautiful sunset!

Afterwards we headed on to the ecolodge Juan Solito where we spent the nights. The rooms are spacious amd provide everything basic that you need! Furthermore there is a nice space with hammocks and wooden furnitures where you can relax! And Magaly prepared us delicious food in Juan Solito!

The next morning we got up very early to go for a hike around the reserve to observe the wildlife and just enjoy the beautiful countryside! In the afternoon we took a ride along the river and made a stop at another finca where the little girl Liliana got us some fresh oranges from the top of the tree. Actually we were pretty amazed how simple these people live in the middle of nowhere!

At night Julio and Nelson gave us a presentation of their musical skills playing the guitar, harp and singing the typical “musica llanera” composed by Nelson personally! The following day we enjoyed another nice walk in the rain forest of the reserve looking for howler monkeys! The loud noises were pretty impressing! Afterwards we needed to change our plans a bit as the rainy season welcomed us and therefore we were not sure if our private charter could land and take off easily on the green runway. So an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride through mud, ponds and pure off the beaten track awaited us inside the reserve for 2 hours and then it took another 2,5 hours to get to Yopal where our pilot was waiting for us to take us back to the capital city.

I can definitely recommend the reserve Hato Aurora and its Ecolodge Juan Solito for all nature lovers and travelers that are looking for amazing off the beaten track destinations. And if you look for some time to spend there as a volunteer or English teacher – that’s a place where these lovely people will be happy to receive your support!

*Some photos have been provided by the Ecolodge Juan Solito – Hato Aurora / Julio A. & Nelson A. Barragan Plata.