With our three months in Bolivia almost over, we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the country’s most populous city. The Department of Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s biggest state, occupying almost the entire eastern half of the country. Consider: even though Bolivia is one of South America’s “small” countries, the department of Santa Cruz is bigger than Germany! The idea that three months would be enough time to comprehensively explore Bolivia was probably a little naive.
Santa Cruz lies in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands, with a humid equatorial climate more reminiscent of Brazil than La Paz, and the culture is clearly distinct to the rest of Bolivia. The faces are less indigenous, the people bigger (both in height and width), and the stores more upscale. And the heat. We visited during the middle of winter, and I was sweating in shorts and T-shirts.
Bolivia is a strange conglomeration of diverse ethnicities living in three distinct climate zones, and suffers from the usual problems caused by the sharing of power and land. For most of history, government was controlled by richer Bolivians of European descent, but it was just a matter of time before the indigenous majority took over. And now that they have the power, it’s unlikely they’ll ever relent it. Aside from a coup or some other undemocratic maneuvering, it’s hard to imagine a return to a non-indigenous president.
The more affluent, whiter people of Santa Cruz don’t like it. When Evo Morales was elected, Santa Cruz was forced to acknowledge the future reality of their country, and found themselves presented with a choice. Should their gas-rich state be ruled by “Indians” from the highlands of La Paz? Or should they fight? Perhaps unsurprisingly, they chose to fight. In September of 2008, Santa Cruz tried to secede, almost certainly with the logistical support of the USA, whose distaste of leftist South American presidents apparently trumps their love of democracy. Surprising most observers, the military supported Morales and the coup failed.
But the distrust between Santa Cruz and the rest of the country remains strong. We heard a few things from people in La Paz along the lines of “I’d rather die than marry someone from Santa Cruz”. Ouch! I’ve said the same thing about people from Texas, but it was a joke. Here, I don’t think they’re fooling around!
Although Santa Cruz is a boom town, which has grown massively in the past couple decades, and doesn’t have a lot of historical or touristy sights, we’re excited to get exploring. We’ve already been to the gorgeous cathedral in the main plaza, 24 de Septiembre. And around the city, there’s plenty more to see, including a butterfly resort and a geologically inexplicable field of sand dunes.
Enjoy our first set of pictures, most of which were taken on the flight from La Paz to Santa Cruz.