We're at the end of our three month stay in Bolivia: one of the most incredible periods in our lives. In the past 91 days, we've seen more amazing places and done more exciting things than I could ever have anticipated. It's been an experience that we'll never forget
Santa Cruz is in Bolivia's Amazonian Basin, surrounded by jungles, with the hot, humid climate of a rain forest. So the existence of a massive field of sand dunes just sixteen kilometers south of the city is a geological marvel. On our very last day in Bolivia, we visited Las Lomas de Arena, declared a National Park in 1990.
The hill at the northern end of Copacabana is called the Calvario, or Station of the Cross. The trail, leading past fourteen crosses, takes about thirty minutes to ascend, and at the top, you're rewarded with a great view of the city behind you and Lake Titicaca, stretching out endlessly in front.
Though we didn't enjoy our time in the city of Copacabana, there were plenty of interesting things to see in the immediate area. This was a place of extreme importance for the Inca Empire and pre-Inca tribes, and a number of centuries-old ruins still exist today.
Oh, Copacabana. We really wanted to like you. You were perhaps the city in Bolivia we were most looking forward to! It started out perfectly... the bus ride from La Paz was beautiful, and included a short ferry trip. By the time we arrived, and took in your gorgeous location along Lake Titicaca, our excitement level was through the roof. But we have to be honest, Copacabana. In the end, you were the worst town we visited in Bolivia.
The biggest tourist draw in Villa Tunari is Parque Machía, just across the river from the village. The park is home to a non-profit organization called Inti Wara Yassi, dedicated to caring for sick or previously captive animals. Our visit was a bizarre experience, as interesting as it was troubling, and has become a constant topic of conversation between me and Juergen. Rehabilitating wild animals is usually an inarguably noble endeavor. But with Inti Wara Yassi, we're not so sure.
On our second full day in Villa Tunari, we struck out into the rainforests north of the village, under the supervision of José, a great guide with twenty years of experience in the region. A six-hour hike along rivers which left our shoes soaked, legs pockmarked by the itchy bites of vicious flies and minds scarred by our first encounter with quicksand. It was a blast.
La Jungla park in Chipiriri is 30 minutes by taxi from Villa Tunari. It's an odd enterprise; privately funded and operated by members of the community to take advantage of tourism to the Chapare region. The park is a giant jungle gym, in a more literal sense than usual. With a number of swings and playground constructions for children, and more intense offerings for adults, it's a fun place to spend a couple hours.
According to our original itinerary, we were to visit the jungles of Rurrenabaque after our stint in Cochabamba. But after looking at the map, we altered our plans and instead checked out the jungles of the Chapare province, much closer to Cochabamba and less frequented by tourists. The capital of Chapare is Villa Tunari.
Pachamama plays a big part in the ancient Andean religions. The benevolent earth goddess is still worshiped throughout the highlands of Bolivia. She controls the harvest, and demands frequent rituals to be performed in her honor. For example, before drinking chicha, Bolivians spill a bit onto the ground. First drink goes to Pachamama. Llamas are also sacrificed and incense burnt in her honor.