December 26, 2013
Evopolio is a bootleg version of Monopoly, Bolivian style, in which you might draw a card making you a narcotraficante (you collect double the money for passing Go but also risk losing all your property) or another letting you create bloqueos (blockades) with actual rocks on the board. It’s my favorite Christmas present, and it wasn’t easy to find.
Today we flew to Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s biggest city, and took a taxi to Samaipata. The Santa Cruz area is hot, humid, and flat, but the weather improved as we climbed west through fairy-tale mountains of cliffs and lush forests, idyllic valleys and deep gorges. Now we’re staying in a quiet Hobbit-like house in a farm called La Vispera, with dogs and cats and horses and gardens . . .
December 29, 2013
Samaipata is a village of six thousand in a warm valley, perhaps the most European place in Bolivia—simply because of the number of Europeans who have made it their home. It is also the favorite vacation spot of Cruceñas (residents of Santa Cruz), especially the rich ones, some of whom have built vast mansions surrounded by trimmed lawns (the first lawns we’ve seen in six months). It is still recognizably Bolivian, though, with dirt roads, crumbling eighteenth-century houses, an outdoor market, no bank.
The Bolivians here drop most of their s’s (except at the beginning of a word) so that “un mosca” (a fly) becomes “un moca” and “mas” (more) is simply “ma.” It’s quite hard to understand them.
On Friday, one, a wiry sixty-eight-year-old named Don Gilberto with a forty-year-old four-by-four, takes us on winding, cliff-edge dirt roads for an hour into the Parque Nacional Amboró, which has the greatest variety of birds and perhaps of plants on earth, and leads us on a three- or four-hour hike up mountains and through rainforests. The giant tree ferns, over a millennium old, lend the woods an air of prehistory, like in cheesy dinosaur movies; they appear only after we reach a certain altitude, suddenly, like a vision. The view from the highest peak we ascend is of miles of untouched forest under cloud-shrouded peaks. A thunderstorm passes around and over us on the way back down, adding an extra touch of drama.
About five miles from Samaipata is El Fuerte (the fort), misnamed by the Spanish—it’s an enormous sandstone rock carved by pre-Inca peoples into what Erich von Däniken thought was a launch platform for spaceships. Jaguars carved into perfect circles, a puma, a pair of long straight snakes, a circular court with ceremonial seats, multiple terraces, and odd geometrical figures are arranged harmoniously to create a temple for sacrifices. These are not simply relief sculptures or surface carvings—the rock was completely reshaped into an architectural whole. The Incas added their characteristic trapezoidal niches for the burial of mummies, straight stone walls, and dozens of buildings around the rock. To get there you take another one-lane dirt road in even worse shape than the one leading to Amboró, then walk a long steep trail that offers views and meanders through the rainforest; one can’t get too close to the rock itself, and its central court is hard to see, but one can wander around the Inca structures. It’s nothing like Tiwanaku—far older and even more mysterious.
La Vispera isn’t as idyllic as Sol y Luna in Coroico—the vegetation isn’t as lush and our house smells of insecticide (we bought some chocolate incense to mask that). Still, it’s nice to sit outside, listen to the birdsong, and see the horses, dogs, cats, and hummingbirds, the flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Tomorrow we go back to Sucre for cooler, wetter weather and a New Year’s Eve celebration . . .