Samaipata is a picturesque tranquilo pueblito set in the Eastern Bolivian Andes, just 2.5 hours south of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It’s placement in the mountains meant much chillier weather than anywhere I’ve been since Bogotá- it was refreshing, invigorating and worthy of digging out my cold weather clothes. The village is full of hippy gringo travelers and national transplants, selling their hand crafted colorful goods or growing gardens in the town center’s open lots. 9km down the road and up the mountain lies El Fuerte, a preserved site of ancient Inca ruins. I spent one day hiking there from town, enjoying the peace of being alone on the trail ascending into the clouds. The ruins were really moving, the most fascinating part being the symbolic carvings (animals and a supposed solar calendar, among other things) made into a huge stone, apparently it’s the largest of the sort in the world. Surrounding the stone are ruins of dwellings, agricultural plots and religious shrines. Standing on site looking out over the mountains and feeling the wind rush by was magical. I wonder what life was like for those that built the community so many years ago.
After another day of wandering aimlessly around Samaipata’s cobblestone center, I arrived at the bus stop 20 minutes early to find a frantic old man telling me I’d missed my bus and all the seats on the two buses there were full. Realizing he’d made a mistake with booking, he apologized and asked that I ride in the driver’s cabin instead, where a mother and daughter were already sitting. I wasn’t ready to spend another night in Samaipata (it got a little boring after the second night), so I hopped in and hoped for the best. The first 100 or so kilometers were paved, so even though the road was barely two lanes and we swayed over plunging cliffs, it wasn’t so bad. The upside of having to watch every tricky manuvear was having great views of the countryside at sunset. With nightfall came the dirt roads. Our driver was obviously very experienced and knew the roads well, so I worried less about the small bottle he was sipping on and tried to focus on the sky; the full moon had come again. When we came to our first and only bathroom break 6 hours in (meaning we pulled over and all got to squat on the side of the road), I managed to snag a prime spot on the floor in the bus’ main area. I slept there for the remaining 5 hours and woke up filthy with people staring at me, but I was rested nevertheless and ready to discover Sucre.