We haven’t yet talked about the new songs and artists we’ve been exposed to during our journey. Truth be told, we’re not huge fans of most popular Latin American music since most of it is so dance-oriented and we like more mellow stuff. But, there are still a few songs that we can’t help but love! Here’s a sampling of what we hear every day…
First, the #1 song in most of South America right now. We heard this multiple times EVERY DAY in every country, despite the fact that it’s actually a Brazilian Portuguese song! But it is super catchy and fun to sing along to in bars, so it kind of grew on us…
Next, my favorite song. It’s not played too much and when we looked up the video we realized that’s probably because it’s from the ’80s, by some Mexican singer. But it’s still awesome.
A Colombian band we were introduced to by our Couchsurfing host in Medellin. They have a really unique cumbia/rap style, and they apparently played at South by Southwest last year. Takin’ over the world!
And another really popular Brazilian pop song. It’s also super catchy. Funny we learned so many Portuguese songs without even going to Brazil!
This is by no means an exhaustive summary. We haven’t included any traditional indigenous music here; maybe we’ll write about that later. But there you have it, a brief sampler of the songs that are going to stay stuck in our heads for a long time!
After finally getting off La Pinta and setting foot back on dry land, we found ourselves in basically the middle of nowhere. We were happy that River boat hitchhiking in Bolivia was done. It was a tiny port with a few rundown boats parked and a few thatch shacks at the end of a dirt road. Truly the back of beyond, like someplace out of Heart of Darkness or “Apocalypse Now”. We knew it might be a long wait for a ride into Trinidad, so we sat down at a cafe and ordered “almuerzos”–hot noodle soup followed by a plate of rice, spaghetti, potatoes, and beef. The heat was oppressive and we were pouring sweat even sitting in the shade. Thankfully, while we were eating, a dusty, falling-apart taxi pulled up chock full of supplies. While the driver unloaded his deliveries, we finished our lunch and afterwards waited a few minutes for more people to fill the car. With four locals in the backseat, the driver, and Zach and I sharing the front passenger seat, we bounced off along the bumpy track towards Trinidad. The short trip included a river crossing on a very rickety wooden ferry, and passed through several more tiny port villages.
Finally we reached Trinidad, a small city which is capital of Bolivia’s jungly Beni province. Trinidad is known for it’s many motorcycles; everyone seems to have one and there are hardly any cars. The motorcycles zip around the streets like mad, ignoring traffic laws and narrowly missing accidents at every turn. It’s a miracle we didn’t get run over! Tourists can also rent motorcycles. If that’s your idea of fun, go for it. To me it sounds like inevitable road rash, if not worse.
Finding an acceptable hostel took awhile, but we eventually stumbled into Alojamiento Carmen, a decent place with fans and shared bathrooms, the highlight being the cable TV with a plethora of English channels. They had the Latin American versions of TLC, WB, and FOX, so we spent a lot of time in the room watching random things like “No Reservations” (love Anthony Bourdain), “Ace of Cakes”, “Friends”, “Two and a Half Men”, “Grey’s Anatomy” (My guilty pleasure…but what is GOING ON there? I’ve missed so much!), and the worst one ever, “Man vs. Food.” Normally I get so disgusted watching Adam stuff his face and get fatter every episode, but try watching it in Bolivia and just see how horribly HUNGRY and JEALOUS you get!
Okay, that was a major TV tangent. But really, it ended up being good that we had so many channels because there’s not much else to do in Trinidad! The city is so hot and humid that you start sweating after walking only one block. There are also a lot of mosquitoes out at night. Suffice it to say, after only a few hours of wandering the streets, we were bored.
That night we had a bit of an existential crisis. We had planned to stay for a couple nights in Trinidad, find another boat, and continue down the Rio Mamoré to Guayaramerin, on the Brazilian border. There were two major reasons we had decided to do this: 1. Getting off the Gringo Trail and 2. It’s cheap! What we finally admitted to ourselves this night in Trini was that despite our best-laid plans, we were bored. We had been a bit bored, in fact, ever since realizing how behind on our budget we were, and cutting back on all activities and extras to try to make up for it. What ensued was a long discussion about our priorities and how to make this the best possible experience. We came to two conclusions: 1. We don’t want to go into debt on this trip. (Debt-free is the way to be!) 2. If we’re not having fun then we need to change something. Therefore, a hard decision was made. We conceded to the possibility of returning home earlier (in June rather than July). Nothing is official (we still don’t have a return ticket), but doing this would definitely ease the financial strain and allow us to enjoy the time we have left a lot more. We’d rather say we had an AMAZING TIME for 7 months than that we toughed it out on very little money for 8 months. (Although, of course, if anyone wants to send us some $$, we won’t say no, lol.) So in the interest of making it back to the states faster and ditching the heat, mosquitoes, and boat boredom, we changed our plan (again) and decided that Brazil can wait for another trip. “Let’s get out of this sweaty town, back to the mountains and Perú!” we said. Arequipa, Perú, was the next place we were really excited for, and we desperately needed some excitement. If only we knew how impossible it would be get back on the grid…
Please read the beginning of our River boat Hitchhiking in the Bolivian Amazon Aventura!
We arrived in Santa Cruz before we expected to, so going into the city we had no idea what to expect. At 5am in the bus station we looked up a cheap hostel in the guidebook and then a map to see how far away it was. It was a little over 2km to central Santa Cruz, a walk we were getting used to after swearing off taxis to save money.
The first thing we noticed was the heat and humidity-very tropical-feeling. Sweat poured off our bodies but we made the walk fine with help from the extra near-sea-level oxygen. After checking in and leaving our bags, we went exploring. There were very few backpackers compared to what we had gotten used to in the rest of Bolivia. This was a nice change since sometimes the places that have to deal with less gringos treat the ones they do meet a little bit better. We found a lady selling soft-serve ice cream, the best soft-serve we have had in South America. At first it was super hard to even understand what people were saying because of their super-strange accents. So many words that were supposed to end in ‘s’ somehow had the ‘s’ omitted. But, as in every new place, we got the hang of it eventually and their speech started to make some sense.
For being the largest city in Bolivia, Santa Cruz had the feel of a sleepy jungle town. Everyone moved at a slowish pace that was refreshing after places like La Paz where there is so much pushing and shoving. All the buildings were also only a few stories high with only a couple of skyrise apartments breaking the overall flatness of the city. We kept on the lookout for sloths in the trees, as supposedly there are a few left in the city despite the relocation of most. Our last day we spent hanging out in the central plaza, Plaza 24 de Septiembre, watching old men play chess and shoeshiners on their knees polishing already-shiny shoes. About once per hour there would be a blast of rain that would last just long enough to clear the park and then the sun would quickly return, sometimes bringing perfect rainbows.
Santa Cruz is definitely different than other Bolivian cities and we can see why it is said to be “more Brazilian than Bolivian”. More tropical, less hurried, and in general easy to get around in, we were glad to have raveled the extra distance to check out Bolivia’s most-populated city.
Well, we’ve got our malaria pills, sunscreen, and all batteries fully charged, and we’re headed off to the Amazon basin! Today we are taking a bus to Puerto Villarroel, from where we are going to catch a boat up the Rio Ichilo all the way to the Brazilian border! From there we will dip into Brazil for a day (you don’t need a visa if you stay just in the border town), see what shenanigans we can get into, and then try to keep riverboat-hitchhiking all the way back into Perú.
The exciting thing about all this is that there is virtually no information about how to do this–not in the guidebooks, not on the web, nowhere. Don’t worry though, it’s a safe and gringo-friendly area. We’re going to fly, (er, boat rather) by the seat of our pants and we don’t know how long this trip will take or if we’ll even make it into Perú this way. But the mystery of the unknown is the fun! A new, real, off-the-beaten-path adventure! So folks, we’re not expecting much Internet off in the jungle, although of course we will check in whenever we can. We’ve still got a few posts scheduled to catch you all up to date. And once we finish these crazy riverboat rides, you betcha we’ll have some stories! Until then, cross your fingers we don’t get too many mosquito bites or go all Heart of Darkness or anything. Hasta luego!