Trinidad, Cuba is a small colonial city on the south coast of the island, about a four hour drive from Havana. Nestled on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean, Trinidad offers pristine examples of colonial architecture. The buildings were painted in all different bright colors and the streets where cobblestone. This was our favorite city for live music as you could literally hear three or four bands from any spot you stood at in the touristic area.
Our second day in Trinidad we rented bikes from our casa particular (15 CUC for two mountain bikes for the day) and set off on another adventure. We were headed to Playa Ancón located about 15km from the city. It was an easy, flat ride so in no time we rolled through the small fishing village of La Boca and along the coast towards the beaches. We passed trees of tamarind and swarms of dragonflies and the weather was perfect. The asphalt road was potholed and sandy the whole way, so bikes were perfect for the journey. Playa Ancón is the most idyllic beach on Cuba’s southern shore, though it’s popularity pales in comparison to the northern Veradero-area beaches. The beach had beautiful white sand and the water was the exact postcard-perfect blue that we all idealize. This was our only beach day of the trip because well, we live at the beach in San Diego, California.
We’re still working on a big, cleverly and intelligently written sum-up of the whole darn adventure. It’s hard though! It is coming soon, but for now enjoy the final edition of our La Aventura Project superlatives!
Days in South and Central America: 217
Dollars Spent: $10,586.14
Average Dollars per day: $70.45
Countries Visited: 10
Books Read: 22 (Carrie), lost track (Zach)
Doctor visits: 1 (Zach), 0 (Carrie)
Things We Lost: More random stuff than we remember
Favorite Food: ceviche (Zach), pupusas (Carrie)
Favorite Beverage: Colombian coffee, Campos de Solana vino tinto from Tarija, Bolivia, and Flor de Caña rum from Nicaragua
Best Wildlife Sighting: dolphins on the cruise from Panamá to Colombia
Nicest People: Colombians and Salvadorans
Most Touristy Countries: Perú and Guatemala
Most American Retirees: Panamá
Scariest/Coolest Experience: the eruption of Tungurahua Volcano
Most Liver Damage: Loki Hostel
Biggest Personal Changes: dreadlocks and eating meat (Carrie), actually speaking a second language (Zach)
Longest Bus Marathon: 3 days almost-straight, Trinidad, Bolivia to Arequipa, Perú
Best Place to Open Our Bar Someday: Canoa, Ecuador
Most Sobering Site: civil war museum in Perquín, El Salvador
Most Life-Changing Moment: getting engaged
Sweatiest We’ve Ever Been in Our Lives: Nicaragua
Most Expensive Country/Most Fast Food Places: Costa Rica
Most Breeds of Potatoes: Perú
Best Shopping: Panajachel, Nicaragua
Creepiest Hotel: the Auto Hotel in Sonsonate, El Salvador
Favorite Country in Central America: El Salvador
Favorite Country Overall: Ecuador!!!!!!!!!!!!
After spending a couple days in Trinidad, we decided that the whole jungle adventure sounded a lot better than it actually turned out to be. After spending over a week to get away from it all, we found ourselves again at the bus station looking for the fastest way back to civilization. We wanted to get straight back to La Paz from where it’s a quick jump back to Perú and new and exciting things. This turned out to be harder than expected. There are three roads in and out of Trinidad. One heads north to the Brazilian border, a journey of unknown hours that drops you off in the middle of the jungle. The second is the road to La Paz. This road is about a two days’ journey and at the time of our inquiries was passable only by 4×4 since it is destroyed every rainy season. The third highway is the main way in, but involves backtracking all the way to Santa Cruz, an overnight trip, and then taking another overnighter to La Paz from there. After some research, the 3rd option, though boring and backtracking, turned out to be the shorter, cheaper, and easier adventure. So we decided to come back later that night and try to pick up a cheap ticket for the next day.
We had noticed the hundreds of motorcycles in the center of Trinidad, blocking up the main square, and sure enough when we got to the bus station the news was bad. “No hay bus a Santa Cruz.” “Mañana?” we asked. “No sé.” The Bolivians were again taking up their favorite hobby which is protesting things by blocking the main roads with rocks and angry mobs. We had encountered these protests before while en route from Coroico to La Paz. Our van left us off at the edge of the blockage and we had to walk 4km through lines of boulders placed every block or so. The protesters were angry about that cost of minivan rides or something, but we were super annoyed because we had never had to walk that far with all of our stuff before. On the La Paz side of the blockade, the police were showing up armed with huge bottles of pepper spray and the protestors were starting to get loud. We jumped into the first taxi we found and were happy to be out of that mess.
So, after a night of not knowing how long we would have to endure Trinidad, we walked back to the bus station and were happy to hear that we would be able to take a bus to Santa Cruz (50 Bs each) that night. So we stashed our big backs and took the cameras, journals, and books to the park where we sat all day waiting for our night bus. These days sitting around are sometimes nice times to catch up on writing, but after a few hours we are usually pretty bored. Usually we end up getting ice cream, and sometimes a beer helps to pass the time. Our bus left at 7pm so we arrived at the terminal the usual 30 minutes before, and the bus left the usual one hour late. We were tired and the seats reclined, so as soon as we were on the smooth road, we feel right asleep.
At 5:30am we woke in Santa Cruz, feeling some deja vu. The Santa Cruz bus terminal is the hub that we have spent the most time in this entire trip and we hate it. But they do sell good cheesy bread which made a nice breakfast. We were able to get right on a bus to Cochabamba (50 Bs each) after waiting less than an hour and fell right back to sleep. When I woke we were still in the jungle, but the mountains were visible on the horizon which brought some hope that we might actually make it. But this bus was super-slow! We had hoped to make it to La Paz in a perfect 24 hours after leaving Trini, but found ourselves only in Cochabamba at the 24 hour mark. The thought occurred that we could get a hostel and sleep for a night, but then we found a cheap ticket for a 10pm to La Paz (35 Bs each) putting us in the capital bright and early. So we bought it and wandered across the street from the terminal to indulge in some of the best street food we have found in South America. Good, cheap food always helps to cheer us up.
We woke at dawn with the lights of La Paz shinning below us. It was COLD, 0 degrees C read the sign, 5:30 am. By now we were pretty much braindead as we sat in the terminal, feet going numb. Eventually we decided that the best and cheapest route was to take the 8:30am bus to Copacabana (25 Bs each), which we did, where we ate a quick lunch then bought a ticket all the way to Arequipa (100 Bs each) on a bus that changed in Puno. The ticket vendor proclaimed that it was eight hours to Arequipa putting us at our final destination at 9pm. We had the fastest border crossing ever and but due to slow going and some more protests on the road, we didn’t find ourselves in Puno (where we had to change buses) until 4:30pm. Getting into the second biggest city in Perú (Arequipa) at midnight didn’t sound like the best of plans, so we decided to end the marathon, switch our onward ticket, sleep in a bed, then continue at 8am.
So finally, the next day, we completed our trek to Arequipa at around 3pm. That puts the total at 58 hours riding on a bus or waiting in bus terminals (after subtracting time spent in Puno). This was the biggest bus marathon we have had or (hopefully) will ever have this entire trip. Was it worth it? Yes, because we are back in Perú which seems like a first world country after so long in Bolivia. Yes, we enjoyed the fact that Bolivia is so underdeveloped, but after the extreme conditions of our time in the jungle, it was starting to get to us. After such a crazy bus marathon, a few days rest in a beautiful and modern city were exactly what we needed.
After finally getting off La Pinta and setting foot back on dry land, we found ourselves in basically the middle of nowhere. 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…
If there’s one thing Bolivia is determined to teach me, it’s patience. This is not my strongest quality, so learning it takes a lot. And believe me, we dealt with a lot of waiting in Puerto Villarroel. We knew our perfect scenario, finding a boat ride to Trinidad the same day we arrived, was unlikely. But the only way to get down the river was to start looking for a boat. We first tried the dockside restaurant with a “Tourist Information” sign on it, but the lady inside looked shocked to see a tourist and of course knew nothing about boats. So we stashed our packs under the stilted building and I went walking along the river.
Next someone directed me to the naval office, where the military officers at least tried to help this crazy dreadlocked hippy bum from a country Bolivia doesn’t get along with too well. They found a boat captain who was leaving in the afternoon, a glimmer of hope! But all the captain said was “I don’t have much space.” When I asked him the price he ignored me and told me to go look at the boat, before walking away. Since his boat was 1km away, we didn’t know the price, and it didn’t sound promising, we didn’t walk to look at the boat and never saw the captain again. So more sitting around, more asking random passersby. Most people want to help but just don’t know anything, so they direct you to one person who directs you to another person, and it all just turns into a wild goose chase.
Then finally — success? An old man led me on a more profitable goose chase to a man driving by in a truck whose boat was also, supposedly leaving in the afternoon. We settled on a price, agreed to wait for him where we were, shook hands and everything. Shazam! “After lunch,” was the time frame he’d given me. So I sat with the stuff while Zach took off to buy groceries and water for the trip. And then we sat. And sat and sat. 1pm, 2pm, 3pm. I was desperately craving a shower and a nap but still holding out hope that he guy would show up. “Doesn’t he want our money?” we asked. Apparently not. Around 4pm, after watching the one way-too-crowded boat mentioned earlier leave, we gave up for the day and moved into the only hostel in town, hoping for better luck mañana.
The next day we woke at 7am, not wanting to miss any boat departures. Silly U.S.-bred timeliness! Rather quickly we were informed that nothing was leaving that day but one boat was leaving the next morning. Some guy called the captain over to talk to us, but he wanted 200 Bolivianos ($29) each and for us to bring our own food. The only other tidbit of info the Lonely Planet had given us on this trip was that it was supposed to cost 100 Bolivianos including food. So ARGH! We said no. We were hoping to SAVE money on this trip, not break even. But as soon as we arrived back in our room, we both had realized that this was probably the best offer we were going to get to get out of this stinkin’ town. It would cost more to get anywhere new by bus. So we did an about face and accepted the offer. “Woohoo, we hopefully have a boat ride tomorrow!” we cheered. Now how to kill a day in the sleepy, nothing town of PV: sit and watch The Sopranos all day because you sweat if you move and there are way too many mosquitoes outside.
Day Three. “Please, let us leave today!” We got up early again and waited where we were supposed to wait. Again, it proved completely unnecessary. The captain had said he’d come get us around 9am, but who knew what that meant. Our hope started waning when at noon we were still sitting there, watching a monsoon downpour, with no departure imminent. We thought we might have to stay another night and leave by bus in the morning, accepting defeat. Then finally, finally, somebody random appeared and led us through the rain to the boat. It seemed it was going to leave that day, hooray! So we loaded our stuff, bought more food, and settled in to wait longer to see if the boat would actually leave…