Samaipata is a small village 2 hours from Santa Cruz (the countrys largest and fastest growing city). Known as the resting place in the mountains, the small town is famed for its cloud forest, perfect weather and serene national park. Having decided not to venture into the Bolivian Amazon, we made a stop here to explore an accessible part of the lowlands. Unfortunately, we arrived on the rainiest week of the year…
We arrived into Santa Cruz on a night bus from Cochabamaba and instead of staying to explore the city, we headed straight for the shared taxi stop destined for the peace and quiet of small town life. We waited from 7.30 until 9am before the taxi finally filled its seats, then had a nice conversation with a local guy in perfect Spanglish. Unfortunately the weather looked like it was going to turn after the weekend… Oh well. Two days of sunshine would be nice!
When we arrived we paid the driver 30bob each and checked into an alternative kinda hostel / camping spot called El Jardin (The Garden). We wandered down through the long grass and hippies to our little adobe cupula and settled in for a cruisey afternoon.
That evening we decided to venture out to the local bar “La Boheme”, it had come highly recommended by a friend back home as one of his friends had bought the bar with her partner and settled in Samaipata. Well, we were certainly grateful for the tip! We were greeted by a buzzing atmosphere of internationals from all corners. From young explorers in town for a few nights, to travellers who’d found themselves lingering for a couple of months or more, to the established expatriate locals who’d arrived and settled then never been able to leave. Apparently there is something very alluring about Samaipata, perhaps it’s the (usually) perfect subtropical climate, or maybe it’s something more spiritual but according to Wiki the little village is a “Micromundo” with over 25 nationalities living here. We stayed at the bar for a couple of beers, then dinner, ohhhhrmygawd… Finally! Good Mexican haha best nachos I’d had in months. Happy bellies and deep food comas!
The next day the sun was shining so we went for a walk to the animal refuge. It was a lovely walk along a dirt road, surrounded either side by lush green vegetation and amazingly manicured houses, some of which were for sale. We’d heard that as well as being popular with expats, Samaipata was also a trendy place for wealthy Santa Cruzians to escape the heat and the bustle. All this was clearly having an effect on the economy.
The animal Refuge has been set up by a French woman who started rescuing sick or poorly treated animals, some of which had never known life in the wild, and she has now ended up with quite the menagerie! After paying our 20bob entry we were promptly investigated by a little tiny monkey who was very friendly and wasted no time settling into the back of my neck. He was quite happy just chillaxin’ there while we wandered around visiting the other animals.
The refuge is home to all kinds of birds and parrots including a couple of toucans and a lovely long lashed emu! Within the enclosures were tortoises, a little dwarf leopard, llamas, a mini foal and tethered to a tree was a miniature horse. Roaming the grounds we also had a wild looking warthog who kept wanting to rub up on Steve.
There were also a couple of cages filled with other monkeys, but I didn’t visit them until after my little friend had gone. I didn’t feel right rubbing it in their faces that their little mate was free but they were trapped… I’m sure all of the animals are in the caged enclosures for their own safety but it still makes me feel a little bit sad. After an hour or so we were getting ready to leave just as a whole crew of free new range monkeys appeared. One of whom was named Donna and took a special liking towards our Steve. It was very funny, her all wrapped around his neck, sucking her toe. She didn’t want to move!
After we finally ditched Donna he made a new friend, a little adolescent guy who was very happy to sit where Steve couldn’t see him and do bad things to himself. I couldn’t keep it together!! Ohhh monkeys are so funny!
That night we went back to La Boheme. The owners, Kirsty and Dave are absolute legends so we instantly felt like we were back with our old mates. They have a winning recipe to make everybody feel welcome so it’s a great place to meet people. Throughout the evening we spoke to one couple who’d set up a permaculture farm and often received volunteers from all over the world. They were really interesting naturalist types with huge dreadlocks, who loved to plant food and party. We also chatted to a young girl who’d decided to travel in South America but arrived in Samaipata and ended up spending the whole 4 months and her entire savings enjoying partying with the hippies in the mountains. She burnt a hole through her pocket and consequently through her nose. I bet if these walls could talk they would have a lot of interesting tails to tell.
The next day we moved hostels, we arrived at Andoriña just before the rain. So we stayed in re-watching game of thrones and doing word puzzles (thanks mum!) then we went to La Boheme. The next day it rained again… So again we stayed in, and again we went to La Boheme. The next day started to feel a little bit like groundhog day but as a plus we discovered the tasty empanadas at the market! A must eat in Samaipata. Don’t get me wrong, we did venture out and explore the little town. We spent our days chatting to people and getting a feel for what it must be like to be an expatriate living in Bolivia and boy would it come with its challenges!
It’s not the most straight forward place to travel in, so I can only imagine the daily frustrations that would come with living as a part of such a nonsensical system! On top of that you also have to work doubly hard due to the stigma that comes with being a gringo in Bolivia. We hadn’t really felt it in Peru but here the people had experienced a much harder reality, are poorer and seem a lot more frustrated and failed by this tired system. From the perspective of some locals, gringos come in bringing nothing but trouble. When I asked a new friend about the vibe from some of the locals she admitted it could be tough sometimes, there was a particularly dark time in 2013 after the unthinkable divided the town. An American teacher, who worked in Santa Cruz and had a weekend house in Samaipata with some other expatriate friends, was brutally raped by three young local guys on her way home from La Boheme. After hearing this I did a little more research and found two articles written by the victim detailing the horrific attack as well as the complicated process that ensued in order to convict the monsters that had so ruthlessly beaten, raped and robbed her, then transferred her phone credit across to there own mobile! The story is one of corruption and carries on from a sad history of women being abused. However because of this brave woman’s courageous battle, along with a group of supportive expats and fiery Bolivians, the few bad apples will think twice before abusing women in the future. The whole nasty thing has been transformed into an incredibly important event in the battle for women’s rights, giving more local women the confirmation that hey, this isn’t right and there should be consequences. Samaipata feels like a very safe little community, it’s hard to imagine this could ever have happened.
On our last two days the sun came back, so we spent a day exploring the beautiful waterfalls of Cueves and absolutely loved it! Cueves is an oasis of calm set in voluptuous green forest. We took a bottle of red and lay in the white sand, basking in the afternoon sun. It only cost us 50 bob for a taxi out there and we hitched a ride back with a couple of friendly locals.
On our last day we had a sunny morning so Kirsty took us out to El Pueblito for lunch. El Pueblito is a quirky little resort designed to look like a miniature village, the rooms are quite luxurious making it the 1st choice in for the well to do. It was a real treat to enjoy a beer in the sunshine with our new friend and her bubbly little girl. They are amongst a bunch of courageous expats in Samaipata who are all a perfect example of diversity. How humans can relocate successfully, build thriving businesses and make a stunning little mountain village in the Bolivian jungle their new home – in spite of its challenges. This was, until we arrived in Samaipata, something we hadn’t thought much about.