Santa Cruz has been a rest stop kinda place for us. We have done very little in the actual town besides eat, sleep, and get some laundry done. However, we did go to Biocentro Guembe, a resort and park which has some beautiful grounds and gasp—a butterfly dome! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love love love butterflies. I enjoy chasing them to take photos a lot. It brings me much joy for some reason. This dome did not disappoint as I gasped and had mouth-hanging-open syndrome most of the time we were in there. The butterflies were so amazing, I actually cried. I know, I’m a big sap, but it was so cool. The aviary was equally impressive, with all sorts of parrots and my oh my!—toucans were flying around. Toucans!!! Also several turtles (tortugas—our new favourite Spanish word) and monkeys were hanging out. We spent about 3 full hours in this park and then enjoyed the buffet lunch where I had the most delicious strawberry juice of my life. (I am now obsessed with strawberry juice and order it wherever we eat.)
We did a three day tour with Nick’s Adventures Bolivia and though we didn’t see many animals, it was truly beautiful. We were picked up from our hostel in Santa Cruz in the morning of the first day and drove for a bit over 2 hours to get to the Refugio Los Volcanes lodge in a small valley. The valley was clear cut but was surrounded by jungle and large haystack shaped hills coloured earthy red and sage green. The sky was overcast when we arrived, and it was misting a bit but the view compensated for the poor weather. The drive to the lodge was rather interesting—very narrow, rocky and muddy road which required a change of vehicle halfway down the mountain, swapping to a 4WD. Our guide, (Nick) mentioned that he’s had several tourists cry all the way down because they think they’re going to die. I just said that I’ve been on scarier roads in Canada, which is true. Once we got to the lodge, we went on a short walk to view and photograph some lovely waterfalls. We had a delicious lunch after that and were told to have a rest before doing our first trek.
We hiked up on and around a couple of the red and green hills and Nick stopped us every so often to point out different animal tracks or other evidence of struggles between species. Of interest were the puma scrapes where it is very evident that something has swept away part of the earth. Nick explained that pumas like to mark their territory every 200 metres or so, by scraping the earth and then peeing there as they are very territorial. I was interested in the many different types of butterflies that I saw along the way holding up the boys each time I was aiming for a macro picture of one. Once as far up as we could get, the views were spectacular. Bolivia’s jungles have a unique look to them which we have never seen before. Our first trek lasted about three hours and was a large loop which found us back at the lodge where we had an hour to clean up before dinner.
The next morning we work up just after sunrise and after breakfast were on our way for the whole day. We trekked for about 4 hours before arriving at our final destination: a waterfall which stopped us from being able to go anywhere further. Nick kept mentioning the crap weather and said that because of the recent rainfall, it was too dangerous to go up and around the waterfall. It was a pretty long and tiring walk as it was. Again, I took heaps of photos of butterflies and flowers making a lot of use of my macro setting on both cameras. (I use a point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix as I like it for macro and panoramas as well as night time photography and for everything else an Olympus PEN Lite E-PL7). We had to cross several sandy-bottomed rivers, which meant our shoes and feet were drenched almost the whole day. It would have taken twice as long to stop, take off our shoes, cross the rivers, put our shoes back on only to have to take them off again a few minutes later. So, we forged ahead with our shoes on and I only slipped once which I felt was unfair because my foot got caught between two rocks. I hurt myself trying to angle my right hip away from the water as I had my Nikon in my right pocket. Thankfully, it didn’t get submerged but my watch did not fare so well. We had lunch at the waterfall and then trekked back “home” which took about 3 hours. Needless to say, my whole body was completely sore. Hiking in the jungle and through rivers is a different type of walking than just going up and down mountains. That takes endurance. This 7 hour trek took all of my mental concentration to navigate muddy parts, rocky parts, slippery spots, sinking sand, and to also watch out for snakes, clues of other animals, and cool butterflies of course! So not only was my body sore, my mind was tired after that day.
Nick is pretty hard core and after dinner suggested a night walk after that which I laughingly backed out of. My knees were shattered and I was half asleep at 7:30pm anyway. So, the boys went alone and were gone for about an hour and 15 minutes in which time they heard some pretty chilling sounds of footsteps not ten metres from where they stood, stock-still, hearts racing, adrenaline pumping. Callum describes the sounds as “heavy footsteps of a 100 kilo animal charging towards us, but we couldn’t see it because it was pitch dark.” He felt terrified because he had no idea what to do in the situation and had to just follow Nick’s lead by being quiet and still in the dark with their torches turned off. They stood there like that for about ten minutes before continuing on their walk. Now call me crazy, but I think after that experience, I would have wanted to get home as soon as possible. Anyway, I am glad I was not out there and doubly glad the boys made it back safe. Callum says they went searching for snakes after that, didn’t see any, but did hear a porcupine munching on seeds at the top of his home: a palm tree. Yes, tree porcupines. They exist.
The next morning I stayed behind again in order to do a bit of writing in my journal and to finally do a painting of my surroundings. I try to do a painting in every country we go to, but never got around to doing one in Brazil. I will have to look at one of my photographs instead. I like doing paintings on location because I appreciate the view more and kind of become “one” with nature for an hour, losing myself in the process of trying to translate the view in front of me onto a small piece of paper. I love it. I did join the boys for an afternoon stroll to one final waterfall before we were driven the long way back into Santa Cruz.
It was a lovely experience getting to see the beauty of Amboro National Park and we would highly recommend using Nick as a tour guide if you visit Bolivia.