2009-10-28 - 7:31 p.m.
all photos © 2009 by elaine radford
view from los volcanes, bolivia overlook
It occurs to me that I've never mentioned the purpose of the tour. Ho-kay, here's the purpose of the tour. The guides are preparing a field guide called Raptors of South America, as well as doing research for any number of scientific papers exploring the lives and proper identification of South American birds of prey. (Oh, and there's bird art/photography too.) Ornithology is, as we all know, not the most over-funded of the sciences, but you can help support the project by paying to tag along on one of their trips. In return, you get the benefit of their knowledge in finding and identifying the birds. We're not talking about a school bus full of folks. There were three of us on this tour. You're getting personal service from an expert. Pretty nifty, huh?
So, back to the events of 17 October:
The rental car company -- those folks who, despite their erstwhile ad campaign, apparently DON'T try harder -- reluctantly took back the pick-up truck, replacing it with the world's smallest SUV. As in -- one back seat for the three of us tourists. (One of our guides served as driver, and the other was the navigator/bird spotter, so they had the front seats). M. -- my roommate for the trip -- has a bad knee and takes some time to get out of any vehicle, so she volunteered to take the middle seat, so that we could get out faster when we spotted a bird. Truly a super-nice thing to do. I expected that we'd have to take turns with the much dreaded middle. I should probably send her my first-born child as a Christmas gift or something, but thankfully for all concerned, I don't have one.
Anyway, after acquiring transportation, we headed out, quickly realizing that virtually EVERY vehicle on the road was a Toyota Corolla station wagon. ALL the cabs were Toyota Corolla station wagons, some with the luggage racks, some without. Most of them were painted white, so the owners were desperate to customize the cars with various funny decals. I can't remember the actual Spanish words, but we passed such boastful examples as The Renegade and The Punisher. I commented that I thought that the Toyota Corolla station wagon was a Mom car, and The Renegade became sort of a running joke. Any time S. needed a laugh, he would make a comment about, "The Renegade" and we would all crack up. By jeepers, I may have the only Toyota Corolla station wagon in the entire greater New Orleans area, but this little car is the expletive deleted KING of Bolivia and no doubt about it. You know how in Japan, you struggle to climb a mountain, only to find a devoted 80 year old couple and an entire class of first graders already at the top? Well, it's like that. We were to discover that you struggle to ascend a mountain or bump down a mysterious cloud forest trail, and at the end of it, you have a Toyota Corolla station wagon, or maybe even an entire fleet of them. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
view of santa cruz
We got a late start, and the traffic in Santa Cruz was entertaining to say the least. You haven't lived until you've jockeyed with hundreds of Toyota Corolla station wagons and multiple Volvo 18 wheelers, all of them being perfectly willing to create their own lanes of traffic if the existing 3 lanes or so aren't enough. We got stuck unmoving at some point, and kids "cleaned" our car in the classic squeegee scam, but they were happy to get coins -- so who cares, since an entire 10 Boliviano bill is worth less than $2. A coin or two is nothing, although they do bother to have coins, unlike Madagascar, where even a 100 ariary bill is nothing, so a coin is truly less than nothing. Of course people try to sell things to those trapped in traffic -- drinks, bread, whatever. I even spotted a man who was juggling oranges right up in traffic, though he wasn't on our side of the road. Does a stalled driver really require a juggler?
So onward to a private reserve called Los Volcanes. There are no volcanoes. It's just a name. The owner doesn't want any random clown driving up and down his private road, so you signal him that you are there by quote unquote "Bolivian cell phone" to let him know that you need a pick-up by him or one of his drivers. There are actually simply tons of cell phones and cell phone towers in Bolivia, but, er, not in this particular location. In any case, the "Bolivian cell phone" in question is to set off fireworks. Boom, boom, boom. The owner himself came out after not a very long wait and inspected our driver and concluded that he was capable of handling the roads to the resort, so D. was allowed to drive our vehicle in, although it had to be partially unloaded, I'm presuming so that we weren't putting too much weight on the bridge. I was in the group that rode in with the owner himself. "Don't worry, be happy," was his motto. "Don't worry, the bridge has been here 20 years and we haven't lost a tourist yet," is something along the lines of what he told us as we crossed.
"Don't worry, don't worry," he said, laughing out loud, every time we took a particularly hair-spinning turn. It reminded me a bit of the World War I sargeant, "Hell, men, do you want to live forever?" But, in any event, we made it safely to our destination, although the owner stopped from time to time to watch behind him to see if our Argentine driver could really handle the road OK. D. did it in style, and we all stepped out (alive) to gasp at the beauty of the deep valley surrounded by the high red rock.
The staff made pizza in a huge brick oven. Pizza after pizza after pizza until we were dizzy from eating for what must have been three hours.
view from the valley of los volcanes, you are surrounded by the dramatic red rocks!
Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon.
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