The other part of my visit to Bolivia I traveled to Pantanal in Brazil to see animals and then to the very detailed off the beaten path Jesuit missions on the way back to Santa Cruz (S.C.).
From S.C. I took an overnight bus on IDI SUAREZ without problems (sometimes night buses especially to a border has issues). This border is known for drugs trafficking, in fact a few days after I got back there was a bust on a bus. I was supposed to get off at Puerto Suarez but missed that stop and went to the next and last town Puerto Quijarro which is nothing great. I waited in the one line for both exit and entry to Bolivia and then on the Brazil side (2 separate lines). Luckily I was near the front because 2 days later on the way back It took forever (maybe over 2 hrs for both lines – Bolivia was the longest). In fact I would suggest just taking an international bus that crosses direct…much quicker!!!!
Any who Corumba is the city on the other side, not directly but they have a bus that takes you 7 km or so into town…super cheap…taxis charge a lot! that very same day within an hour or so I started my tour! No need walking around the hot city trying to find an agency….all are at the local bus terminal…which I eventually made it to after going to a travel agency in the main plaza….who called the tour company (Indiana tours) and they picked me up in their personal car…nothing fancy :P.
Tour started with bus ride to random stop on highway to Sao Paulo for the entrance to Pantanal where a truck picked me up and drove me into the jungle. The place we were staying was on Rio Paraguay a nice 3 hour journey down a long dirt with many bridges (70 or so…all small). Half way there we picked up the other part of the group who were doing horseback riding through the mosquito invested park…they had lots of bites! On my way to them we saw toucans in addition to countless other cool birds and a ton of caymanes and capibara. Also a few other animals…they tend to be out in evening and early morning. night consisted of a cayman search where we caught a baby one to hold and eating piraña at dinner from the boys who caught it earlier. Yumm!
Take note that in Pantanal it’s like mosquito capital, never seen so many, nor had the issue of them biting through my jeans and other clothes before…but hey, the night sky was amazing!
The next day was a hike where we saw nothing, maybe a rodent of some sort, don´t recall the name and monkeys. The bus was late for the return trip and the border closed at 5 so we were stuck in Corumba (we being three guys I met who were traveling from Canada and UK who spoke no Spanish or Portuguese) for the night. We saved cost by splitting two rooms at Hotel America…ja ja and then went out to check the town. Since I walked it during the day I was naturally the tour guide. We went down to the River…it is on Rio Paraguay, ate some ice cream…cheap and delish and had a drink at one of the many bars on the hillside park…first Caipirinha in Brazil. Now I want to try the KIWI one!
My first Brazil experience was interesting since I don´t speak Portuguese. I entered the country speaking Spanish and French oddly. In the end I just used Spanish but would generally ask. The two languages are very similar that it is kind of understandable. Any who, so I bought a book to learn Portuguese because I will be back at the end of August.
My way back through to Bolivia I had planned to meet my friends halfway and do a two day visit of the Jesuit Missions but once I crossed the border I called them and they were not able to make it because of passport issues. I decided to head there on my own…unfortunately the only transport was a night…so I spent my day in Puerto Suarez, out of Puerto Quijarro…eh. In Puerto Suarez was my friends cousin, who worked at a nice hotel there. Before swinging by I went to see the dock on the River…yes same river!!! It is really pretty there with the bright green plants…cucharitas and the blue water…very picturesque! I also did this first because the collectivo dropped me there so I had to walk through town to visit. As soon as I said who i was she made sure I ate lunch and had all i needed. Super nice, friendly, and helpful! I even later used the shower there, the internet, she showed me photos from her local trips, I showed mine, and she dropped me at the bus terminal later that night. The rest of my hours I spent checking out the church, which was amazing and enjoying the sunset.
I arrived in San José the first town on the trail of the Jesuits at about 1:30 in the morning. I found a place to stay after waking up several owners. The first was full and the next was a a poor old man who was unhappy to be woken up by the tourist. The room he showed me was too expensive so I almost left but then he showed me a bed in a dorm for the price I wanted so I stayed…but also had to leave for 5 minutes to take a photo of the gorgeous church at night…I am sure he wanted to kill me or for someone to do so in the plaza…ja ja
Next morning I went into the church..all churches were free to view…the museums were not…but it was Sunday so they were closed anyway! In order to get to the other churches you needed to split a collective or take the twice a day bus which of course I missed since it left at 7 and I got up at 8…bummer. Luckily there was one other tourist in town who spotted me and asked if I knew how to do the trail and if I wanted to. I said yes I did of course…from there we went to the train bus terminal area to see what we could find. We found three lumbermen when wanted to go in our direction and had found someone with a decent price. We ran home to gather our stuff (only to wait once we got back)…I made time for some Salteñas and then took the moto taxi….love those :D.
It was a slow start, almost positive the driver had never done this, JA. He made a stop at the gas station, Bolivia has regular gas and natural gas so sometimes you have to exit the vehicle to fill (natural gas). We needed an ID to buy gas…odd so we used the German guys Bolivian one (he was living there for a year and now on tour with his cousin). From there to the mans house to get his ID and blankets for a night in the car. The 6 of us headed up north through several towns, I made sure we got to stop and see each one…pretty sure this was not on the agenda but no extra charge and the lumbermen did not mind…in fact at each town one got off…they changed their mind as to where they were going…OKaYYY! All were cool churches, the second one was closed but miraculously a guy came over and let us in and gave us a tour…SWEET! (San Miguel) and then we continued to the last stop…at least mine..the German boys were to continue to stop before S.C. but they changed their mind by the end of the day. By far the best town was the last San Ignacio de Velasco…so pretty and with stuff to do..very romantic and relaxing. Spent most of the day there trying to find an ATM and book a bus…success! The buses from there were quite pricey and sold out quick and again another overnighter….arriving at 6 am to S.C.
If I am ever in the area again I would definitely go back to San Ignacio and stay a bit. Pantanal, not sure it was worth it….maybe if I could make sure I could do a night walk, a bird walk, fishing for pirañas, and go to Bonito (another part of Pantanal that is gorgeous).
I chilled in S.C. for the next two days and then back to Santiago to wait for the arrival of some friends from the US only 3 days later!