Amboro national park

The Amboro national park is right around the corner from Samaipata and there is a bunch of agencies offering tours. Not necessarily the one I wanted though. I had been looking around and the Amboro national park consists of three separate zones, a high arrid area, an intermediate cloud forest and a very low rain forest like I had seen in the Madidi national park in Rurre. So my goal was to go to cloud forest. Unfortunately the much more popular (and therefore cheaper) route is to go to the jungle. I spent a day visiting all the tour agencies, asking if they had a group leaving to said park. They didn’t. But I kept hearing about that other girl, that was also interested and maybe if I could find her we could go together and get a better price. I did end up meeting her, but unfortunately it was only on our way out of town in the bus from Samaipata to Santa Cruz.

But, as always, there’s a way to make things work. While I wasn’t prepared to pay the official list price, one of the companies offered me a discount since they had no outing the next day. So I did some mental gymnastics to justify paying double of what I initially planned (but if you take into account that I saved money on food that day, and didn’t need to pay another night of hostels in Samaipata it was only a 100 bolivianos more) and off I went with my private tour guide the next morning.
The tour itself was absolutely amazing. We started out in a rather unspectacular patch of “standard” forest. But my guide stopped every few minutes to show me an edible plant or a medicinal plant or an herb. I’m not sure how many different plants I tried that day, but there were many. I also finally learned what “Boldo”, a lemony tea I’ve been drinking for a couple of months now, is: A green bush growing wild in the Yunga. He also explained to me that this part of the woods were quite arid since the mountain stopped the clouds and kept all the humidity on the other side, where we were headed.

Once we crossed over the ridge and started descending into the valley the forest changed dramatically. Ferns were everywhere, lichen too. I was enthralled. But when I started taking pictures my guide told me to wait, this wasn’t the good part. Granted, the leaves of the ferns were a bit brown, but I knew this might be the case since I was traveling in the dry season. My guide assured me we’d get to ‘the better’ ferns a bit further down, which were still green.

He was right, we did climb down into the valley and there the ferns were still green. Mostly because they were standing close to some small streamlet and because the trees were hiding the leaves from the sun. There I learned that Amboro means “where the water is born” because it has plenty of small water sources. He also showed me the two types of giant ferns that exist in this area. They are quite easy to distinguish, one has some serious thorns the other one doesn’t. They also grow at different speeds, the former at about 3-5cm the other at less than 1cm per year. So when you look at a 20m high fern you know it’s been around for quite a while.

Torotoro – El Vergel

The next day we arrived early at the guide office as we had been warned the previous evening that while the office would definitely be open, they couldn’t guarantee that enough or even any of the guides would show up. The advantage of being self employed is deciding when you work, I guess. Luckily for us, there were enough guides and we set out to discover the dinosaur prints, the canyon and the local waterfall.

We had an absolutely amazing guide called Diego, who freely admitted that he was still in training. However, since he was still in training he was very motivated and wanted to show us every detail about the country side. We learned about many medicinal plants (including one that should be able to cure my luckily already healing carpal tunnel issues), the stone compositions and the different places locals seek out. He also told us much about the Bolivian history and the bloody battles going on in the surrounding mountains. This has been by far the most engaged and informative guide I’ve had so far.


He also, of course, showed us the dinosaur tracks. They are fascinating in the sense that the stone looks just like wet mud someone walked through.. Only that it’s now rock solid and has been for about a 100 million years. This being said, if you’d told me that someone dropped a stone there, I would’ve believed it as well.

From the dinosaur tracks we went on to the canyon. The canyon was absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed learning that it’s over 300m deep until we figured out that the waterfalls were at the bottom of said canyon. For a very short second we considered skipping the waterfalls to not have to walk back up. But, of course, we didn’t.

We bravely ventured into the canyon, quietly counting the number of stairs we’d need to take back up at the end of the trip. As we reached the bottom the vegetation suddenly grew green and we got some shade from actual trees which was highly enjoyable. The hike was totally worth it, The waterfall was absolutely not what I expected, but the small falls feeding the green moss and the water dripping down the roots, made for a very pretty scene. There is even a small pond in front of the waterfall, where the bravest one go to swim. The water, however, is absolutely freezing.

If I could change anything, I would probably have started a little later as the sun only seems to reach the water pools around 1pm, at which point my sunburn and our lack of lunch really made us want to return back into town. The hike back up wasn’t half as bad as we feared and within half an hour we were back on the almost flat trail into town, where we said good bye to Diego and set out to score some lunch at the unreasonably late hour of half past one which was much harder than expected. In the end we found one place which still had some rice and sauce left to feed us before we set out on the four hour drive back into Cochabamba.

Iguazu Falls

After a lot of back and forth I finally made it back to South America.. My initial plan to change my flight back from Santiago to Buenos Aires failed because the price was just insanely expensive, but then British Airways canceled my flight and suddenly they were offering me to rebook for free (or almost). So I ended up getting what I wanted with just the tiniest amount of heart attack after learning with less than 24h advance that my flight was cancelled, being rescheduled on a later flight, then being rescheduled again because that flight had three hours delay and I would’ve missed my connecting flight. I guess it’s a good thing that British Airways apparently flies Frankfurt – London every 15min.
So I ended up doing 6 hours of train, followed by 18 hours of flight, followed by 18 hours of bus to reach Iguazu.. For some odd reason I was completely exhausted when I arrived at 9am and in no position to do any sightseeing whatsoever. Instead I spent a day sleeping. A good thing, because the rain was intense and didn’t let up until the early morning hours the next day.

The next morning I got an early had start because I woke up by myself at 7 am.. I still managed to linger around until 9:30 before setting off to the Argentinian side of the falls.. The weather wasn’t quite as good as claimed, but about a hundred times better than expected. Namely cloudy with some sunshine.. The introductory leaflet handed out at the entrance mentioned I should definitely bring sun screen, a hat and mosquito repellent. I had none of those,but luckily I also needed none of those. It’s winter now, with some very humid 5-10 degrees the need to undress is completely removed. The intermittent clouds also assured that I didn’t need sunscreen.

My guide book had noted that there was an eco-hike one could do instead of taking the train. For one because it’s faster than waiting for the train and second because you were b

ound to see so many animals. The site is clearly setup to accommodate masses of tourists. Streets that are a couple of meters wide, the alternate roads to the train treks,and so on.. But I was visiting with maybe a hundred other people and there were no queues nowhere. I still did the eco-hike as it turned out to be a 650m foot path through the woods.. and I wanted to see all those animals. I ended up seeing none. I felt cheated, but soon enough the coaties showered their faces everywhere.. I had been too early, they only come out to steal your lunch (quite literally).

After the first disappointment and subsequent reconciliation it was finally time to go see those falls… I had been hearing them for quite a while, but hadn’t seen any yet. First let me say, they are so big you will never be able to see them all. I got lucky in the sense that the waterfalls were particularly strong due to the heavy rainfalls the previous days.I most also say that I really liked the reddish color of the water. I got unlucky because the water level was too high for me to access the San Martin island in the middle of the waterfalls.. While the excuse “The beach is inundated so we can’t land there” sounded really like a minor problem that could easily be solved with a “steg”, I later saw that in addition most of the paths on the island had been turned into rivers. Oh well.

I kept walking from one waterfall to the next, always more amazed, always eager to see more. Apart from the loop on the island, the park offers two more loops which allow you once to see the falls from below and once from above. They’re both amazing, though the upper one is slightly more impressive as it gets you right on top of the Gargantua del diablo, the devil’s canyon a u-formed set of waterfalls where the water is catapulted back up so high it seems to connect to the clouds. It also manages to rain on you from every direction. Even from behind. Bring waterproof clothing.. I didn’t.. and I even managed to return the next day and forget it again. I’m just gifted.

The next day I as going to the Bresilenian side of the falls. As many have said Bresil has the view, Argentina has the falls. What you could see from above or below the day before you can see from the opposite side from Bresil in all its glory. The plan to go very early, didn’t pan out because at 9am we were still enveloped by fog. The fog only lifted around 10:30 and made way for an almost cloudless sky.. Except the one in front of the sun obviously.. But even that gave up after a while. Luckily. The waterfalls soaked me completely and with the sun, the ocld was barely tolerable. Even my waterproof shoes had to yield.. They are not equipped to withstand two liters of water being dumped into the shoe from above.

El Bolson

El Bolson is known as a hippy town. Although it’s not all that apparent at first, it becomes very obvious once you walk through the market. It’s a mix of locals selling self-grown organic vegetables, food stands and exile-hippies selling their art, but mostly hippies. I first tried to visit it around 11am, but found out that they hadn’t even started setting up yet. When I came back five hours later, they were already wrapping up everything again. I’m guessing business must be very good or non-existant, but I suspect the latter. I did get to see it the next day.. around 2pm seems to be a good time to catch people between too hungover to get up and getting ready for the next party.

But neither the hippies nor the market are El bolson’s main attraction. The surrounding mountain ranges are. El bolson lies in a small valley, with two mountain ranges shooting up around it. The first day, to get acclimated, I rented a bike to visit some waterfalls nearby. My idea of doing some of the carretera austral by bike died then and there. I did neither enjoy riding or rather sliding through the loose gravel nor swallowing the dirt of all the cars shooting by.. I almost turned around out of frustration. But in the end, there wasn’t too much uphill, the gravel got less after a while and the cars vanished almost entirely once I turned of the main road. The ride ended up being a nice little excursion. The first waterfall, cascada escondida, is a large water fall of 30 meters, that no matter how hard you try you’ll never see entirely.. It’s really escondida.

The entrance to the second waterfall, cascada mallin ahogado, illustrates the Argentinian’s desire for signs and prohibitions quite nicely. The amount of signs telling me about all the things that were forebidden was quite mesmerizing.  The waterfall itself is actually part of a hydro-electric plant.. Which managed to maintain the natural beauty of the waterfall, while using it for electricity. The waterfalls were really pretty and the sun was shining relentlessly. But I’m finally adapting to the local climate,  so that I could enjoy the nice heat rather than spend the time worrying about getting sunburned. I returned in the early afternoon, allowing for an extensive visit to the the tourist office and the mountain office, where I was recommended to do all the walks available. I was also given a rather basic map which showed, as usual, distances in time rather than kilometers. Luckily one of my earlier travelmates had introduced me to the awesomeness of, which allowed me to check the distance and, in walking mode, even the elevation covered in each hike. The latter, unfortunately, turned out to be not entirely accurate, but as a rough estimate it gives a good idea. The estimated times of the app are, however, just about as ridiculess as the ones given on the map. Just to the other extreme. While the map says I’d need 4 hours for 5 km to climb from 1200m to 2200m, the app says it should take less than an hour. Well I’m not ashamed to admit it took us longer than that.

Buenos Aires

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally on the road again, open end for now.. The flight was booked rather short notice. Preparations basically non-existent. Now I know that it would’ve been good to bring large quantities of cash into Argentina because they’re nice enough to charge you 100 peso for each 1000 peso that you retrieve. I also didn’t know how hot it would be in Buenos Aires.. My optimistic guestimate of 28 degrees turned out to only be off by 10 degrees. But this seems to be unusual. I’ve had Argentinians confirm that this heat is not normal and that noone can tolerate it.
Nevertheless I set out to discover my environment right away.. Meaning with only five hours delay, as that is the delay the plane ended up having due to fog. Instead of arriving at 8am, we arrived at 1pm… By the time I was checked in in my hotel it was past 3pm and not much time was left. I walked around and already stumbled one of the top must-see sights in Buenos Aires: The casa rosada, residence of the president.. or at least where he works. The building is from the end of the 19th century and probably the most interesting fact is that the color is achieved by mixing chalk with ox blood.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was not very impressed. This is a theme that’ll be recurring in Buenos Aires. A large city, partially a beautiful city.. but there isn’t really anything that sparked my curiosity or wowed me. But maybe that’s because I’m a country girl at heart. I ended up walking quite far, down tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAo Puerto Madero the formerly very bad, now very expensive quarter full of luxury penthouses and expensive restaurants.. And I must say that I found the skyscrapers there to be the most appealing part of Buenos Aires. The Design is new and versatile and not just a copy of what might’ve been seen in Europe. Behind the Puerto Madero starts an ecological reserve. The insects there make so much noise that three steps in, you could already no longer hear the city. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince it was the end of the dry season the march was dry, the lake at best a swamp. But everything is green, so green. If you walk further you actually reach a point where you can see the rio de la plata. To be honest, the color didn’t really look silver to me.. More like mud. It didn’t smell like silver either.. However it is HUGE, From most view points I could not see the other border even though the sky was clear.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day, I decided to check out the other top sights of Buenos aires, el caminito in La Boca. La Boca has a reputation of being dangerous, so I went with a Spanish girl I’d met the day before. It turns out she’s a Spanish teacher, so my Spanish has been improving drastically. We went to La Boca and visited the street, which was a couple of houses painted in varying colors. Again the most appealing part, to me, was the Art displayed at the bus station, rather than the actual “top sight”. The day went on and we checked a few more of the top sights, el teatro colon, el congreso.. All built around roughly the same time about 150 years ago. All in a style I don’t find particularly appealing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I did notice though is that Buenos Aires feels like hipster central. Most tourist maps indicate if a restaurant serves gluten-free meals and most do. In addition about 30% of the food stores are taken up by protein shakes, powders and other meal substitutes. In addition I’ve seen more joggers here running in the scathing sun, than I see on a nice spring day at home (also hipster capital). Does that mean that everybody is incredibly fit and pretty? Definitely not. Unfortunately, as everywhere else, those most inclined to undress are those least pleasant to look up. I have, however learned that the tattoo of your mum’s face on your right breast is a real thing for Argentinians.. I did not dare to ask how his wife might feel about this.