How a Bag of Weed Led me to Bolivia’s Best-kept Secret
La Paz got the better of us pretty much straightaway. When we were offered an enormous quantity of hash for a tenth of the price at home, we were too gobsmacked to turn it down. And so began our adventures in Eastern Bolivia.
So we took our goodies on tour with us from La Paz up to Rurrenabaque. A week later, with some Amazonian wildlife snaps in the bag, we still had an enormous amount of weed left. We couldn’t cross the border into Peru with it; it’d be a shame to give it or throw it away. So, backing away from all international borders, we decided to go on the mother of all detours, looping from La Paz all the way east to the border with Brazil and back again. Twenty days and 2200km into the unknown.
Once you begin freewheeling from the dizzy heights (quite literally) of the capital, the scenery turns lush; you take off your hat and scarf, open the bus window and let the warm breeze tickle your face. Ladies dry coca leaves on plastic sheets by the roadside and suddenly it’s easy to breathe. This is the secret: Bolivia is almost Caribbean once you get down to sea level. And most backpackers never even realise.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a stereotypcial tropical paradise. Trinidad, the first stop on our loop, was a rundown little town with little on offer. When we went to ‘have a day by the river’ we had to laugh at the brown pool of water with a rusty concrete obstacle that was mean to be a slide. Despite that, Trinidad gave me the very memorable experience of driving through town at sunset without another gringo in sight for the first time in four months. Magical.
Santa Cruz, right out on the apogee of the loop, was like something out of a Disney movie. After seeing the daily struggle of Bolivians on El Alto, here was a gorgeous, affluent city – wide streets, an immaculate central plaza lined with palm trees, boutique stores and old men sitting on shady benches. Sitting on the balcony of a cheap hotel bar, we found ourselves looking out at what could be any tropical city.
We spent a fantastic ten days in Santa Cruz, eating in great restaurants (by restaurants, I mean cake emporiums), getting decent haircuts, drinking coffee. Staying in watching movies with a crafty smoke out of the window overlooking the city. It was like taking a minibreak within Bolivia, probably how people feel taking cheap holidays to Goa after spending time in Delhi or Mumbai.
Two and a half weeks and one empty ziplock bag later, we made our way through Cochabamba and wound our way back up to La Paz feeling for the first time that we’d seen something not everyone else had seen. When you’re backpacking on the gringo trail, that’s something very special indeed.