Bolivia Fishing – getting there…and day 1

Getting ready for a fishing trip is not something I take lightly. It starts months in advance with Mark laying on top of our pool table every lure he can think of that might possibly catch whatever fish we’re after. We sort through lures, painfully setting many aside with great angst, weigh our luggage, remove underwear to add another lure, remove an extra shirt I probably wouldn’t have worn anyway, add another lure, weigh, remove, add. It takes weeks.

The day before we leave we drive 40 minutes to drop our two spoiled dogs off at a doggie spa where they play with other dogs for hours at a time and spend their nights in their own private room. It’s almost as expensive as a night in a moderately priced motel. When Mark and I return from a trip, I rob a bank before I go pick up the dogs.

The day of our trip means rising in the wee hours of the morning, making sure the cat has enough food for the day, the Norfolk pine isn’t gasping for water, the birds and squirrels get the last ten pounds of sunflower seeds we have, the skunks have water and food to get them through one more day. We drive to a parking lot in Detroit, shuttle to the airport, take off on time and arrive in what some might call partly cloudy skies.

In Miami we found our luggage and wound our way through the airport to near the Bolivian Airlines check-in area, where people pay to have their bags wrapped in heavy plastic. I inquired about this and was told people wrap their stuff to prevent theft in third-world countries. I cringed about the excess plastic waste this creates, posted these photos on Facebook and spent several hours entertaining myself with comments from friends.

One FB comment: “Wouldn’t thieves have knives to cut through the plastic….?”
Ten hours later, we jumped aboard a Bolivian Airlines plane where we had a smooth ride, good food, and were pampered by nice people.
My dad was in the Navy and sunrise in the morning meant sailors take warning. I was a bit worried as we landed in Santa Cruz.

The warning was to be heeded, because after we landed around 6:15 a.m., we handed our papers to a humorless Brute of a guy who scrutinized the copies of our passports, two credit card statements (to prove we could pay our way out of the country), and our itinerary, shook his head and said–in Spanish–that he needed a copy of our hotel reservation.

Enter our hero and heroine, Esteban Foianani and his wife Sabina, whom we befriended standing in line at the airport in Miami. I will never fort that just by chatting with them in line, we were offered their name and phone number in case we needed help.

Mark with Esteban Foianini. Who knew we’d really need help just getting into Bolivia?

Esteban is a third generation surgeon who owns and runs his own clinic in Santa Cruz. In spite of his obligations, he and his wife took time to help us. Sabina called Benjo, the person who was to pick us up from the airport, and asked him to drive to our motel for the missing piece of paper. Esteban helped us navigate the next step, which was getting a visa via a different, Smaller Brute. We paid by credit card.

An hour and a half after we arrived, we got the missing piece of paper, received our visa, had our bags scanned…and then had our bags searched. We were the only passengers in the small airport. In the photo, our heroine, Sabina, is in the background, still waiting.

Our bags searched, we walked past four disinterested police officers hanging around to arrest people like me who have little patience for beurocratic b.s. In the main part of the airport, we met Benjo, who took a photo of us with our new friends. It was after 8 a.m.

Now, I am on Teams calls Monday through Thursday for 10 hours each day and for about six hours on Fridays. The last thing I wanted to do is listen to a guy gab about his lovely city. But it turned our our hotel room wasn’t ready, and so we became hostage to a wonderful driver and guide named Benjo.

Strange, perhaps, but I loved all the wires in downtown Santa Cruz and wondered how anyone would figure out what to fix or replace if someone’s call didn’t go through.

Benjo took us to a part of town he knew well–Santa Cruz de la Sierra–down old bumpy streets that he said we’d tire of riding on and which were soon to be replaced with pavement. This was a typical intersection, lacking lights or stop signs.

Benjo parked his truck in a parking lot, and nearby was a building that looked interesting. I asked if we could go in. He said yes. While not labeled on the outside, it turned out to be a kind of museum, with art work, pottery, old implements, and colorful masks.

A burial item recently removed from the streets during a construction project. It kind of resembles a Brazil nut.

Inside the open air part of the building.

In one room we stumbled upon a painting of Esteban’s grandfather , who was in charge of munitions manufacturing during the Chaco War with Paraguay. He became Minister of Mines and Petroleum in the cabinet of Lieutenant Colonel German Busch, who was the president of Bolivia from 1937 to 1939. Dr. Foianini was a co-founder of Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos, which is a Bolivian state-owned oil and gas enterprise. 

We found colorful masks in a display case in one small room.

Mark and Benjo looking at a hand made map of Bolivia.
My favorite painting, framed by the building itself.

Near the unlabeled museum was the Cathedral Metropolitana Basilica Menor de San Lorenzo de Santa Cruz, also called the Cathedral Bassilica of St. Lawrence and the Santa Cruz de la Sierra Cathedral. That’s a lot of words for beautiful, brick church.

One of many pigeons in the square near the church.

Inside the church were several people praying, some lighting candles. We walked near the altar, turned around, and on the way out, ran into a relative of Benjo’s whom he hugged and spoke with for a few minutes.

I loved this bench because it thad very little straight about it after many, many years of use.

As we walked back to the parking lot, we walked under the cover of the local buildings, all of which were built like this to keep people dry during the rainy season. I loved the imperfections here–the missing paint, the well used tile, the quaintness of its simplicity. And the thoughtfulness of keeping people dry.

Benjo then drove us to a quaint chocolate shop where we bought some fancy, flavored chocolates for the Foianinis.

Yummy chocolate chip cookies for me.

Fancy flavored chocolates for our hero and heroine.

Our next stop was the Clinic Foianini where we left chocolates with a worker who turned out to be the wife of a guy Benjo plays soccer with. Seemed like he knew everybody.

A week later–when we returned from the jungle– we called Esteban and learned Sabina had confiscated all the chocolates. Poor guy.

For lunch, we treated Benjo to a restaurant he recommended, the name for which I didn’t catch, in part because I was a bit caught off guard by the cow hides on the chair and the fact that everyone was eating large chunks of various types of meat. A vegetarian when it’s not inconvenient, I told Benjo this was perfect for Mark and that their salads looked amazing.

A Huari beer and a glass of a juice Benjo recommended, called achachairu, which was like watered down coconut milk with a hint of orange sherbet maybe? But all the kinds of rices, salads, meat, salad all were very tasty. We left stuffed as ticks.

Benjo with one of many, many tasty foods.

Benjo dropped us off at the Hotel Trajebos where my first order of business was to look out the window, go, “Wow,” get my camera and start shooting. This is a yellow-tufted woodpecker.
This pale-vented pigeon appeared on the tree outside our room right after the woodpecker took off, soon followed by a Bolivian blackbird, shown to the right.

With the sun low on the horizon, I snapped this air plant, then we went poolside where Mark discovered a frozen scorpion, a wonderful tropical drink.

I jumped into the pool, had a beer, watched kids play in the fountain, and felt relaxed and blessed.

And I was ready for our first day in the jungle.
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