A Travellerspoint blog

Santa Cruz part 3 (last part)

sunny 27 °C

While our stay in Santa Cruz, we made two short escapes to Samaipata, a lovely village perched on a hill with beautiful views to Amboró Park.
The first time we went to Samaipata we went on a trekk in the park. Directly when you enter the park you really feel like you are in the jungle: very dense vegetation, lianas and the biggest fern trees in the World (these are not really trees in other countries but plants). It is really amazing and worth to pay a guide to explain how the trees grow here and resist even when they fall out: they can be re born again and continue living for many years. . .
The Zoo in Samaipata was also worth a visit. It wasn’t really like a “normal” zoo like everyone knows, but an animal care center where animals that have been abandoned or abused are rescued to be fed and educated to give then a decent life. There were many monkeys who would crawl up your neck and rest peacefully while you would experiment the infernal heat and sweat on your body. We spent only a few hours with them but we left with the best feeling ever!

Meanwhile, lots of things happened in Santa Cruz. Two Swedish guys, Peter and Tobias, who worked voluntarily in Buena Vista for “Ingenieros sin Fronteras”, came to Luz del Mundo and brought many things for the kids: school materials, jockey equipment and, best present, football shoes for all the kids. They went crazy: they love playing football but they’ve always have to play with flip flops or even bare food…so it was a good surprise for them…

We also visited Buena Vista, the village where the Swedes where doing the project. The village is cool, very authentic; practically untouched by tourism but this also has a disadvantage such as making every place very inaccessible and rather more expensive than Samaipata. Anyways, we managed to make a nice trek down the Curichicuajo River and swim in the warm and doubtable clean water. In any case, the best in Bella Vista might be its people: the locals are warm, welcoming and very helpful with everything…

Our second visit to Samaipata was to visit El Fuerte, an Inca settlement. After bargaining the taxi drive and on the way to El Fuerte, the taxi driver stopped to pick up a guy who was making his walk there too. He was the funniest Swiss guy. We visited the place together: with no guide who could illuminate us with some history, all the suppositions were made. We decided to team up with him and his friend to form a separet tour with a independent guide working a bit with our hostel. The tour was actually not that great in the end…basically he was a bit reluctent to walk a lot (something that could be seen physically too) so we mainly drove around in car stoping at viewpoints. We decided that we wanted to do some real hiking so they dropped us off in the volcano area in between Samaipata and Santa Cruz and we then did our own great hike to Bermejo. So much better to hike without guide anyway.

Our time with the kids were starting to run out. We had finally decided on a final date, 15th of August, we woud be leaving the kids. So much we wanted to do before we leave.. Laura carried on her weekly (and sometimos twice weekly) dance class. In addition to her hiphop coreagraphy to a terrible Black Eye Peas song, she started to do the Waka Waka Shakira song. I joined in to much to the kids amusement.

We also carried on with the other classes as good as we could. Too be honest its quite difficult to keep coming up with ideas…e.g. for the internacional culture class we did every place I´ve lived in for any longer time. Also geography games(which were probable worked the best, the kids learned so much quickly) was difficult to come up with ideas for.

Besides classes, we were just trying to hug and kiss the kids as much as posible during the time we have left with them. By now we have gotten to know most of them quite well and know their personalities etc. On a daily routine I would for example throw and spin Bella, Brittney and Francine around. Laura would always chase down some of the tougher older boys like Ruben and Alvaro and kiss them.

In addition the the routine we had quite a few parties. First of all we had a point system, so that when they behaved well we gave points and when bad we took away points, when they got 25 we threw a party (worked really well). However in addition everytime any volunteer left there was a leaving party, we had Henrik´s Birthday party and we even broght in something when Spain won the worldcup. So there was a lot of cakes. Funny was that once a party was announced double the amount of kids would turn up. It was like they had been going on the streets screaming to everyone to come join… Let me tell you a party with 60 kids who are not used to get cakes or any treats can get quite crazy.

In terms of volunteers, a guy called David joined, but agreed that after him missing coming 4-5 times that he was more interested about using the voluneteer thing to pick up girls than anything else. Later on a spanish girl came too…she was really nice, but unfortunatly she had to leave as her granny got sick. Finally two really nice and more serious volunteer girls came, Cara and (¿???) from Australia. At last we felt ok leaving Luz Del Mundo.

Finally our last day had come…we were off course throwing a huge party. The kids were so cute…so many of the gave us drawings and letters (many times some combo). Off course they see volunteers come and go, but I still think that a lot of the kids really would miss us. We know that we would miss them a lot, but our adventure had to go on so after a day of singing, laughing together, kissing, hugging, we finally left Luz Del Mundo, but we will always remember the kids and carry a small part with us.

Park nacional Amboro...Volcano side

Park nacional Amboro...Volcano side

Henrik on top of this scary rock on the Volcano trek

Henrik on top of this scary rock on the Volcano trek

Laura on Volcano hike

Laura on Volcano hike

Checking the view on Volcano trek

Checking the view on Volcano trek

Laura posing in begining of Volcano trek

Laura posing in begining of Volcano trek

Laura taking a shower in a waterfall near Samaipata

Laura taking a shower in a waterfall near Samaipata

This spidermoney was so cute, kept dragging me along, but was for some reason a bit afraid of Laura...animal instinct

This spidermoney was so cute, kept dragging me along, but was for some reason a bit afraid of Laura...animal instinct

Henrik and the Spidermonkey really got along

Henrik and the Spidermonkey really got along

The pre-inka come UFO site El Fuerte

The pre-inka come UFO site El Fuerte

Henrik and some damn big fern plants

Henrik and some damn big fern plants

Laura deep in Amboro

Laura deep in Amboro

Jungle Henrik

Jungle Henrik

This howler monkey finally quite down in Laura´s lap

This howler monkey finally quite down in Laura´s lap

Kids posing up with some of the gifts they got from the Swedish brothers

Kids posing up with some of the gifts they got from the Swedish brothers

Henrik teaching georaphy...please not that he draw the world map by hand, pretty good

Henrik teaching georaphy...please not that he draw the world map by hand, pretty good

Plan3000...

Plan3000...

Britney...always a bit grumpy but so damn cute

Britney...always a bit grumpy but so damn cute

Emanuel, Alejandra, Marijana and little Franklin posing up

Emanuel, Alejandra, Marijana and little Franklin posing up

Kids waiting for some food

Kids waiting for some food

Laura showing the kids (and Shakira) how the Waka Waka should be done

Laura showing the kids (and Shakira) how the Waka Waka should be done

Treating the kids to homemade spanish omelette and Swedish Choclate kladdkaka on Henrik´s birthday

Treating the kids to homemade spanish omelette and Swedish Choclate kladdkaka on Henrik´s birthday

Gabriella gave me a really nice leaving letter...

Gabriella gave me a really nice leaving letter...

The whole Luz Del Mundo posing up for a leaving photo

The whole Luz Del Mundo posing up for a leaving photo

The kids singing a goodbye song for us

The kids singing a goodbye song for us

The girls fighting to hug Laura for some last pictures

The girls fighting to hug Laura for some last pictures

Last day exircise with Vanubia

Last day exircise with Vanubia

Gabriella and Laura hugging in a last photo

Gabriella and Laura hugging in a last photo

Henrik got stormed by four of the girls...he was trying to lift them all up the same time without succeding

Henrik got stormed by four of the girls...he was trying to lift them all up the same time without succeding

Photo collage that we gave as leaving present

Photo collage that we gave as leaving present

Posted by hmontonen 17:35 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Volunteer in Santa Cruz...Part 2

30 °C

It’s 20.19h, 11 of August and only 4 days before we leave Sta Cruz. Only two more days to enjoy the company of the little ones and share “esas pequeñas cosas” (those little things) (exactly as the Catalan singer’s lyrics, or Lyly Allen’s – if I may give the English homonym example-).
It feels hard to sum up our experience here. While some of the volunteers left, by the end of the first week in Luz del Mundo, it was only Henrik, the American guy (Justin) and me left.
The guys who had been there before had not planned anything for the kids in terms of activities or games so they basically played with the kids. SInce everything was quite unorganized it was quite difficult to come up with the ideas: we were not given any instructions of what to do or what it would be good to set up for the kids…
The second week Nasseem and Dan joined us in Luz del Mundo. We immediately started to think that something had to be done: starting for the simplest and basic thing such as creating a portfolio with every kid’s file, and followed by creating a schedule for the kids with different activities.
We all agreed that we needed to do some teaching combined with games in order to stimulate very kid in a fun way. We did several brainstorming sessions and all came up quite good. We teach them Geography, International Culture, English, Dance, Science… and Saturdays were the funniest days as we would go out on the football pitch and play football until we got exhausted.
Some days have been hard, some others have been the best ones but the whole experience has been mostly enriching and fulfilling. The kids might be in an undesirable situation but they come to Luz del Mundo and they smile at you as if they were the happiest kids in the world and that, that is invaluable. That is indescribable! It has been the greatest pleasure to be part of their lives for to months. I’d like to say just a “see you kids or hasta luego”…I could never say an Adiós to them.
During our stay in Sta Cruz there’s also been time for travelling: the surroundings of Sta Cruz are stunning and, after a week in noisy and crammed Sta Cruz, it’s always nice to get out of the crowds to breath fresh air. Our first short trip was to Ginger’s Paradise: this little cute organic farm set in a wonderful landscape surrounded by mountains. The place was great, the people who lived and run the place weren’t. They were the least hospitable people we crossed in Sta Cruz. The guy, originally from Germany, was a combination of an asshole and a jerk: one would mix this two attributes together and would get this type of character , unpleasant and annoying to have around more than a minute.
But, anyways, you're always bounded to come across weird people while you travel. One learns from good and not so good people.

Here are pictures of our stay at Luz del Mundo and some other stuff...

Crafts class... Nas the expert on braclets were showing the kids how its done

Crafts class... Nas the expert on braclets were showing the kids how its done

The first dance class at Luz del Mundo

The first dance class at Luz del Mundo

Sience class in Luz del Mundo

Sience class in Luz del Mundo

Landscape close to Ginger's Paradise

Landscape close to Ginger's Paradise

Beeeees

Beeeees


Henrik by Ginger's Paradise entrance

Henrik by Ginger's Paradise entrance


Dan and Nasseem

Dan and Nasseem

Henrik playing with the kids

Henrik playing with the kids

Joel and Laura

Joel and Laura

Henrik and Anita

Henrik and Anita

Henrik touching the turtle

Henrik touching the turtle

We run into a turtle in the botanic park

We run into a turtle in the botanic park

Perezoso

Perezoso

Dancing class...hip hop coreography

Dancing class...hip hop coreography

Jumpy Bella

Jumpy Bella

Bella and Justin....Justin's leaving party

Bella and Justin....Justin's leaving party

Henrik, Franklin and Francine

Henrik, Franklin and Francine


Laura and Ruben

Laura and Ruben


The little Daniela and Maite

The little Daniela and Maite

Henrik and cute Daniela

Henrik and cute Daniela

The guys...the gang

The guys...the gang

Henrik joining at Limbo

Henrik joining at Limbo

Ms. flirt Polola and her little sister

Ms. flirt Polola and her little sister

Vladimir and Gabriela

Vladimir and Gabriela

Henrik and the doll Abigail

Henrik and the doll Abigail

Henrikillo posing up with Noelia

Henrikillo posing up with Noelia

Posted by hmontonen 07:29 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Volunteering in Santa Cruz Bolivia...

sunny 30 °C

After a long and very uncomfortable busride we finally arrived in Santa Cruz Bolivia. We were not really sure of the climate, but we were longing for some heat after a long time in cold weather. Directly we got a chock, it was well over 30 degrees 17pm...and this was winter time. Wonder how it is in the summer.

We took into some decent hotel while we were looking for a place to stay for a long time. Though a flat would be much cheaper, we decided that it would be too much hassel to sort out everything (e.g. we have to have internet). In the end we found this great hotel close to the center, best rooms so far this trip, nice communal areas, even a small garden, swiming pool, and free Internet, all for 100Bolivianos (around 11Euro).

Santa Cruz is definately different from rest of Bolivia. Both the city and the people seem much more modern, more westernised I suppose....for example it´s quite common to see girls whos boobs are not 100% a natural. Also the food was surprising...we were expecting to live on dried fried chicken served with rice and some miserable looking frenchfries (no sauce, but ketchup if you are lucky). Anyway, there are tons of international cuisin, we went to a great sushi place, we found mexican, italian food etc. Also the Bolivian food here are much more varied for example they have both beef and pork here.

After resting up and getting sorted in Santa Cruz it was finally time to go volunteering in Luz del Mundo. Basically it is a day center for children with only one parent, usually the mom. This allows the partent to go working, and allows older brothers and sisters to go to school. The kids are between 2 and 15 years old and all come from very poor families in the poorest area of Santa Cruz, Plan 3000.

I had seen pictures of Plan 3000 on internet, so I was actually expecting it to be even worse. Still it´s pretty poor, dirt roads, various farm animals, garbage everywhere, sewage water that does not go anywhere. We ended up getting very lost and after asking taxidrivers and police for 30minutes, we gave up and called Gabriella the lady that runs Luz del Mundo. After passing some streethorses eating garbage in the roundabout, we found the center.

The center is actually in a realativily good quality brickhouse. However, what I reacted on was how small the area was for so many kids. There are around 20-30kids on normal days and up to double on Saturdays. There were 5 other volunteers there when we arrived, however, 3 of them would be leaving after a week. Gabriella who runs the center is not really part of the day to day activities, except that she prepares a snack for the kids and lunch once a week. Other then that it is up to the volunteers to organise everything without any instructions what so ever. While this can be good, it is difficult to know where to start really. The other volunteers had been there for at least one month each and had not managed to organise anything at all (they did one geography “class” with 5-6 kids participating).

We did not want to be too pushy so the first week we sort of just did what they did. Still it was so great to hang out and play with the kids. They are very used to new volunteers coming so many started hugging you and holding hands with you the first day. The kids are supercute and any doubts that we had if this was the right place to be was gone after the first day. We see that there are great potential for us to really organise things and try to make a lasting impact in these kids lives.

Henrik and the kidz

Henrik and the kidz

Kidz on the slide again

Kidz on the slide again

Laura with one of the indigenous families

Laura with one of the indigenous families

Good knows how we managed to get camera shy Alvero to pose for a photo

Good knows how we managed to get camera shy Alvero to pose for a photo

Gabriella is almost as shy as her brother Alvaro

Gabriella is almost as shy as her brother Alvaro

Little John showing off his masterpiece

Little John showing off his masterpiece

His sister Maite....this little girl is just too darn cute

His sister Maite....this little girl is just too darn cute

Many of the kids have American name...this cute little girl is named Brittney

Many of the kids have American name...this cute little girl is named Brittney

The sisters Francine and Brittney playing on the swings

The sisters Francine and Brittney playing on the swings

The only one posing more than Laura...she managed to sneak into every photo with a perfect pose

The only one posing more than Laura...she managed to sneak into every photo with a perfect pose

Aragon the flea infested dog

Aragon the flea infested dog

Posted by hmontonen 18:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Paraguay, Asunción and San Bernardino

Facts of Paraguay, Asunción and a nice summer resort

27 °C

Although it lies amidst South America, Paraguay is known to be the least explored country. Some may say it is the uggliest, with hardly any attractions to offer but the truth is that Paraguay has a lot to offer although it is almost unaccesible: the concept of tourism was never well understood around there and everywhere you try to go seems too complicated to be reached...

The north, the Chaco, has almost been taken by Germans, who came and settled here. There is some tourism in this area, which is supposed to be spectacular, but it is sadly unaffordable and only attracts the richest tourists who are happily taken on a group tour and pay a couple of hundred dollars for a day excursion.

We were very keen to go and scape the foreign owned travel agencies; however, getting there is a bit of a mission too and you should almost expect hitch hike or, in the unlucky scenario, having to camp and overnight there.
Some other parts have surprisely been privatised, which almost stops the chances to make a trip over there.
Navigate in one of their rivers sounds super cool; however, you will be loaded in one of the cargo boats. Sounding a wicked adventure as it must be, we could not make it either since the timetables are very limited and would not match our plan.

Touring around Paraguay must be fantastic and it is bound to happen but it has not come yet and many places remain unspoilt.

We visited Asuncion. I was positively surprised with the city ...chaotic and unorganised, yet Asunción has been able to keep its charm. We went to the Botanic park wich had a Natural History Museum: what we found was unexpected. First, a room crammed with fake animals and no information of why and how, and the second one contained all types of cubicules with fetus...pretty disgusting to be honest!

We had some problems with Henrik's credit card, which would not work anywhere, so in the end we had to wait a couple of days to get some money transferred from Spain.
Meanwhile, we headed to San Bernardino, a summer resort for "asunceños" (people from Asunción). The place was perfectly set up for turism, all streets are cobblestone and very cute cafés and bars, yet it was very quiet when we were there. We went down the lake and chilled out for a while.
From there, back to Asunción to catch the bus to our next destination: Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

By the lake, San Bernardino

By the lake, San Bernardino

The lake from a boat

The lake from a boat

The view

The view

San Bernardino

San Bernardino

San Bernardino

San Bernardino

Posted by hmontonen 08:35 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

Esteros de Ibera

sunny 24 °C

After having followed the gringo route for a while we decided to go off the beaten path to a animal reserve called Esteros de Ibera. Basically its a water reserve in the middle of nowhere. The extra cool thing is that you stay in a little village which is actually on an peninsula in the middle of the reserve.
Unfortunately every time you leave the beaten path everything becomes very difficult. To get there was a mess, we had to take three busses. Actually the first bus was a VIP cama bus and we got champane and a hot meal etc. which was pretty classy. However, the last 80km was on a dirtroad so bad that it took 4 hours and the bus had to stop and see if any pieces of the bus had fallen off once in a while. Also, our creditcard did not work in the machine in the village before Esteros, and the banks close at midday (must be pretty good to work in a bank there). Since we did not want to wait one more day (only one bus per day), we decided to take a risk and leave with way too little money in hope that we would be able to hitch hike north later on.

It also meant that we had to bargain on everything. Laura managed to bargain down the room price, which in this place is pretty much unheard of. We also managed to bargain down a boattrip in the reserve. However, we also had to make it out of the wilderness going north somehow where we could reach a city with a bank and take out money. We quickly found out that hitchhiking was out of the question. Only special 4x4 jeeps could drive the so called road going north and traffic other than these special jeeps used to sometimes transport tourist, was none existing. We spent the evening trying to find someone who would drive us north cheap and we managed to gather a group of backpackers and managed to get a quite low price, however, we were missing 40 Argentinos or 8 Euro to be able to make it. Extremly frustrating as we now had to go back the whole way that we came from.

Anyway even though all trouble we were happy that we went here. The boat trip was amazing. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the caimans, but in the end we were nearly touching them. Our guide managed to simply turn the engine off and slide up really close. We even got to see a bunch of baby caimans. In addition to the boat trip we rushed off to walk some of the trails in the area. We got to see some howler monkeys close up. And we also run into some gigant hamsters that were grazing peacefully on a garden...untill Laura came and chased them that is.

A calf stood outside our room when we got up in the morning...so cute

A calf stood outside our room when we got up in the morning...so cute

View from our room....

View from our room....

Caiman island

Caiman island

I played arga leken with this one

I played arga leken with this one

We could easily have touched the caimans...not sure if it would have been a good idea, but...

We could easily have touched the caimans...not sure if it would have been a good idea, but...

This was way close then it looks...

This was way close then it looks...

Baby caiman going for a swim

Baby caiman going for a swim

Some baby caimans basking in the sun

Some baby caimans basking in the sun


Henrik chilling with the worlds largest rodent

Henrik chilling with the worlds largest rodent

Laura chasing another poor animal...in the end she got told off by someone...apparently they bite

Laura chasing another poor animal...in the end she got told off by someone...apparently they bite

Monkey silhouette

Monkey silhouette

We saw some wild howler monkeys...

We saw some wild howler monkeys...

Posted by hmontonen 20:35 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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