August 17, 2013
Although many people had mixed feelings about our long travel to Bolivia, the opinions of our first day in this fascinating country were all the same; hard laughs, lots of sun, relaxation and lots of excitement for the trip to come.
The day started with a small, simple breakfast of bread, grilled cheese, juice, coffee and tea in our hotel. For most of us this was our first opportunity to try coca tea. Most found that we liked the taste quite a bit and we’ll have no problem drinking it during the rest of our trip.
Today Juan Carlos and the rest of the leaders planned a day at the ecological center just outside of Santa Cruz. Our bus picked us up early in the morning and we headed out. Juan Carlos had picked up a bag of coca leaves and each of us got a chance to try them for the first time as well. He explained how to use the coca leaf and its useful properties. To use the leaf you have to rip out the stem then place it on your tongue, allowing it to absorb some moisture. Then moving it to your cheek and sucking on it. Although the majority of people didn’t mind or even liked the taste of the leaf some commented in the beginning that it tasted like tree bark or pet food. By the end of the day however many people were requesting more leaves to chew on.
By the time we got to the ecological center everyone was ready to look around. We had booked a tour which would show us around several different species in the center. We started with the butterfly building which had many different species which were quite bright and exotic looking. On our way to the turtle habitat we stopped by a couple small bee farms of bees native to Bolivia. It was interesting to see the turtles interacting with each other and eat their food. The bird sanctuary connected to the turtle habitat and there we saw many species of birds including toucans, peacocks as well as red and blue macaws. Many of the birds were so colorful and bright that we thought that they were stuffed or plastic. Although everyone really enjoyed the exhibits we saw everybody’s favourite part of the tour was when we spotted a sloth which had climbed in to the turtle habitat to share their food. Everyone got lots of great pictures as the sloth climbed up the bridge to meet us. After our tour it was time for lunch.
Lunch was served buffet style in the restaurant of the center. They offered everything from fried eggs to tortellini to hot dogs as well as a variety of salads, rices, potato dishes and local vegetables such oca, yucca and achgcha which were grilled and stuffed with cheese. Everybody ate lots and enjoyed everything, particularly Steven. Steven piled his plate extremely high with a large selection of all the foods. He explained to the group while digging through his food that he was like an “archaeologist of food” or as he preferred “farchaeologist”. Everybody left the table laughing and very full. As we were leaving the table the staff handed out two tickets each to go to the dessert hut. Everybody went and chose from a selection of ice cream, pastries and cheesecake.
Our afternoon was free of plans so we were given the option of many activities offered at the center. Many people walked around revisiting the animals and walking over to “Monkey Island”: a small island in the middle of the lagoon which is inhabited by two different species of monkeys. Everyone agreed that the monkeys were adorable however everybody was happy for the distance of water that was between us and them. As well, people rode carriages in a tour around the center. The center also offers kayaking in a small pond and the use of their 10 pools. For many people, pool hopping became the activity of the afternoon (we are all proud to say that many of us swam in all 10, no matter how cold). Also, towards the ending of our afternoon a group of interactors got together and played a game of beach volleyball. Shortly in to the game, a group of Santa Cruz locals came up and joined the teams. Everyone involved agreed that it was a really fun way to be introduced to Bolivian people. Pastries, coffee and tea were then served in the restaurant, before we returned to our hotel.
On our way back to our hotel, Juan Carlos brought us to the center square of Santa Cruz or as he explained “the heart of the city”. While walking around square, we were introduced to big parts of Bolivian culture; family, friends and religion. It was cool to see Bolivians relaxing in day to day life, however many of the reaction to a big group of white teenaged tourists were funny at times. Everyone that we met were extremely friendly and happy to see us.
Of course, an interact trip wouldn’t be the same without some loud, highly off key singing. So, on our way back from the square to the hotel some Avril Lavigne broke out closely followed by Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Don’t Stop Believing.
Once we returned to the hotel we were given an hour of quiet time which people took to write in their journals, listen to music, lay down or in the case of some of the boys, juggle and climb trees. After our quiet time it was time for dinner.
We walked for about 10 minutes to a local Bolivian pizza restaurant. For anyone questioning the validity of Bolivian pizza, don’t worry so were we. We ordered a bunch of pizzas and all were delicious. Everybody laughed so hard at dinner that we left the restaurant with slight headaches and sore cheeks.
We returned to the hotel ready to get into bed. Unfortunately, the club beside us played loud Bolivian music until 3am. Although the music was really good and it was cool to hear that part of Bolivian culture, many of us were still quite sleepy in the morning.
Today was a perfect day of relaxing, eating good food, connecting as a group and introducing ourselves to Bolivia. Hopefully the days to come will be as good as this one. Looking forward to getting to Cochabamba tomorrow after the nine hours of driving!
Swimming in one of the ten pool at the ecological park.