August 17, 2009
Some people visit Samaipata and the surrounding areas because of the Ruta del Che which follows Che Guevara’s path from his arrival in Bolivia to the site of his death. You won’t find me sporting a t-shirt with the ubiquitous image of Che Guevara, but I find his life and the way he is perceived to be particularly fascinating. I’d hoped to explore the locations on the trail and his history more, but found that from Samaipata, it would be very expensive and take several hours.
But there were other interesting options. The Australian sisters were going to a place one of them had heard about from another traveler. A place called Ginger’s Paradise. I was intrigued. It was described as an organic farm set amidst an abundance of natural beauty. Visitors could stay there and work in exchange for a decreased cost for room and board. Organic farming was not something I’d done, but I wanted to try something new. After lunch, I hopped in a taxi bound for Ginger’s Paradise with the English girl and the two Aussies.
Surrounded by sharp mountain peaks covered with dense green vegetation flowing rivers, there was not much to say. We just stared in awe at gorgeousness in every direction. It was very sparsely populated except for mansions here and there. Overall, Bolivia is a poor country and it’s not often that you see such displays of affluence. I wondered who lived in those houses.
I didn’t want the drive to end, but after about an hour, our driver slowed down and came to a stop along a river. A sign in front of a sketchy bridge made out of rope and wood read, “Ginger’s Paradise”. We had arrived. With our heavy backpacks, we decided it was best to go one at a time across the precarious bridge to decrease our chances of it breaking.
On the other side of the river, we found an empty house. There were instructions that said if no one was there, we should follow a path to another house. Me and one of the Aussie girls went in search of people while the other two stayed behind with our bags. We came upon a house where people were finishing up a late lunch.
A tan guy with dirty blonde dreadlocks named Chris walked back with us to get us settled in. He had a strange accent that made me think he was an American who’d not lived in America for while. It turns out he was. A Californian who’d lived in Europe and South America for a number of years.
We’d arrived just in time for farm work. We changed and went back to the house to chat with the rest of the group for a little bit before heading out into the fields. There was Chris’s Bolivian wife Sol and two of their children. The youngest was named Ginger but I’m not sure if the farm was named after her or vice versa. There was a couple, an Argentinian woman and a man from Italy who were leaving the farm soon. The other guest was a girl from Israel who’d been there for a week and definitely seemed to enjoy the organic farm lifestyle.
In the field, we first cleared dead plants. We then made rows of holes and planted corn seeds. This experience definitely made me have a lot respect for people who farm the old way without fancy machines and such. As simple as it sounds, it was definitely hard work. So we were upset to find that the family did not eat dinner because eating in the evening “makes people fat.” We felt a little jipped and glad that we’d eaten a ginormous lunch before leaving Samaipata.
In the evening, we all gathered on the porch of the family house. We were joined by Chris’s musician friend and the oldest son. Apparently there is not enough space and/or money in the local schools to have all the students there all day. The younger kids attend in the morning and the older kids attend in the afternoon.
We drank thick hot chocolate (no milk, the family mainly eats vegan but will kill a chicken every so often) and talked and played card games while Chris and his friend worked on their “Andean Opera”. Seriously, I am not making that up. The kids were interesting. Very smart and a little annoying. But it’s refreshing to meet kids whose minds have had the chance to develop without the influence of TV and peer pressure. It would like to know what happens to them as they get older.
After a hanging out for a bit, we retreated to the other house where they’d set up mattresses for us. We sat in a circle to chat and dipped into our emergency snack stashes to ease our rumbling stomachs.
The next morning we headed over to the main house for breakfast. We had thick whole grain bread with homemade jam and oatmeal. We drank coffee that was also grown on the farm. It was my first decent cup of coffee in awhile. I’ve had great Bolivian coffee in the U.S., but what they had available there usually left a lot to be desired. I think they export the best stuff.
The Australian girls were going to stay at Ginger’s Paradise, but the English girl and I were heading to Santa Cruz. I had two days before my flight and she was taking a train to Argentina. After saying our goodbyes, we headed back across the wobbly bridge to the road to try to catch a taxi.
Taxis went by, but they were all going the opposite direction towards Samaipata. Finally, a taxi driver slowed down for us. His entire car was full of flowers. He explained that someone had paid him to deliver them to Santa Cruz. He said he could shuffle things around and we could squeeze in. We were in the middle of nowhere with few options so we agreed. He moved the flowers in the passenger seat to the back. We both squeezed into the passenger seat and were able to shut the door after a few adjustments. Hey, at least we got a ride.
After a couple of hours cramped into one seat, we were relieved to arrive in Santa Cruz. I parted ways with the last member of the group I’d spent the past few days with.
I was alone again, but not lonely. I’d fallen into the rhythm of coming and going and meeting and parting. You become comfortable with yourself and with your thoughts after some time.
I settled into my hostel and then took a walk around the immediate area. I found a local craft fair and bought some awesome jewelry. Earrings have become my souvenirs when I travel and I can’t resist getting a few new unique pairs when I go somewhere new.
I ate dinner at a nice restaurant around the corner from my hostel. An ecstatic feeling was rising in me as I came to the realization that I’d made it to my last stop. I was sad to be leaving Bolivia in two days, but I’d done what I set out to do and it felt amazing.