Today I arrived in Santa Cruz, after a two day mission from Sucre, the capital of Bolivia (if you believe the Bolivian constitution.)
The reason it took so long from Sucre was that I arrived in the bus station there too late on Thursday evening to get on a bus straight to Santa Cruz, so made the decision to board a different overnight bus and spend a day in Cochabamba instead. (Like going from Amsterdam to Berlin via Frankfurt).
In the end, I had a lovely day wandering around Cochabamba, where the weather provided me with the proverbial four seasons in one day. Cold and wet in the morning, the sun came out by lunchtime, it stayed warm enough to cause a thunderstorm in the afternoon, after which it settled into a grey, chilly evening. Then I got on a second consecutive overnight bus to Santa Cruz, and arrived here this morning.
Last night was, I think, the 13th night I've spent on a bus in this trip and Monday night will be the 14th. Two whole weeks. Monday's bus will take me to Asunción, Paraguay, arriving (depending on whether I believe the bus company or the Lonely Planet) sometime either on Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm actually looking forward to it after forking out 200 bolivianos for an "ethnohistory" book on North America to read.
Travelling on buses has been such a staple of this trip that I have got pretty good at it. I can sleep (hence the fact that i was actually able to enjoy a long day in Cochabamba on Thursday after a night on the bus) but I think the crucial discovery I have made is to put myself in a trance-like state where I slow everything about myself down.
Say I get on a bus at 3pm. I settle down. 10 mins. I think about reading my book. 15 minutes later I actually reach into my bag and get my book out. I read for a while. I start to feel thirsty. 10 minutes later I get my water bottle out. I read an interesting paragraph. I take 20 minutes to think about it. It's 4.30pm and an hour and a half has gone by and in my mind the journey has barely begun.
Of course, you have to be prepared to take delays in your stride as well. Almost every vehicle I have used in Bolivia seems to have broken down at some point. Most dramatically, the bus from Uyuni to Sucre last week actually went off the road at one point, causing an hour's delay in which most of us male passengers had to push the bus out of the mud beside the road...
Anyway, so I am looking forward to Monday/Tuesday's journey through the Chaco - the territory annexed from Bolivia by Paraguay amd supposedly one of the continent great bus journeys - but the point of this post was meant to be Santa Cruz, the city where I am now.
These are the last days for God knows how long that I will spend within the tropics. And boy does it feel like it. Santa Cruz is sweltering. This is in fact, the first heat I have felt for weeks since leaving Lima, Peru with Claire. And before Lima, I would have to go all the way back to Cartagena, Colombia, for my last bit of real, tropical heat (ie before that one post I wrote about how nice it was to be cold. No pleasing some people, I know.)
This heat is, to me, the Latin American stereotype, and I'm glad to be back in it. In fact, Santa Cruz is a very stereotypically Latin American city. Flat, hot, filled with traffic and car horns, various smart-ish restaurants and comercial buildings outnumbered by run-down shacks and food stalls, friendly people but with a slightly rough-round-the-edges feel. And colourful. I am convinced that somehow blue is bluer in this continent. Green is deffinitely much greener.
Santa Cruz is all of this. If you close your eyes and picture Latin America, it looks a lot like here, and very little like La Paz or Bogotá.
Maybe some pictures will follow.