After all the stress in Bolivia and two flights it was great to be back in Europe for a bit more than three weeks. I already got through security and was having breakfast with my parents at the airport by the time I was supposed to land. My planning for my time back was pretty full. Jeroen and Donja got married in a castle with a great party. I had a fancy dinner with my parents and Jasper for my dad’s and my birthdays. On my actual birthday Arjan was happy to come to Deurne for loads of nice beers at the fancy beer bar in town. The Saturday after my birthday I organized a big party in my parent’s garden. More than 40 people showed up for a really great day, including 4 small children, this definitely is the sign I’m getting old. Actually six friends from Zurich came for my party and some even stayed the whole week. This was a great excuse for some sightseeing and loads and loads of Dutch food! We even spend a day canoeing in the Biesbosch. After all my Swiss friends had left I headed to Amsterdam for another fancy dinner for Maarten’s and my birthdays (A great tradition we started a year ago in Vancouver). I stayed in Amsterdam for a very long weekend before heading back to Bolivia on Wednesday. The three weeks flew by so quickly but it was great to see so many friends/family and eat a lot of great food. Thanks to everyone for this great time and for all the birthday donations for buying a new camera! I’ll make sure the photos keep coming!
But before I got back to Bolivia I had a 12 hour stay over in Madrid. It was perfectly in the middle of the day and only a short subway ride to the city center. I had been to Madrid years ago, so I kind of knew the way and had seen most of the sights. Being pretty tired from the visits home and having a great book to read (thanks Arjan!), I spend most of the day hanging around in all the nice parks the city has and playing with my new camera. In the evening it was time to head back to the airport for a terrible flight. I knew beforehand that it would be bad because I booked a lost cost airline, but I didn’t expect it to be 26 year old, no TVs or magazines and barely any food bad. For extra fun one of the kitchen trolleys started to fly around during take-off. Luckily I managed to sleep quite OK.
The plane landed about an hour early, but the moment the immigration officer took a picture of my face, the whole immigration computer system crashed and took about an hour to get fixed again. Back at the campsite I was very excited my van was still there and actually started on the first try. Too tired to do anything I just stayed in the van all day. I planned to go to the mechanic the next day to get the cooling parts I brought from home installed but he was too busy so after another lazy day I had an appointment at the mechanic at the un-South-American time of 7:30. Luckily the continent didn’t change while I was gone and nobody showed up until 8. Replacing the thermostat and the secondary coolant pump is relatively easy, but I don’t have any means of collecting and disposing the coolant so I thought I’d go to a mechanic. He didn’t have any means either and just let it run down the street…
With the new parts installed it was time for my favorite Bolivian hobby which is getting my tank filled. I almost got a good deal when I police car pulled up to fill up too. So I ended up paying full tourist price (and the most expensive so far) of 1.10 Euros/liter. With a tank full of diesel it was time to try out the new cooling by heading up the steep mountains. Looks like the cooling is way better now! The camp for today is near some pretty waterfalls. Apparently it is also a rest stop for tourist buses. When I drove up I could see by the looks on the faces of the people that I drove up to a Dutch tourist group. They all started staring at my van and whispering at each other. Normally I would go for a chat but today I decided to do a little experiment. When I walked up I heard them speak Dutch and wonder if they were really Dutch plates. So I just said good afternoon in Dutch while walking to the campsite owner. There were loads of stares and whispers but none of the Dutchies dared to talk to me. Funny… I headed for a one hour hike to the three waterfalls. It clearly was a day for interesting people because while I’m enjoying the views at the second waterfall a large group of kids wearing very old fashioned dresses and shirts come running down the trail. Right behind them are men with plain shirts and large beards and women in long dresses. Guess I walked into a Mennonite vacation trip. Because why not. That evening I fall asleep to my neighbors listening to Bolivian popular music: also know as eighties power ballads.
On the way to Samaipata lies an obscure UNESCO listed ruin. Since I hadn’t had my monthly UNESCO dose yet and it was on the way I decided to stop. The drive from the main road was a good test for my upgraded cooling system. At some parts the road was going up by 10% and even though I had to go back to first gear, the engine did not overheat. The ruins here are called El Fuerte and is located on the top of a hill. Large parts are carved out of rock of the mountain. The site is popular with hippies and UFO spotters. The fact that it was very foggy did make it look more like a UFO landing pad. And as for the hippies, I did spot a group of them standing around a tree doing some kind of ceremony. With hippie ruins come a hippie campground just outside of the little town of Samaipata. The have a bunch of really cool looking tree houses and I can camp on the field behind the house. The place has good internet and is really cheap. So perfect to hang out for another two days to do the planning for the rest of my trip that I had planned to do in the Netherlands but didn’t have time for. As a bonus the town had many great photo opportunities. So that was my first week in Bolivia that did not have any troubles. If only life could stay this way…