Santiago de Chiquitos – A little town with a big view

The Town

Santiago de Chiquitios is stuck fifty years ago in time. But it's not a bad thing. 

Come to think of it, outside of the major cities (Sucre, La Paz, Santa Cruz) most of Bolivia is beautifully stuck. Cows and donkeys have as much right to the road as cars.  Laundry is often done in flowing streams and horses are a valid form of transportation.

But probably most telling in our age of information gluttony is that the internet sucks here. It works only about 25 percent of the time and when it does, it goes so painfully slow, it makes you wish you hadn't loaded the page in the first place.

Donkeys, in my opinion, are God's laziest invention. Dogs bark, cows chew their cud, roosters peck aimlessly, even pigeons will take a crap on you when you are not expecting it, but donkeys, they just stand there. I can't decide if I am pissed off at their laziness, or if I am secretly jealous that they have found out a way to do nothing and be happy.

School children are in no short supply here. I guess being stuck in time allows Chiquitins to concentrate on worthwhile humanistic endeavors, like procreation. While the three of us - Thales, Pedro and I - made our way into town in Thales's 2011 silver Chevrolet, we passed a group of children with musical instruments near the front door of a beige building. They were preparing for a concert to be held in two days time for the festival of their patron saint.  

The school children were lead by an American missionary who had immigrated to the small town decades earlier. The Jesuits have a particularly strong history in the area and the concert was a small effort in keeping that history alive. Santiago de Chiquitos and the surrounding area is an interesting alchemy of Jesuit, Native Indian and Spanish.

Accommodations - hotels and hostels

Santiago de Chiquitos has a little more than half a dozen accommodations, most of them located a stones throw from the central plaza.

The budget conscious need not worry, this is, after all, Bolivia. A country where fresh squeezed orange juice costs about 50 cents, a full meal with chicken, rice and salad can be found for two dollars and accommodations can be as cheap as 3 dollars per person.

The more upscale Hotel Beula is located on the main square and for many travelers who seek the normal creature comforts, this will be the only place to stay.

We stayed at the less upscale, but full of character, Hostal Churapa. There was no central heating and the water was not hot - at all - but the room was clean and had a cozy feel to it. There were two beds downstairs, and one upstairs in a loft. Outside, each room is given their own hammock, in case the call of hiking and spotting jaguars is too tall a task for that day. 

Below, pictures taken inside Hostal Churapa:

Things to Do - El Mirado and more

On the second day, we hiked "El Mirador". Loosely translated it means "the lookout" and in my opinion it truly lived up to its name.

The views were really outstanding. It seemed like we could see all the way to Brazil. The real draw though, are the rock formations that sit at the top. Many are the size of semi trucks and they stick straight up out of the ground.

From town, the hike is about three km to the trailhead, but halfway through, we got a ride from a passing truck. Two kids were already sitting on the top of the roof. We climbed up on the back of the truck, which had 6 feet tall wooden fencing that went all the way around the flatbed to protect fruit, cattle or whatever the contents of the day were. I climbed over, then Thales, and while Pedro was still slinging his foot over the top of the railing, the truck roared to life and started speeding away, reaching a speed of 40 km in a matter of seconds. I didn’t think a big truck could move that fast up hill on such rocky terrain. Eventually Pedro maneuvered his body on to the top of the rail and we pulled him over to the other side safely.

Within minutes we made it to the trailhead. I flipped 3 bolivianos to the truck driver, who packed a wad of coca leaves in his cheek as we started our trek up another three kilometers to the top to take pictures.

Events: July 21st is Santiago's Patron Saint Day

Originally, we had planned on staying three nights in Santiago de Chiquitos. As you can see above, there is no short supply of things to do in the area, including a hike to Kaa-Iya_del_Gran_Chaco_National_Park (not featured in the above section), where there is the small chance of seeing a jaguar in the wild. Our plans were dashed though, when a South American cold front swept in and brought heavy rain. 

Before we cut our time short in Santiago, on the third day we decided to check out a local festival. To start things off, a priest spoke in an Indian language that supposedly nobody understands anymore. As far as I could tell, that was true; I certainly had no idea what was going on. Then a couple dozen men in masks started to whoop and holler. I wish I could convey the sound that they were making, because it wormed its way inside of our gringo brains - Thales and Pedro are Brazilian, but they are gringos in Bolivia too - and stayed for the remainder of our road trip. The best way I can describe it, is that it sounded like an owl making various high-pitched notes of the same whoooo lyric. If you know Outkast, then it sounded like an Indian version of Hootie Hoo.

Overall, the festival had a mischievous vibe to it. The masked men liked to play tricks on the people in the audience taking in the festivities. A hand would extend in a sign of greeting, before it was withdrawn as the spectator tried to shake it. The perpetrator would then laugh and his hooting would become louder and take on a mocking tone to it. Who who whooo.

And then there were the dead animals. Oh, the weird dead animals. The participants shook their departed and mangled props at the onlookers, raised them to the sky, placed them on the ground and even put them in compromising situations with each other. A "banana - rodent - doll" ensemble was most certainly their crowning achievement. 

It was a great way to spend a cold, cloudy day and we were happy to have the pictures to edit as we drove on to Santa Cruz.

 

Event
Date(s)
Carnival (Carnaval)
week before Lent (dates vary annually)
Holy Week (Semana Santa)
early to mid-spring (dates vary annually)
International American Renaissance and Baroque Music Festival "Misiones de Chiquitos"
April-May (dates vary annually)
Day of Tradition (Día de la Tradición)
01 May
Patron Saint's Day (Fiesta de Santiago)
25 July
All Saint's Day (Todos Santos)
01 November

 (Please visit http://www.chiquitania.com/missions_cruceno_santiago.html for more information)

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