BOLIVIA: THE GRAN CHIQUITANIA AND THE AMAZON BASIN

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Bolivia is not all about the Altiplano, mountain sickness and freezing your nuts off in the Cordillera de Lipez. To the east of the country the Altiplano gives way to the rolling foothills, and then flat grasslands, herds of cows, thorn-scrub, palm trees, jungle and bichos, those little biting insects we love to hate. After the conquistadors  had bludgeoned and pillaged their way through the New World it was time for an exercise in ‘hearts and minds’. The Jesuits began arriving in Central and Southern America in the late sixteenth century to bring the ‘Good Book’ to the bewildered and exploited Indians. The Jesuits established reducciones, places where the Indians could exist in some security, learn new skills and become thoroughly good Christians. One of the regions they came to was the Chiquitano, in eastern Bolivia.

San Jose de Chiquitos
San Jose de Chiquitos

We head east across the Plains of the Chiquitos, to San Jose de Chiquitos and Hotel Villa Chiquitana, where we camp in the hotel’s gardens. The hotel belongs to a French couple, Jerome and Sophie, who a few years earlier had gone overlanding on their Piaggio scooters, completing a seventy-five thousand kilometre round the world journey. From San Jose we follow the Jesuit mission route, driving into what felt like a forgotten world. We arrive at Santa Ana in time for the Fiesta of Santa Ana, a forty-eight hour religious celebration, including a seriously impressive consumption of chicha, a fermented corn beer.

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For whom the bell tolls: Santa Ana
For whom the bell tolls: Santa Ana
San Ignacio mission church
San Ignacio mission church
The Jesuit mission at San Javier
The Jesuit mission at San Javier
A one horsepower sugar cane press
A one horsepower sugar cane press

The road west from Trinidad, on the Plains of the Moxos, carries something of a reputation. In the rainy season it is all but impassible, when it’s dry I imagine the dust clouds are visible from space.

A view from the windscreen
A view from the windscreen
Crossing the River Mamore
Crossing the River Mamore

Cut through by the Rio Beni, and surrounded by lush hills we finally arrive at Rurrenabaque.

Rurrenabaque at dusk
Rurrenabaque at dusk
Looking east over the Amazon jungle
Looking east over the Amazon jungle
The main road from La Paz to Trinidad
The main road from La Paz to Trinidad
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