Monday, May 23, 2011

Birds of Santa Cruz

Around 4 pm everyday, birds flocked to my hotel Camino Real in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The result was avian cacophony. The birds fly in from the jungle across Rio Pirai, congregate under the huge wooden canopy over the driveway or on tall, leafy trees in front of the hotel, and create their afternoon symphony.

My local tour guide, Mercedes, remarked that the birds (mainly parrots) finally returned "home." According to her, the return of the birds to their original roost tells the story of Santa Cruz.

Thirty years ago, Santa Cruz was an agricultural city in an oil rich department, overshadowed in wealth and importance by the capital, La Paz. With agriculture, oil and government economic restructuring in the mid '80s, Santa Cruz boomed. What was once jungle along the ring roads became urban sprawl. The jungle birds were displaced. Their presence meant they finally reclaimed their home.

Santa Cruz is now Bolivia's richest and biggest city. The airport, Viru-viru is the gateway to Bolivia. The small downtown has a colonial, tropical frontier town look, but outside the centre, a much bigger modern city thrives, more business-like than touristy.

By far, Biocentro Güembé & Mariposario Resort is the best attraction in the city. The park has a butterfly sanctuary, an aviary, a gentrified rainforest, and a fantastic aquatic area. The collection of swimming pools are beautifully designed in sandstone and rock blending in with the park's theme.

Rio Pirai on the outskirt of the city feeds into the Amazon. On the bank of the river is a place called, Las Cabañas del Rio Pirai. The area is a gathering of typical Cruceña restaurants in small huts with humongous clay ovens. During the day on weekends, the place is packed with locals out for a meal. And after 6 pm, the drunks takeover, according to a Santa Cruz lady.

Fuerte de Samaipata, a UNESCO World Heritage, is 2 1/2 to 3 hours from Santa Cruz over mostly gravel roads, about 1000 m up the mountains. The archaeological site belonged to a pre-Inca, Amazonian people called the Chané, providing proof of the existence of a jungle based civilization. The main feature of the Fuerte is the ceremonial rock platform, shaped out of red sandstone, about 200 m long, 50 m wide, maybe 20 m high, and carved with religious symbols. Inca and Spanish conquerors later constructed additional structures around and even on the rock itself.

Coming back from Samaipata, we were greeted by the raucous birds at the hotel. I will always associate them with Santa Cruz.