Tag Archives: danger

City to hippy: Santa Cruz to Samaipata


Plaza Principal 12 de Julio, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

On my first day in Santa Cruz I met an American traveller who had lost his friend in the city the previous night. Halfway through an evening of drink and drugs in some third ring Santa Cruz bars – an area where tourists are advised not to venture – both guys were arrested for not carrying identification. They were thrown into a city jail along with a load of other tourists. Following pay offs and promises to return with passports the following day, both boys were released. The partying continued. And then somewhere, somehow, Marc lost his friend to a girl, or to hedonism, or to who knows what.

5:00pm the following day and Marc was worried. His friend hadn’t made a reappearance. If a girl had been involved, motel kicking out times had long passed. Marc started to imagine the worst. Was he back in jail? In hospital? In a gutter? It wasn’t like his friend to be so late, so inconsiderate.

I never found out what happened, how this resolved. It unsettled me a little, but it wasn’t unusual. Most people showed up eventually with a good story.

But it made think: did I really want to stay in a city like this?

Santa Cruz, many told me, is a fun place to party and spend a few days but beyond that doesn’t offer a huge amount to a backpacking crowd. I only spent three days in Santa Cruz and as far as my limited exploring revealed, it is just another South American city with yet another lovely plaza and cathedral.

However, as my taxi driver warned me, despite a warm climate and a modern, Brazilian influence, it also has its dangerous side.

Call me boring, but I’m a bit over dangerous cities. I’m not really a city girl, in all honesty. And maybe because I was also seriously under the weather and on a good dose of antibiotics, I wasn’t really feeling the place. I needed country air. I craved a welcoming, safe environment.


Views on the way from Santa Cruz to Samaipata

So I squished into a taxi with four Israeli backpackers and wound my way down from Santa Cruz through a mountainous landscape towards the fresh air of Samaipata.

But first, a stop-off at what sounded like a hippy idyll in Bermejo: an organic farmstead that embraced music and creative arts and was working towards self-sufficiency.

Surely this would be the ideal place to recuperate and re-energise?

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Hitchhiking New Zealand: a-okay?


Hitching Raglan to Hamilton (this thumb out got me a ride!)

Murders, rapes and people on P. I was warned: stop hitchhiking or there’s a good chance it will go wrong. But would I listen?

When I first got to New Zealand, I realised that public transport was going to be pretty expensive when the half an hour journey from the airport to the city centre cost me $16. In all fairness, I had just come from Ecuador where buses cost $1 per hour, and in many respects it’s unfair to compare New Zealand with South America. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a shock. So when the Sunday bus connection to Raglan didn’t work out, I thought it was time to start sticking out my thumb.

This first dalliance with hitchhiking was indeed pretty safe: I was with three other guys who I’d met in the hostel in Auckland. With so many of us we were lucky to catch a lift, but standing on Whatawhata Road in Hamilton was a winner. Within ten minutes we had a ride. All good.

In Raglan itself, I realised that if I wanted to go surfing I was going to need to hitch to the beach. And on all occasions it was fine. People picked me up, even with an 8 foot board in tow. All decent people, who on a couple of occasions even lent me a wetsuit. Can’t complain.

So when a lift to Auckland airport to meet a friend fell through at the last moment, it was a no brainer: hitchhike.

My first pickup was a warm, smiley man who dropped me at a better spot. It started to rain.

A woman stopped when she saw me standing alone, starting to get a bit soggy. ‘You really must be careful’, she said as she drove me a few miles up the road, ‘follow your gut instinct and if it feels dodgy, don’t get in. There are some bad people on P and there’s no reasoning with them’.

I later read that in the past ten years there have been two hitchhiking murders in New Zealand, that of 17-year-old Jennifer Hargreaves and 28-year-old Birgit Brauer. Both young women travelling solo. I thought about where I had packed my penknife and remembered that it was in a little section right at the bottom of my bag. Next time I hitched, I told myself, I would have it to hand.

Another time a sweet girl in her early twenties picked me up. She was really worried about me hitchhiking alone as a female. What did surprise me was that she picked me up with her young child in tow. It made me wonder: what about the opposite? – What if the hitcher was a bit of a psycho? The assumption is that a solo female traveller = safe.

A few days later I stayed with a family up north of Whangerei and I got chatting with the mother, Nellie. ‘When I see a female hitchhiking, I’ll always pick her up and then give her a telling off’ she said, ‘Women shouldn’t hitchhike alone.’ And hitchhiking full stop? In twos its fine, but alone, no.

So what to do now?

Hitchhiking brings with it a real sense of freedom and adventure – who knows who you will meet? What conversations you will have? It is undoubtedly a great way to meet people, in many cases locals who are keen to share stories and history of their area. It In New Zealand, it has been a fairly common way of getting around. The most recent figures that I could find were from 2005 that showed nearly 16,000 visitors were hitching their way around the country, and although there was a predicted downward trend, these numbers should still be balanced against any negative statistics. Hitching is also sometimes more convenient than catching public transport and clearly there is the benefit of saving some cash, although it’s good etiquette to offer a bit of petrol money.

Doing it alone, particularly as a female, is clearly a no-no, even if it is significantly easier to catch a ride. Overall, it is not without its risks.

I was totally fine, but then I guess that I was also lucky. For now I’ll knock it on the head. If I start to travel with someone else, then fine, I’ll go for it again.


Filed under costs/money, culture, new zealand, solo travel, travel

Why you should give the thieves market a miss

Imagine that you get robbed in Lima. Your beloved mobile phone / MP3 / laptop / whole backpack (delete as appropriate) has been stolen and you’re feeling bereft. What to do? Simple. Go down to the thieves market in Tacora, Lima and buy it back. One traveller had his camera nicked only to spot it there on a stall a few days later. He called over a police officer, demonstrating that it was indeed his camera, evident by the photos that were still on the memory card. The policeman shrugged. ‘If you want your camera back, you can buy it’, he said.

You shouldn’t go to Tacora’, said the guide at the Museo de la Inquisición when I asked for information on taxi prices. ‘Tacora es muy peligroso. You no go’. (Sound familiar?) Once we’d hailed a taxi, the driver raised an eyebrow. ‘Tacora? Si. S/.8. Tacora es muy peligroso’.

I felt a bit nervous. Why was I going? I was hoping to pick up a daypack on the cheap (having promised myself that if its rightful owner turned up at some point on the remainder of my travels, I would do the honourable thing and hand it back over), but my curiosity was also whetted and thus far, all warnings of danger had been pretty fruitless. I wasn’t looking to be mugged or to put myself in a dangerous situation, but so far my experience of Lima had been very Westernised and straight and… boring.

Lima’s scenery changed on the approach to Tacora. Well-pruned roadside plantings and clean streets made way for rubbish and beaten buildings. The place was heaving with buyers and sellers. There was not a gringo in sight. High, black metal gates surrounded the market area itself and once inside, stalls lined the street edges and spilled inside to a maze of traders.

Hunks of dead snake meat, snakeskins and ointments were for sale. A man paraded his dressed up monkey, entertaining the kids. A group gathered around a television screen showing chulas fighting. They cheered and laughed as the stocky women wrestled each other.

Throughout the market there was a mass of street food available (particularly choclo and churros) and bags of grain and vegetables were displayed out on the kerb. Household goods of all sorts – pots, pans and Tupperware – could be bought for a measly amount. There was clothing on sale, but none of the carefully crafted ware more commonly associated with the tourist markets.

Nearly everything appeared to be new, so where was the thieving evidence?

The most likely seemed to be the electronics, with many, many stalls selling slightly tired looking mobile phones and chargers.

So why give it a miss? Overall, it was nothing extraordinary. It was hectic, there were some dodgy characters lurking about, but for the most part, people were bargaining and buying for their day-to-day life. Tacora is known for being dangerous, for being rife with pickpockets. I was cautious and lucky. Sure, there was some police presence, but, if tales are to believe, the role and reliability of the police is at times questionable.

Essentially, it is a local market for local people, and being the only tourist there made me uncomfortable because it felt voyeuristic, which, to some extent, puts the whole travelling thing into question.

Yes, it was closer to the real Lima that I had expected to encounter. It was rough, busy and rundown. I’ve read about a few volunteer and church projects running in Tacora, indicating a need for support in the area. But me going there, what did it really do for people of the area? I probably just looked like a lost, loaded tourist and in a reverse situation, I might well think about robbing me.

I was glad to get a taxi out of there. I had bought nothing but a juice. Was it worth it? No. On so many levels.

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