Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Santa Cruz, turned out to be a non event. We arrived in early evening as it was getting dark and departed early morning straight after breakfast, so did not actually see any of the city.

Audley Travel had over-ridden my request for a small hotel, and booked us into a large "airport style" hotel, the Camino Real, which was on the edge of the large city of Santa Cruz - 10 kms according to the hotel literature, and too far to walk and wander - they do not recommend you walk here after dark anyway. So we had time for dinner and a sleep, followed by the return trip to the airport that we had left the night before.

We had flown Lima to La Paz to Santa Cruz, and the next day flew on to Sucre. The stop at Santa Cruz should have been cut out as La Paz to Sucre flights existed, and we saw nothing of Santa Cruz anyway

The other thing I discovered after we left Santa Cruz was that an iPhone was stolen from a backpack in our room in the Camino Real Hotel. There is no doubt that it was stolen from the room. I even got a security message the next day telling me the Sim Card had been changed to a Bolivian one, and the on line map showed me where the phone was with its new owner, about 1 km south of the hotel. Audley and their local agents took it up with the hotel, who claimed that nobody had entered our room, which was not berlievable, as the room had been serviced while we were at dinner.

The flight from Santa Cruz to Sucre takes about 30 minutes. Why not drive you might ask. The surprising answer is that it takes at least 12 hours, usually longer, by road. Such is the state of unpaved Bolivian roads over numerous mountain ridges.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

El Presidente

Today Bolivia is a comparatively small, land-locked country, that is relatively poor. Two centuries ago it had a coastline, and produced fabulous weath from its silver mines

Prior to Spanish colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire, while the northern and eastern lowlands were inhabited by independent tribes. Spanish conquistadors arriving from Cuzco and Asunción took control of the region in the 16th century. During most of the Spanish colonial period, Bolivia was known as Upper Peru and was under the administration of the the Royal Court of Charcas.

After the first call for independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named after Simón Bolívar, on 6 August 1825. Bolivia has struggled through periods of political instability and economic woes. Until 1935 Bolivia ceded various peripheral territories to its neighbours including Acre, parts of the Gran Chaco and its coast.

Bolivia is a developing country, with a Medium Human Development Index score, and a poverty level of 53%. Its main economic activities include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very wealthy in minerals, especially tin. The Bolivian population, estimated at 10 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. The main language spoken is Spanish, although the Guarani, Aymara and Quechua languages are also common, and all four, as well as 34 other indigenous languages, are official.

The struggle for independence started in the city of Sucre in 1809. This Chuquisaca Revolution (Chuquisaca was then the name of the city) revolution, which created a local government Junta, was followed by the La Paz revolution, during which Bolivia declared independence. Both revolutions were short-lived, and defeated by the Spanish authorities, but the following year the Spanish American wars of independence raged across the continent. Bolivia was captured and recaptured many times during the war by the royalists and patriots. Buenos Aires sent three military campaigns, all of which were defeated, and eventually limited itself to protecting the national borders at Salta. Bolivia was finally freed of Royalist dominion by Antonio José de Sucre, with a military campaign coming from the North in support of the campaign of Simón Bolívar. After 16 years of war the Republic was proclaimed in 1825.

In 1836, the Bolivians, under Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, invaded Peru to reinstall the deposed Peru president. Peru and Bolivia formed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, with de Santa Cruz as the Supreme Protector. Following tension between the Confederation and Chile, Chile declared war against it 1836. Argentina, Chile's ally, also then declared war on the Confederation. The Peruvian-Bolivian forces achieved several major victories during the War of the Confederation: the defeat of the Argentine expedition and the defeat of the first Chilean expedition on the fields of Paucarpata near the city of Arequipa. However a second Chilean expedition defeated the Confederation and the Confederation was dissolved.

A period of political and economic instability in the early-to-mid-19th century weakened Bolivia. Then during the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile occupied vast territories rich in natural resources in the south west of Bolivia, including the Bolivian coast. Chile took control of today's Chuquicamata area, the adjoining rich salitre (saltpeter) fields, and the port of Antofagasta among other Bolivian territories.

It also lost the state of Acra, a rubber producing area, in the Acre War; important because this region was known for its production of rubber. Peasants and the Bolivian army fought briefly but after a few victories, and facing the prospect of a total war against Brazil, it was forced to sign the Treaty of Petrópolis in 1903, in which Bolivia lost this rich territory.

Bolivia was defeated by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–35), where Bolivia lost a great part of the Gran Chaco region

Thus, since independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighbouring countries.

Evo Morales has been President since 2005. He came to power with a campaign focusing on issues affecting indigenous and poor communities, advocating land reform and the redistribution of gas wealth. Morales' government has been seen as part of the pink tide of left-leaning Latin American governments, becoming particularly associated with the hard left current of Venezuela and Cuba. Domestically, Morales' support base has been among Bolivia's poor and indigenous communities. For these communities, who have widely felt marginalized in Bolivian politics for decades, Morales "invokes a sense of dignity and destiny" in a way that no other contemporary politician has done. He has received the support of many democratic socialists and social democrats, as well as sectors of Bolivia's liberal movement, who have been critical of Morales but still favoured him over the right-wing opposition.

Opposition to Morales' governance has centred in the wealthy eastern lowland province of Santa Cruz. His policies often antagonized middle-class Bolivians, who deemed them too radical and argued that they threatened private property. Morales' discourse of "the people" against the socio-economic elites has led to a deep social polarization in Bolivia. His most vociferous critics have been from Bolivia's conservative movement, although he has also received criticism from the country's far left, who believe his reformist policies have been insufficiently radical or socialist. Some analysts and human rights organizations have stated that many of the actions and policies of his government have eroded the rule of law and threaten to weaken the situation of human rights in Bolivia

Then we took a short flight from Santa Cruz to Sucre

Holiday in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina