It’s been a few months already since last time I published some news on the blog, as we were not traveling anymore – thanks Covid-19 for paralysing all South America. We still had one flight, to get repatriated from Bolivia to Colombia. Let me update you!
Locked down in Tupiza
My last post was with the wonderful landscapes of the South Lipez region and Uyuni Salt Flats. Ricaurte and me chose to stay in Tupiza when the pandemic started last March. We were in a nice hostel, and Tupiza is a small and pleasant town. Like many people, we didn’t expect that the situation would develop and drag out this way.
Quickly, the Bolivian government took very strict measures: one could go out only from 7 a.m. to noon, from Monday to Friday and once a week (depending on one’s ID card number), with soldiers constantly patrolling the streets, and very expensive fine in case of breach. We did not even try to break the law!
After the first weeks of lockdown, we remained the only hosts at the hostel, as the three last French left with the ultimate repatriation flight to France. We were then sharing the hostel only with the owner, her three-year old son, her companion and a cousin of her companion.
We did our shopping once a week so we always had to buy enough to hold on for the whole week, and we kept busy doing arts and crafts, playing music, doing yoga (my daily oxygen on the hostel terrace)… I also created the website of the hostel / tourism agency where we were staying, which allowed us to stay without paying the accommodation and helped us save some money.
Even if our days were busy, we were starting to wonder about the situation that didn’t seem about to stop. How much longer would we stay locked in, without buying able to travel within Bolivia, and worse, without being allowed to cross any border?
Repatriation to Bogotá
We ended up contacting the Colombian Embassy, without so much hope. And here came the miracle, they were planning on a repatriation flight to Bogota soon! We stayed three weeks waiting for their confirmation. Once they had a date, we had exactly three days to get all the authorisations to travel from Tupiza (south of the country, only 2h from the border with Argentina) to Santa Cruz (north east of the country). Medical certificate, pass from the Embassy, authorisation from the National Police, from Tupiza’s mayor… we got really close (2h) to not getting the ultimate authorisation to make this trip possible!
After this quite stressful moment, we finally left with the “two Gonzalos”, one being Alexia’s companion (Alexia is the owner of our hostel in Tupiza) and the other one being his cousin. We drove almost 1 000 km in 22h, with 17 military controls on the way, during which they did all they could to find any mistake in our papers (and extract us some money if you had not understood), but in vain!
We arrived in Santa Cruz feeling exhausted, and what about our drivers that had to drive all the way back straight away as they had a limited time authorised outside of Tupiza! However we had 2 nights in a comfortable hotel close to the airport and some last two bottles of Bolivian wine, before the next step of our trip.
We finally left Bolivia on the 25th of May. Our flight went smooth, and only my arrival in Bogota was a bit stressful, as the migration was not very enthusiast about letting me in. However the embassy had assured me that I would have the right to enter as the companion of a Colombian, and they finally gave me tourist visa. Hallelujah!
From quarantine to quarantine
We then spent 15 days of quarantine in a pleasant hostel in the center of Bogotá. We stayed an extra week to organize some shopping that we had to do on site, before leaving for Florencia, Caquetá, in the south of the country, at the gateway to the Amazon. Ricaurte’s family lives there, so the goal was to spend the rest of the confinement there instead of staying in hostels.
We still had to respect another quarantine of 15 days when we arrived in Florencia, which we spent in a hostel so as not to take the slightest risk of infecting the family. This let me some time to get used to the humid, tropical and very hot climate of the region. Finally, more than a month after landing in Colombia, we were finally able to go to her mom’s house!
As soon as we arrived, we saw that the house needed some more than necessary repairs, which we sat down to: we had the toilets replaced (the old one was at least 40 years old) and and some leaks in the roof and under the ground of the house fixed, while we sanded and repainted the whole house. Hard work, lots of dust and mess, but it was worth the effort, as the house is now much more enjoyable for everyone!
We went out twice to bathe in a river on the outskirts of the city, and were able to enjoy a relaxing weekend at the property of a family friend, close to Florencia. Pure happiness to find nature after such a long time being confined: the song of birds, the plants, the tranquility … being locked in this way at home is definitely not in our human nature!
In the meantime, the lockdown continues, not to say that it’s dragging on here. While in France things seem to have returned to an almost normal course, all the countries of Latin America are stuck in an alarming situation, with a continuous increase in Covid-19 cases, strict containment rules in all countries but not necessarily well respected (without work and without any social assistance, people are dying of hunger and continue to go out to work if they can). Hospitals and health services are not equipped at all to face the crisis.
I do not intend to take stock of the situation – the specialised media do it much better than me – but you can imagine all the impacts of such a crisis on the social, economic, health plans… for the moment Ricaurte and I are building projects that it will be time to tell you later, when they are more advanced. And what can we do if not keep patience!
To be continued…
Hostel Valle Hermoso in Tupiza: A bit like our second home after changing rooms 5 times there and staying there for two months and a half! The hostel is central (close to the terminal and the city center), has a kitchen and a spacious terrace, and the showers have hot water (important given the temperatures in Tupiza). Alexia, the owner, is adorable and was helped us a great to get our travel permits from Tupiza to Santa Cruz.
Hotel Viru-Viru II in Santa-Cruz: Large spacious room with private bathroom, breakfast included. Very helpful and friendly owners.
Fatima Hostal in Bogotá: Hostel negotiated at $ 250,000 per week during the pandemic (but normally more expensive), for a spacious double room with private bathroom and breakfast included. Colourful and very nicely decorated hostel, with large kitchen available, comfortable beds, very good wifi.
Habitaciones Delgado in Florencia: $ 48,000 per night for a large suite with double bed, bathroom and huge kitchen / terrace with city view. Pleasant space but very noisy neighbourhood.