Life in the Tropics – Concepción, Bolivia

“It looks like the inside of a shower” says Sheena. I agree and suggest we ditch our clothes and go for an outdoor rinse. No dice. But the constant downpour is mesmerizing – 20 minutes and counting we’ve been outside our hotel room watching it come down.

An outdoor shower in our hotel courtyard

We’ll certainly never say our time in Concepción was dull. Situated about 5 hours to the northeast of Santa Cruz, deep in the Chiquitos region, Concepción is home to the descendants of Guaraní peoples, who share more culturally with modern day Paraguay than the rest of Bolivia. Life is slow here and with rain storms like the one we just witnessed, who can blame businesses for having irregular hours? It’s hot and humid, and there are lots of bugs (though not as many as expected). We’re also sort of breaking the “no jungle” rule, but I think we’re reluctantly finding that worthwhile (for a limited amount of time).

The beautifully restored mission complex

The interior of the mission church

A detail of some of the great artwork that decorates most of the windows and doorways in town

This region was the focus of heavy Jesuit missionary work in the mid-1700’s, which was our motivation for coming here. Today the wonderfully restored Jesuit missions are a tourist attraction and source of local pride – with 9 of them lying along a circuit that could be done in a few days. That isn’t to say that Concepción is on any kind of tourist “map” though. We definitely feel like we’re out here in the middle of nowhere, with few tourist-aimed facilities and almost no other travelers around (i.e. we haven’t seen any other backpackers, but we did see one tour group of 3 in a minivan). The ATM ran out of money this weekend, and we’ve been eating at the same restaurant for three days now, because it’s the only one that is consistently open (and we have no access to a kitchen in our hotel).

These covered sidewalks are essential in a downpour

On our second day in town the money situation became urgent. We couldn’t take out cash and definitely didn’t have enough for our planned three-night stay. Our hotel turned out not to have the promised breakfast, and no one in town was offering us more than cheese empanadas… were we really going to have to get back on a bus so quickly, with barely anything in our stomachs?? At this moment Bernardo drove by in a pickup truck. He’s the proprietor of the Gran Hotel Concepción, and we had met him the previous day when we tried to stay at his hotel (it was full). Taking us under his wing, “because I have kids your age,” he invited us over for a free breakfast and promised to change any US dollars we had for bolivianos. Like magic, all of our problems were solved (because luckily, we had an emergency stash of dollars from our border crossing visa fiasco). We’re putting Bernardo pretty high up there on the “saved us” list – without him I can confidently say that our time in Concepción would have been a bust.

Bernardo sort of fell into the middle-of-nowhere hotel business by accident and familial duty, which explains how a retired American Airlines manager from La Paz ends up in Concepción. After experiencing some rude customer service, we wanted to know if people out here despised foreigners visiting. No such thing, claimed Bernardo. You just have to understand that people from here are lazy, and people not from here (lots of La Paz transplants running businesses) only care about money. Simple enough.

A typical street away from the plaza

It’s not that I love the steady stream of motorcycles that zoom by on muddy roads, or the completely useless rainy afternoons, or the food at El Buen Gusto, but I’m sort of going to miss this town. Like the (few and old) tourist posters we occasionally see around town, this is certainly un otro mundo.

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