Boy were we happy when we saw the 5-star hotel called Los Parrales Resort Hotel, Urbanizacion Carmen de Arajuez km 3.5 Casilla 23, Tarija, Bolivia, fono: (591-4) 664-8444, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, web: http://www.losparraleshotel.com/
We chose a junior suite with a view of the river and the city, high on a hill above the city and across the river. (The first rate offered was 5x Bs 840 = Bs 4200 was US$121 per night, including breakfast, parking and wi-fi internet in the room (when it worked). Then, with negotiation, we got the Plan Noche de Bodas/Honeymoon Rate (including a bottle of champagne and a fruit bowl) and the rate became: 1 night at Bs 916 and 4 nights at BS 687 totalling: Bs 916 + (6 x 687= Bs 2748) = Bs 3664 / US$531/5 = US $106.20 per day.) It's a large room, with a balcony overlooking the river, a sitting area with a sofa, a desk for Dimitri and a small table with chairs that I am using as my desk.
We unpacked and then went to the spa at Las Parrales and de-stressed in the sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi (which was a large round pool in a round room full of windows looking out onto the countryside). Delightful. We ate dinner at the hotel that night and we marveled at how inexpensive the food and the Bolivian wine was. Dinner cost Bs150/ US$21.73 plus tip. We had our first bottle of Bolivian Malbec, a Bodegas La Cabana Kohlberg Malbec Tierra Dorada '05 Santa Ana-Tarija, costing Bs 80/US $11.59. It was very good.
We had a good night's sleep and counted ourselves lucky. We could see, from our balcony, the mountain road that we had descended into Tarija.
The next day we did errands in the city. We were shocked to find that we were in Tarija during the run-up to the referendum on autonomy in the department or province. Before coming to Bolivia, we had read about the votes for autonomy earlier in June in Santa Cruz province, as well as the provinces of Beni and Pando. We didn't want to be anywhere near a province where there was any election coming up. But in this era of instant news from all over the globe, getting news on Bolivian events is scarce.
It was clear to us that lots of money was being spent on banners, flags, printing the referendum itself, sound trucks, signs, stickers and all of the rest. All of the material said the same thing: autonomia sí (autonomy yes). And it was clear that the departmental/provincial/municipal governments were spending the money.
Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia has been threatening the redistribution of land to the landless poor. This, and his grabs for more presidential power, has created a reaction. It appears to us that any person that has something to protect wants the referenda on autonomy to succeed. This is in spite of the fact that the referenda themselves have no legal force.
We decided that we were not going to stay in Tarija for a week because we didn't want to be in town on Sunday during the voting. Who knows how volatile the situation would be?
So we started doing all of our chores and planned to leave Tarija on Saturday. Laundry, which cost Bs 20/US$2.89, was one of the cheapest so far in South America. We got the car washed, inside and out, for Bs40/US$5.79. And we made arrangements for an excursion on bikes.
Fortunately we made arrangements for the bike excursion for Thursday. On Wednesday, when we were going to cross the river to go to town to pick up our laundry, we couldn't. The bridge was blockaded, a bloqueo. We were told that Evo Morales was scheduled to come to Tarija that day. The civicos or the people in favor of autonomy, had called out their people to block the airport and bridges so he couldn't get into town. There was lots of police and military presence but the blockades where permitted. And, Evo canceled his plans to come to Tarija. Interesting....
By late afternoon, the blockades were over and the town was back to normal. We had dinner in town on Wednesday night, actually.
On Thursday, promptly at 10 am, Carlos Mendoza Vasquez and Andrea from Sur Bike picked us up in Sur Bike's Jeep. We had arranged for a guided bike trip (with the Jeep as a sag-wagon) for Bs150 each/US$43.48 for the two of us. (Sur Bike, Calle Ingavi esquina Ballivan #601, Tarija, e-mail: email@example.com and web: http://www.sur-bike.com/. The owner is Ernesto Vaca Poehlmann, cell no. (391)7629-4200). Our bikes were put on top of the Jeep and we drove for about an hour to a tiny place called Pinos Sud. The road was being worked on and the dirt surface may have been worse than normal. We were in a valley in the area of the Sama Biological Reserve and there were mountains on both sides. The hour-long drive was tedious and the vistas were not gorgeous.
It turned out that we were to bike back on the same road we drove. That didn't thrill us but it turned out to be fun. It was a slightly descending gradient. We biked for about 20 km (some of which was on talcum powder, some through small rivers) and then turned onto a handmade cobblestone road. We biked to a reservoir called San Jacinto where we ate some fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch. Then we carried on to a real-live, actual bike path around the lake. We were so surprised! We biked for about 35 km and really enjoyed it. Carlos and Andrea were personable and we got some great photos and great exercise. Without a guide, it would have been difficult to find such a route.
On Friday, we went into town in the morning. We had our first Bolivian salteña (in Bolivia) and it was delicious. We bought it from a street vendor before noon. It is an empanada-looking thing, filled with meat and potatoes and it has a slight spiciness. We went to the Mercado Central too and had a fresh juice of orange and strawberry that was delicious. When it was time for lunch we had a peanut soup at the Mercado Central that was good too for Bs 5/US $.72. After lunch we thought we might have another salteña. We looked and looked but found out that they are only available in the morning. We laughed and thought of drinking cappuccinos in Italy. If you drink a cappuccino after 10 am in Italy, it is ultra-gauche!
The town looked festive with all of the red, white and green autonomia sí banners. People look European or Aymara or Quechua or a mixture. Some of the buildings are colonial and are in good shape. There are plazas with trees and lots going on. People were rushing about doing their business and, as we walked around, we had fun. It didn't seem unsafe.
We thought that we might take a tour of the wineries in El Valle de la Concepión, the heart of Bolivian winemaking around Tarija. We inquired about that at a wine shop. Ultimately we decided that we really don't enjoy that kind of thing so we didn't.