Looking through my photo album of pictures from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia's largest city, I'm at first surprised they are almost entirely of food. Then I remember how ugly Santa Cruz was, and it makes sense.
Not only is Santa Cruz probably the ugliest city we've visited in Bolivia, but also the most polluted, noisiest and dirtiest.
So why were we looking for an apartment there and planning to stay for a month? That's a good question. We had a couple of reasons, ill-advised as they may have been:
- By the time we arrived in Santa Cruz, we'd been travelling for almost two straight months since leaving Buenos Aires, only stopping in one place for 4 or 5 days, and we were ready for a break.
- The lack of tourist attractions in the city seemed like it would make it a good place to get our heads down and focus on work, something which we've been struggling to do lately.
- The weather seemed to be much more to our liking than the western part of Bolivia, which in general, we found very cold and dry; Santa Cruz is rarely cold and usually quite humid.
- We had been talking online to a couple of people living there (mostly through couchsurfing) before we arrived, and thought we'd be able to build a group of friends up easily.
There were some redeeming features to the city. The central square, and the area immediately around it was quite pleasant, and on warm evenings, it would be bustling with people, just hanging out enjoying life. The atmosphere on the square always felt relaxed and safe. Of course, we tried out most of the pleasant cafés that lined the square. And yes, we did make some friends.
Our hunt for apartments began simply by walking around, looking for signs advertising apartments for rent, but we soon broadened our search by looking online and buying the local newspaper, El Deber. After three days, we had seen as many apartments, but they were either just dark, dirty and too far from town, or the owners were too inflexible and stuck in their ways to let us rent for one month without paying two or three months deposit in advance!
By our fourth day in Santa Cruz, we decided to leave town and head to Samaipata to relax a bit, and decide if we really wanted to stay for a month in that city. The day we returned to Santa Cruz, it was cold and raining (so much for being never cold!) and the wet streets felt filthier than anywhere else I'd ever been. We decided then that, no, we didn't want to stay there.
So, we booked a flight to La Paz (so as not to suffer through a 20+ hour overnight bus journey!) and said goodbye to Santa Cruz.
Unlike our friends Wandering Earl and the guys at Never Ending Voyage, we clearly we have a lot to learn about choosing places to settle and finding apartments.
Update: read about how we rented apartments in South America here!