After the Chaco in Paraguay we are hungry wandering around the market of Villa Montes, the first village that we encounter after the border. It is cozy and colourful. Everywhere on the street are carts and people walk around to sell their goods. We try everything. Zoë her fingers tingle of the culture that runs through each other here. It is the modern society, in tight trousers and tops, opposite the cholitas and the Mennonites, in traditional costume. The cholita ladies come from the upper La Paz. Their clothing is not made on the warm weather, but beautiful for the eye. With their high socks, thick skirt to the knees, pre-tied apron and their two long braids tied together behind the back, they are modestly striking. Although it is the timid Mennonite that stand out most in the decor. Blue eyes and blond hair. The man, from child to adult, in a blue coverall with blue cap and the woman with long hair, combed to the side. A mystery for Zoë, which she would love to unravel, but does not reach. There is no one who wants to speak to her, and she does not really know what she wants to ask.
We are taking pictures when Zoë sees a weak goat on the side of the road. The beast must have fallen from the hill edge. Zoë picks it up and sees that it can still stand on its feet, but is severely malnourished. What must we do? There is no one here. Then she makes a decision. She picks up the animal and carefully stops it in the shopping bag and gets back on the bike. We cycle with the goat in one arm and the other on the steering wheel until we reach a farm. The people stare at her as she puts the animal on the ground and asks if they are goat herders, they are. 'Beautiful' says Zoë, 'then you can also bring this little one big, it needs milk'. She repeats three times that she wants the little one to grow up and then turns around. Hoping it will not end up in the soup right away, but even that would be better than a slow death on the side of the road.
It's one week of cycling to Santa Cruz, where Nair, Julia's sister will be waiting for us. We cycle along the border of Paraguay and here we also cycle through the Chaco, the Bolivian. Yet there is no comparison with the toil in the green hell of Paraguay. No mosquitoes, long roads and unbearable heat, but winding roads, beautiful green mountain landscapes and lots of life. We cycle through a silence of bird sounds. Parrots in green, blue and red betray themselves through the creaking screech and toucans fly with us from tree to tree. Our energy level doubles every day. All this makes cycling so pleasant here. In the small villages along the road we look for our lunch and overnight locations. To save our travel budget we don’t have to skip those places. For one and a half euros we eat a complete menu and for seven euros we spend the night in an excellent room. Bolivian cuisine is not our favourite yet and the 'convenience' of cheap hotels is becoming our enemy.
Laughing, Olivier reminds us that Simon said three years ago 'I can not see chicken anymore'. Chicken, chicken and more chicken. Each plate includes chicken. We are going to look for a own meal. Papers on the doors with large letters say 'it sells gas' or 'there is cheese' and '5 bolivianos for a shower' to 'lunch here' and 'there is chicken'. Every house in the main street seems to be a shop, but if you look at what they sell, it is nothing more than toilet paper, detergent and mayonnaise. No sign that says 'tomato sauce' or 'bread'. 'What do those people eat here?' Zoë says as we empty our plate of spaghetti with carrot sauce. "Uh, maybe chicken?" Olivier replies with a dazed laugh. 'And how do we do that with breakfast than tomorrow?' Zoë says something more serious now. Olivier can no longer keep his laughter, 'they sell empanadas in the morning, with chicken.' Uh sighs Zoë. She can not get her luck when we get to know the unwritten sign for 'there is bread' after a lot of searching around. The smell of Bolivian bread is characterised by hanging a white sheet outside. At least we have breakfast from now on.
Choosing every night for the convenience of a cheap hotel is nothing for us. It means that we do not meet anyone, and that is harmful to our dose of social encounters that makes the trip so enjoyable. We decide to use our tent-trick, only nobody has a garden here. We are scattered twice on the central square of a mini village, considering how we are going to tackle it. Curious a man comes to sit next to us. He speaks a word of English and wants to practice it with us. He is temporarily in this 'dead village' as an intermediary for the Chinese who do drill tests. He arranges accommodation for his workmen in this village and has a place for us. This way we can enjoy a free night of the life of a Bolivian worker. Far from home, chewing coca leaves and sharing a small room with other men. There is no running water, so a bucket over the head and a bucket through the toilet is the level of prosperity.
The next day we are again on the central square, a few villages further. There is a nice lawn where we can put our tent, but we would like to throw a bucket of water over our heads after this hot day. Zoë asks a man if he knows a place where we can take a shower, like a school. 'Oh, but you can do that in my house' is the man's answer. The third afternoon we sit in the central park for an hour, to doubt whether we choose to cycle or still go for a hospedaje. If we just decided to continue, a car passes Olivier in the city center. The window opens and Olivier thinks he is in dreamland when the man talks to him in Flemish. "Hello, sir, how are you?" The man says. Olivier stops immediately. 'My father is from Belgium and he is on vacation now, the house is big enough' he continues in Spanish. An hour later we are talking in a Spanish-speaking house next to the central square, talking Flemish while we eat Bolivian cuñape. Philippe is married to the Bolivian Blanca. They live together in the Belgian city Brasschaat, but visit the family every year for three months. Philippe does like the smell of Bolivia, he prefers to stay here. Only Blanca can not let go of Western wealth, even if she seems unhappy there. Her garden is her excuse tells Philippe. Sin, because here flourishes so much more. ‘It are the roses', says Blanca. they are so beautiful in color and smell so good.