Santa Cruz was just supposed to be a stopover, a brief first glimpse of Bolivia before continuing on to Puerto Quijarro on the Brazilian border, from where we were travelling into the Parque Nacional Otoquis.
We arrived early in the evening, the taxi following a twisting route through endless city blocks. Many roads were cordoned off – like taxi drivers the world over ours had something to say about this.
“Por El Papa.”
Somehow we had timed our visit to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis to Bolivia, probably one of the biggest things to happen in Santa Cruz for years.
Santa Cruz is not a sleepy backwater, but it is different to the highlands of Bolivia. More in common with Brazil than La Paz.
As we stepped out of our hotel onto a beautifully lit plaza, busy with people enjoying an evening walk on the eve of the Pope’s open air mass, a small queue caught my eye. A full-size sticker Pope adorned the window of a cafe on the corner, with people waiting their turn to take a selfie. Probably a lot closer than you could ever get to the real thing.
Francis was visiting La Paz on a whistle-stop tour first, before catching a flight down to Santa Cruz where he would spend three nights. Rolling live coverage had already taken over many of the channels on our cable TV. I was struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire Spanish but could catch the excitement in the air.
We considered heading to the open air mass, but the thought of 1 million pilgrims crammed into one place made me slightly uneasy (I don’t like crowds when it’s not easy to escape). So instead we wandered the plaza, a peaceful space that morning. Everyone was either at the mass or watching it on TV. Most of the cafes were closed for the morning. Eventually we stumbled across a tiny souvenir shop on the corner of the square, piled high with textiles, clay nativity scenes and of course their fair share of Pope keyrings and fridge magnets. A small portable TV was perched precariously on a stack of books on the cash desk, all eyes glued to the screen as the Pope gave his sermon.
The Pope’s visit was a big deal in Bolivia. Whatever your views on the Catholic church, it was clear that many had made a pilgrimage from many miles away, for what would probably be their only chance to see a Pope in their lifetime. As our plane took off that afternoon, the TV coverage continued to play in the beaten-up terminal that had seen better days. The Pope’s words being broadcast across the country and beyond.
I’m linking this post up with a new travel blog hop, #wanderfulwednesday. Find the hosts of this at the sites below and join in every Wednesday at 8am GMT.
Marcella : www.whatawonderfulworld.co
Lauren : www.laurenonlocation.com
Van : www.snowintromso.com
Isabel : www.thesunnysideofthis.com