The Mi Casa Alojamiento of Camiri, Bolivia

The amount of ink Lonely Planet’s South America guidebook dedicates to Camiri, Bolivia can be best described in two words. These being, ‘virtually zilch’.

The valley town of approximate 65,000 inhabitants is little more than a dot on the guidebook’s country map located about half way between the outpost town of Villa Monte and eastern Bolivia’s main port of call, Santa Cruz. Even various Google searches, while doing our Paraguay to Bolivia research, yielded little to bolster the town’s rep as anything more than a blow through town to elsewhere.

But after a tumultuous 24 hours bus ride across the virtual No Man’s Land of Paraguay’s Chaco region—and anyone’s guess as to how many more would be required to make Santa Cruz—a bunk in the county jail was starting to sound attractive.‘Clean, not expensive and a basic internet connection’ was the criteria we put to the round table group of lingering taxi drivers before one more persistent than the rest assured us he knew of just such a place. Sceptical, but with few other real options at our disposal, all we could do was put ourselves at the mercy of a stranger and hope, if nothing else, his definition of clean mirrored our own. We were off.

Twenty minutes later, looking like haggard troops just back from a lopsided fight, we’d stumble into the tidy, well-lit dining area of the Mi Casa Alojamiento and get our answer. Jackpot! Lady Luck was shining down on us. Then her partner, Fate, would do us one better by permitting our paths to cross with the husband/wife owners, Omar Paz Pedraza and Sissy Ale Arias.

Or, as they’d come to be known before we’d even retired for the night, the Angels of Camiri.

Within moments of plopping our dust coated and weary bones on the seat before them, Sissy was in high gear. Of the Mi Casa Alojamiento’s six tidy rooms, Sissy was organizing, rearranging and offering us three of them to choose from. When a simple ‘here you are, sleep well’ would’ve been more than sufficient, she was determined to make sure our space and comfort was maximized.

In the meantime, despite our not having had any luck changing money, Omar would pay our driver before running around the corner and, again, fronting us the cash, picking up a fried chicken dinner that we devoured like three recently rescued island castaways.

What we had done to deserve such trust and kindness will never be known. Whatever it was, finally clean and laying on the softest mattress and pillows we could remember since setting out so many months earlier, the plan of leaving the following afternoon suddenly seemed a notion worth serious reconsideration. Especially as it involved 15 more traveling bus hours.

In the end, it’d prove a no brainer. A single night’s sleep was all we needed to know we’d tapped into something good. Exactly how good, remained to be seen. But as we lay there still exhausted the following morning, with light flooding the hallway outside our front door, we knew the rest of our Bolivian adventure would have to wait.

Camiri was calling.

Meanwhile, the notion that the previous night may have been some travel fatigue induced dream would be quickly banished later that morning. First, in again being bank rolled for another tasty meal; this one a traditional Bolivian lunch including soup, salad, chicken milenasea, beef ribs, chips and rice. It’d easily be the most extensive and tastiest $7 meal we’d had to date. And a meal whose plates, like the plates from the previous night, Sissy would insist we leave for her to clean. then, later, by having Omar personally escort on an impromptu walking tour of a surprisingly bustling downtown Camiri. A walking tour past the town’s main plaza near the corner restaurant/museum where Che Guevara had apparently visited in the late 60s prior to his untimely rendezvous with the wrong end of a gun in the nearby countryside town of La Higuera.

And one that involved Omar helping us sort our bank card drama and numerous vain attempts at sourcing a pair of shoes that exceeded the region maximum of a US size 11. All this before loading us into his trusty Suzuki for a drive around and up to the overlook of the town that Omar was proud to tell us was one of the largest petroleum producing towns in South America.

It was all an eye opening view and one that left us wondering how such a vibrant town could manage to fly under the radar of both guidebook and internet alike. After three months holed up in Paraguari, the allure of getting our travel legs back was strong. Now, not one full day in Bolivia and Camiri was quickly reminding us exactly why. With Sissy and Omar leading the charge, of course.
Hair and hair band by Sissy

Leading the charge by doting on Kaia like long lost grandparents. By not only recommending dinner time restaurants, but by taking the time to personally introduce us to the owners as well. By providing numerous recon trips back to the bus station to sort out tickets for our next stop. And, by helping us out with our laundry when a simple set of directions to a nearby lavanderia was all that was asked for. the end, our unexpected time at the cozy Mi Casa Alojamiento would amount to a total of three nights. Three nights and almost as many days that would make for a magical stay that would serve as a powerful reminder as well. A reminder that a guide book should be used as just that—a general guide only. And reminders that, even in our information saturated daily lives, simple, yet fulfilling travel ‘discoveries’ are still to be had.

The sort of discoveries that allow exhausted, wayward families to be greeted as guests by two strangers and, then, barely three days later, sees them leave as friends.

Which seems as good a reason as any to leave home in the first place.


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