Just before arriving in La Paz, we made the decision to make a trip home to catch up with family and most importantly a very Scottish wedding.
La Paz was a quick visit, a busy, busy place. The modern teleferico was great for getting about but overall we weren't too impressed. Luckily we found a new leisure battery for the van.
After La Paz, it was a sprint across the country to Santa Cruz and the international airport. Bolivia...Big Brother... A recurring theme - Police Check Points, where the sullen officer asks for your documents, then you have to open the side sliding door. He sees our extra diesel container and announces that we've committed an offence by having combustibles inside the van. The actual law (#39) says that 'Colectivos' (taxis/buses) carrying passengers cannot carry containers. Any improvement in my Spanish seems to come from arguing law with the police and I know who will get bored quicker... Suffice to say they've never managed to hold out long enough and ask for the cash they seek. Locals just cough up.
In Santa Cruz we found a great family who offered to look after our van. Off we flew to London for a whirlwind round of family catch-ups and wedding - loved it. Shattered from the two weeks home, we landed back in Santa Cruz and collected the van. We then camped in the gardens of Landhaus Restaurant, where friends John & Mandi were also camping. Depending on your view of things (I thought hilarious), they appeared slightly traumatised by a 2 week silent meditation retreat they had attended, of which they only managed 3 days, before using non-verbal communication to signal their unhappy state to each other...half starved, no communication (not even eye contact) allowed and people cheating... You have the short version, the long version is priceless.
Off next on the route of the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos: San Xavier (1691); Concepción (1709); San Ignacio de Valasco (1748); San Raphael de Valasco (1721), Santa Ana (1755); and San José de Chiquitos (1697). First a hot wash at Aguas Calientes outside San Xavier. Next day San Xavier mission - exceptional, with an impressive square. We met the priest who happened to be German. We then moved on to Concepcion. Same again church and square. Then San Ignacio to stay at a Swiss house in the garden. the following day we drove to San Miguel on a dirt road. The town plaza was being restored. Next Santa Ana with the restored church opening out onto a the huge grassy plaza. A great looking place and super peaceful, but sadly closed. Not able to enter the church, we visited a large stone snake which had been uncovered nearby. Our final mission town was San Jose, where we met with fellow Overlanders Okan, Donna & Indigo (age 5). San Jose Church, like the other missions, fronts onto a huge square. I haven't gone into long descriptions of the missions - there are the pictures to see. Suffice to say, they were well worth the effort - they were all magnificent and loved the towns. It's a shame that these World Heritage Sites only get about 25,000 visitors a year, when they and the local economy deserve 20 times that number.
Missions accomplished, it was time to move south and west.