The bus trip had been exceptional in several ways. The most unusual thing had been its relative silence: neither music nor movies had been played. Ignoring the chit chat of the passengers was easy, thus I was free to concentrate. Most of the trip I imagined I was traveling through a still unexplored part of inland Southeast Asia, the similarity between the landscapes was striking. Once in Trinidad, one look at the Chope Hotel convinced me to keep the pleasant illusion going. I stopped listening and reading signs. Definitely, this could be a slightly less fertile part of Southeast Asia.
Low buildings with plenty of greenery among them, thick roots growing on old brick walls, a distinguished fungal patina on many structures. Overloaded moto-taxis rampaging through them at full speed; wild dogs suffering a variety of skin diseases. Trinidadburi; Nakhon Trinidad; Chiang Trinidad. There was a distinct feeling this place wasn’t part of the Global Village but lived purely within the limits of the tropics languid imagination.
Without a map, guessing the town’s layout was difficult. The terminal didn’t feature an information booth, but I was told where I could find one. Completely flat, I couldn’t see beyond a few blocks. Nothing substantial was in sight. Taxi drivers asked from the obvious foreigner four times the ongoing price, they couldn’t know I had checked out the issue at the terminal. Eventually, I reached the central plaza by foot and found the information booth didn’t exist. Not for the last time here, I found information provided by denizens useless and misleading.
Without looking at the plaza, - who had time for yet another Spanish-styled, slavery-reminiscent, central plaza? – I kept asking around until I reached the Direccion Departamental de Turismo (Departmental Tourism Office) on Joaquin de Sierra Street, a couple of blocks from the plaza. A traveler visiting the highest local authority on tourism couldn’t be a common sight; I was welcomed and soon had all the maps and brochures I could hope for.
Looking at the city map, I noticed the downtown was almost a perfect square, half of it surrounded by a water canal and with a bluish stream zigzagging through it.
"Where is the river?" I asked the helpful attendant.
"One block in that direction," she said pointing it out.
"I just came from there!" I said, implying nothing had been seen.
"It’s green!" was the truly unexpected answer.
Once outside, I backtracked my steps to the stream. A small plaza featured there an odd statue of the department’s map. Behind it was what looked like a lettuces field. It was slightly lower than the street level and it turned out being the San Juan stream. Things were different here; but I had already been warned of that while crossing the Mamore River.
The Moxos - met in my previous journal – were the native inhabitants of the area. One of the very few fluvial civilizations in the history of the world, they controlled water levels by connecting adjacent rivers, created irrigated agriculture, and lived in residential areas that never got flooded. All these wonders were achieved in one of the wettest areas of the world. Modern Trinidad is practically surrounded by "lomas," the name given to their most prominent hill works. Spaniards destroyed all that and founded La Santisima Trinidad - the city’s formal name – in 1686 next to the Mamore River. After a severe flooding event, the city was moved to its actual location – 14 kilometers from the river – in 1769. The new location is also prone to floods; the last one submerged the city in 2009. Half millennia after the first colonizers arrived; the Moxo achievements are unmatched and destroyed. Viva Civilization!
I kept walking around. The town looked like a small version of Santa Cruz. This wasn’t a surprise; the first foreign colonizers have arrived from there. In fact Trinidad (and the whole Beni was part of Santa Cruz until 1842. It was time to begin looking at the details.