Well, I arrived home from being in bolivia for 2.5 months two days ago, and I have nothing to do so im writing you guys a story! All my friends are still in college and wont be home for like a week. My college has an interesting schedule, so this trimester I was able to not take classes and basically do whatever the hell I want to do. I'll be taking classes next summer, so I dont miss any time. So, I decided to travel through Bolivia.
Nobody really knows anything about bolivia in the United States because it is a landlocked, third world country in south america. Well, I think they are missing out. When I decided to go to south america and told some of my friends, most of them responded with questions like, "Bolivia? What the hells in Bolivia?" Or, "Bolivia, is that in Africa?" Nope. Its a south american country that chills right in the middle of peru, brazil, chile, paraguay, and argentina.
My plan was to learn Spanish since i want to work with latin american countries when i graduate and do some volunteer work. I arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the middle of september and instantly could feel the difference. Although the salaries are WAY lower, everything is WAY cheaper so there isn't all too too much poverty. For example, and average salary may be around 80 dollars a month. But, food is ridiculously cheap there. A set lunch of soup, some chicken dish and a desert is around 90 cents. Also, buying food in a market and cooking it yourself is even cheaper. I found things are around 5x cheaper in bolivia than the US, but it also depends on the item. Here for example, is a dinner that cost me 90 cents.
Two weeks into the trip, I had the opportunity to go on a backpacking trip up to the highest mountain in central bolivia, Cerro Tunari, which is 5,035 meters, around 16,500 feet. The trip was two days, and was one of the hardest hiking trips ive ever done. It was 25 miles in total, and 15,000 feet of elevation change up and down combined. The first day was rough, I had some altitude sickness because our campside was at 4,700 meters, around 15,000 feet but managed to survive. Also it got to around 20-25 degrees at night, so it was pretty brisk. The second day we made it to the summit and then all the way back down to where we started. Here are some pics from the trip.
First, me with short shorts in a very nice valley
and the view from the top
About two weeks after that trip, I was able to make it vallegrande and La higuera, Bolivia. These are the towns where Che Guevara had his body displayed, and was executed, respectively. I was there on the 40th anniversary of his death so there was a big festival with lots of people that were involved in socialist movements present and past, along with a lot of southern americans and people from all over. Getting there was an adventure in the first place. From Cochabamba to Vallegrande was an 11 hour bus ride over some SHITTY roads. I was eating dust for a good part of it. But, the ticket cost about $5 each way, so I can't really complain. Just as a side note, I've heard that 10-15% of the roads in Bolivia are paved, and the rest are dirt or cobblestone, but mostly dirt. I met some really interesting people there from cuba, bolivia, argentina, columbia, and other places as well. It was really interesting just to hear all the people who really support el Che and their opinions. I'm not really a big supporter of Che or some half ass "revolutionary", but still it was fun to experience all of the culture. On another sidenote, it was funny how much capitalistic exploitation of che there was during the festival. The exploitation of his image in the US, dont even get me started. Here are some pics
typical bolivia, the taxis are imported from japan, they do some half ass job and fenangle the steering wheel over to the other side but the meters are al on the other side
this is a mural on the wall in La Heguera, the village where he was executed.
heres the school house where he was actually shot, you can still see the bullet holes in the wall
"through this door left a man to eternity" On the door of the school house
heres the building where the famous photo of che's dead body was displayed
I was also able to take a trip to Arica, Chile where there is a super nice beach. Arica used to be Peruvian territory until a war about a hundred years ago where chile beat both Peru and Bolivia. Its a little bit funny because to this day, Bolivians are bitter that Chile "stole" their coast line about a hundred years ago and there is a national day of remembrence in Bolivia of the date. It was a 12 hour bus ride each way, but the scenery was some of the nicest scenery I have seen in my life, and I've seen a lot of places. My ticket cost $12 and included food and even wine. Its amazing in south america how good and cheap the bus system is. The town of Arica is about 160,000 people, but sitll feels like a sleepy little town. The beaches were virtually empty when I was there, which is even nicer. My friends and I met some Chileans in a bar and they invited us back to their house party which was interesting just to mingle with some legit locals. Also, it was refreshing how nice the people were in general. There really is just a great feeling of family between everybody, something that is definitely lacking in much of the US. Here are some pics.
first off, getting hassled at the boarder haha.
sunset over the pacific way in the distance, about 10 hours into the bus ride
grillin next to 500 foot cliff
yet another beautiful sunset
the best picture ive ever taken, at the chile-bolivia boarder at about 15,000 feet
My last trip was to the Chapare region, which is where Bolivia produces most of the coca leaves that are used in making cocaine. The funny thing is, not one time in all of my stay did I ever witness anybody using or even talking about cocaine. The problem is all in the US. Also comical is that the US government supports erradication of the coca plant, yet coca cola buys 203 tons of coca leaves every year to flavor the soft drink Coke. A bit ironic dont you think? I chewed coca leaves a bunch of times, and although they are considered a drug by the rest of the world, there is virtually no effect. Smoking cigarettes is way more powerful in my opinion. I could talk about this debate forever, but the point is the problem isnt growing coca leaves, its the demand for cocaine in the rest of the world. I was also able to go to a park full of rescued animals, like monkeys, turtles, and some other ones too. The park is helped by a team of international volunteers.
yes theres a monkey on my head haha
I can't put all of my trip on paper, because it was just too much of an experience. If you can, I strongly suggest traveling through south america. It really is an amazing place. But some warnings to: In bolivia, not very many people speak english. Other countries with more international culture do, but Bolivia, not so much. Also, if you go, be prepared to have an unsettled stomach practically the whole time, and whatever you do, dont drink the water.
If you want to volunteer with an organization, I can give you all the information of the organization i worked with. They will cook for you and let you live in their house for free. I didnt even talk about it here, but let me know if youre interested because they need all the help they can get. And if you just want to donate some money, let me know too because every dollar helps down there. If you read this far, congrats! I have way too much free time on my hands.