TRAVELLING TO BOLIVIA AND WANT to blend in with the country folk? Here are a few tips on how to be less of a gringo, more of a local.
- Women, wear your hair in two plaits and dress in colourful, full skirts that reach a little past your knee, swish as you walk and leave people wondering whether you’re a little chunky or just layered up. Men, wear a wide brimmed hat.
- Hang out of bus windows whenever you stop or slow down to check out what’s going on.
- Believe in God. 82% of Bolivians are Catholics and when they question you on your faith, it’s often easier to say that you’re Christian (or any other religious denomination) rather than agnostic or atheist. Cross yourself any time you pass by a church or shrine or holy statue, whatever your age. Don’t, however, forget about Pacha Mama. Throw the odd bit of food or dribble some drink on the ground before you indulge, and every now and then sacrifice a llama or llama foetus in her honour.
- If travelling with a child, sling them on your back in a swaddling of bright coloured material that completely conceals them. Actually, carry any large bulks in this way and confuse people as to whether you have a child or vegetables or just a mass of material on your back. Keep chickens and other livestock separate but still covered so that if one of your hens decides to poke her head out and start pecking at a gringo’s shoes in the aisle of a crowded bus, it gives them a sufficient fright to behave on public transport. It may even raise a smile. Talking of which, don’t give out smiles too easily. Be a bit reserved, restrained. You don’t know who you’re dealing with, especially when it comes to bushy-tailed travellers, so err on the side of caution and observe these strange creatures from a bit of a distance.
- Guys, to deal with working at high altitude stuff your cheeks with coca leaves, so full that it lumps out and could be mistaken for a growth. Make sure you use a catalyst with the coca leaves so that your lips go a little numb.
There are of course lots of other things you should do to blend in. Unlike other South American countries, llama hats and woolly jumpers aren’t the exclusive outfit of gringos (although pick carefully). It’s cold here so everyone needs some llama love.
What else? Erm… eat meals that consist of double carbs, always something potato based alongside rice. Don’t understand vegetarianism and feel completely confident that taking out the main hunks of meat in a soup before dishing up will suffice for those fussy eaters.
And more seriously? Survive on a salary of 20Bs.-30Bs. per day (that’s US$2.87-US$4.30). Send your kids out to beg or shoe shine at known tourist spots or set them to work down the mines because although they are sacrificing their education, you need the money to survive.
5 responses to “5 ways to be Bolivian”
I know Bolivia is a poor country but is the situation really as bad as mentioned in the last line?
Thanks for stopping by. From chats with locals, it seemed that there is quite a problem with kids becoming shoe shiners and in La Paz, for example, there are projects to get them off the streets and (back) into education. On the begging side of things, although not incessant, you do see it first hand. I chatted with one young boy – maybe 8 years old – outside a tourist bar in Sucre where he’d been peering in through the window, waiting. He told me his family were far away, that he slept in a phone box, that he knew it was dangerous. The bar confirmed this, and every night at closing they gave him some food before he went on his way. With regards to the mines, in places like Potosi some kids do end up having to support their entire families, particularly where the father has left or passed away due to silicosis (lung disease). I watched a pretty powerful documentary about the Potosi mines called The Devil’s Miner – well worth a watch to get some insight into what goes on in the mines and what it means to be a child worker.
Oh..what you mentioned above is really sad.I am from India and the child labour scene is pretty bad here too.Anyways,I love your blog.Hope I get to visit Bolivia someday!
Yeah it is very sad and difficult to totally comprehend. My understanding is that the situation in India is worse, but I haven’t been there yet… i I hope to make a trip over to India at some point in the not too distant future… if you have any tips about where to head or avoid, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Yes,situation here is bad.Apart from child labour,we’re dealing with other major concerns such as poverty,rising population,unemployment,starvation,illiteracy,female foeticide and what not.Having said that i’d also like to add that India is not just about that.Though a large part of the population is below poverty line,it has its fair share of rich also.And yes,we also have McDonald’s in all our big cities like Delhi,Mumbai etc.I read a story about the growing trend of westerners taking ‘slum tours’ to see the ‘real India’.I’m not too sure if i wanna reccommend that.
Come here to see the beautiful Mughal Architecture in Delhi and around,palaces of Rajasthan,beautiful,old temples of south India,greenery in Kerela,fun beaches of Goa…I don’t know where to stop.You’ll mostly meet warm people,though i’d suggest not getting too friendly with anyone(especially men).Keep your personal stock of food.Toilets might not be very clean always.And most importantly-do not travel alone.I know its much more easier to travel when you don’t have to worry about adjusting your schedule with someone else..but come come here in a group or at least with a male companion.