Others: "How was Bolivia? Did you love it?"
Us: "It was certainly a very interesting experience"
We drove through the highland regions of Bolivia, where more indigenous people live, chew coca leaf all day long and sell the same stuff to all tourists. After passing the border, spent some hours in small towns waiting for a cab to take us to our destination, we finally arrived to Uyuni, where we stayed four days (way too many). Where the salt flat is (Salar de Uyuni), which is pretty much the only attraction worth passing Uyuni for.
Until this place, we never felt any difference of altitude on our bodies. Now, at 3.700 meters above sea level, we felt something for sure. Our lungs had a hard time getting air, our muscles started to ache, so we had to face the coca leaf chewing, like the locals do it! (not really though, they chew a lot more!). Asbjørn was tough enough to chew it, while I made my self an infusion with my mate, like the lady that I am. It was very cold, so unknowing of this type of weather, we had to buy a whole new closet full of winter clothes. Alpaca clothes.
Other than more hustling (a lot more), there was a very negative feeling about this place; the locals appear to not take a big liking of foreigners - giving us the «get the hell out of my country» cold look every so often. Resentment much? One lady at a shoe store didn’t even want to sell shoes to me, even though I told her clearly I had money and wanted to buy the shoes she sold! Finally I did buy them, but only because I was desperate for shoes that I could use with socks and not freeze to death. Weird, very weird indeed.
The mountain culture is full of vegetarian meals, so their restaurants, even though they’re not exceptionally good. They do offer a lot…with quinoa. There’s even quinoa and coca leaf beer! I like that they use what they have in abundance.
Unfortunately for mother nature’s side, there’s a lot of garbage lying around, but mostly in the more central areas. Those beautiful mountains dressed with plastic bags are indeed, too sad to see. And let’s not even get started on the toilet hygiene. Eating out was difficult after seeing that, but desperate times call for desperate measures (we were very hungry!). Cactus fruit was amazing though, and easy to buy without getting sick, as it has a tough skin to peel.
We saw much of this on our next stop. By the Lake Titicaca, close to the border of Peru, a place called Copacabana (not to be confused with the one from the Barry Manilow song - At the Copa!) A bit higher; at 3.841 meter above sea level.
Of course we could always give you the whole "these people are very poor" excuse that one usually hears about, but we like to show compassion not by feeling sorry for their situation, rather understanding their situation and sending them all the love we can. In our eyes, they are not poor, they are rich in many other ways, but they choose to live a lifestyle that may not always resonate too much with this developing world. This is a tough and complicated subject; culture, traditions and adapting to the changes. We are not judging anyone; we are mainly showing you the reality and avoiding sugar coating as much as possible.
On the other side of the spectrum we have a beautiful place with clay houses, country side with a self sufficient population, recycling, permaculture courses and Huachuma (San Pedro cactus) infusions.
Here's where we got lucky; with a compassionate guy selling vegan snacks on the streets and he also happened to own a hostel! Definitely the best part of our trip; finally we got to eat some real, nutritious food!
Most compassionate: Vegetarian menus, countryside people living a self sustainable lifestyle, clay houses, local food.
Less compassionate: Unkind to foreigners, little care for nature, hustling, not so happy nor friendly street dogs (Uyuni) friendly street dogs but not very well taken care of (Copacabana).