Reflective Meandering

Thoughts on faith, people, politics, travel, and transition.

The Travel Bug Bit for Bolivia

on February 13, 2014

When the travel bug bites you or your spouse, it’s hard to do anything until you’ve satisfied your or his/her craving for another culture. Even within a single country there are such diverse cultures, demographically, food-wise, climate-wise, and other-wise. It’s exciting to see and experience new things with your significant other. While the travel bug doesn’t bite me much, I love seeing the delight in my man’s eyes as he experiences something new, or introduces me to something new.

This past year, my man got bit by the burning desire to visit Bolivia. I’ve been out of the country before, but I was nervous about our trip to Bolivia. There was so much more to do to prepare, and in some ways, we missed the mark with our preparations.

There are tons of websites that give you checklists for things to do before you leave for Bolivia, I’m not going to reiterate those here, but here are a few things that those websites don’t tell you to do or bring:

We were primarily in the altiplano, i.e. the part of the country that’s too high for trees to grow indigenously. The weather there is pretty volatile, the early mornings and late evenings were very cold. This was in Bolivia’s summer, mind you. However, at the peak of the day, it was perfect—dry, warm, and sunny. (Leaving the United States during the winter, I totally spaced on the need to take sunscreen, but you’ve been warned!) Because of the changes in temperature, it’s a good idea to pack so that you can dress in layers. While I wore a winter coat in the mornings and evenings, during mid-day, I would often shed down to a tank top with jeans.

A bunch of people told me to take toilet paper. I started our time in Bolivia carting toilet paper around with me everywhere, but after I’d been in the country for about four days, and every bathroom having had toilet paper available, I stopped carrying the roll. Thank the Lord I had tissues. We had charqui at lunch on about day four and it did not agree with me. For the first time on the trip, I was in need of a public bathroom and it did not have toilet paper. Lesson.Learned. That said, you need to try charque, even if you do pay for it later.

As far as money is concerned, I had no concerns. I had about $100 in cash, which is the minimum with which I normally travel and then I have an international credit card that I generally use overseas. Not in Bolivia. Most of the places do not take credit cards, even the local travel agencies accepted cash only. Because things are fairly inexpensive, I had plenty of cash, but the problem with my cash is that they weren’t crisp bills. Even the currency exchange locations wanted crisp new bills so I advise you to get crisp new dollar bills from the bank. On that note, taking U.S. currency is largely disfavored so, be sure to exchange a sufficient amount for the duration of your stay.

Explore! Our trip was only 10 days and to really tour, you need longer than that, but in our short time, we visited three Departments within Bolivia: La Paz, Cochabamba, and Oruro. They were all beautiful in their own unique ways.

La Paz and Oruro are both extremely high in elevation. Oruro seemed most rural to me. There’s a new statue of the Virgin Mary in the city and from there, you can see for miles and miles, mostly of rural land that is still occupied by indigenous people groups. There is so much history in Bolivia! Some of the places with a lot of history and culture in La Paz are Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, Copacabana, which ports on the lake, and Isla del Sol, the Island of the Son where the Incan ruins date back to the 15th Century AD and there are still no paved roads and cars. We hiked to the top of the island and boy were we breathless on the way up.

Regarding breathlessness, no part of the trip was as bad as the first steps off of the plane in La Paz. Right when I stepped out of the jet way and into the airport I felt incredibly weak and short of breath. Truly, it takes about 24 hours for that feeling to dissipate a bit. Those who tell you to drink coca tea know what they’re talking about it. Do it; drink the coca tea. I also brought a small canister of oxygen infused with grapefruit, which helped me feel more energized and helped with the anxiety I felt from not being able to breathe. In addition, we took the online advice of taking ginkgo biloba, probiotics, and before we even landed in Bolivia, while still on the plane, we took ibuprofen to avoid a headache. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We’re believers and many folks were praying for our safety and acclimatization. I believe God kept us safe and feeling well, but we certainly did our part in planning, too.

If you have the time, it’s wise to acclimatize by going somewhere at or just below 10,000 feet for your first 24 hours. The department of Cochabamba would be an excellent spot for this. I believe it’s about 8,000 feet in elevation and feels and looks tropical in the summer; while the higher elevations were dry and brown, Cochabamba was warm and green. In addition, it’s fairly well developed so it’s easier to find restaurants that can accommodate the North American stomach. (However, you should still avoid the ice and other water that’s not boiled if you’re a gringo.)

Bolivia is such a diverse country in terms of climate, geography, and culture. If you have the change, you should visit!

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