Bolivia, how exciting was it that after what felt like the longest journey to get to La Paz from Easter Island (a 27 hour trek that consisted of a night layover in Santiago and a day long layover in Iquique) that at customs when I changed my Chilean money it didn’t translate to the $160 USD that is required for Americans to acquire their visa in addition to proof you received your yellow fever shot, bank statement showing you have money and a accommodation reservation. (Tip: Ensure you have all requirements before you arrive and even if you are traveling for a long time and not coming from an American city that you have your fee in USD as this is the only currency they will accept.)
Any who, this wasn’t the best part, as customs staff escorted me to the airport ATM station to acquire the remainder money needed to pay for my visa I get the message on the ATM that no traveler wants to see, “Su tarjeta a sido retenida. Temporarimente fuera de servicio” In other awesome terms, this ATM had ate my debit card and was now out of service on a lovely Sunday night. After running up and down the airport with customs staff trying to find solutions to getting the remainder money or risk having to stay in the customs office until who knows when, an airport shop manager finally took pity on me and allowed me to charge the amount needed for me to pay my visa using my credit card and gave me this amount in cash. After 2 hours I was leaving the airport but sadly with no money and leaving behind my debit card stuck in an airport ATM.
I’ll admit the ride to the hostel with the transport I had arranged via the hostel was difficult for me. I was tired, had no cash in a country where credit cards aren’t used often and unsure how my debit card problem would pan.
The next morning with no money available and after freezing my account for safety precautions I made my way to the bank whose ATM ate my card. They informed me that to retrieve my card could take up to 5 days which I didn’t have. The staff at the bank were considerate of my situation being able to push the 5 days to 2 days. Including being kind enough to even keep me informed via WhatsApp of the status of my card including when to pick up via a friendly bank staff. (Tip: Per the bank rep, check the logos on the back of your card and ensure the ATM you are using has one of the logos. This will ensure you have better chances of not having your card eaten by the ATM.)
I managed to get money for food and to hold me over for the next 2 days by contacting my credit card and asking for a pin to get a cash advance. (Tip: Save yourself the trouble of doing this abroad by setting this up before you being to travel by contacting your credit card company including asking about interest rates etc.) Yes, the interest was high but in hindsight a small price to pay in order to feel more at ease in Bolivia.
With money in my pocket and a light at the end of the tunnel I told myself I refused to have this incident set the tone for my time in Bolivia. I felt like I did this in Germany especially in Berlin (Read that story HERE) and anytime that anything happened I was quick to blame the country opposed to just situations that can result while traveling which I like to call, “travel problems”. They happen to even the best of us travelers.
On the other hand during my 10 days in Bolivia I did manage to make some General Observations that I think is worth pointing out.
My first observation in La Paz Bolivia was how slow people walk and mind you I completely justify going uphill slow as the elevation in Bolivia takes a beating on your heart and breathing. You cannot begin to imagine how many “scenic let me take this view all in but I really just need to breath again” I took simply going uphill for a a block or two. When I visited Moon Valley for example my heart was beating like it was close to exploding and mind you this was on day 7 of my time in Bolivia. What I still don’t comprehend is why locals walked so slow downhill. As I navigated and at times frustrated through the zombies going downhill I wondered if I was tapping into an unaware New Yorker potential that I didn’t know I had. During my days in Bolivia I was never able to decipher why walking slow downhill was a thing in Bolivia.
Elevation & Weight Loss –
To return to breathing in Bolivia, breathing alone is a workout and you quickly lose weight which I quickly noticed with myself. Many studies show the connection between high altitude and weight loss since you lose your appetite due to the increased production of Leptin and increased heart rate.
I’ve heard that many vegetarians go back to their carnivore ways in South America due to the lack of options and I thought this was hype until I came to Bolivia. Bolivia was my true test to vegetarianism as Bolivia is the meat mecca it seems. I would walk into restaurants asking what dishes I could eat without meat and they would offer me rice and a less than medicore salad. When vegetables were an option they weren’t seasoned or cooked properly. Their other “options” seemed to have too many carbs with no nutritional value which I didn’t want to do for 10 days and I seriously feared I would be juicing my whole time here as Yullen is a thing here. AKA eating dogs. So in order to overcome this I’ll admit I leveraged the hostel’s restaurant where I had many of my meals since they had vegetarian options and ended up checking out restaurants geared toward more “westernized” clients ( I would recommend “Cafe Mundo” in La Paz if you find yourself in the same shoes as I was.) which I typically don’t like to do but I didn’t stoop low enough to the point where I could see myself eating meat.
Bolivian Women –
Bolivian women truly take courting and trading places to the next level. Never in my travels or back home have I seen women be so aggressive toward men. Bolivian women cling to male tourists AKA gringos, have their girlfriends winging for them or go to drastic efforts to be with a gringo or at least that’s the women I came across. I’ll admit this was uncomfortable and unbearable to see. And this is coming from the feminist who embraces the switching of gender roles. All I’m saying is, tourist guys want you too so play a bit harder to get.
What To See
Besides making observations and some generalizations in Bolivia, some that I’m not proud of having such as the one regarding Bolivian women I did get to see some amazing things in this country such as using their cable car system, shopping in the artistry markets for the iconic alpaca sweater, dancing at the local late night club till the sun came out, learning about their current affairs such as with their president who was hoping to alter its law regarding presidency terms for his benefit during the free walking tour, learned and saw the San Pedro Prison that is run by the prison mates themselves which the book “Marching Powder” was based off. I also visited Moon Valley where the stalactites formations can be found. Legend has it that it was named Moon Valley after Neil Armstrong visited and said it reminded him of how the moon looked. But hands down the Salt Flats in Uyuni were my Bolivian highlight. The towns surrounding the salt flats look like an eerie ghost town even though it’s evident that people live here. If you feel like going for a nap on the flats I would recommend as the coolness of the salt and the sun above makes for an awesome feeling. (Tip: if you decide to do the Salt Flats from Chile to La Paz and vice versa I would recommend doing the 2 or 3 day trip but if not then 1 day should suffice and traveling to the flats using the overnight bed busses which you can get from the bus terminal usually leaving around 8:30p each night as all 2-3 day tours coming from La Paz and returning to La Paz have the 3rd day just on the road traveling back which is personally a waste of a day. 1 day tours cost around $22 USD with no English speaking guide to $65 USD if you want an English speaking guide. Same tour including lunch but the only difference is the quality and language of your guide.)
And what about Death Road Chris? That’s a great question and I’ll admit that while many come to Bolivia to bike down “the most dangerous road in the world” and while this was on my list as well I ended up opting out when I realized that the only day I could possibly do the ride was the day before I left to Colombia and when you discover your flight isn’t 3:30pm as you had originally believed but rather 3:30am well it was hard to justify being so tired, trying to pack a bag and get my life together hours before a really early flight. Death road, you will have to wait.
Besides the awesome people who I bonded over salt flats, karaoke and happy hours a special thanks goes out to Dave from England. My first and last mate in Bolivia whom I instantly bonded with when we discovered we were both poor in Bolivia because Bolivia decided to take our debit cards. He was willing to “sacrifice” himself when I wanted to pimp him out with the aggressive Bolivian girls for the right Boliviano price AND for the first time in my wing girl history the reason I became the most unsuccessful and hated wing girl by other girls. Ohhhh and to all those girls, all his tinder photos are my own so you’re welcome for swiping right. Am I being petty? Maybe? But Bolivia tends to bring that out of me I’ve learned.
Regardless of the pettiness that came out of me in Bolivia which the feminist in me isn’t proud of I am glad that the first hiccup in my trip didn’t shape the outcome in Bolivia.