Bolivia – the Perfect Start into the New Year

Having my own little flat and becoming a “couchsurfing” host for travellers passing through has already paid off in so many ways! Joint sightseeing tours and intensive talks over dinner or breakfast have facilitated new friendships and, in one case, even caused me to expand my travel radius to a completely new-to-me continent! It was Marjolein and Edward, a Dutch-Bolivian couple about to move to my city and visiting me twice in 2012, who made me more and more curious about Bolivia in South America. “Very authentic”, “highly diverse”, “not touristy” and “cheap” were some of the trigger words I needed to decide that my next big holiday was going to be spent in Bolivia. And as soon as I found out in November that I was going to get the whole month of January off work, I booked my flights and started looking forward to backpacking through this seemingly magnificent country and visiting Marjolein and Edward, who were there on holidays at the same time.

Altogether five flights (via the USA) and thousands of kilometres later, two mornings before New Year’s Eve, I arrived in the city of Cochabamba, where I was met and kindly welcomed by Marjolein and Edward together with their friends Carla and Marin. Due to a three-hour stop-over at La Paz’s El Alto airport, situated at an altitude of approx. 4000 m, I was already feeling the first signs of altitude sickness (faster heartbeats, headache, nausea) by that time. We therefore took it easy in the beginning until I recovered; luckily Cochabamba was “only” 2500 metres above sea level. Worse, however, was the fact that my checked-in backpack didn’t arrive – and wouldn’t do so for another five days! The subsequent daily phone calls to the airline staff at unearthly morning hours were becoming exercises of our patience. But without being able to “properly” arrive, change clothes and take photos (my battery recharger was in the bag), you do tend to feel a bit uneasy at some stage… especially since we were moving around in Bolivia and I didn’t want to be stuck somewhere waiting for my backpack. Fortunately, my belongings did arrive just before the delay would have become really complicated for my travel plans. And luckily this lost luggage incident ended up being the only major drama throughout my trip.

Marjolein and Edward had arranged for us to spend New Year’s Eve and the first few days of 2013 together with their friends in the Santa Cruz area. Before moving on, we therefore spent one and a half days in Cochabamba, getting me started with local customs, going to the local markets, trying the wonderful local specialties api (thick maize juice), salteñas (pastries with a juicy meat filling), trucha (trout) and chicha (beer made of fermented maize) and deciding whether to buy yellow (for wealth) or red (for love) underwear for our upcoming New Year’s party. We also spent some time with Edward’s family in Quillacollo outside Cochabamba and cruised around in Marin’s car in the rain to explore the surroundings. My first impressions of Bolivia: surprisingly many similarities to the Asia I knew, such as bustling market stalls offering all sorts of products and services, yummy street food, chaotic traffic and smelly exhaust fumes, red-cheeked children and wrinkly old ladies carrying heavy burdens, tile floors and kitschy decorations. On the other hand: no staring or pestering at all, which was very common in Asia and Morocco, plus surprisingly many indigenous faces and women in their traditional dresses and hats. Altogether lots of positive impressions that made me look forward to travelling and photographing both country and people.

One day after my arrival in Cochabamba, we took a plane to Santa Cruz. Bolivia’s biggest city, located in the eastern lowlands with a much more tropical climate, is the country’s commercial centre and seemed quite different in character and more wealthy compared with the rest of Bolivia. It boasted quite a few huge American-style supermarkets with processed food and American-style suburbs with fenced-in houses and lawns and was renowned for its good night life. We were met by Marjolein and Edward’s friends Carito and Luis, who we stayed with, and during the following two days also got to know their friends and family. Marin from Cochabamba joined our group a little later as well, so that I felt perfectly integrated in local social life, just as I had initially hoped for! Our time together in the Santa Cruz area also allowed me to gain more insight into local eating and drinking habits: Bolivians love their meat! During my first week in Bolivia I must have eaten more beef steaks, chicken wings and inner organs than in the whole year before! Also, Bolivians seem to drink until the last drop of alcohol in the house is finished and no more hidden bottles can be found! In which case the party continues in a pub somewhere else… holy moly! Our year 2012 culminated in a posh New Year’s party at a private home, filled with karaoke, DJ music, dancing, roasted suckling and lots of bottles on the table. It lasted until 6 a.m. and ended with the traditional New Year’s breakfast: fricassee (spare ribs with corn and potatoes) – a hearty start into 2013! I felt so lucky to be able to take part in and get to know all these traditions and was particularly happy that I had chosen the right colour of underwear for that day… and hey, the magic worked!

  © Blogger template 'A Click Apart' by 2008

Back to TOP