April 9, 2012

Bolivia Recap

Cholas are the older generation of women who wear traditional clothing – multilayered skirts, blouses, shawls with fringe, bowler hats, long braids with tassels on the ends, and brightly colored slings that they use to carry anything and everything.

When we first crossed the border into Bolivia the Cholas were such a treat to see; however eventually, we didn’t even flinch when we saw them because they are everywhere. If a women is dressed in this way, it usually means that she speaks the native Incan language of Quechua.

They are usually quite shy and not very talkative with foreigners. Only once in two weeks did we see a Chola walking or talking with a man. It’s also very rare to see them interacting with or holding their children. The kids are almost always just slung around their backs.

An observation about Bolivian people in general, but in particular Cholas, is that they look older than they really are. It’s very common to see a Chola, who we would venture to be a young grandmother, carrying a baby on her back. It took us awhile to realize that these aren’t the grandmothers….they’re the mothers. We guess that it must be all of the sun exposure, coupled with their old-fashioned dress, that gives off this impression. They carry so much on their backs that we've seen elderly Cholas permanently slumped over.

One day during a very strange episode in the women’s restroom of the La Paz bus station, Katie got to see the Cholas behind the scenes. Several of them were letting their braids down and washing their hair in the sinks. It was quite a shock to find out that they were wearing braid extensions!

Seeing them on TV never got old.

The younger generation of Bolivian women are much more modern, which unfortunately means that this wonderful dress will eventually die off. From a visitor’s perspective, the Cholas of Bolivia are the country’s most obvious symbol. When we think of Bolivia, they are the first thing that comes to mind. In Uyuni, we saw a mural with the caption, “There’s no doubt that the strength of Bolivia is its women”.

Moving on...
The people here are really small. Case in point:

We’ve seen people wearing Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Reds and Purdue Boilermakers clothing. Every time we spot one of these super fans, we go running up to them to let them know that we have a connection to the team on their shirt. Every time they look at us like we’re aliens. They have no clue what we’re talking about. We really wonder where they get this stuff.

Random observation: they have almost entirely female butchers. Not that it matters, but it just looked funny at first.

The value scale in Bolivia is all out of whack. It might cost $5 for a 4-course meal but $4 for a beer. On the other hand, Bolivia’s currency is so devalued that it’s like using Monopoly money. Those are hundreds I’m holding…

The Wiphala is a flag seen commonly around Bolivia. It’s a brightly colored flag that represents the people of the Andes and the four former regions of the Inca Empire. We liked how outside of important government buildings, like the parliament in La Paz, both the Bolivian and Wiphala flags are flown.

And finally, Bolivia is obsessed with not having an ocean. In La Paz we kept seeing posters with huge naval ships and young men dressed in uniforms that are strikingly similar to American naval uniforms. It wasn’t until we got to Lake Titicaca that it all made sense. Their navy is for their lake! They have boys, who look no more than 15 years old, in uniform and an intimidating armada of about 3 boats. Hey, the lake is beautiful so I’m not going to judge. 
Go on Bolivian Navy, defend your mighty seas!

Another sign that they’re in denial? Our hotel reservation at Lake Titicaca said “ocean view”.

Bolivian food is just as colorful as their clothing. Within our first couple of days, we were able to eat beets, green beans, corn, carrots, peas, spinach, tomatoes, apples, peaches and grapes. This was much appreciated coming from Argentina.

A big thing in Bolivia is the executive lunch menu. This means that a restaurant serves three or four set courses at a flat rate, which is usually quite inexpensive. There's  nothing to order from...you just pick your restaurant based on the set menu that’s announced on a chalkboard along the street.

Pan Integral – wheat bread! Not very tasty, but at least it was nice to have the option.

Saltenas – empanadas, but the dough is different (and better) than the kind we had in Argentina. Or maybe we’re just sick of empanadas and it’s nice to switch things up a bit.

Trucha and Pejerrey – trout and king fish, respectively. Specialties of Lake Titicaca.

"Mexican Food" – we had gone nearly 2.5 months without even a hint of Mexican food. Then out of the blue, almost every restaurant in Copacabana had some sort of Mexican offering. One night Katie ordered trout tacos from the lake and Steve ordered chicken nachos. We had to laugh at Bolivia’s version of “Mexican food”. Both our tacos and nachos had carrots and green beans. Katie’s tacos were more like a mix between an enchilada and a burrito. The tortilla chips used in Steve’s nachos were Doritos. What a brilliant idea! Why serve boring old tortilla chips when you can kick it up a notch with Doritos? Add this to our list of business ideas.

Tuna – prickly pear cactus fruit. You throw the skin away and the inside is the consistency of a kiwi. There are so many seeds that it’s best not to chew the fruit, but rather to just swallow it with seeds and all.

Pasancallas – big puffy popped corn that was sold in massive quantities in Copacabana. You could buy a bag for 20, 30, 40 or 50 Bolivianos! We saw several people carrying their big bags of pasancallas into church with them.

Tumbo – a small oval-shaped fruit that tastes like a sweet passion fruit. Apparently it’s uncommon, so we enjoyed it in juice form in La Paz as much as possible.

Ice Cream – Canela (cinnamon), which came highly recommended by a local, but tasted like we were eating a stick of Big Red chewing gum. Thumbs down.

Floats – outside of Copacabana’s church on Easter morning, there were women selling Coke Floats. Instead of ice cream, they use whipped cream. And instead of Coke, our little server girl inexplicably gave us non-alcoholic beer.

Llamas, donkeys, goats and sheep with tassels in their ears or around their necks.

Vicunas – an endangered species of llama that is unfortunately hunted for their very soft fur. They are skinner and smaller than llamas and only live at 3,600-4,500 meters elevation.

Biscacha – a cross between a rabbit and a kangaroo.


-  La Torre (Tupiza)
-  Hostal Sol Andino (La Paz)
-  Hotel a la Maison (boutique hotel in La Paz)
-  Villa Bonita (Coroico)
-  Hotel Utama (Copacabana)

-  The Cholas of Bolivia
-  Salar de Uyuni trip with Gemma and Dave from the UK
-  Helping two teenagers with their English homework in Uyuni
-  La Paz: good meals, spectacular miradors, Iglesia San Francisco and shopping the oddities
-  Hotel a la Maison in La Paz...the most normal living situation since the start of our trip
-  Mountain biking The Death Road
-  Our bungalow in Coroico
-  Good Friday and Easter in Copacabana

Everything in Bolivia is so inexpensive – from lodging and food to activities and clothes. That said, within 12 hours of arriving in Bolivia, we had already been borderline swindled by our tour company and hostel. When companies here make mistakes, they fully admit to them, but they also fully expect you to cover the cost of their errors. It is frustrating and unsettling, but it’s their culture and there’s not much we could do about it.

More time: Potosi (mines), Sucre (town), Rurrenabaque (jungle)

We needed to get caught up on a bunch of to-do items, so we took some extra days in La Paz and checked ourselves into a boutique hotel that had at least decent Internet speed. It was just like old times living in a nicely furnished apartment! We now have a signed lease for our San Diego condo, flights for the second half of our trip, and a game plan for the rest of South America. It was good to recuperate a bit, but we also felt a little stir-crazy after awhile.

We are so immersed in this Spanish thing that we catch ourselves automatically speaking Spanish to one another.

We’ve spent 3 weeks at 10,000+ feet elevation, so we are feeling ready and excited for our Machu Picchu hike coming soon!


  1. Steve and Katie..I feel bad having to be the one to tell you this...but Taco Bell now sells a Dorito shelled taco. Your Dorito idea has been taken! Perhaps they visited Bolivia before you did :)
    On another note, keep it up. I am loving your posts!

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