Bolivia is maybe one of the last countries where not every single cm is „discovered“. The most stunning discovery for me was that they seem to have no mirrors.
Recently I had to chance to spend 2 weeks in Bolivia, and they were surprising and amazing. In the whole time I travelled around the country, I have only seen one mirror in one of the hostels bathrooms. All the other places – even private places – did not have them. My mind was intrigued. What was the deal with that? Is it something cultural or religious? Are mirrors bad and taking your soul? Are Bolivians vampires?
To be honest, I still don’t know for sure what it was, but it was actually very refreshing not to worry or care about appearance for 2 weeks. The most realistic guess about the mirrors I have, is that they are just too expensive. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, more than half of the 11 Million inhabitants live in poverty with less than USD 2 a day. 4 Millions are under 18 and a shocking number of 400’000 of them have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
Yes, this is not the usual information you get as a tourist. But you know me, I am not the usual tourist, I like to go somewhere where I can help and do something to make it better. In Bolivia, I even went so far as to leave them my iPhone. Ok, it got stolen, but still…
The second week in Bolivia I spent with Bolivia Digna, an NGO in Cochabamba that has the sole purpose to let kids be kids and care for their wellbeing. I was there again with the NGO Photographers Alliance, so our aim was to document the works of the NGO in order to help them raise more funds through quality images. You might remember my time in Ecuador with the same Alliance earlier this year. You’ll find a blog article about it here.
Bolivia Digna has 2 community centres in poor areas of Cochabamba. One of these communities still has no basic services like electricity or water, they live in small shacks close to the community centre. The NGO is present at the two centres every afternoon for 2 h, providing lessons, crafting and sports and allows the kids to be kids for 2 h a day. These kids have too many responsibilities already, some need to work or care for their younger siblings… all things a normal kid should not be forced to worry about.
The NGO only functions with volunteers, so in case you want to see Bolivia from a different kind of view, join them for some time.
Before my time in Cochabamba, I travelled around the Altiplano, in small villages near the Sajama volcano. Also here, not many tourists know about it, as most people go for the salt flats or Titicaca Lake. But you should consider the Sajama region, and bring warm clothes. This was the second big surprise in Bolivia. I knew nights will be a bit fresh since the Altiplano is over 3000 m high. But I was literally FREEZING every night there… I slept in thermal underwear under 3 blankets. And when I went out in the evenings to see the stars, I wore about 10 layers. So be prepared!
Sajama is an inactive volcano, around 6600 m high, it is the highest mountain in Bolivia ad one of the highest volcanos on earth. Since its base is on the altiplano at around 4200 m, it does not look that high though. In the area you have some hot springs and there are some climbers who go all the way up to the summit.
I chose not to do that. I mean I am Swiss and am used to mountains and heights, but any activity on 4200 m is very exhausting. And the path up to the first base camp was straight upwards…. So I decided to try the hot springs instead. It is very weird to walk about half an hour, right after sunrise, still covered in 6-7 layers, freezing – and then to just undress and get into the hot water… But that half hour in the sunlight was enough to get warm again and after the dip in that awesome natural pool, everything seemed warm. And the scenery was just awesome.
In general, the sceneries in Bolivia are breathtaking. The whole time there, the words of the Star Trek Intro kept ringing in my head: „Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.“
Ok, I admit it, I am a geek… but try to stand on a flat mountaintop in the altiplano with 360 degree view of remote, hardly touched land and not be completely in awe. The only sounds you hear are birds, bugs and some distant Llama or Alpaca noises.
And did I mention the colours? Even though it was very dry (more than usually at this time of year), the colours were amazing. The ground had all colours due to minerals and metals like iron or copper, mountains were striped in red, yellow and green… And then the people, with all these colourful blankets and everything. And then you get back to Europe, winter is coming and everyone is wearing black and grey, only the trees put on their best Indian summer autumn spectacle to lighten up your mood.
So, to make a long story short: No mirrors, no problems!
Have you ever been to Bolivia? What are your experiences?