I’m back in Europe now, after four months or so away. Just before I left Bolivia, Leonie and I went for dinner to a great little restaurant in Cochabamba. As in the rest of Bolivia, the people in this place were super friendly. We got talking to the owner and his pal. They asked about our time in Bolivia, and we told them about a few of the places we’d been to and that we’d had a great time
‘What did you think of Uyuni?’ one guy asked. Uyuni are these (apparently) spectacular salt plains in the south of Bolivia.
We hadn’t been there.
Hadn’t been there either.
‘The jungle to the north? It’s part of the Amazon, you know.’
No. We haven’t been there either.
In those four months away, we’d spent two in Bolivia, been we hadn’t been to any of those highlights and part of most tourist packages for the country.
What the hell had we been doing in all that time? We had this conversation in that restaurant two days before I was about to leave Bolivia, and now I had an impossible list of things to do. I was so close to all these amazing sights and places, but had never been there and now no chance of getting to all of them in two days. Pretty much every tourist sees these things when they come to Bolivia. Later, when I meet and talk with someone who’s been to the country, they’ll ask what I thought of all these places and I won’t have an answer. Although we never set out with the intention to travel in Bolivia – we’re not on holiday, after all – I still wondered what I would tell this person.
Yes, I’d spent two months in Bolivia, but no, I hadn’t seen any of these magnificent places. Instead, we stayed most of our time at our friends’ house, working.
Of course, we weren’t working all the time. On the first Friday of the month, we celebrated Pachamama with Marlies and Abad. It’s a traditional offering to Mother Earth, and she doesn’t mind if we have a barbecue and a few beers to mark the occasion too.
Then there were the parties. A birthday party and the Easter weekend in beautiful little village of Yambata. On the way there we visited Toro Toro Park, famous for its dinosaur footprints, and the nearby Cidade de Itas, which was too spectacular to ever forget.
We’ve been to a couple of other Bolivian cities too. But even there we didn’t see too much of the tourist sites. We were only in Tarija for two days and, before we’d even checked into our hotel, we’d been invited to a wedding. Bolivian weddings last at least two days, so we only had enough time to rush a coffee at the main square and town. Hardly a moment to appreciate its colonial grandeur.
After that was Sucre, the capital. At least we saw that. Even there, we spent much of our time once again enjoying Bolivian hospitality with Marlies and Abad’s family. They made us feel very welcome, and we loved hearing them all (mum, dad and five kids) talk about Bolivia and answering their questions about Europe.
I don’t know when I’ll be back in Bolivia. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to see any of those amazing places ever again. And, I now realise that if another tourist ever asks about my time there, we won’t be able to compare our visits to the top sights, but I’m sure we’ll be able to spend a whole evening swapping stories about the parties we danced at, the chicha we drank, all the food we pigged out on, and all the people who went out of their way to make us feel at home in their home.
When I think about all that, I don’t feel like I missed anything in Bolivia, and anyway, it’s always good to have a reason to go back to a place. And there are still many reasons to go back to Bolivia.