Left breathless by Bolivia

A little over a week ago, upon arriving in Bolivia, our nerves were slightly shaken by the realisation that the concept of hitchhiking does not exist here. The ‘thumbs up’ approach is more likely to result in us being mistaken for beggars, as we have found out to our embarrassment following several offers of loose change. 

Likewise, we were confidently informed that while it may be possible elsewhere, “Bolivia is different”.

Given that we’ve made as much progress this week as any other, we’ve decided to relax.  It is true, however, that hitching is different. There’s more of the ‘approach and ask’ technique, and rather than always travelling up front with the driver, this week has seen us twice riding in the back of a truck.

The first was on Monday as we headed north for Potosi, and the second on Friday as we swooped eastwards towards our weekend destination of Cochabamba. The latter was a 10-hour crawl as we secured our status as ‘slowest vehicle on the road’, our drivers also neglecting throughout the ride to offer us a toilet break. Two days later, we think our bladders have just about righted themselves.

Bolivia has not only taken its toll on our urinary tracts; it has been deleterious for our respiratory systems too.

The first impact has been due to the altitude – we have been travelling at heady heights since Salta, Argentina and this week reached a peak of 4,496m. Clambering up the streets in La Paz, the world’s ‘highest administrative capital’ at 3,640m, left our hearts thumping as if we were carrying five sacks of potatoes having not exercised in a year.  Thankfully, we were able to fall back on the medicinal properties of coca tea, a caffeine-equivalent stimulant favoured by locals to lessen the effects of altitude sickness.

The second has been the noxious, putrefying vehicle fumes that have been slowly but certainly forming a thick film over our airways. Standing amidst the traffic waiting for lifts; staggering up the steep hills of the cities; even sitting in the open-air trucks, which one would suppose would provide some kind of natural air conditioning, has left us spluttering and gagging at the offensive odours. We’re assuming our lungs will recover eventually?

By way of sheltering from the smog, Wednesday saw us putting our vocabulary to the test and taking a trip to the hairdressers. This experience proved that if you are asked to point to a photograph in order to demonstrate the style you are after, you will indeed end up sporting this do.

To redress these wrongs, we have taken comfort in the culinary delight of the pique macho, a delicious dish of meat, potato, olives, onions and the occasional sneaky chilli (that’s where the ‘macho’ element comes in). Simple and wonderful – so much so that we have opted for it three times in not many more days.

Total number of lifts: 63
Week Eight distance travelled: 1162 km
Total distance travelled: 8751 km



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