This Ban Is Confort: Bolivia

I had a great time in Bolivia. I have to admit I was nervous before I went– that it would be cold and depressing, that I’d spend the whole time arguing with my brother, that I’d get sick. Well, I caught a cold on the plane, I got a little turista at one point, and the altitude was difficult. But the food was great, and it was really genuinely wonderful to hang out with my brother. I’d forgotten or never realized how much we have in common.

If I wrote a book on Bolivia I’d have to have a chapter about weird imported culture stuff. Things like a minibus with the bumper-sticker “This Ban Is Confort” (meaning, “this van is comfortable.”) Or jamón translated as “jam” instead of “ham.” The discos called “America” and “Hentai,” and the clothing store “Lolita.”

I’d also have to have a chapter about futile and useless political distractions. They exist in every country (e.g. the US focusing on Iraq, flag-burning and gay marriage instead of Afghanistan, AIDS, and poverty), but Bolivia’s are particularly amusing: an angry debate about whether to move the seat of government from La Paz to join the judicial capital in Sucre, the president picking a fight with FIFA over whether official soccer matches can be held above 10,000 feet, and the hundred-odd-years of resenting the loss of its coastline to Chile in 1879. To this day, there is a museum in La Paz dedicated to that shore.

And there’d be something about economics. Labor is cheap in Bolivia. Very cheap. A housekeeper makes $5/day. A 30-minute taxi ride across town costs $2 (although on downhills, the driver may turn off the engine and coast to save gas). A can of Red Bull costs $2.50, just like in the US, but a Red Bull and vodka in a bar costs about $3.50 instead of maybe $8.00.

Things that you’d never imagine doing in the US seem totally logical there. Having a party with more than five or six people? Hire a bartender for $25. Megan and I signed up for a 1-day tour of Lake Titicaca that cost $108 for the two of us. It turned out to be a private tour: our fee got us a car with a driver for the whole day, a boat with a captain for most of the afternoon, a well-trained guide, and lunch for us, the guide, and the driver. You get spoiled. At one point, I thought it might be nice to wash some of our clothes, and my brother and his girlfriend said “well, the maid’s not coming again til Wednesday, so I don’t think we can.” Then we all looked at each other and they began to laugh: they had forgotten it was possible to wash your own clothes.

Tomorrow: pictures, and anecdotes about airport security, bribes, passports, and Andean sushi.

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