As you can tell from the last four posts, I grew steadily more skeptical of finding a trace of hospitality in Bolivia, but as everything in life, we don’t evaluate the facts at hand and we always search for a better or more acceptable answer. To not believe the duck syndrome, we went deeper and deeper into Bolivia hoping to prove ourselves wrong.
When we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the city was in high fever for the upcoming carnival, the most extravagant event of the year. (I have to mention that Santa Cruz is a center of all things happening in Bolivia. It’s the most “modern” Bolivian city and supposedly this city holds the most educated, most open minded Bolivian population.)
Every year in Bolivia, people from all over the country organize the biggest party of the year, an ancient 40 days long Andean religious ceremony which with time has turned into a Catholic driven Virgin worshiping madness. And of course the Bolivians celebrate the last few days with incomprehensible amount of free flowing alcohol, nudity, fights, destruction and to cap it off, by showing their immaturity and rudeness in the truest possible way.
Watching this display of pandemonium on TV is one thing and being caught in the middle of it is another. Whether to blame these odd behaviors on Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Isozyme deficiency of the Bolivians who can’t have a drink and not be walking on their heads, or their general assholeness, this is a party to be avoided at all cost. It sorts of tries to mimic the famous Rio Carnival, but not really, as at least Brazilian girls are not miniature sized nor implausibly revolting. The performances are poor at its best as the whole group of dancers run wild with no imaginable coordination or grace, and to enhance the madness, children and adults of any age stand ready with water cannons to spray toxic un-washable paint at every living soul. The religious and ancient meaning of this event gets lost in devil dances, virgin miracles and other imaginary acts of valor from nonexistent figures that Bolivians wholeheartedly devote their life and respect to.
The biggest and most famous version of this lunacy happens in the piss-poor mountain town of Oruro, where the legends all come together to make the basis for this embellished event. This carnival costs hundreds of thousands dollars in each city and according to the locals; it’s not uncommon for the participants to spend 400 to 500 dollars on their splendid costumes – a big fortune in a country like Bolivia. A country where 80 percent of its population live under poverty, 23 percent of the entire population suffers from severe malnutrition, and is second in human development, corruption, diseases and mortality rate only to the post apocalyptic Haiti in Western Hemisphere. I guess coming second to a country ravaged by earthquake calls for a celebration of this magnitude.
The city of Santa Cruz was a fascinating city and not in a good way either. Leaving the ungodly stench aside, the city is cut with an invisible line. One part is filled with the lower class, selling anything and everything from cell phones to chicken milk with their malnourished children either begging or eating garbage off the ground wearing shredded cloths with their stomach the size of a blimp, and the other side, only a few blocks away, the rich drove their Mercedes, talked on their iPhones, and snaked on the food that they would throw at the poor like the pigeons. It’s no coincident that Bolivia is a high roller when it comes to income inequality to add to their distinctive “qualities”.
In this mayhem, we found a somewhat decent hotel and checked in. The constipated looking receptionist could have not been less rude or helpful. She downright refused to let us park the bike inside the garage, reasoning that there was not enough room to get passed by the only car that was parked inside and when we asked her that if she could move it, she claimed that it was broken and it never moved. After 15 minutes of arguing she finally agreed with an attitude that I could bring the bike inside only if I could get it in from the front door (so she didn’t have to move her ass off the chair). There was no way I was leaving the bike in the jungle outside so I cleared it with only millimeters on each side and parked it close to our room. (The next morning the broken car started right up in front of my eyes with no problem.)
If you remember, my camera box broke from the constant potholes in the first 200km in Bolivia, and I had been strapping it down and keeping it light until I found a shop that I could get it fixed. The problem was that I had an expensive camera in that box, and with the walls of the box collapsing, the strain was on the camera and with every bump the walls came in a little further. While riding around Santa Cruz, I found a metal and welding shop five blocks from the hotel and asked them if they could fix it, as I wasn’t going another mile with the box in that condition. They said “of course”, “no problem”, they even gave us a quote and told us that they would be open until 9pm.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we got to work and unloaded everything inside the box, unbolted the million bolts that were holding the box on the rack, and took it to the shop for repair right away. As we walked out of the hotel, one of the obnoxious drunken Bolivians that were standing on the corner sprayed us with his water gun full of paint. He saw us coming with a giant box in our hand, we had no carnival clothes on nor did we have any painting on our faces or clothes, yet he proceeded to shower us with paint.
We made it to the shop and to our disbelief (well we should have known by then), they refused to fix the box. Claiming that they didn’t have the right material first, and when I pointed at the pile of aluminum angle that they “didn’t have”, they just said we don’t wanna do it. When we asked them “so why in the hell did you say to bring the box here?” they just put up their shoulders and went back to drinking. This was new to me as refusing paid work takes a different kind of assholes than the ones I’ve already gotten used to in Bolivia. We walked back the five blocks, box in hand, and the same son of a bitch sprayed us again with paint gun.
There are a few times in my life that I truly hated a place, but I can’t think of single place that even comes close to Bolivia. I was done spending another dollar in this shithole of a country, we were going to get the hell out or at least try by sunrise.
When it’s in front of your eyes, don’t try to reason with it, fight it, or sugar coat it. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck – it ain’t going to be what you hoped it would be – it’s a fucking duck.