May 17 – They’ve had the same government since we got here!
The ride uphill was nowhere near as scary as the ride down. And it was probably nothing like riding down in a vehicle that at times was wider than the road. (A couple times we saw big trucks with all of it’s passengers hanging over one side to help weigh it down as it passed certain slim portions of the road).
It was great going backward and seeing all that I had missed or was going too fast to notice. Like, vertical farming done on the sides of the mountains. Or the dogs stationed at points on the road rumored to be the ghosts of accidents past (it was customary for drivers to throw ‘offerings’ to the dogs for good luck – had no one told us we would have mistaken this custom for littering).
We passed the pink bridge in Yolosa and some people were painting it yellow, the color of the other political party. Karin says government street teams cruise the country painting and re-painting things their color.
If something is not pink or yellow, it is usually decorated with a rainbow. This did not signify gay pride, as I thought much of Bolivia did till now, but for support of the coca farmers. Coca (not to be confused with cocoa) is widely used for numerous legal applications like tea or oral sedation. However, what makes this the biggest cash crop in Sudamerica is it’s ability to be refined into cocaine. This reality poses such a threat to the U.S.A. that our country makes deals with the Bolivian government. We will give them money to crack down on cocaine production so long as they pretend to do it. And if not money we will at least not harass them like we did Honduras or Nicaragua. But the thing is, with the almost 200 governments Bolivia’s had in the last 200 years the easiest and most profitable crop for Bolivian farmers with no hope of a government-enabled economy is coca. Hence the support for the coca farmers, hence the rainbow flags.
Back in La Paz, Karin went to the office to catch up on some work while The Collins and I wandered around absorbing city life. The first thing I noticed was that I was taller than just about everybody. This is no small feat, so to speak. In addition to being short, I spotted nobody my age. By all outward appearances Bolivians were either under 20 or over 40. Karin says that with all the pollution and disease and geographical oddities like altitude and the intensity of the sun, the average life expectancy is about 40. So, perhaps there were people my age but they just looked misleadingly young or uncharacteristically old.
Another interesting trait of the Bolivians is their form of savings. There is little trust in the bank system here so as one saves money they often turn it into a gold tooth cap. It made sense, you always knew where your money was. But then, so did everyone else.
All the world’s soccer teams hate playing in La Paz not only because it takes a week for an athlete to acclimate to the thin air, but also because the ball tends to go higher and farther than it does elsewhere in the world. Only the Bolivians are adept enough to control the anomaly.
We met up with Karin and went to the grocery store for some essentials like toothpaste and local chocolate. We also picked up some TVP balls which Karin promised would make the most succulent balls we’ll ever have. She also told me that her receptionist had just given notice and if I was interested in a job…
While Karin was preparing the balls I tried to take a shower. I reached into the darkened bathroom for the light switch and dug my finger right into a power socket. Thankfully I didn’t get a jolt, especially since the outlets in Bolivia deliver about twice as much power as the outlets back home.
I wasn’t so lucky with the shower, though. A standard Sudamerican shower brings water in from the pipes and runs it through an electric heater located at the nozzle. This usually makes for a soft shower because the more pressure you use, the less chance the water has to get heated. But with Karin’s shower there was no ground so if you touched any part of the shower while in the water you completed a circuit and received the aforementioned 220 volts. Karin told us this when we arrived late on our first night in Bolivia but it’s the important things like that that are the first to slip my memory.
Karin’s balls were indeed succulent. And potent.
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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