After South Africa, we didn’t come across a lot of strange stories. But during our three weeks in Bolivia, we heard quite a few interesting, hilarious, and creepy stories. Some of them we heard in our RED CAP city tour although I could not find proove for all of them on the internet. So please enjoy this article with a healthy dose of skepticism!
1. During their 192 years of independence, Bolivia had over 100 coups d’etat, you know, where they overthrow the government by force. That’s the world record.
2. When the shoemaker fixes your shoes but can’t find a sole in the right size (because you have gigantic feet for bolivian standards), he will just cut it out of an old tire and glue that to the shoe.
3. A long time ago, the president of Brazil came over to visit the president of Bolivia. He brought with him his entourage and a beautiful white horse. The bolivan president fell head over heels in love with this horse and offered everything you can think of for it. But the president of Brazil just wouldn’t give it to him. In the end, the president of Bolivia took a horseshoe, lay it on the map of Bolivia, and promised the Brazilian all the land that wasn’t covered by the horseshoe in exchange for the horse. Well, he got his horse… and Brazils territory got a little bigger.
4. First it was called “Alto Peru”, which means the “High Peru”. Then it was called Bolivar and then finally Bolivia. Since 2009, Bolivia is officially called the Plurinational State of Bolivia. This change was pushed by the president Morales who is the first indigenous president of Bolivia (still in power). The new name should bring more recognition to the various indigenous nations that live in Bolivia.
5. Okay, this one (and the next one) are definitely the most creepy ones! Most Bolivians are officially catholic but here the religion is mixed with a strong belief in Patcha Mama (Mother Earth) which comes with a lot of rituals that to us look a lot like witchcraft and sorcery. On the markets you find love potions, wood and altars for praying to Patcha Mama, and… wait for it… llama fetuses. Yes, that’s not a typo.
6. So, what are those for? Well, say you want to build a house. To make your undertaking successful, you would have to put a sacrifice into the foundation of the house. And that would preferably a… llama fetus! But what if you are building something bigger, like a bridge or a tall skyscraper? A llama fetus won’t be enough of course. You would need: A HUMAN! But how do you find a person that would agree to be buried alive in the foundation of a building as a sacrifice for Patcha Mama? Well, it’s tough! So common practice seems to be to find a homeless person, make sure he doesn’t have any family that would look for him, get him really drunk, and then put him into the cement when he is unconscious. You might find this hard to believe (we too), however, there are lot of stories around La Paz that seem to give some evidence that this cruel practice is still happening. In this country, every tall building may also be a tomb…
7. Wrestling cholitas. Traditionally dressed women with their layered skirts, their hats, and their colorful blanket are called cholitas. When you see one, they look very poised and respectable. Well, on Sunday evenings you can see some of them in action: wrestling (the American crazy play acting kind of way) each other as well as male opponents. It’s a family event here in El Alto. Lots of kids cheering for their favorite characters while throwing food and waste at their opponents. One of the strangest things we’ve ever seen probably.
8. The Bolivians like to go on strike. Almost every day you’ll see a (small or large) amount of people in the street demonstrating for or against something. Once, when a tv channel announced to take The Simpsons of their program, tons of people dressed up as Homer, Marge, or any other character, and walked to their building. As a result, it aires not one but three episodes of The Simpsons each day – at prime time of course.
9. The current president had the wonderful idea to increase the Bolivian population by putting an exorbitant tax on condoms. He had to abandon the idea when faced with massive protests. Instead he said he will put a special tax on women above 18 who do not have a child. Massive protests again, of course. Finally, he agreed to offer financial support for women that have a child, which seems quite reasonable (unlike his other ideas).
10. The clock (called the clock of the South) on the National Congress of Bolivia is mirrored and it’s going counterclockwise. Its supposed to be a symbol for turning back the time and to undo all the harm that has been done to the Bolivian citizens during the colonization.
11. So we walk around the biggest flea market in South America, the one in El Alto just outside of La Paz. It’s noisy, it’s crowded, you can buy everything from dead snakes, to football jerseys, to piglets, to car parts, to bras, to chicken feet. And there’s this man standing next to a book on male anatomy and explaining the function of the prostate to some mates. His voice is enhanced by a speaker so it travels for several meters across the market.
Then of course there are the little things like no hot water in the kitchen or in the bathroom sink. Sometimes not even in the shower so you better check those reviews in Booking.com and Airbnb carefully! There are traffic lights but it’s more like some fancy decoration. Hygiene is a little underrated to say the least. The tab water isn’t treated so for us sensitive tourists it can be a bit too much. It’s normal to drop your trash wherever you want. And if you want to know what the future will bring you simply consult a clairvoyant on the Sunday market (make sure he or she was indeed struck by a lightning, otherwise he is a charlatan!). Also, at about 3000 meters above sea level, water boils already at 80 or 85 degrees – which in turn leads to very undercooked yet somehow mushy pasta and rice. Still, Bolivia is culturally probably the most interesting country we have visited since South Africa.
Hope you enjoyed this little article about all the (let’s call them) INTERESTING things we have come to known in Bolivia!
Lots of love ❤️
Wiebke & Clément