Wry Exchange

Thinking of Bolivia
12-09-07, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Culture, Home | Tags: , ,

 Excerpted from Britain’s The Telegraph: The poorest country in South America with a GNI per capita of US$890 (World Bank, 2003), Bolivia has traditionally lacked the resources to promote its fledgling tourism industry. Latest figures (2003) from the Bolivian Ministry of Tourism indicate just 352,575 annual foreign tourist arrivals.  ‘Spot the Gringo’ isn’t an easy game to play in Santa Cruz.  But I really didn’t feel stared at all that much.  I’m very pale, and I did not blend in at all.  Most gringos I saw were either exchange students or (probably) former exchange students turned backpackers.  The population of Bolivia is 8.7 million, of which 70 per cent live below poverty line at latest estimates, many surviving on just US$2 a day.   One of the exchange students held up a Victoria’s Secret lipgloss with a $10.00 price tag, and told me a family in the country could live on that for a week.   That made a huge impression on me.  How much money do I just piss away thoughtlessly?

The indigenous population is in the majority in Bolivia, accounting for 62 per cent. Overall the ethnic groups are comprised of 30 per cent Quechua speakers and 25 per cent Aymara speakers; only 45 per cent of the population regard Spanish as their mother tongue.    Sparky’s mom told me the new report cards for the students must be in Spanish and an indigenous language, even if no one at the school knows that language.   At the Americn school, the principal was concerned that Evo may close down private primary and high schools.  Evo has said that there will still be private colleges.

This high percentage of indigenous people lends Bolivia a strong ethnic influence, making it hugely diverse – but also provoking regular stand-offs between indigenous groups and what is perceived as the European-descended European political elite.   Several dozen people have been on a hunger strike in Santa Cruz for the last week.  The block is closed off to vehicular traffic, but people can walk past them.  My opinion is that Evo doesn’t care if they strike until they die, it’ll just be a few less protesters.   “European-descended political elite” seems to be a synonym for ‘white.’   There is definitely an ‘us vs. them’ mentality in Santa Cruz.

The north/south divide is alive and well and living in Bolivia. Strongly influenced by the climate, the south, with Santa Cruz as its economic powerhouse capital, is tropical and Latino with a strong outdoor culture. The high-altitude Altiplano, however, with La Paz as its primary city, is colder, more reserved and more formal.

According to the World-wide Quality of Life Survey (Mercer Human Resource Consulting, March 2005) La Paz ranks in 135th place, behind Latin American urban centres Buenos Aires (78), Santiago (81), Rio de Janeiro (116) and Lima (123). Santa Cruz comes in at 143 behind Caracas (138) and Bogota (141).  

I am still thinking about my time in Bolivia, and I’m not finished writing about it yet.  I’m also thinking a lot about my relationship with Sparky, and if we will even have one in the future.  I wrote to him, and left future contact up to him.  I know him well enough that if I push him, it won’t work. 


1 Comment so far
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Hi, I really enjoy reading your posts about Bolivia! I am travelling there myself in January and I am trying to find some good blogs on Bolivia. Keep up the good work!

Comment by turvyc

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