Returning to my least favourite country in the world (Bolivia). Why on earth??
A little over 3 years ago as I made my way through the riots in La Paz, Bolivia, I muttered to myself that I despised this country so much I would never return. My last visit to Bolivia introduced me to what I am sure are the worlds rudest people and put simply a filthy country which is out to get you. After having tours cancelled due to killing of locals/tourists in the area, persistent gun shots and street riots and feeling genuinely concerned for my safety, I made it well known just how little I thought of this country and that there is nothing in this world that would ever make me return.
I have to say, one of the biggest lessons in life – never say never!
A few days ago I crossed the border of Peru into Bolivia. The bus company was Bolivian and everything I would come to expect from a Bolivian company. The overnight bus was filthy and the seats we paid for, were not the seats we received. Instead the bus stops numerous times during the night picking up locals along the way who crowd your cabin and are very open to taking your belongings should you close your eyes for a few seconds and drop your guard. At the border you are dumped, with no instructions what-so-ever. When you finally fumble your way across to the Bolivian side the bus company has failed to give you the correct border paperwork and also failed to mention you need to buy it from a local store. Unfortunately my friend received a fine for not having the correct stamps in her passport and of course there is no facility to obtain large amounts of money at the border. Whilst trying to solve the situation, by literally asking strangers if we could borrow the money, the bus driver so kindly informed us (please note heavy sarcasm) to get our bags off the bus so he could dump us at the border so the bus could leave. Fortunately some very kind Americas loaned us the money we needed and we weren’t required to re-enter Peru to obtain money to pay the ridiculous fine.
I arrived into Copacabana feeling that my initial experiences only reiterated what I already thought of Bolivia. After trying all of the towns ATM’s to pay back the Americans and being unable to take out any cash, as it turns out that the ATM’s stop working for certain times of the day. The Bolivian woman who explained this thought it was rather amusing that we thought the ATM’s were out of cash or broken given that ALL of them would not dispense, but no… apparently we were just trying to take out cash at the wrong time of day. How foolish of us!
We then checked in to possibly the worst hotel I have ever stayed in. The receptionist, who would literally give you the look of death or simply not respond if you attempted to speak with her threw a key to a dirty room at us. The bathroom was filthy, there was no toilet seat and nor had the toilet been cleaned since someone last emptied their bowels into it. Later we discovered that the shower had no pressure nor the hot water that was promised and later running water ceased all together. Of course if you dared to ask the receptionist to resolve these issues she would look at you like you had asked her to axe each of her family members one by one. And then do nothing.
It is no surprise that I quickly moved on from Copacabana to La Paz where I of course was very keen to get as swiftly as possible on to another bus to Sucre (the only decent city in Bolivia I had been told). Of course the bus fails to deliver what is promised. Like that it is a direct bus, of which it most certainly wasn’t or that there would be a working toilet on this 15 hours bus ride (once again – no toilet). After my friends bag having been stolen from next to me on a bus in Chile some months ago I now have a new respect for how cunning these thieves are and lock my smaller backpack physically to the bus. So you can imagine my joy when I awoke to find my bag dragged into the aisle where someone had clearly attempted to steal it from under my seat whilst I was asleep.
At this point you may be wondering why on earth I persist with a country like this, one I so openly dislike and the country I can easily title as my least favorite country in the world. Why on earth am I here?
Well the answer to that is simple … travel friendships.
When you travel for long periods of time, especially solo, the people you meet can make or break your experience. Fortunately most people you meet are worth their weight in gold and some so much so that if they tell you they want to travel next to Bolivia (the country you hate), you willingly compromise and jump on a filthy bus because their companionship literally means the world to you. So I find myself here in Bolivia continuing to study Spanish for no other reason than I absolutely adore my current travel buddy. Having met roughly a month ago now, this fellow Australian lit up my first Spanish lesson and I have never looked back. Finding someone who is completely on your level, beyond easy to travel with and who makes your travel experience far greater than you could ever imagine is rare and when you are a backpacker exposed to crappy hostels, horrible food, endless tummy troubles and sleepless nights on buses you need someone to laugh it all off with you. No matter what happens or where we end up, I know I can count on this new friend of mine to leave me in stitches and for that … yes I would (and have) travel back to Bolivia.
Anyone who has travelled will understand the power of travel friendships. They are quick to ignite, often short lasting but live on in your heart forever. They are the best kind of friendships because very little is expected but so much is received. They are the reason you find yourself doing things you never thought you would do and the reason you are smiling ear to ear whilst some of the rudest people in the world try to rip you off for the nth time. So while I may not love or even like Bolivia, as long as I am here with my travel buddy I know will enjoy myself immensely.