Vagablogging Field Report: piranha bites, bizarre landscapes, buses and battling bowel problems in Bolivia
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
My good friend Alex was bitten by a piranha whilst attempting to swim with pink river dolphins outside of Rurrenabaque. Our guide had assured us that the alligators lining the rivers edge and the piranhas dwelling within the brown water wouldn’t bother us, because they were scared of the dolphins. One rogue fish, however found Alex’s fleshy thigh too enticing and decided to attach it’s toothy grin to him. He was left with a series of tooth marks and a good story to regale fellow travelers with. Unfortunately after telling his story and revealing his battle scar people were rather disappointed that there wasn’t a sizeable chunk of flesh missing. Our guide informed us after the incident that the attacker hadn’t been a piranha, but some form of sardine. We quickly established that our guide was wrong, because being bitten by a river sardine doesn’t make for nearly as good a story.
Describe a typical day:
One day I may be cruising down a tributary of the Amazon spotting capybara, alligators and howler monkeys, whereas another day I might find myself strolling around seemingly infinite salt flats or racing down the so called death road astride a mountain bike. The diverse landscape has ensured that each day is quite unique. The most consistent element day to day has been the lack of consistency of my……..you know. My own experience as well as those relayed to me by other travellers indicates that diarrhea seems to be an inevitable side effect of travel in Bolivia.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
During a tour of the Salar de Uyuni I met Rafa and his wife Lucia, a married couple from La Paz. They spoke passionately about their love of Quinoa, a grain-like crop grown and devoured throughout Bolivia. Their affection for the edible seeds was infectious and I became excited about the prospect of eating some myself. For the next meal our guide prepared some Quinoa and Rafa and Lucia smiled and looked at me expectantly as I took my first mouth full. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t set my world alight and I failed to see how anyone could get so excited over it. Of course I didn’t convey these sentiments to the friendly Bolivianos awaiting my verdict but instead told them how delectable it was. This appeared to truly fill them with joy.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Bolivia is a cheap country to travel through and the people, despite being amongst the poorest in South America, are extremely friendly and laid back. The incredible array of landscapes in such a small geographical space allows for a wealth of outdoor activities from extreme sports, such as mountaineering to more laid back pursuits like wildlife watching.
Personally my favourite part of Bolivia was the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding landscape. Expansive, blinding white salt flats, pink and green salt lakes, curious rock formations and immense volcanoes somehow provide a bizarre 4 day jeep journey and somehow make geology interesting.
I disliked the havoc the local cuisine wreaked upon my bowels. The long, bumpy bus journeys were comfortably the worst I’ve experienced in South America and were made more trying by the lack of functioning toilet on board. As you can imagine having the squirts on an 8 hour bus ride with no toilet can be decidedly inconvenient.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Finding food that I could trust or actually wanted to consume was difficult at times. Bolivianos love fried food, particularly chicken, which isn’t something that I’m ever going to be particularly excited about, however it appeared to be the only option in certain areas. At least the food doesn’t cost much.
What new lesson did you learn?
I love Bolivia and wish to return one day, however there is no denying that the quality of food in a destination makes a huge difference to my level of enjoyment and general mood. In fact, I’ve come to realize that I could happily travel somewhere just for the food alone.
Northern Chile for a brief stint before returning to the USA