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The Bolivians

Bolivians can be a strange bunch of people. The country is isolated between mountains and jungle and the people often reflect this, being both curious and suspicious of the outside world at the same time. As in most of the developing world, there is a large gap between those who were raised in the city with an education and an awareness that the rest of the world exists and those poor sods who grew up in the middle of nowhere. In Bolivia, however, there are many, many people who have grown up in near or total isolation in their remote communities.

Bolivians have a particularly keen sense of fatalism. The national motto seems to be Todo es posible, nada es seguro. That translates to ‘Anything is possible, nothing is certain.’ Ask, for example, if there will be a bus that day and the inevitable answer, accompanied by a shrug, is, ‘_Todo es posible, nada es seguro_.’ Ask if the road is open to the next town and people almost invariably will respond with the same. It’s fascinating somehow, if it doesn’t drive you insane.

Bolivians can often be kind and hospitable, though. It’s common practice for hotel owners, for example, if they know a young single man is travelling alone, to tell the next single female traveller who comes along that there are no more empty rooms, and that she’ll have to share the room with him for the night. At other times he might play a friendly joke on you by explaining that your friends have been taken by the police to the federal prison for some crime, remarking that they’re ‘_ratones_’, or criminals – only to return an hour later grinning with his three or four teeth that remain to tell you it’s all a joke and they are actually just in a different hotel.

Despite all this insanity, there are Bolivians who are interesting or easy to get along with. Younger Bolivians, in particular, who are familiar with tourists are often much easier to get along with than the campesinos or other more traditional people. People from the southern border with Argentina, especially, tend to have more of an idea about the rest of the world and its values.

Bolivians are a proud people, and there are few beggars in the street. Many Bolivians are happy to invite a foreigner out to a meal and pay for it as a gesture of hospitality. When hiking in the countryside, campesinos will often invite you into their homes and offer whatever food they have as a gesture of generosity. These moments of kindness and hospitality are some of the best to be experienced on a trip to Bolivia.

M.J. Lloyd

James Tramplefoot has been, and will continue to be on the road indefinitely, for years and probably decades.