Bolivia Stories and Tips

Bolivian Streets’ Survival Guide

Huayna Potosi Photo, Bolivia, South America

I must apologize for this entry. Usually I try to write funny and informative entries, but as we share the good moments, there is no choice but share some of the bad ones. And if sharing my bad moments prevents other travellers of experiencing them, then it was worth writing and reading them. Some of the following paragraphs are quite funny and describe misadventures awaiting visitors in an unknown culture; others are gloomy facts regarding the sad reality in Bolivia.

Conquering the Gap
Different cultures have quite different body language and diverse ways to manage life in a polite fashion. Here, Bolivians are unique in more than one way. One of the more peculiar Bolivian practices is what people do when approaching from different sides to a narrow gap or passage on a street. In most cultures, someone will give way, and get it for himself afterwards. In Bolivia, doing so will result in the person giving way waiting forever. The local convention says people approaching a gap will enter it sideways and will not stop even if that means creating close physical contact with the person approaching from the other side. It may seem a trifle, but in the over-congested Bolivian cities, that may turn to be a serious and tiring issue.

The Blockade
A related issue is the blockade. Bolivians walking in small groups tend to spread out on the sidewalk and create a tiny blockade; saying "permiso" would solve usually the problem, except when the blockade is a trap. Sometimes, two or three people appearing from nowhere block the way of an innocent pedestrian. At a random moment they stop and prevent him from walking forward. At that exact moment, an accomplice approaches from behind and pick ups the victim’s wallet.

Mind the Gap
I always wonder at the ability of Bolivians to walk while looking straight ahead. If "Mind the Gap" signs were in use by the local municipalities, all of them would overlap since there is no one straight sidewalk in the whole country. Please "Mind the Gap" and walk looking down.

Watch Up!
The Bolivian sewer’s system is quite basic and many houses aren’t connected to it as it was in Medieval Europe. The result is sporadic splashes of liquids from the windows to the streets. Watch up!

ATM Alert
Bolivian cities have few ATM’s, making the job even easier for thieves. Even in those ATM’s protected by armed policemen it is not wise to withdraw money without a friend acting as a personal bodyguard.

A characteristic of Bolivian cities are the para-military units deployed everywhere, dressed up like Robocop; they are called "private guards" and are usually busy collecting money from the street-stall’s owners. If approached by one, do not follow them or show them any document, just ask firmly to see the green (official) police.

Standing like a Bolivian
The blockade is not the only problem awaiting innocent pedestrians in Bolivia. A more serious one is the organized crime, which according to local newspapers is coordinated and helped by the local police. A telling sign of an ongoing operation are the watchers (called here "mirones") placed around the place. An idle Bolivian standing in a street corner is a good reason to move away quickly.

If Robbed
During my stay in Bolivia, I was attacked eight times: seven in the open streets and one in a bus. The decrepit Bolivian buses have a single door and once inside, you are trapped. The streets are very crowded and facilitate the work of thieves, who work in teams of two or three. Bolivians around the victim won’t help in any way. Complaining at the police headquarters, so that a proof that documents and money were stolen would be issued and the issuing process of new documents would begin is a painful process that can take over a month.

Green Police
I’ve never seen a city with so many police officers; you cannot walk one h

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