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April 17th, 2012 - The Damned Bolivia – Part Five

As you can tell from the last four posts, I grew steadily more skeptical of finding a trace of hospitality in Bolivia, but as everything in life, we don’t evaluate the facts at hand and we always search for a better or more acceptable answer. To not believe the duck syndrome, we went deeper and deeper into Bolivia hoping to prove ourselves wrong.

When we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the city was in high fever for the upcoming carnival, the most extravagant event of the year. (I have to mention that Santa Cruz is a center of all things happening in Bolivia. It’s the most “modern” Bolivian city and supposedly this city holds the most educated, most open minded Bolivian population.)

Every year in Bolivia, people from all over the country organize the biggest party of the year, an ancient 40 days long Andean religious ceremony which with time has turned into a Catholic driven Virgin worshiping madness. And of course the Bolivians celebrate the last few days with incomprehensible amount of free flowing alcohol, nudity, fights, destruction and to cap it off, by showing their immaturity and rudeness in the truest possible way.

Watching this display of pandemonium on TV is one thing and being caught in the middle of it is another. Whether to blame these odd behaviors on Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Isozyme deficiency of the Bolivians who can’t have a drink and not be walking on their heads, or their general assholeness, this is a party to be avoided at all cost. It sorts of tries to mimic the famous Rio Carnival, but not really, as at least Brazilian girls are not miniature sized nor implausibly revolting. The performances are poor at its best as the whole group of dancers run wild with no imaginable coordination or grace, and to enhance the madness, children and adults of any age stand ready with water cannons to spray toxic un-washable paint at every living soul. The religious and ancient meaning of this event gets lost in devil dances, virgin miracles and other imaginary acts of valor from nonexistent figures that Bolivians wholeheartedly devote their life and respect to.

The biggest and most famous version of this lunacy happens in the piss-poor mountain town of Oruro, where the legends all come together to make the basis for this embellished event. This carnival costs hundreds of thousands dollars in each city and according to the locals; it’s not uncommon for the participants to spend 400 to 500 dollars on their splendid costumes – a big fortune in a country like Bolivia. A country where 80 percent of its population live under poverty, 23 percent of the entire population suffers from severe malnutrition, and is second in human development, corruption, diseases and mortality rate only to the post apocalyptic Haiti in Western Hemisphere. I guess coming second to a country ravaged by earthquake calls for a celebration of this magnitude.

The city of Santa Cruz was a fascinating city and not in a good way either. Leaving the ungodly stench aside, the city is cut with an invisible line. One part is filled with the lower class, selling anything and everything from cell phones to chicken milk with their malnourished children either begging or eating garbage off the ground wearing shredded cloths with their stomach the size of a blimp, and the other side, only a few blocks away, the rich drove their Mercedes, talked on their iPhones, and snaked on the food that they would throw at the poor like the pigeons. It’s no coincident that Bolivia is a high roller when it comes to income inequality to add to their distinctive “qualities”.

In this mayhem, we found a somewhat decent hotel and checked in. The constipated looking receptionist could have not been less rude or helpful. She downright refused to let us park the bike inside the garage, reasoning that there was not enough room to get passed by the only car that was parked inside and when we asked her that if she could move it, she claimed that it was broken and it never moved. After 15 minutes of arguing she finally agreed with an attitude that I could bring the bike inside only if I could get it in from the front door (so she didn’t have to move her ass off the chair). There was no way I was leaving the bike in the jungle outside so I cleared it with only millimeters on each side and parked it close to our room. (The next morning the broken car started right up in front of my eyes with no problem.)

If you remember, my camera box broke from the constant potholes in the first 200km in Bolivia, and I had been strapping it down and keeping it light until I found a shop that I could get it fixed. The problem was that I had an expensive camera in that box, and with the walls of the box collapsing, the strain was on the camera and with every bump the walls came in a little further. While riding around Santa Cruz, I found a metal and welding shop five blocks from the hotel and asked them if they could fix it, as I wasn’t going another mile with the box in that condition. They said “of course”, “no problem”, they even gave us a quote and told us that they would be open until 9pm.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we got to work and unloaded everything inside the box, unbolted the million bolts that were holding the box on the rack, and took it to the shop for repair right away. As we walked out of the hotel, one of the obnoxious drunken Bolivians that were standing on the corner sprayed us with his water gun full of paint. He saw us coming with a giant box in our hand, we had no carnival clothes on nor did we have any painting on our faces or clothes, yet he proceeded to shower us with paint.

We made it to the shop and to our disbelief (well we should have known by then), they refused to fix the box. Claiming that they didn’t have the right material first, and when I pointed at the pile of aluminum angle that they “didn’t have”, they just said we don’t wanna do it. When we asked them “so why in the hell did you say to bring the box here?” they just put up their shoulders and went back to drinking. This was new to me as refusing paid work takes a different kind of assholes than the ones I’ve already gotten used to in Bolivia. We walked back the five blocks, box in hand, and the same son of a bitch sprayed us again with paint gun.

There are a few times in my life that I truly hated a place, but I can’t think of single place that even comes close to Bolivia. I was done spending another dollar in this shithole of a country, we were going to get the hell out or at least try by sunrise.

When it’s in front of your eyes, don’t try to reason with it, fight it, or sugar coat it. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck – it ain’t going to be what you hoped it would be – it’s a fucking duck.

Stay tuned.

There are 19 Comments

  1. Mary Olson
    April 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I spent 5 months volunteering in La Paz, to say that it was torture is an understatement. I would never go back to this country. Thanks for speaking your mind, and saying the things I didn’t have the guts to say.

  2. Richard
    April 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Well that sucked. 🙂 I hope something good eventually comes of this sojourn into Bolivia.
    Can’t wait to see the barrage of comments defending this “festival”. 😀

  3. April 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Sure sounds like you’ve been having a horrible time, Chris. What a disappointment! Is it politics, drug wars, poverty, or what, (or all of the above) that’s made what seems to be the entire population so sad, disheartened & nasty? It seems that there are two ways that people respond to these things: either join together & take back your country, or give up & join the worst of the worst. Apparently Bolivians have chosen the latter. Hope things have improved for you!

  4. bill
    April 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    well sounds like in this whole big picture of ending world hunger,it might be better to let the bolivians starve.

  5. Roy
    April 23, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I can’t believe Butch and Sundance went to that place to die of all places. (If you believe they died there at all). Still it is not the norm., most folks are pretty decent as long you don’t look down on them. At least back when I was doing alot of foreign travel back in the70 and 80’s. the most have the least and their leaders point the fingers at a straw man (the U.S,). I hope you don’t have US plates on your bike. In some places that alone can cause a real problem. like oh, being taken hostage. So be safe and I loved the duel use of the flare gun!.

  6. Peter
    April 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I’ve just found your travelogue — fantastic stuff! I’ve enjoyed every word, even (especially!) the not-so-pleasant parts. 🙂 I’d much rather be out there on the road, though not in Bolivia, than at my comfy desk with a view of San Francisco Bay.

  7. May 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I have just come across both your websites. I find your work to be amazing and fascinating. Thank you for all the good works you are doing in the area of non-profits, fundraising and charity.

    • Chris Sorbi
      May 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Jennie, thanks for the kind words and thank you for tuning in.

  8. Irene
    May 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Wow. For a person that claims to be raising awareness about problems in other countries, YOU ARE EXTREMELY ETHNOCENTRIC. I’m sorry, but you can’t generalize your experience and condemn Bolivians based on the time you spend there. I lived there 18 years after I left the States, and there was no country as beautiful as Bolivia. Please don’t be that harsh, and, most importantly, don’t spread your hate towards Bolivia.

  9. Chris Sorbi
    May 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    @Irene: The same way that you are entitled to express your love and luster towards Bolivia, I expressed myself the way I saw it and felt it. Maybe you know a different Bolivia than the one I know, so good for you. But if you think “there is no country as beautiful as Bolivia”, you most certainly need to get out more or you have a serious misperception of beauty.

  10. frank
    June 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    if you are in need of repair anything, in La Paz I know someone really great. You have my mailaddress. Do not hesitate to use it. We readers cannot see, where you are in this moment – so you might be already behind borders.
    Just in case.


  11. Mariana
    June 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    So all Bolivians are shit. The whole country is a toilet. Unlike you, I was not a visitor trying to find fault with everything, but I lived and worked in Bolivia for 20 years. I made many friends and have fond memories of the place. For a guy working on a ‘humanitarian project’ you show complete prejudice, ignorance and arrogance. Have you stopped to think that maybe your attitude had a lot to do with the way you were treated? Did you not realize that your expensive motorbike was worth five years of a worker’s salary in Bolivia? Did you expect everything to be as it is in the US? Did you expect people to pay homage to you just because you are an American? In fact, I remember coming back to La Paz once, and hearing a guy shout at the immigration employee: “I am an American!” Some well-fed gringos will haggle with the market sellers so as to pay as little as possible for their souvenirs. Bring the price down by 2 or 3 cents. Maybe Bolivians are fed up with foreigners always expecting to be treated as gods just because they are foreign. Yes, there are ignorant people everywhere (and that includes the US), but to insult a whole country is beyond the pale and immature. And RACIST.

  12. bill
    June 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    i’ve been watching this tour since the early gs resources days.wondered whether it was a for real attempt at helping to bring awareness of world hunger or a smooth way to attain financing for an extended cruise/adventure.still not sure.however as i alluded to in my tongue in cheek comment on april 17,this is the reason for hunger,poverty,etc. .if people aren’t like us,the majority of humans end up disliking/hating the ones who are different .if you dont care about your neighbor he will starve.i think you need to take a deep breath(figurativly) and remember your stated goals.people either deserve to eat irrespective of their attractiveness,kindness,culture,etc.or no one does.just my 2 cents. and stll rooting for you.just remember when you ask others to be aware/involved in your cause that they will tell you their opinion as well.

  13. Jean Francois
    June 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I m french and I have a really good time in Bolivia, It is true somehow whatt u said about Santa Cruz there is poor people next to one mercedes … however, thats part of a country. If u were 1 inch smarter u would know if some people is coming out with paint and water during that days U WOULD NOT HAVE TO GO OUT, simple rule. I truely think that ur comments are racist as the comments above said and i cant believe u work in humanity projects, becouse Bolivia should be one of the countries that needs more help and “humanity projects” not “racist comments”
    I have to say also that for foreign people, going to the US is not the best memory, u dont find hospitality and all the qualities u wanted to find in Bolivia.

  14. Esther
    June 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    You are a very bad person and a narrow mind to be working in a project to help people, my english is not the best, but I want to tell you, that to deal with poor people you need a heart and you don’t have one, how people can be so clean when they dont even have water in their houses, you surely are rich and handsome, but in the wold are also ugly and sad and poor people, you sure take a shower twice a day or more, but a lot of people in this word can not do it, sometimes they dont even can eat once a day, instead of judjing and condemning, you sould help more and be more human and have more piety, of course Bolivia is a very beautiful country, I know US and I know a lot of countries of Europe, South America and all over the world, all of then are beautiful, but Bolivia is beautiful too!, unique, in Bolivia there are places that you dont find in all over the world, I think you are also a kind of jealous people, and you have a real poor and meen spirit. In the whole wold there are thieves, you can’t say that only they are in Bolivia. In other places thieves are killers and mads.
    It seems that you did not find out that you were going to an underdeveloped country. I feel sorry for you.

  15. Felipe
    June 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Hi Chris,

    I just discovered your blog and I am enjoying reading through your post about your experiences.

    Bolivia is a place of “magical realism”. Where in many areas, as you pointed out, highways are non-existent, local officials can be utterly ignorant, rude, and, almost always, incompetent! And corruption is part the bloodstream of the system and Parkinson’s Law is true in this country. In short, it is a country where you’ll find out the unexpected (magic) to be the reality. Yet is a country that I will not consider “dammed”.

    I had the fortune to live in six different countries (including Bolivia) and I’ve visited almost three dozen of other countries thus far. In my experience in Bolivia, I experienced many of the frustrations that you wrote about (and other shocking experiences to typical western tourist) yet my positive experiences outweighed the negative. When visiting Bolivia (or any other country) you have to be open-minded, do as the famous adage say “when in Rome, do as Romans do”, and you have to be adaptable. I know this is the 21st century, but you can’t expect to find an ATM in a Bolivian or Chinese (I live there too)village/town.

    Yes, I found many of the countrymen to be extremely ignorant, prejudice towards the white person, and rude yet I found the overwhelming majority of them to be friendly, good heartened, and hospitable. Yes, most Bolivians are short, darkened skin, and not really good looking, but just as other countries in America (including USA) this country received a flow of European Arabic and Asian immigrants and African slaves throughout its history, and thus, you can also find an exotic mixed or races, good looking white and black tall people too. And, yes, most immigrants around the world would try to survive and take advantage of the opportunities present to them – that to some ignorant, and poor Bolivian immigrants might be occupying and unoccupied home but that, obviously, isn’t right nor all the Bolivians are poor, immigrants, or uneducated.

    Most of the issues that I encountered in Bolivia, in my opinion, boil down to three things: lack of general education, economic resources, and lack of exposure to the rest of the world. If we, the fortunate and literate ones, can somehow help to the less fortunate folks of Bolivia is by spreading the word of the roots of their misery but not misinterpreting it. I am sure that the kids that you say playing on top of a pile or garbage weren’t playing there by mere choice.

    Have a safe ride!

  16. Gonzalo
    June 25, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Hello Chris!
    First of all I want to say that you are truly an inspiration! I myself am planning on doing a motorcycle trip for a cause once I graduate and It is amazing to see that there are others already out there taking a risk and putting everything on the line to make a difference for others. Props to you! I really hope that you realize how much of an impact you are having on people around the world, not only to where your funds are sent to but to whom your ideas are spreading and helping them make a difference!

    In regards to your Bolivia experience, I know that some parts of a trip can be exhausting, frustrating, demoralizing, and simply depressive; I myself had similar experiences when living in India. Try to concentrate on the ultimate goal and on what really matters, you are there not only to teach, but also to learn about others, and learning to accept. It is that same people who you are complaining about for whom this trip is for. It’s very easy to sit here behind my computer and judge your frustration from the comfort of my couch, the best I can do right now is to put a smile on your face and try to make you show me your teeth from the other side of the world 😀

    I’d suggest to try to vent your frustration somewhere else than the blog for it may give a wrong impression of you and what your real goal is.

    But regardless of all of that I hope that you always remember that there are many of us dreaming of having the balls to do something like what you are doing, taking a stand for other when they need it most, and enduring the hardships of keeping this whole circus running. You are my new hero, someone that I can look up to and dream of being as passionate as you are.

    Best of luck to you on continuing your trip,


  17. elmer
    July 10, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Right on. Speak your mind regardless. Sugarcoating will not do anybody good.

  18. Kris
    August 3, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Chris, I have lived here in Bolivia for six.years… I still live here, in Sucre. I loved my time in Tarija but the rest of the country is just as.You described and worse, there is a ridiculously racist and unfair view to.foreigners here, I have built a, here, got my licence here, have my.daughter here. Even the average Bolivian is tired and.frustrated to tears here. Ignorance is the word I’d use if I could only.choose one. These missionaries and NGO workers know nothing, there churches put them in huge houses, give them a fat salary per.month and they live in there day to day life here is so different. The people here are racist and ignorant, I love them but it’s the truth. They rip anyone off where they.can, they steal and lie wherever they can, and there happy if your.sad. there’s no we win just I win you lose or you win I lose and I.hate you… people who would defend the average Bolivian would get a long sharp knife in the back… They hate you too….because your also a foreigner

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