Looking Back at Bolivia

104. That’s the number of days I spent in Bolivia.

It’s incredible how life takes you places you’d never expect. Two years ago I don’t think I could point Bolivia out on a map. Now, I am standing at the frontera looking back at this no longer foreign country; the one I had just been calling ‘home’.

There are so many things I will miss. I will miss passing by the women on the corners, each selling the exact same assortment of snacks and soda. I will miss hearing the sweet pleads of the cholitas, “por favor, mamacita, por favor” as they whine for a sale. I will miss sitting at a park-side table sipping my mini coca cola from a reused glass bottle. I will miss the street food and the Saturday market. I will miss how love is always in the air for couples on park benches. I will miss the fun of squeezing 12 people into a 7-person trufi. I will miss the nightly dancing in the parks, the long afternoon siesta, and the smell of the saltena stands in the morning. Most of all, I will miss the chaotic, yet calm, order in which Bolivians live their lives.

There are also the subtle, yet distinct, Bolivian oddities that I will miss. (This is what I really love about traveling – learning people’s quirky beliefs and traditions.) By “oddities” I am referring to the little things that give a culture its character. It’s the little things you only learn by living somewhere. I have learned that, in Bolivia, you have to be careful when choosing a dentist because many double as underground abortion clinics. I have learned that you must never take your shoes off in the house or it will make you sick. I have learned that they’ll think you’re crazy if you put less than 3 scoops of sugar in your tea. And don’t you dare try to order a glass of chilled white wine. — A waiter actually scoffed at me once when I asked for it, scolding me with a warning, “don’t you know cold wine is bad for your veins!” In fact, I didn’t know that before living in Bolivia. Nor did I know that if I ever have problems having children all I or my partner must do is eat honey with every meal. Worked for my sister, they’ll say. And have you not buried a llama fetus under your house?!

And then there are things that I will not miss. I certainly will not miss the “gringo hunters” or the shops that are never open when they say they are going to be open. I will not miss the ATMs that steal your money or the unpredictable bloqueos that trap you in the most inconvenient places. I won’t miss waiting over an hour for a Bolivian to meet me when they said they would or not being served at a restaurant because it has more than five customers. I will not miss the foul smelling coca breath of Bolivians who would stand too close or the lurch of fear I’d get from seeing a police officer.

All these things, the good and bad, I will remember when I think of Bolivia. All things considered, it was an amazing experience. An eye-opening, life-changing experience that I will never forget.

I celebrated my last days in Bolivia in the proud city of La Paz (nearly 12,000ft above sea level). There, I spent the day with a fabulous travel writer/philanthropist, author of www.goeringo.com, touring the coca museum, the witches market, and watching some super fake, but super awesome cholita wrestling (pictured below). It was a great last day and a perfect way to remember Bolivia.

And now I am stepping over the border into Peru, looking forward, wondering where life will take me next.