Yes, violinist Jaime Laredo is from Cochabamba, but that does not sum up what is special about Bolivia. I’ve been to maybe ninety countries, and often I think Bolivia is the most exotic and wild of them all. For a simple contrast, so many aspects of Yemen have fed into streams we are familiar with, and Yemeni food is instantly recognizable, even if you have never been to the Arabian peninsula.
The main strands of Bolivian indigenous life — which I estimate to represent sixty percent of the country or more — have barely touched America or Europe. It is all strange. It is (mostly) deeply beautiful, like visiting another planet. The sky is intense, and the potatoes and corn taste much stronger than what we we Americans are used to. “I went there to eat a purple potato” is a coherent and indeed a wise sentence. Llama jerky is a major dish.
There is a three-toed sloth in the Santa Cruz park. Pink flamingos and lithium on the other side of the country. La Paz is set in a bowl of sorts where you can look either up or down and see homes carved into mountains. The altitude (in some parts of the country) never ceases to feel like a strain, and the Andes are the world’s largest mountain range. Some of the indigenous politicians have run against the Western Enlightenment. On the Altiplano I encountered some of the most miserable-looking people. The beautiful women have an intensity and a heartiness. The bowler hat remains in style.
Most of the hotels aren’t very good. The country has been landlocked for some time, and has lost territory in three different wars. There are over thirty official languages and it is the number four country in the world for number of butterfly species. You will not find a higher percentage of expressionless, stone-faced petty merchants.
Due to hydrocarbons, the country is growing at over six percent a year. My favorite movie set in Bolivia is Even the Rain, a Spanish production I believe.
I strongly recommend a visit to Bolivia.
But as for Santa Cruz, well…that is something altogether different.