is hardly the number one choice of ex-patriot Americans. Nonetheless,
it is a beautiful country with 20,000 foot high snow capped peaks, a 12,000
foot high plateau (the altiplano) and beautiful and productive mountain
valleys which fall away into the Amazon basin. It is a country with a proud
indigenous background mixed with rich colonial traditions. A country
which is economically poor yet inhabited by a very hardworking
people. It is a country of more than one million square miles and yet with
a population of less than six million. While it has no access to
the sea it does share Lake Titicaca with Peru. Lake Titicaca is the world´s
highest navigable lake.
There are also
many stunning mountain lakes and reservoirs. It is a country full of physical
and social contrast, a country which is considered poor, and yet,
like many third world countries, a great place to live.
really only six urban areas in the country. La Paz, the capital, has a
population of 2 million and sits at 11,300 feet above sea level on
the altiplano. Cochabamba with a population of about 800,.000 is
situated in an 9,000 foot high valley. Of course, in Bolivia, this is considered
low country. Santa Cruz is the industrial center of the country.
With a population of 800, 000 it is located near sea level
along a river which feeds into the Amazon. Sucre is the capital of the
country. Potosi is a center of colonial history and culture. Originally
a Spanish center. Tarija, a town of some 200,000 is the gateway to Argentina.
My wife and
I lived in Cochabamba. Cochabamba is located at 8,600 feet above
sea level in a mountain valley. The climate is basically dry about nine
months a year and then it rains quite steadily the other three monhts.
The temperature in the summer, December to March, is usually in the
80°s farenheit (25-30 centigrade) and it is very dry. In the
winter (June to September) it can go down to freezing in the early
morning but is usually in the upper sixties (18°-20° C)
during the day. On rare occasions the mist over the mountains
change to snow and the hills around the city turns a sparkling white,
for six or seven hours.
itself doesn't attract a lot of tourists.
It is surrounded by mountains on every side including the 18,000 foot snowcapped
Mt Tunari. It has a beautiful colonial section with 400 year old buildings.
Of course today the buildings house things like banks, hardware stores
and insurance offices. For you older guys, the bank robbery scene in Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in El Banco de Cochabamba.
It really does have magnificant balconies, but only mediocre service. The
central Cathedral is an impressive piece of Spanish church construction.
In general the center of Cochabamba is attractive but also very crowded.
The traffic is happily Latin. That means nobody follows any particular
set of rules or perhaps I should say that everyone follows his own set
of rules. I found when coming to Mexico I was disappointed that the traffic
for me was 100% overcivilized.
It is modern,
clean and about one fourth the size of a US supermarket or of its
European counterpart. It has a reasonable supply of canned goods, and international
items, although one can never be sure what will be there next time. On
the other hand, the central outdoor market is a 2 square mile labyrinth
of stalls with about everything imaginable. Anything is available: from
tourist type handicrafts to door frames; from hairpieces made of actual
hair (you can sell your hair if it is a foot long) to a whole plethora
of hardware items (thank god not usually in plastic); from
almost any vegatable you can think of to cow intestines; from the
section of stalls having witchcraft items (do you want that man or woman
back?) to radios and tv´s and cameras, from clothing
to dogs, cats chickens, turkeys or even guinea pigs (often served in
local restaurants), and naturally there is the section which
sells coca leaves and its by-products.
the coca leaf is used to produce remedies for stomach ailments, teas
for altitude sickness and even tooth paste. You can speak Spanish in the
market, although Quechua, the language of the Incas,b is much more common.
Of course the people in the tourist stalls have a smattering of English.
also many many stalls, vendors, knife shapeners, money changers
and a whole variety of other people that do business on the street not
to mention the local tiendas which abound. Our house was located in a nice
neighborhood some 2 miles from the actual center of the town. There were
two excellent stores within a half block of our residence. The Supermercado
La Glorieta was actually a large ma, pa and family run store. Pa was an
ex- general in the Bolivia Army, and the family included a
daughter with a masters degree in mechanical engineering from Maryland,
and another daughter who was a physical therapist (massage, ultrasound
and electric stimulation of the muscles cost $3) not to mention a variety
of sons in the army. The store because of its professional type heritage
always had a supply of foreign goods. The other tienda was much
simpler, although it did have all of the basic daily needs. It was run
by "don Rafo" a rather surly type guy, but with a good heart.
a rather strange, haphazardly built 3 bedrooom house for $250 per month
(compared to Mazatlan, Mexico where we pay $ 290 for a three bedroom
house). There was a nice 3,600 sq foot yard giving room to park
the car, have a garden and even put up a basketball court. There
were certainly more exclusive neighborhoods where rents could run as high
as $1OOO per month. You can find what I consider nice houses to buy
starting at around $30,000. Are these in neighborhoods where other Americans
live? Since there is a very small foreign community in Cocabamba
it is statistically unlikely.
a lot of excellent restaurants in Cochabamba. The Estancia
does a great grill over an open fire and has a good salad bar for a cost
with drinks of about $10. The Bufalo Rodizo located in the Torres
Sofer; a combination mall apartment complex, boasts an all you can eat
buffet including 5 or six meats and a huge salad bar for $14. The waiters
are dressed as Argentinaian gouchos and wield a mean knife. There are also
several good Chinese and Italian restaurants in town. The Casa de Campesino
does an excellent Pique Macho a one plate combo including chicken,
beef, sausage, pork and fries mixed with Tomatoes on one large plate
to be shared between two or three people for $6. Cochabamba also boasts
an excellent country club. There are an 18 hole golf course, fifteen
clay tennis courts, a fabulous pool, skeet shooting, and even horses. Our
Dutch friends bought a show jumping horse for $1500. A temporary
membership is available.
weekends? There are many nice day trips or overnighters from Cochabamba.
Three hours northeast is the town of Villa Tunari. It is located at 1500
feet above sea level at the intersection of two rivers. Temperature is
directly related to altitude in Bolivia since it is in the tropics. So
Villa Tunari has temperatures in the nineties and high humidity. There
is excellent swimming in the streams and multicolored birds to watch in
the jungle. Three hours to the Southwest is the town of Oruro. It is a
rather drab mining town fifty one weeks of the year, but comes alive during
carnaval. It is considered to be the capital of traditional Bolivian folklore.
For one week the streets are filled with monsters, heroes and villans.
For you archeology buffs Incallajta is located six hours east of
Cochabamba. There is a large fortress and over 50 other buildings. It is
much less developed than other sites and if you plan to spend the night,
take a tent.
and I made ends meet by teaching in Bolivia. The natural assumption
is ESL. I ,however am a university math professor and my Spanish is good
enough to give classes in Spanish. My wife who is actually a nurse by profession,
also gave elementary school classes in a small English speaking school.
Together we could bring in about $ 1100 per month. It is very easy to live
on this amount in Bolivia. As a comparison, my wife was offered a 48 hour
a week nursing job at $ 120 a month. It is also possible to survive on
this wage. Visas are often a big stumbling block to living abroad. Visas
in Bolivia are actually rather easy to get if you have any sort of a job
or are willing to start up something. They are, however, a little bit expensive.
A two year residents visa can cost about $600 including a pile of photographs,
an application written by a lawyer, a medical certificate and a stack
of other paper work. In general Latin American countries love paperwork,
and Bolivia is certainly no exception. At least I am reasonably sure I
don´t have AIDS after six tests in five years.
is a marvelous country. Dont, however, go hoping to make radical changes.
It is a country that in spite of its poverty happily clings to its third
world traditions. A country proud of its heritage and in many ways satisfied
with its present, a beautiful country and a great place to live if you
indeed are willing to accept local culture and enjoy third world living.