Less is More (Except When More is More)

Menos es Más (Excepto Cuando Más es Más)

As an American can expect when traveling to almost any other country, when in Bolivia it is apparent that this is a culture of less. I don’t mean that Bolivia has less, I mean that they consume less. Oreo packages are smaller, medicines come by the pill not the bottle, and  soap dispensers even spit out less soap here (or maybe something is wrong with our hand soap in the apartment?). From what I’ve seen, Bolivian use their phones less when they’re around others and the prices of almost everything, but especially food, are drastically lower than what you’ll see in the U.S. The two giant suitcases that I took with me on this trip seem excessive.

A relatively quiet part of the parade!
A relatively quiet part of the parade!

That being said, Cochabambinos know how to party! For Carnival everything is supersized – from the amount of food available in the streets to the number of people squished into cars headed to the club. Spray foam comes in giant bottles and water guns come with a shoulder strap to help kids hold them up. For the post-holiday parade that happens in Cochabamba each year, confetti lined the streets and a steady stream of dancers and marching bands paraded past my apartment from 8am until midnight. Everyone shouts and sings from the temporary bleachers that line the main road, and it really is overwhelming.

My eyes burned from the foam (people really do aim for faces!) but it was fantastic just to run through the maze of people and watch the amazing cultural celebrations taking place. From the traditional dress to the water balloons being thrown from car windows, I knew that this was a distinctly Bolivian experience.  I wish I could accurately describe the feeling that you get when you realize that the thousands of people around you are all just happy to be who they are, where they are. It’s a sense of national pride that I have never experienced in the same way in the States.

Not quite the city center… but once I found this non-dirt road, it was an easy walk back with the mountains in the background.

At the end of two long weeks of parties though, a restorative yoga practice on the tile floor of our living space was exactly what I needed. After being here for just over a month, I think I need to back off on the cheese empanadas and papaya smoothies as my only means of nourishment, and start getting back into my yoga practice! It helped to get lost one weekday afternoon, as I accidentally took a bus in the opposite direction of my apartment. It was nice to end up on the edge of everything with a quiet walk back down into town.

Cultural Notes of the Week

  • Trufis always cost 2 bolivianos. Now you don’t have to keep asking “cuantos?” before you squish yourself past 9 people and get stuck on the door handle on your way out of the car. Sometimes they technically cost 1,90bs, or less if you’re traveling with friends, but give the guy 2 for the sake of simplicity.
  • “Cat calling” does not translate well in Spanish, and no one thinks that the 7 whistles, 8 stares, and 3 comments you’ll receive on a ten minute walk to the dry cleaners is anything worth noting anyways. Yes, at first it’s flattering, then it becomes annoying and then you have to get over it.

Life Lesson Three: Focus on doing, not documenting. For those of us with poor memories, photos and journal entries are the best (and sometimes only) way to remember great experiences. That doesn’t mean your iPhone always needs to be out for taking pictures and texting friends when you’re doing something really spectacular. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but I keep finding some experiences that can’t be described with even 10,000. A picture simply wouldn’t do them justice, and my love of language won’t even suffice. That means that you have to go out and do stuff for the sake of doing it, not preserving the experience to show off on Facebook.

If there’s one thing you do in life, let it be travel. It’s like asking a genie for one wish and being given 1,000 –or really, many many more.

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