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5 things to know before traveling to Bolivia

1. Bolivian transport can be tricky.

The first thing most travelers will encounter in Bolivia is the transport system. Like in most of South America, people get around the country via an extensive bus network — but experiences on these can vary.

The process of catching a Bolivian bus deserves a post all to itself, so for now I’ll mention the bare basics: speeding drivers, bizarre departure and arrival times, a constant gamble as to the bus temperature — you get the idea. For short-term transport, though, I spent most of my time in two sorts: taxis and trufis.

Taking trufis and taxis in Bolivia
When I first arrived in La Paz, I was pretty nervous about catching the local buses. Known as trufis, these little minibuses throng the city’s streets and feature ticket sellers leaning out of the open doors shouting their destinations — information supported by a placard propped up in the windscreen.

The problem is that the drivers essentially make up their routes: If there’s a roadblock or too much traffic, they simply go another way. For tourists, who barely know the name of the street their hostel is on, this is something of a difficulty.

Luckily, by the time I conquered my fear and boarded a trufi, I’d walked around enough of the city to know which direction we were speed-driving in. And if I ever lost my bearings, I’d simply shout, “Esquina por favor!” and jump out at the nearest corner. A rule I never would have learnt without experiencing it first, however worried I was about getting lost.

Bolivia is also the only country where I’ve been consistently required to know both the directions to and eventual location of where I’m headed infinitely better than the taxi driver. Slews of drivers have looked terrified when I flagged them down — that is, if they stopped at all. Numerous taxis have driven straight past me, or started their engines and sped off as soon as they heard an address they weren’t explicitly familiar with.

I stayed at an incredible hostel in Cochabamba, which was marred solely by the fact that absolutely no taxis had any clue how to get there. My favourite journey back to Las Lilas was with a driver who held an expression like a frightened rabbit for the entire 10-minute ride. I had to continually coax him to take each turn and clambered out of the car exhausted.

Continue.

6 things I lost in South America

The hummingbird skull necklace

A Spanish teacher in Guatapé, Colombia (a town of painted houses and a giant rock called El Penal), told me about her eco-hostel in San Rafael, a quiet town half an hour away. La Casa Colombiana turned out to be even better than Guatapé. I spent afternoons in a hammock, listening to the calls of the tropical birds around us, or playing fetch with a maniac German Shepherd.

One afternoon, I went for a swim in the nearby river. I took off the only piece of jewelry I traveled with, a rose-gold hummingbird skull necklace, and set it on a rock on the riverbank. The water was crystal clear and marvelous, though the current made it difficult to do much more than drift. When I got back to the hostel, I realized I’d left my hummingbird behind.

It was a wonderful conversation piece — I’d memorized the phrase “cráneo de picaflore” to explain it to strangers — and had been my tether to New York chic. Maybe it adorns the collarbone of a stranger now, or maybe it’s still at the riverbank, gathering moss on a slippery rock.

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The reason that it’s complicated [in Brazil] for people who have come to live and settle in Itacaré is not because it takes days to get anything done, that horses wander the streets or the apparent lack of a fire brigade. Rather it’s the knowledge of living somewhere that will change and improve you and with that, accepting that it may not be good for you to leave.

—excerpted from Finding Joy in Simplicity: Living in Itacaré, written by Matador member, Paul.

(Read the complete post here)