Many a wise traveler has informed me that there are only two certainties about traveling in Bolivia: that no one makes it out without at least one case of food poisoning, and that you can expect at least once to be duped with counterfeit bills.
So far I’ve avoided the latter.
I’m currently recuperating in the beautiful colonial city of Sucre from what I can only assume to be an incident of contaminated god-knows-what paired with a case of severe four-day dehydration following a booze-filled fling with the tropical city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
But let’s back up a little.
My previous destination, La Paz, was particularly uneventful for me; seeing as this is the middle of the rainy season, the only real tourist activity I had any desire to do was unfortunately both a very expensive and very uncertain option. A one-hour flight north takes you to the city of Rurrenabaque, from which you can embark on a tour either into the jungle or the pampas (wetlands) both mainly for the purpose of spotting Amazonian wildlife. Not only are the tours themselves pricey, but the flights to get there were a bit out of my budget as well- not to mention frequently being cancelled due to inclement weather.
There IS another more affordable way to reach Rurrenabaque, by taking a bus via the North Yungas Road, colloquially known as the “World’s Most Dangerous Road,” or even more charmingly, “Death Road,” so named for the outrageously high number of annual deaths that occur when travelers or vehicles plunge over the steep cliffs. Fortunately for us all, this option is not available during the rainy season, although I’m not sure why it’s allowed ever.
The other main tourist activity near La Paz is to travel Death Road via “gravity assisted mountain biking,” a cooler sounding way of saying “all downhill.” This activity never really appealed to me in the first place; it’s imperative to find a reputable company that provides reliable equipment which usually means shelling out a bit more cash. I’ve even since been informed (yesterday at breakfast) that a tourist fell to her death a mere 5 days ago…can’t say I regret my decision to give ol’ Death Road a pass.
From La Paz, I headed up and over the Bolivian Andes to the country’s largest city, Santa Cruz. Coming off of more than a month in high-altitude cities, the tropical climate of Santa Cruz was a welcome change. I had high hopes for my stay- I chose a hostel with a pool and had read encouraging things in Lonely Planet about the city (I might see sloths hanging out in the city parks!?)- unfortunately the dusty, sweaty beast of a city failed to impress.
Now, it’s hard to say when this case of whatever-I’ve-got actually took hold…I wasn’t heavily hitting the street food stalls or back-alley restaurants with questionable sanitation practices…all I can say for sure is that the lively bunch of internationals I encountered at my AMAZING hostel (the only reason I would suggest anyone visit Santa Cruz) kept me on a strict daily diet of beer and happy hour caipirinhas, which I’m sure didn’t help.
With an incredible stroke of luck, I managed to score a $50 flight (I’ve paid more for bus rides!) from Santa Cruz to Sucre, saving me from enduring yet another umpteen hour bus ride…less than fun when you’re healthy, I’d rather not imagine how it would be while ill.
After a brief reunion with a couple of friends from Cusco, I was left on my own to go to bed early, feel zero pressure to go out for a drink, and just recover for a few days. And Sucre is the perfect place for it; the weather is warm but not overbearingly humid, and it’s much quieter than the hectic streets of La Paz and Santa Cruz. In fact, the town shuts down almost entirely every afternoon for a siesta.
I’m definitely on the mend, but it pains me to say I’ve become a statistic…I wanted to believe Bolivia could do better. Let’s just hope in my last week here that that other daunting “certainty” doesn’t come for me as well (knocking wood as we speak).
**My camera batteries were dead in Santa Cruz…te juro