I was clearing the immigration at Viru Viru International Airport, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and it seemed like a normal day. Little did I know that it was going to be anything, but I was ‘welcomed’ by the International Criminal Police Organization, or I.C.P.O., popularly known as Interpol. It was my maiden face-to-face with the international police. I was elaborately checked by the Interpol officials, and they even checked the picture-gallery of my mobile handset for any clue. What clue? Bolivia is a trafficking route for Colombian cocaine and contraband drugs. So checking is intense at the immigration points. It took a lot of time for me to get out of the Interpol check, but the officials were courteous. Good way 🙂 to begin my debut visit to Bolivia way back in 2012.
Bolivia is the only country in the Americas that has more indigenous population than the descendants of the Spanish settlers. There are five tribes: Inca, Andina, Chiquitano, Guarayo and Camba in Bolivia. This is just a mention of the ethnic mix of the country for the information sake, and there are no divisions among the people on tribal lines — homogeneous community. The country has a governance system which is tuned more to socialism, but the people have freedom to do business and to carry on with their lives as we see in a capitalistic system. It is a welcome point that the country does not have a hard-line command system. Bolivia, however, is counted as one of the few remaining bastions of socialism. Hence, all those who are wedded to the socialist ideology can toast a drink for Bolivia! Some of you may be aware of the recent developments in Bolivia. The long-time president, Evo Morales, who ruled Bolivia for 14 years, had fled the country last month and sought asylum in Argentina as there were violent public protests against him in the aftermath of an allegedly flawed presidential election, with the military withdrawing its support for him.
It seems that ice cream is the national food of Bolivia! I could see many ice cream shops in Santa Cruz, the commercial capital that is 469 km North East off Sucre, the capital city. Even cafes and restaurants have many variants of it in their menus. I had one variant each during my one-week stay, and they were delicious. Bolivia is a land-locked country, so the weather is mostly hot which is probably an incentive for such a high level of ice cream consumption. It was hot climate — not that terrible but welcome one, with daytime temperature being around 30 degrees centigrade — in Santa Cruz, which I was happy about as it was a respite from the cold days I faced in Brazil and Chile last week. Bolivia has three main weather conditions — winter months of June and July, rains in December and January and the remaining months are of summer.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre in Santa Cruz is a lively town square. The Plaza has got its name as a honor of the anniversary of the uprising that led to the independence of Santa Cruz from Spain. A life-size statue of Ignacio Warnes, the local hero of the Independence War imitated in 1810, stands gallantly at the center of the Plaza. People — families, youngsters, elders, children, lovers, couples — throng the place in countless numbers. We can smell life here: children playing with pigeons and other birds; trees, flowers and greenaries; concrete benches to sit and chat or idle your time; shoeshine boys; uniformed coffee waiters — reminded me of the waiters of Indian Coffee House — selling delicious Bolivian coffee; hawkers; lights and sounds, music bands; and many such lively scenes. Adjacent to the Plaza, there is a huge Spanish-era cathedral, The Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence. The Plaza is huge — the size of around six football fields — clean and well-maintained. A perfect place to forget all worries and enjoy the small things of life! I felt good, sitting on a bench, savoring Bolivian coffee and seeing lots of spiriting lives around. There are many eateries by the side of the Plaza. If you happen to visit Santa Cruz, do stay near this Plaza.
There was a dance performance by youths and children at the side road of Plaza 24 de Sepriembre, and the road was closed for traffic to have this performance. It was a fantastic mix of Salsa, traditional stuff and fast-breaks. I was delighted to watch the flowing and glowing sight of children, looking as young as five years, dancing effortlessly, along with elders. And the surprise was a couple of Bollywood numbers; they danced to the tunes of songs like “Salame ishq ishq” as the Indian stars do on films. I felt proud to see and hear India in Bolivia.”
I had a magical experience! Near to Plaza 24 de Septiembre, we can see many individual money-changers, standing with bunches of currency notes, and I had a strange experience with one such guy. The running exchange rate was 1 USD=6.80 Bolivanos, and I changed USD100. The guy first COUNTED four 20 Bolivanos bills, FOLDED and gave to me. He COUNTED in both Spanish and English. I also counted, and it was 80 Bolivanos. Excellent! Then he COUNTED, in both Spanish and English, six 100 bills, FOLDED and gave to me. In normal course, I did not have to count the bills again because I saw him counting twice, plus there was trust from the counting accuracy of the initial 80 Bolivanos. But I counted it, and there were only four bills, not six bills. Without any argument, he gave me two more 100 Bolivanos bills. His COUNTNG was magic!! I changed money with others, but there were no such problems. That episode had reaffirmed one thing I believe: Amidst many good souls, there is always a bad guy who is out to cheat unsuspecting souls.
One always gets filled with feelings of miss or loss when one has to leave a place which has endeared itself to one, and this was how I felt when I was leaving Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It is a nice country; less modernized; simple people; and peaceful ambiance. I do not know much about this country, but I felt very comfortable here and would like to come back. I was born and brought up in a village in Kerala, India, so, probably, that similar imprint quickly made “the frequencies” match seamlessly! I found that the Bolivians very lively and cheerful, and “Plaza 24 de Septiembre,” with all its festivities and jubilation, could be considered as a microcosm of Bolivia. I like Bolivia and the Bolivians. A few pictures of Bolivia and the Bolivians through my mobile camera eye are there in the following link: