Merely Change: A Quirky Travel Story From An Encounter in Bolivia

I was sitting down with a couple of travel companions at a cafe having a leisurely breakfast on a secluded island (Isla del Sol) located in Bolivia...

The topic of our conversation happened to be about ´change.´  We all concluded that exchanging larger denominations had been a problem for us at various stages on our journey – especially in Bolivia.  During a transaction, quite frequently, a random vendor would plead for smaller notes or exact change and in the event that this was not available a request from a third party would become necessary; or at the very worst, the possibility of the transaction being completely nullified!

Merely Change: A Quirky Travel Story from Bolivia

As we discussed this situation over our standardized plates of runny eggs and stale bread – being served up at this local cafe catering mostly to foreigners – we couldn´t help but notice the commotion from across our table.  A middle aged lady of Chilean background (we later found out) sprung up like a tightly wound jack in the box & raucously stormed over to our table.  Our breakfast now included a side of rant that edged out everything else on our plates.  For the next minute and a half we listened to how rude we were to suggest any kind of ´change´take place in this part of the world.  It was very candidly pointed out that culture from our far off lands was corrupt/bankrupt of morals and any form of decency.

Rock piled up at a traditional site in Bolivia

She would have continued on but I just had to put an end to this immediately:

“Excuse me.  I think you misunderstood our conversation.  We’re having difficulty exchanging these bank notes (which I now held in my hand) for smaller bills and coins. We just want to change some money. Is that okay?”

For a brief moment in time there was a silence so intense…a pin drop would have felt like an atomic bomb.

Pig that I met while traveling Bolivia

Admittedly, the lady was more than apologetic for having misinterpreted our conversation in the most obnoxious way possible.  It must have also hit her at some point that it was a little more than rude on her part to have eavesdropped and hijacked our ´private´ conversation – especially under false pretences.  Anyhow, we quickly accepted her apology and out the door she went.

We laughed about what had happened over such a nondescript banal conversation.  We couldn´t help but wonder what kind of experiences she had accumulated in the past to possess such a loaded gun in her mind. I personally used to have this Utopian ideal that travel brings cultures and people closer together while fostering mutual understanding, but sometimes I wonder if the opposite is true – that in certain select cases it pushes us further apart.

Sunset in Bolivia with golden rays casting their beams over Lake Titicaca

Off-The-Beat-Path Places To Visit In Bolivia

Bolivia, a landlocked country in South America, is known for its varied landscapes and rich cultural heritage. While there are many popular tourist attractions in Bolivia, there are also several off-the-beaten-path places that are worth exploring. These hidden gems offer unique experiences that are sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveler.

One such place is Sajama National Park, located in western Bolivia. The rugged and remote landscape of Sajama National Park is perfect for adventure seekers and nature lovers. Visitors can explore towering volcanoes, pristine lakes, and ancient forests, making it a memorable destination.

Tiwanaku, an ancient archaeological site located near the city of La Paz, is another off-the-beaten-path destination in Bolivia. Once a powerful city-state, Tiwanaku played a significant role in the development of the Andean culture. The site is home to impressive ruins, including the Temple of Kalasasaya and the Gateway of the Sun.

Laguna Colorada, a stunning red-colored lake located in the southwestern part of Bolivia, is another hidden gem. The lake’s unique color is caused by the presence of algae and minerals, making it an unforgettable destination. Laguna Colorada is also home to flocks of pink flamingos, adding to its beauty.

The Pampas, a vast, grassy plain located in northern Bolivia, is a region that is off the beaten path and home to a diverse range of wildlife, including jaguars, anacondas, and capybaras. Guided tours of the region offer visitors the chance to spot exotic animals and experience the local culture.

Torotoro National Park, located in central Bolivia, is another hidden gem worth exploring. Visitors to the park can explore stunning canyons, waterfalls, and caves, and observe a range of unique wildlife, including the endangered Andean cat.

These are just a few of the off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Bolivia. Whether you’re looking for adventure, culture, or natural beauty, Bolivia has something to offer every type of traveler. When planning your next trip to South America, be sure to add these hidden gems to your itinerary for an unforgettable experience.

How To Travel Bolivia As A Backpacker

Bolivia beckons the budget-conscious backpacker with its myriad of opportunities for exploration and adventure. The country is a treasure trove of wonders, from the vibrant streets of La Paz to the vast expanses of the Andes. For the backpacker looking to explore Bolivia, here are some valuable tips to keep in mind:

First, it is essential to pack wisely. One should bring only the essentials, with sturdy hiking shoes, warm clothes to suit the high altitudes, and a durable backpack.

Hostels offer a haven for backpackers to rest and recharge before continuing their journey. They also offer the chance to meet fellow travelers, share experiences and tips, and even have a free breakfast or Wi-Fi access.

Bolivia boasts a widespread network of public transportation, offering cheap and efficient means of exploring the country. From buses to collectivos, these forms of transportation can take one to almost any destination in Bolivia.

Food is an integral part of Bolivia’s culture, and street food offers a taste of the country’s authentic cuisine. Local markets offer an array of traditional dishes, such as salteñas, meat-filled pastries, or choripan, grilled sausage sandwiches.

Backpackers should also venture off the beaten path to discover hidden gems in Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, or the historic mining town of Potosi, offers a unique perspective on the country’s culture and history.

A basic understanding of Spanish is recommended, as many locals may not speak English. Knowing some common phrases will not only ease communication but also help backpackers to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Finally, Bolivia’s high altitudes can cause altitude sickness, especially when traveling to places like La Paz or the Andes. Therefore, it is essential to stay hydrated, take it slow, and consider medication to help prevent altitude sickness.

By embracing these tips, backpackers can experience Bolivia’s richness without worrying about the costs. Bolivia is a must-visit destination, offering an unparalleled combination of natural beauty, cultural richness, and affordability, and backpackers will find it a paradise for exploration and adventure.

Final Thoughts From Bolivia

Bolivia is a country of contrasts, where the rugged Andes Mountains give way to the lush Amazon rainforest. It is a land steeped in history, with ancient Inca ruins dotting the landscape, and a vibrant culture that blends indigenous traditions with Spanish colonial influences.

Traveling through Bolivia as a backpacker can be a thrilling and enriching experience. However, it also requires careful planning and preparation. Travelers should be aware of the challenges that come with traveling to this rugged and remote region, including the risk of altitude sickness, food and water sanitation issues, and limited infrastructure in some areas.

Despite these challenges, the rewards of backpacking through Bolivia are plentiful. From exploring the bustling markets of La Paz to venturing into the depths of the Amazon jungle, travelers can immerse themselves in the rich cultural tapestry of this fascinating country.

To make the most of their journey, backpackers should take advantage of the many affordable travel options available, including local buses and shared taxis. They should also be open to new experiences and embrace the unique customs and traditions of the Bolivian people.

Bolivia is a country that rewards adventurous travelers with its stunning natural beauty, vibrant culture, and rich history. While there are challenges to be faced, those who take the time to plan and prepare for their journey will be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they will never forget.

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  1. Great story & stunning photo’s , thanks for sharing Samuel. It’s easy enough to get our wires crossed & upset people from our own culture who speak the same lingo, so it’s not surprising that tourist unwittingly put their foot in it sometimes with the locals.
    Take care on you’re travels – Dave S

  2. says: Angela

    Maybe the lady was not referring to rude travelers she had met on her way, maybe, you said she was of Chilean background and of a certain age, so probably she was bitter as she experienced the horrible Pinochet dictatorship… Of course this wouldn’t justify her reaction to your (private) conversation, but you never know what goes on in people’s mind..

    1. Angela, I agree with what you’re saying. I honestly have no idea what she has experienced in her lifetime. Events certainly do shape individuals and sometimes they come out of it a stronger person and other times quite bitter.

  3. says: Kaitlin

    This is an excellent story. Turns an uncomfortable little mishap into a thought-provoking anecdote. Maybe what travelers need are not utopian ideals about mutual understanding, but the ability to ask good questions about mutual misunderstandings. 🙂

    Thanks for your great storytelling!

    1. Kaitlin, I think you’re right. It’s often small misunderstandings that can lead to bigger problems. I can honestly think of a million ways she could have handled this better but ultimately she decided to yell first and ask questions later. I’ve also been guilty of overreacting before as well in different situations. Maybe she was just having a horrible day and this was her breaking point. I guess I’ll never know 🙂

      1. says: Larry Snook

        Was she a red head too? I look forward to reading more of your adventures. Your a wonderfull writer. Well back to my more genric but also pleasing life. I miss you bud.

    1. LOL, I guess it would be easy to pick-up a few words, such as ‘change’ and misinterpret things. I suppose I just find it odd somebody would feel it is his/her business to get involved in a such a private conversation. If I was sitting next to a group and overheard them complaining about life in Canada I wouldn’t feel offended nor would I feel the need to straighten them out.

  4. There’s actually a lot to think about here — misunderstandings, perceptions, and human nature. I do wonder what caused such a severe reaction from the woman about “change” (the way she understood you to mean it). It seems like you handled the situation very well.

    I also have to say that your photos are wonderful — love the one of the flowers in the foreground.

    1. Cathy, it does involve quite a complex situation. Lake Titicaca is such a gorgeous place to visit. As much as I loved it on the Bolivian side, I equally recommend checking it out from Peru as well 🙂

  5. says: Mark Wiens

    Wow, that’s quite a reaction, but interesting. Sometimes it can really be best to wait a while, think about it, and feel out a situation before jumping in on something. Glad everything turned out alright in the end!

  6. That was intense then I saw that cute little piggy LOL 😛

    Anyway, maybe that lady encountered a lot of rude experiences that why she can’t help but butt in the conversation. I also had the same misconception when I encounter *toot* here in the Philippines. It’s hard to generalize though.

  7. says: Angie Orth

    Priceless! I’ve met many folks during my travels who have a “loaded gun” of things to say about Westerners. We’re not all Jersey Shore, ya know? It’s definitely a challenge to combat the MTV image!