I know of three people who would agree with the 2013 report by the World Economic Forum which ranked Bolivia as the least friendly country for travellers – Butch, Sundance and Che all met with a hail of bullets in Bolivia.
Okay, so these guys were hardly travellers. But, as the report concludes, is the modern Bolivia such an unfriendly place? If the state of the roads is a reflection of its people then the lowly ranking must be well deserved. After all, Bolivia is home to the World’s Most Dangerous Road, which is not exactly an endearing feature when it comes to flogging a country’s attributes. From the altiplano all the way down to the steaming Amazonian jungle, Bolivia must be one of the toughest countries in South America for both man and machine to venture. So do the people mirror their environment? Soroche (high altitude sickness), pummelled suspension, extreme temperatures and dodgy food aside, I can only say that the people we encountered were some of the most hospitable we have met on our journey. Take the road from Trinidad to Coroico, which cuts through the Llanos de Moxos and up into the foothills of the Yungas. In the rainy season this piste is often impassable. When it’s dry the cloud of dust kicked up by the passing vehicles blots out the sun. You might imagine the people living here would be unbelievably grumpy – but not a bit of it. Come sundown and it’s difficult to find a bivouac out here without the help of the locals. And they’re always willing to help. Bolivians are proud of their country. Anyone showing an interest in it, as far as they are concerned, deserves a helping hand. On our first night along this route the caretaker of the village school guided us to a spot behind the goal posts. The second night we wandered on to a farm. We found the lady of the house peeling vegetables over a bucket. She was more than happy for us to park on her land, immediately despatching the youth by her side to hack down two coconuts for a refreshing sun-downer. On the third night we asked permission to camp on land owned by a smallholder. Half an hour after we’d settled in, a young girl brought a plate of pan-fried river fish and steamed manioc.
Is Bolivia really the least friendly country for travellers? I don’t think so. I wonder what would happen if I asked to camp on somebody’s smallholding in Europe. I doubt I’d get a piece of fried fish, and certainly not a coconut.