Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Bolivia the unfriendliest country to travel to?
Our guest blogger Melanie Stern shares her experience as a journalist in Bolivia after reading that Bolivia was ranked, by the World Economic Forum's recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report, as one of the unfriendliest countries in the world.
I spent about three months in Bolivia in the summer of 2007, living with a family in Cochabamba, working at the newspaper Los Tiempos, volunteering in Chapare and travelling widely across the country's road network. I could not recommend Bolivia more warmly to anyone who wants a unique holiday in a very friendly place. I didn't speak much Spanish when I arrived in Bolivia, but everywhere I went people were willing to help me out, patiently listening to my attempts to communicate, being very curious about why I was in Bolivia, and engaging with me all the time. I usually felt safe wherever I was, and Bolivian people always warned me off the places a single white female was better avoiding. This survey focuses on the infrastructure countries offer to tourism firms and tourists, and finds Bolivia lacking, in its 'Americas' section, in which it includes the USA as a country, and unsurprisingly, the USA is top in that section of the study.
It is true that if you go to Bolivia expecting infrastructure such as motorways, service stations, broadband internet and top flight hotels, you're picked the wrong country for your trip. Bolivia is emerging strongly from a long history of postcolonialism and neoliberal economics, and its infrastructure, while definitely adequate for the needs of keen travellers versus all-inclusive tour operator holiday-makers, is not shiny top-of-the-range. But part of the fun of experiencing a nation in Bolivia's phase of development is negotiating a new culture, of which its infrastructure is one part, and can be readily navigated by anyone with common sense.
I found internet cafes everywhere, so I could upload my travel photos to Facebook as I went; I could jump on a bus from one side of the country to the other at almost any time; I did miss having a very hot shower on a daily basis, but I got used to showering in lukewarm water quickly enough to get to the local bakery for my morning saltena. Sandals Resorts it is not. And I hope it never is.
Like any other nation, Bolivians want to know about the visitors that travel so far to see their home, and they are open to you if you are open to them. That includes Americans. The people you meet on a trip leave an indelible mark on your experience of a new place, so if they are unfriendly or unhelpful, you'll always think of that place as not a good place even if it was beautiful or exciting in other ways. In Bolivia I had the experience of beauty, excitement, exoticism, cosmopolitanism, tradition, art, amazing food, education, and this was all conveyed at its best through the people I met and made lifelong friends with. I left Bolivia with more friends and cultural awareness than I entered. I wonder if the people who compiled this study have ever been to Bolivia, let alone met a Bolivian. And in any case, the statistics they supply diverge from their conclusion: they show that tourist numbers have been steadily rising. In my experience of travelling across Latin America, it is Bolivia that stands out as the friendliest country by far.
If you want to read more about Melanie's experience in Bolivia we have listed some below:
Why did McDonald’s fail in Bolivia? Blame the salteña
Curfews and culture: staying with a host family in Bolivia
Jaguars and paintbrushes: a volunteering weekend in Bolivia’s Chapare