Bolivia Rules (unwritten)

  1. Take off your hat and sunglasses when you enter a bank.
  2. Don’t antagonize the riot police at a soccer game.
  3. Always carry a spare set of dry clothes during Carnaval week.
  4. On the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway, don’t pass more than five transport trucks at a time (unless you feel like it).
  5. Always offer the first sip of your (alcoholic) drink to Pachamama by pouring it on the ground.
  6. Only cross busy city streets in the company of crowds (safety in numbers).
  7. Avoid carrying more than four couches at a time on top of your car.
  8. Always go to the bathroom before (well before) you get on an inter-city bus. (They may have toilets but they aren’t meant to be used.)
  9. Always ask permission before you take anyone’s photo. And never take a photo of any shoe-shiners working the streets of La Paz. They wear balaclavas for a reason.
  10. Try not to flinch when you see someone urinating (or worse) in the street.
  11. Show an appropriate degree of cultural respect (no gaping mouths or exclamations) when looking at dried llama fetuses and flamingo wings for sale.
  12. Always re-confirm your airline reservations the day before leaving AND again on the day of departure, or risk losing them.
  13. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!
  14. Expect delays, especially due to road blockades, street marches and other forms of political protest.
  15. Be grateful for every minute of internet connectivity you get, no matter how slow.
  16. Don’t eat salad, unpeeled raw fruit or vegetables, juices sold in the street, warm tea, unpasteurized dairy products (e.g., most of the ice cream you see for sale) or yogourt/meat that has not been refrigerated (again, that is most of it). For the duration of your trip, these must be relegated to the realm of fantasy, along with non-instant coffee, whole grains, Silk creamer, chiropractic adjustments, a hot bath, Jhian Ghomeshi, a hot bath with Jhian Ghomeshi…(did I say that?)
  17. Don’t approach or try to pet any alpacas, pigs, chickens, donkeys or llamas you meet in the street, especially the latter, as they really do spit!
  18. Don’t worry about the frequent explosions you hear in the street or the sparks that fly when you plug anything into the wall. Es normal.
  19. Don’t expect HOT and COLD temperature controls in showers to be where they are in your country, or to turn in a logical direction.  Or to produce water of any temperature.
  20. Don’t bother picking up litter in the street. It’s like spitting into the ocean.
  21. Don’t haggle. People here are generally extremely honest; they’re not trying to take advantage of you. Don’t take advantage of them.
  22. Try not to confuse ‘jamon’ and ‘jabon”’ Otherwise you might end up showering with ham or getting served a soap sandwich. (Other words that are easily confused include ‘mantaquilla’, which means ‘butter,’ and ‘manzanilla’ which means ‘chamomile’ – as in tea.  We also find it amusing that ‘papa’ means both ‘potato’ and ‘Pope’.)
  23. Always offer your seat on the bus to elderly people, especially if they are shorter than your smaller-than-average 9-year-old child.
  24. Try not to stare at the intimidating, big, long guns often carried by security guards and police (frequently seen outside stores selling high-priced merchandise, including anything electronic).
  25. Be gentle when waking up vendors who have fallen asleep in their market stalls. (First you have to find them; it’s a lot like the scene where ET is hidden in the closet…)
  26. Don’t expect businesses to be open between the hours of noon and 3 pm. Generally, you’ll have better luck between 8 and 9 pm when the streets are amazingly packed with people.)
  27. Avoid eating cookies while hiking uphill at elevations over 4000 metres. You can’t swallow and breathe at the same time.
  28. Make an effort to learn as much Spanish as possible, even if only as a gesture.  Being unilingual is embarrassing when you realize how many languages most other people speak. (For many people in Bolivia, English is a fourth language, after Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish.)
  29. For young people with blond hair and blue eyes: Try to be tolerant – even if it means a forced smile – when Bolivians repeatedly pat your head while shaking their heads and muttering something you don’t understand.
  30. Always carry Tylenol, Gravol, Immodium, rehydration formula, and enough antibiotic to knock out a buffalo, at all times, everywhere you go.
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