Before I came to Bolivia, the only images I could picture of the country were dusty mountains and llamas. That was literally it. While my visual expectation of the country may have more or less matched La Paz, I was completely surprised by the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. When we first arrived in Santa Cruz, I kept having to remind myself that I wasn’t on a tropical island in the Caribbean; it seemed like the ocean was always just out of sight. The air was warm and balmy, and such a welcome change from the cold, dry air of La Paz. While the infrastructure of the city was in worse condition than La Paz, and we were told that it was not as safe, I felt very at home there.
Again, in contrast to La Paz, the traditional fare in the lowlands consisted of lots of rice; Amazonian fish, not the trucha of Lake Titicaca; and, shockingly, vegetables other than corn or potatoes. The tropical climate there allows for farmers to grow vegetables even in the winter, due to the fact that despite the season, it was about 85 degrees the whole weekend we were there. Despite my slight distaste for the seasonal food of La Paz, I can really appreciate how people so obviously try and eat locally here in Bolivia. At home, we have a vegetable garden and some fruit trees, and we try to utilize those resources when we cook so we can eat healthier. Natural, local food is such an important thing to me, and I’m glad people seem to value that here as well.
I did think the people were more friendly in La Paz than in Santa Cruz, but that may have also been because I didn’t have to take public transportation or interact with strangers as much as I normally have to here in La Paz. I think that is my favorite thing about Bolivia’s unofficial capital city: the people. Even when I felt completely lost, or uncomfortable, or homesick, I never had one person act maliciously towards me, which I definitely did not expect from a major city. I thought Southern hospitality was a rarity, but it pales in comparison to the warmth of the Bolivian people.