| by Kenneth Chase | No comments

Geography Now! Bolivia


Hey Geograpeeps, so I actually had the pleasure of going to Bolivia a couple years ago so in this episode you’re gonna see some of the great footage that I took with my crappy 2010 Panasonic camcorder. It’s time to learn Geography… NOW!!! Oh, we are so gonna “bo-live-it-up” in Bolivia. Ha! Flag time. Alright, another flag that has a lot of things to look at Let’s see if we can do this faster than Belize’s flag, shall we? First of all, the flag is a horizontal tricolor flag with three bands: red, yellow and green with the coat of arms in the center. The red represents, once again, say it with me: the bloodshed for those who fought for the country. The yellow represents the wealth of resources and the green represents the richness of natural areas and hope. The coat of arms is a little more complex. First of all, in the center is a cartouche image of Mount Potosi with the Sun rising over it with a llama, a palm tree and a bale of wheat representing the nation’s resources surrounded by a blue border with 10 stars representing the 9 departments and the tenth former province – Litoral, which was taken by Chile in the 1800’s. Finally, you have the name of Bolivia above. Then you have six Bolivian flags on either side, once again, making Bolivia one of the few countries that has a flag with miniature versions of its own flag on its own flag. Then you have the 4 muskets in the back with 2 cannons in front representing the struggle and fight for independence, on top of the cannons you have a Phrygian hood and an axe representing liberty and freedom. On top of everything you have a condor and laurel branches that stand for peace and the willingness to defend. Keep in mind you also might see this flag a lot in Bolivia, also known as the Wiphala which is also kind of seen as a national symbol, but could also be referenced towards the indigenous people of Bolivia and more specifically the Aymara people which make up a huge population demografic of the country. Did we do it? Did we beat Belize? Alright, Bolivia, you are in the lead as the most complex flag that we have done here on Geography Now!, congrats. POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY Bolivia is a very interestingly situated country and to kinda understand it you have to travel back in time. But later, not know. First off, today Bolivia is landlocked located in South America bordered by 5 other countries: Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argetina and Chile. The country has very meticulously surveyed borders with every single one of its neighbor countries and that’s kind of partially because they kinda had a lot of wars with every single one of them. Even little Paraguay? Oh especially Paraguay, that little dude knows how to fight. Now here’s a thing, in the past Bolivia actually had a lot more land than it did today. In fact, in the past it had a province called Litoral, which is what the 10th star on the flag is referring to, which was the only area that Bolivia had access to the ocean. Long story shorty, Chile got that part, Brazil took these parts and Paraguay got this part. So anyway, Bolivia is divided into 9 regions and technically it has two capitals, La Paz, also known by its official name Nuestra Señora de La Paz, which means “our lady of peace” and Sucre which means “sugar”. It’s a little hard to explain but essentially, but Sucre is the constitutional capital where the supreme court is located, but La Paz is where all the seats of government reside. The legislative executive branches are both found in the city and even the president resides in the Palacio Quemado Palace in La Paz. And since China took over Tibet that made La Paz the world’s highest capital at about 12,000 feet or 3,700 meters above sea level. The height is so extreme that typically visitors might find themselves short of breathing and might experience altitude sickness in which the Bolivians will be happy to provide you with Coca leaves, not cocoa leaves, coca leaves, as a remedy. You can either make it into a tea or chew them up raw and dried. Water also boils at a different temperature at about 88 degree Celsius which makes things typically take a little bit longer to cook. Also the air pressure is so light here that many plasma TVs don’t even work and it has to do with some kind of science series about the phosphor pods being licked by electrodes… I don’t know. It’s time to learn some chemistry…LATER!!! La Paz is a beautiful city with the frighteningly majestic snowcap Mount Illimani overlooking everything in the southwest and has a plethora of skyscrapers and monuments. Getting out of La Paz is the tricky part. This glorious urban gem is locked and tucked away in the Andes mountains, so you really only have like two extreme options. If you head west, you have to pass through the driest desert in the world, the Atacama which looks virtually indistinguishable from the moon at some points with no living plants in sight for miles. And heading east you have to pass through the mountains, where you are so high you can literally see the clouds below you as you drive into the tropical Amazon basin. But before you do, you have to go on the Yungas Highway, otherwise known as the Calle del muerte, or “the death road”. The road at its narrowest is only about 3 meters wide or the width of an actual vehicle and sits over the ledge of a drop well over 600 meters or 2,000 feet with no guardrail. Nonetheless, this road is still technically a two-lane highway that offers traffic to drivers going in each direction. Every few hundred meters there are shoulder curves that drivers can use to allow other cars to pass on the opposite side. Every year it’s estimated that about 200 to 300 people die on this road alone. However, it’s funny because this one road has actually become a huge tourist destination of Bolivia. Yeah, the landscape in Bolivia is quite intense, let’s talk about that in… PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY Okay, so Bolivia has some of the most contrasting landscapes you’ll see in all of South America, let alone the world. First of all, about a third of a country is covered in the rocky dry snowcapped Andes mountains to the west and to the east after traversing the mountains you enter the hot humid wet pampas or rainforest zone. As the most sparsely populated country in all of South America, Bolivia’s interior is widely untouched and uncultivated. In fact, you can even book your own three-day eco tour that involves getting your own cabin, food and doing activities like fishing for piranhas, feeding wild monkeys, interacting with crocodiles and swimming with pink river dolphins all for about 70 dollars, yeah the exchange rate is that good in Bolivia. Otherwise, if you stay in the west side you can still experience some amazing geological anomalies. In the south in the Potosí province you reach Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. In the dry summer months, this creepishly serene area is a completely flat white salt bed that goes on and on for miles to the ends of the horizon. In the wet winter months, the rains pour down heavily covering the entire area in a shallow watery gloss that you can walk in and respectively becomes the world’s largest mirror. Further north closer to La Paz you reach lake Titicaca, hehe lake… The highest lake in the world, which they share with Peru. It’s kind of funny though, because even though Bolivia doesn’t have a coastline, they still have a navy, which for the most part partols over the lakes and the rivers. Agriculture makes up about a quarter of the GDP, even though about 2% of the country is cultivated for crops. Despite the fact that arable land is quite abundant, it’s just not used. Cash crops are coffee, cotton and coca, not cocoa, coca – the controversial little leaf that when used correctly can help heal sickness and when used destructively can create a little drug known for causing the deaths of many. I’m talking about gin martinis… naah, I’m just kidding, I’m talking about cocaine… no, but seriously gin martinis are like the worst thing ever, I don’t understand why anybody would have… Sorry, this is about Bolivia, again, no but seriously, the coca leaf has been growing in the country for centuries and has actually gotten Bolivia in a lot of heat, even with some of their friends. Friends we’ll discuss about in…the friend zone, but first we have to talk about the… DEMOGRAPHICS Bolivia’s people are pretty much unlike any other people in South America and here’s why. First of all, the country has a little over 10 and a half million people and along with Peru is one of only two countries in South America in which Amerindians make up the majority and is the only country in Americas, let alone the world, in which Amerindians make up over half of the population. Otherwise, about 30% are Mestizo and about 15% are white. In terms of amerindian subdivisions there are 30 people groups, however the largest ones are the Quechua, the Aymara and the Guaraní. Most of the Aymaras and Quechuas live in the west in the Andes mountain range, whereas most of the Guaranís and other amazon tribal peoples live mostly in the east and in the heavily forested pampas, which in addition to spanish make up the four official languages of Bolivia. At the end of the day, however, pretty much everybody speaks Spanish, however Bolivian Spanish is a little different from the standard Mexican or Spain Spanish that most people are taugh. In addition to an accent heavily influenced by indigenous languages, a whole different vocabulary exists. For example instead of hearing “hombre” you might hear “varone”, instead of hearing “basura” you might hear “chorita” and sometimes “niño” becomes “tíli”. Person 1: “No tengo dinero.” (I don’t have money) Person 2: “Huh?” Person 1: “Estoy yesca?” Person 2: “Aaah, you still owe me mone you ****…” Now here’s how Bolivia kind of divides itself, kind of like Belgium you have two regionally distinct identifiable people groups. The Collas or the people who live in the west by the Andes and the Cambas or the people that live in the east in the rainforest. I mean, technically there’s a third people group called the Chapacos who kind of have their own little thing going on and people of Tarija identify more with Argentina rather than any people group, but most people fall within a Colla and Camba category. These two people groups are quite distinct in their cultures due to the fact that they live completely different lives in completely different atmospheres that they’ve adapted to. Culture-wise, Bolivia is quite noticeably particular from its neighbors. For one, they are much more heavily influenced by indigenous customs, rituals and clothing and even festivals. Interesting side note: you can typically bet on it that a woman is from Bolivia if you see her wearing one of those round small bowler hats, whereas Peruvian women like to wearn the western hats with the flatter brim. Granted, I’m not saying all Peruvian or Bolivian women look like that, I’m just saying it’s a very prevalent looking mainly in the rural areas. Ha, good move Paul…you win this round, but we’re watching you. Another funny side note: if you visit La Paz and El Alto, make sure you buy a ticket to see the wrestling cholitas show in which women wrestle both men and each other while wearing the traditional clothing. What a great way to make friends…speaking of friends. FRIENDZONE When it comes to diplomatic relations, Bolivia is kind of like: “I don’t like you… I think… but I’ll still give you an embassy.” First of all, with the exception of Peru, Bolivia’s relations with all their immediate neighbors are all kind of strained a little bit. Paraguay because of the Gran Chaco area dispute that led to war, then you have Brazil and the Acre War and Chile with the Pacific War. Even Argentina had a few scuffles with Bolivia. Nonetheles, all these countries still have relatively close ties and they all have their own embassies and consulates in Bolivia. Then we get to Israel and things get a little weird because the president doesn’t really favor Israel and has threatened to cut ties with them, but many of the Bolivian people are incredibly against this as Israelis make up a huge demografic of the tourism sector. In many places in La Paz you can even find street signs and posters printed in Hebrew and many of the locals actually learn how to speak Hebrew to accommodate the visitors. Without the Israelis they actually might lose a huge potential in revenue. Bolivia’s best new friends might be Venezuela and Cuba. This is actually kind of new considering that relations weren’t really that strong before. The reason has something to kind of do with the fact that they all agree with the same anti-imperialist and socialist ideologies. Which is kind of funny considering what happened to Che Guevara. In terms of their old best friend, Bolivia might probably consider Peru. They were even for a short period of time part of the same Confederation and fought against Chile together. Peru out of sympathy has even allowed Bolivia to build a port on the ocean on their land that they can use. In conclusion, Bolivia likes to call itself the “heart of South America” and considering all the amazing astounding things that you encounter, it’s not really hard to believe that saying. They just wish they had a coast. Stay tuned, Bosnia and Herzegovina is coming up next!

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