After ten days in Peru and one incredible trip to Machu Picchu I set off for Bolivia. I was feeling hopeful, and after surviving a dodgy landing from Peruvian Airlines I was feeling lucky.
Sitting at an altitude of 3640m, Bolivia’s La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world. To this day it’s the only place I’ve immediately felt light-headed stepping off a pressurised air craft.
My visit to Bolivia was limited to a week. During that time I planned to visit the world famous salt flats at the very south of the country as well as cycling down the world’s most dangerous road.
I did all of those things and they were truly amazing. To be honest Bolivia is right up there with New Zealand as one of my favourite places i’ve traveled to. At times I felt like I was on a different planet.
For this week’s instalment of the throwback series of my final backpacking trip I want to do something different. With the Peru article (Which you can read here) I spoke about visiting Machu Picchu having wanted to for so long.
For the Bolivia story, I want to talk about my first couple of days in the country. Where I really got to know the people of South America.
After clearing customs and proving I had the Yellow Fever jab I took a taxi to my hostel in La Paz. The drive was incredibly scenic. The road from the airport to the city centre was down a bowl. I tried to engage in conversation with the taxi driver using my limited Spanish. However, the altitude was so extreme I got out of breath trying.
I’ll always remember checking-in to the hostel. The local man who worked there said they don’t see many Europeans. I wasn’t really surprised. The response I received when I told people I was going to South America for a month did paint the picture that they feared for my life. It seemed like my friends and family genuinely thought I had gone too far by deciding to travel to the continent.
After checking-in I asked the hostel worker what he recommended doing that night. Seeing as it was only a short flight from Peru I didn’t have to worry about jet lag. He put a lot of ideas forward but said if I wanted to meet more like-minded people my best bet was to head to the hostel bar around 10pm.
Having met like-minded travellers this way in the past I decided to opt for the hostel bar. After dropping my bags off in the room I made my way to the bar for a spot of food. The lift was undergoing maintenance which meant I had to walk up eight flights of stairs to get to the bar. At an altitude of almost 4000m that was an exhausting experience. I think I stopped for a breather every three floors.
The Loki Hostel, La Paz
The first thing most people think when they hear the word Loki is Tom Hiddleston. To be honest the Marvel films are so in your face and everywhere you go that I fall under that category. However, as fun as Thor Ragnarok is, it doesn’t quite have the mental moral of the story I got from the Loki hostel.
After grabbing some food I returned to the dorm to chill for a few hours. I met the people I’d be sharing with for my initial two nights in the city before I departed for the salt flats. All of whom were from South America. And they too were heading to the bar that night, so we went together.
The qualifying rounds for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia took place during my visit to Bolivia and were shown in the bar. Due to the time difference the game had already been played but seeing as my phone is off for most of the time while I’m travelling I didn’t know the score.
When we arrived at the bar the Scotland vs England game had just started. We watched as the drama unfolded in the 2-2 draw.
During and after the game we spoke about football. I told them about West Ham, showing them photos from games I had been to. I also mentioned how I went to Barcelona a few months earlier to see Lionel Messi play.
Most of my new friends were from Brazil. They told me where they were for their World Cup success in 2002 while I shared the story of watching Ronaldinho lob David Seaman in the the assembly hall before school at the age of eight.
Over the course of the night the rounds of drinks switched between what they typically drink on a night out in Rio de Janeiro and what I would have on a night out in London. All the while sharing stories of how an average night out goes in our respective homes.
After the game the bar prepared for a karaoke night – appropriately named Karaloki. Those of you who know me will know I love karaoke so this was right up my street.
Interactions with other people
A lot more happened on that night but to be honest it becomes irrelevant in terms of what this post is about. Similar to all nights out wherever they are, to most people they mean nothing. It only really means something if you were there and part of it.
However, the reason I’m bringing this one up on a blog about mental health awareness is because of the importance of interacting with people.
Before I set foot in South America I knew there wouldn’t be many English people about. Especially in Bolivia. I very recently found out that Bolivia is one of South America’s least traveled to countries. Out of all places I visited in South America, it is the one which raised the most eyebrows.
There’s a very cliché view that South America is basically like Narcos. Full of bad people and drug cartels. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s the safest place in the world. However, if you are sensible and careful – like I was – you will be fine.
Before visiting South America I’d never spoken to someone from that part of the world. However, after befriending a number of people while there I can say they are some of the most free spirited and fun people I have ever met.
Obviously I can only speak for the handful of South Americans I befriended but there was a real lack of an urge to be materialistic. They were primarily focused on the here and the now. Which is exactly what I try to be.
Being less materialistic
In the past I’ve been guilty of being incredibly materialistic. That gradually began to change as I started the therapy process three years earlier. With all three of my backpacking trips contributing to the cause.
To really realise how much you want something you must first see it in action – whatever it is. Materialistic or not. If you want a brand new car, you take it for a test drive. The same way I knew I wanted to run a marathon after watching it on tv every year.
But the best of all come when you are least expecting it. Such as at a karaoke night in La Paz, Bolivia, surrounded by people you’ve never met before.
Realistically there’s a very high chance I’ll never see anyone from that night again. I haven’t even spoken to most of them since.
That’s the beauty of travel memories. They’re representative of a moment in time where a random group of people are together in a random place in the world having the time of their lives, or ‘living their best lives’.
Leonardo DiCaprio sums up it in The Beach better than I ever could. “I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.”
Whenever I see that quote or watch the film I’m immediately taken back to times in my life where I’ve had that feeling. Whether that’s at a karaoke night in Bolivia, jumping out of a plane in New Zealand, on a boat in the USA or at my friends wedding at home in the UK.
As great as the things you do throughout your life are it’s ultimately the people you do them with which make them what they are. Which is why I never want them to stop. I picked up another just last night – one of my first since the pandemic took control – watching England beat Germany 2-0 in a pub with five friends.
I went on my last backpacking trip in 2017 aged 23. I’m now 27 years old and naturally have a considerably larger list of responsibilities. Although that’s a natural part of growing up I’d hate to be in a situation where I’ve effectively priced myself out of making more memories. And if being less materialistic is a small price I have to pay for that then I consider myself the luckiest man in the world.
Having been in lockdown by myself the past 15 months I’ve not only been shut away from the world but my friends and family as well. It’s a feeling so many people across the world have had to endure. But the way I look at it is that going forward I’m going to be more motivated than ever to experience that feeling of paradise again.
2021 London Marathon
I’m running the 2021 London Marathon for Mind!
If you wish to donate or keep up to date with how my training and fundraising is going you can do so by following the links below.
Fundraising Page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JordanCamp
My blog post about the event
Mind Website: https://www.mind.org.uk