Bolivia’s natural beauty blew us away, but the indigenous culture of the people really stole our hearts. Their kindness and generosity was unmatched in all our travels so far. Our glimpse at the lives of the indigenous people of Bolivia is one of the highlights that will stay with us long after our travels.
They have so much to tell. From the look in their eyes to the colors of their clothes, there’s always a depth in each person’s story.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a culture and group of people and lifestyle so different than what we’ve grown up with and known our whole lives.
But, there’s still old ladies chatting it up in up on the park bench.
And the meat has to get delivered to the market one way or another!
And young girls dancing to find their mates.
And people stand in awe of the expanse of the world.
Bolivian Bowler Hat Legend
You might have noticed the funny bowler hats some of the ladies wear! According to legend, in the 1920’s when bowler hats were popular in Europe and the US some company from England sent a big shipment down to Peru and Bolivia. They were meant for the Europeans working on railroad construction, but the hats were way too small and were brown instead of black.
The company had to sell these hats one way or another, so they told the Bolivian ladies that it was the latest fashion in Europe – to wear a bowler hat on the tippy-top of their head. The tradition was born, and today they take great pride in their funny-looking hats, which can cost upwards of $100 US dollars for good quality ones!
Coca Leaves – A Favorite of the Indigenous People of Bolivia
Many indigenous Bolivians also chew coca leaves non-stop. Not cocoa leaves, like for chocolate, but coca, that’s sometimes used to make cocaine. They start in the morning by de-stemming and chewing on 30-50 leaves, and then leave the ball of them in their cheek all day to get the juice out of them. It’s like coffee to them, and they sometimes just chew coca leaves all day and never eat lunch. It also helps them, and the tourists to adjust to the affects of high altitude.
It is the same leaf that cocaine is made from, but they say it requires a truckload of leaves and a few chemical processes to concentrate the drug enough to make just a little bit of cocaine. They aren’t addicted to cocaine because it’s all exported (illegally), so they just chew the leaves.
There sure is a mixed message though when they say Coca Cola buys tons of the leaves annually but the airlines forbid carrying any coca leaves out of the country…
New Mixing With the Old
The most intriguing part of their culture for us was the mix of new ideas and clothing that was finding its way into their traditional lives. The indigenous people mixed with Bolivians wearing western clothing, and there was always a stark difference.
All the kids had really crisp school uniforms, which always impresses us. But WHITE slacks?! That blows my mind!
We found a very nice western-dressed shoe repairman that went to work repairing a broken strap on Alyssa’s backpack.
I really hope the Bolivians hold onto their indigenous culture and maintain the kindness that first took hold of our hearts.