Many of you know because of my last post that my wife and I recently went to Bolivia for 10 days to visit her sister, who is volunteering for a year in Potosi. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because you’re normal – I couldn’t have named a single Bolivian town before we started planning the trip, because (news flash coming!) Bolivia is on exactly nobody’s Top 10 List of Travel Hotspots. Anyway, Potosi is a town that sits about 14,500 feet above sea level. It exists only because it’s next to a silver mine that has been producing silver for over 400 years. So the only things we knew about the trip before going were the following:
- We’re going to a place known primarily (if at all) for silver mining and child labor.
- The city is so high that we should expect to have trouble breathing and should stay away from heavy exercise, light exercise, alcohol, and all other things that one typical does when one enjoys one’s life
- Bolivia is second or third in the world in terms of drug trafficking
- We definitely shouldn’t drink the water
As you can imagine, we weren’t initially excited about going. If my wife’s sister hadn’t been there, we would never have done it. Which is why I’m glad that her sister was there, because it ended up being an incredible trip – not perfect by any means, but incredible nevertheless. I always appreciate finding out that I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do, because it reminds me that most of the things I am afraid of are not worth being afraid of. I think that’s true for all of us, whether we’re talking personal lives or business decisions. I’ve attached a few pictures from the trip, along with a few observations about a country you probably have thought about going to:
1) Bolivia is ridiculously safe.
Yes, it is a big country for drug trafficking, but we saw absolutely none of that. The police don’t even carry guns; they have nightsticks, just like the British. We were in a total of four cities – all of which had more street traffic than downtown Manhattan, because people walked in the street as much as on the sidewalks – and we never once felt unsafe. I felt safer in Bolivia than I sometimes do in downtown Detroit or Chicago.
This entire hotel is made of SALT! Seriously!
2) The natural beauty was literally otherworldly.
There are things in Bolivia that I will never see anywhere else. We spent hours driving on salt flats that put the ones in Utah to shame, endless blindingly white spaces a third the size of Switzerland. We went to the most desolate place I’ve ever seen in my life, a landscape so barren that NASA is actually conducting experiments there to help people prepare for the colonization of Mars. We also saw thousands of llamas, and they are adorable.
3) Regulations are a very good thing.
I don’t want to get overly political here; but for anyone who doesn’t like the government interfering in our affairs, you should really go to a country without any government interference. There are no emissions laws in Bolivia, and anyone can sell anything anywhere they want. Which means the streets are crowded beyond belief with makeshift huts and tents selling all kinds of foods that may or may not be sanitary (which might explain why 3 of us got salmonella while we were there, including yours truly); and the auto pollution is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There are fewer cars than in New York or L.A., but every breath tastes like you’ve locked yourself in a garage and turned the car on. All of us were trying to figure out how to breathe less, that’s how bad it was. My keynotes are all about moderation, and this was a perfect example of it. Too many regulations might stifle growth, but too few will leave you with a world I can promise you don’t want to spend your entire life in.
I hope you enjoy the photos, and I hope this helps you consider going somewhere you’ve never thought about going before.