Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Bolivian Water Wars - Corporations and Revolutions

International corporate conspiracy, fighting in the streets of Bolivia with tear gas and bullets and a power struggle at the highest levels of international politics and business; it sounds like something from a James Bond novel, but it actually happened in Bolivia in 2000. High in the Andes, trouble had been brewing for fifteen years, but no-one expected it to boil over for the right to drink a glass of water.

Problems for Bolivia
Hyperinflation destroyed the Bolivian economy in 1985, rising at an incredible 25,000%. Foreign investment possibilities were destroyed, and in the financial crisis the World Bank stepped up to loan the government money when no-one else would. As condition for it support, the Bank demanded steady privatization of Bolivian facilities, including airlines, telephone networks and railways. Our story begins in 2000 when, according to The Economist magazine, the World Bank told Bolivia of the possibility that it would not 'renew' a $25 million loan. To secure the loan, the government needed to privatize its water systems, based on concerns about the efficiency and sustainability of the state system.

Enter the Consortium
Bolivia set the wheel in motion to privatize. Only one bid was put in for the state agency SEMAPA; a consortium called Aguas de Tunari formed by foreign corporations Bechtel Enterprise Holdings (USA), International Water Limited (England) and Edison (Italy). Aguas de Tunari projected a water network to provide drinking water to all of the people of Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia. This was set to double the existing coverage area and also introduce electrical production to more of the region. The Bolivian government under President Hugo Banzer agreed to the terms of its sole bidder Aguas del Tunari and signed a $2.5 billion, 40-year concession to provide water and sanitation services to the residents of Cochabamba, as well as generate electricity and irrigation for agriculture.

Warning signs
To legally support the contract, the government passed Law 2029. Concerns arose amongst Bolivians that it would lead to a monopoly on all water resources; for example, the communal irrigation resources used by farmers that had been independent of regulation. Previously free water could be charged at the discretion of Aguas del Tunari.

Nasty surprises
As soon as they took control of the water supply, the consortium started making some unpopular changes. A 35% rate hike to an average of $20 a month put incredible strain on Bolivian families, the average which earned a monthly income of about $100. Increases were justified as payments towards a dam project. A manager for the consortium made matters worse by threatening to shut off water supplies if Bolivians were unable to pay. The poor quickly joined in protest; their numbers increased when the middle class and business owners lost their government subsidies and their rates also rose.

Panic in the streets
The response to the rate increase began in in January 2000 with a 4 day strike and boiled over into a national state of emergency that created various violent clashes, resulting in numerous injured police and protesters and five deaths. After a televised recording of a 17 year old being shot to death by a Bolivian army Captain, public outcry forced the police to tell the executives of Aguas de Tunari who had been relying on their protection that their safety could no longer be guaranteed. The executives fled to Santa Cruz and resistance to civil protests dissolved. Within days the leader of the resistance, Oscar Olivera, signed an agreement that pushed Aguas de Tunari out of Bolivia and turned Cochabamba's water resources over to the state facilities, revoked Law 2090 and released all the detainees from the conflict.

The aftermath
It all sounds like a happy ending, but for the $40m lawsuit filed by Aguas de Tunari against the Bolivian government for being forced out of Bolivia and violating their mutual contract. The lawsuit was eventually dropped in 2005. In Cochabamba water prices have dropped to pre-2000 levels, but service and supply are still poor and SEMAPA is even more burdened by inefficiency. With an unsuitable budget to expand resources and develop what already exists, Cochabamba seems to be in the bizarre position of exactly where it was fifteen years ago, but with the history of a very messy conflict.

So what do we take away from this story? There's the obvious problem of international corporate interests paying little attention to the needs of the population that they were supposed to be serving, but that's not the most disturbing insight. The reason for the violent and passionate protests by the Bolivian people was due to the fact that they were having their access to water taken away. It's a common saying that "Water is life"; as oil becomes scarce, will we see water become the new global commodity? We can live without oil, but what would happen if our water supply was passing through political or commercial interests?

Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and Escaped to Latin America and has lived in South America for over 10 years. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. To learn more feel free to click on the links below:

Toll Free USA / Canada 1-800-305-6543
Free Phone UK 0-800-680-0617

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Visit Bolivia - Coroico's Budget Friendly Nature Getaway

The country of Bolivia is probably not a well known place for many tourists probably because it is one of the highest and most remote countries in the world. However, this place on earth is actually one of the best areas to spend a nature getaway.

Coroico is one of the best places in Bolivia to visit. Situated specifically in the Yungas region, the town overlooks the scenic foothills of Andes mountain ranges, and is a frequent access point harsher and more rugged mountainous landscape of the northern region. Coroico experiences nice warm climate and possesses calm and relaxing ambiance, making it an ideal retreat spot. The suitable environment in Coroico is also a perfect site to engage in activities like jungle hiking, waterfall trekking, wildlife viewing, and following trails set by the ancient Inca tribe. When you visit Bolivia do not miss seeing the Cotapata National Park, a small natural reserve that houses highly diversified ecosystems. Just three hours from Coroico, is the ancient rock paintings called the Kellkata Petroglyphs.

Unlike other high-profile tourist destinations, you don't have to spend too much money or deal with boisterous crowds to experience a great nature getaway. When you visit Bolivia, the view of the valleys and mountain from the town is already an attraction in itself. In fact, a number of tourists are content staring off into the scenic surrounding while drinking the local coffee or tea the town is known for.

Best Places in Bolivia

Aside from the budget friendly nature getaway in Coroico you can also visit numerous places of interest around the town. For instance, you can go for a tour around plantations for coffee and banana, and the citrus orchard. Expose yourself to the agricultural heritage of the locals and visit the distinct villages in the area like the Jewish-community of Charobamba and the Afro-Bolivian community called TocaÒa.

The rivers (rio in Spanish) of Kory Huayco, San Juan and Coroico are also few of the best places in Bolivia that you ought to see. It is simply near to the town and are great spots to have a refreshing swim and lovely picnic. The nearby Huarinillas River is a favorite spot for thrill seekers as its strong currents are ideal for rafting. Guided tours are available for those who like the see the beautiful waterfalls in the area. When you visit Bolivia, you should not be contented without seeing its notable spots such as the Paradise Falls, Perolani waterfalls and Pozas del Vagante.


Ironically, some of the best places in Bolivia have a deadly history. For instance, the Yungas Road that runs from La Paz to Bolivia's Amazon rainforest region in the north of the country has been dubbed the "World's Most Dangerous Road because of its scary downhill direction. Based on statistics, it is the most dangerous road in the world, killing 100 to 300 people every year. But despite its frightening view, it is one of the favorite places that bikers and adventure-seekers love to go. If you are confident with your biking abilities, then you can join the ranks of the few tourists who dare to bike on this road as part of your nature getaways. Other less-risky mountain biking trails are also available within the town's vicinity.

Your nature getaway in Bolivia is made more convenient with the availability of affordable hotels and accommodation. From big luxurious hotels to eco-lodges, Bolivia hotels offers the best price and service. You can also have a delightful dinner at one of many Coroico's restaurants, which serve both international and local cuisines. To make your night more fun and memorable, head out to some of the several cafes, bars and small clubs, which are located near the best places in Bolivia.

To get a daily doze of inspiration of the best travel destinations in the world please visit: Traveler Dreams

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Silver Mountain - Rags and Riches in Bolivia

At more than 13,000 feet above sea-level in the Andes, we were as close to heaven as most mortals can hope to get - and closer to hell than anybody would want to be.

A group of miners steadily chewed coca leaves, mixing the wad with ash. They claimed it immunized them against cold and hunger. Armed with carbide lamps, most not wearing safety helmets, they began to file into the mine, ducking to avoid broken timbers, crawling through puddles.

I thought about the dark stains smearing the mine entrance. They were from the blood of the llamas ritually sacrificed to appease El Tio, the devilish deity who rules underground.

Coca juice numbed my mouth and claustrophobia gnawed at my stomach. My heart thumped with the exertion at this altitude. What the devil was I doing here, deep in the depths of Cerro Rico (rich hill), the mountain that broods over Potosí in Bolivia?

The astounding wealth below the surface of the cone-shaped hill, called Sumac Orcko ("beautiful hill") in the Quechua tongue, was discovered by Diego Gualpa, an Indian, in April, 1545. One story says he detected silver when his llama scratched the earth.

If Diego had known how much suffering his find was to bring to his people in the former kingdom of the Incas, he would surely have kept quiet. But five rich veins were located close to the surface, the mountain was renamed Cerro Rico and soon Potosí had 160,000 inhabitants, a colourful mixture of officials, traders, desperadoes, and millionaires, plus at least 800 professional gamblers and 120 prostitutes.

From its mines poured an estimated 46,000 tons of silver, worth anything from US$5,000 million upwards in modern terms. It brought undreamed-of wealth to a handful of adventurers, adorned churches and palaces, and helped pay for Spain's Great Armada and a series of wars. It also brought misery and death to thousands of Indians forced to work below ground.

In Potosí only the best was good enough for the silver barons. They competed in licentiousness and conspicuous consumption. They shipped their finery back to Paris to have it properly dry-cleaned while their ladies wore elegant shoes with heels of solid silver.

Today the city, declared by UNESCO a World Heritage site, is remote and sleepy and conditions underground are still perilously primitive, as I learned when a young student guided me through some of the 785 kilometres of tunnels honeycombing Cerro Rico. Little silver comes out these days for the most accessible veins are exhausted.

Tin replaced it in importance, making fortunes for a lucky few. But, after the bottom fell out of the tin market in 1985, thousands of miners lost their jobs and only a few mines struggle on.

The dream of easy wealth contributed to Spain's stagnation, helping to impoverish it for centuries. The riches of the Indies were frittered away - and that perhaps is the revenge of Potosí.

Those who carried off its treasure were left with nothing either. Except memories of the silver rush, enshrined in a popular Spanish phrase: "Vale un potosí! It's worth a king's ransom!"

Journalist and author David Baird has worked all over the world but is now based in Spain. His book about a little-known conflict that raged in the 1940s, Between Two Fires - Guerrilla War in the Spanish sierras, has won praise from such leading historians as Paul Preston and Ian Gibson. His latest books are works of fiction. Typhoon Season is a thriller set in Hong Kong. Don't Miss The Fiesta! is a tale of passion and adventure set in southern Spain. More information at the Maroma Press website,

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Backpacking Inspiration - 1 Month - Peru, Bolivia and Chile

The natural untouched beauty of the mighty Andean mountain range, the majestic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca Islands that are barely affected by the modern world. Street markets and Andean culture in Bolivia, sand-boarding in the Atacama Desert and 4x4 drives across the Bolivia salt flats. All this can comfortably be experienced in around a month travelling through this awe-inspiring corner of South America.

Below is a suggested one month backpacking itinerary, starting and finishing in Peru and travelling by bus throughout.

Fly into the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. With Machu Picchu on its doorstep, Cusco is a tourist hot-spot where you can organise tours into the Amazon rainforest, explore Inca culture and history, become acclimatised to the Andean altitude, and see the many Inca ruins, most notably the Inca city of Machu Picchu. If you're into trekking, the 4 day Inca Trail finishing at Machu Picchu at sunrise is a must. In and around Cusco, there's a wide selection of museums, galleries, Andean villages and markets to explore.

From Cusco, head to Puno on the shores of the enormous Lake Titicaca. Whether you book onto a tour or just turn up at the pier and get on a boat is up to you, but you won't want to miss a trip to the remote islands on Lake Titticaca. The floating reed islands are postcard-perfect and on Isla Amantani, staying with a local family will give you a real insight into life in this remote part of the world where life has barely changed for centuries.

Next head by bus to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. The highlight of this is the day trek up the coast to a little village where you can hire a small boat and driver to take you across to Isla Del Sol. The scenery is spectacular, and what a night on Isla Del Sol may be lacking in luxury and comfort (supplies are carried up by mule and water is at a premium), the Island more than makes up for in spectacular scenery and walking opportunities.

Back to Puno and on to La Paz, a major city in Bolivia. One of the highest cities in the world, La Paz is nestled in the mountains which provide a perfect backdrop for wandering the stall-lined streets, and exploring the bustling markets and museums.

From La-Paz, head south and get on a 4x4 tour through the huge salt flats at Salar De Uyuni. You'll end up at the Chilean border and on to San Pedro de Atacama, the centre of tourism in the spectacular Atacama Desert. You can go sand-boarding, mountain biking, horse riding and trekking with San Pedro de Atacama as your base, but however you choose to see it, experiencing the desert should be on your list.

Next, head to the Northern Chile coastal town of Iquique, a place where high desert plains abruptly meet the Pacific Ocean creating spectacular cliffs and probably one of the top paragliding destinations in the world. Amazing climate, familiar food and travelling in comfort will all probably be appreciated in Chile after a few weeks in Peru and Bolivia.

Next, head North to Arica and on to the barely discovered gem, the highlight of Northern Chile; Parc Nationale Lauca. One of the best ways to explore this area is to hire a car in Arica for a couple of days. Stay in a rural village like Putre, and explore the spectacular natural landscapes of snow-capped volcanoes reflected in crystal clear lakes, spot flamingo, alpaca and vicuna and buy Andean handicrafts from the villagers.

Continue North into Peru and head for Arequipa. This beautiful city has lots to offer the visitor, not least a trip into the nearby Colca Canyon. From the village of Cabanaconde on the Canyon rim (about 100 miles from Arequipa), you can trek into the canyon in a few hours where you bathe at the Oasis (sheer bliss) and stay in a hut by the river. Your hosts (a local family - no need to reserve, in fact it's probably not possible to reserve) will cook you a meal, light you a fire and provide you with basic accommodation. The sense of tranquility in such a remote location and the expansive natural surroundings mean a trip into Colca Canyon should feature on every traveller's itinerary.

After another day or so relaxing in the cafes and restaurants of beautiful Arequipa, it's a convenient transport hub for flights back to Lima and home, or on to your next destination.

Excluding the cost of flights and travel insurance, and travelling independently as a backpacker, this trip is likely to cost around $1800 - $2500 per person.

Andrew Marsden is a researcher and travel journalist for []. Probably the most comprehensive resource on the web for independent travelling costs. Roam The World are passionate about helping you to plan an adventure using accurate and reliable information.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Relocating to South America - Living in Bolivia

Bolivia is one of those countries that frustrates you into loving it. Given enough time, its quirkiness is what makes you keep coming back for more. As the second poorest country in Latin America, an adventurous spirit is a must, even if you enjoy a very high standard of living. Certain necessities like road infrastructure, public transport and traffic safety are not the best and the supply of gasoline and natural gas (used by almost everyone for cooking) can be unreliable at times. Lately politics have been rather volatile.

Bolivia is like two countries in one, both physically and culturally. The differences are so noticeable it's just not possible to describe the country as a whole. West-Central Andean Bolivia (with its primarily Spanish, Quechua and Aymara population) was the country's center of wealth for over 400 years but has taken a slight downturn. Still, it is culturally and historically rich. Many foreigners enjoy the comfortable moderate climate of Cochabamba (population 600,000), which is most often compared to Cuenca, Ecuador in terms of altitude, climate, architecture, and culture. Expats here tend to mix quite well with the locals and 'adopt' an upper to middle class Bolivian lifestyle. Many stay and marry Bolivians, making 'Cocha' their second home.

You'll find that in La Paz too, but La Paz is more 'international' with large and very active (and much more temporary or mobile) expat communities that, with the exception of aid workers and missionaries, often don't make great attempts to mix with the locals. You must take the extreme altitude of La Paz, the world's highest capital city, into account. At nearly 14,000 feet a.s.l. (twice as high as Denver), it's not for those who have weak hearts or respiratory problems. Most countries send their diplomatic personnel to La Paz (the seat of government) and there are many missionaries, international NGOs and volunteer organizations because of the high degree of poverty among the indigenous class.

In these two major cities expats live very well, often with a higher living standard than they would in their countries of origin. There are several very large residential neighborhoods that cater to foreigners and the Bolivian upper class with modern schools, churches, shopping malls, supermarkets, country clubs, restaurants and very lively night life. There are many affordable and good quality private Bolivian schools (for those who want their children to learn Spanish) as well as American, British and German international schools (expensive at $150 to $500 per month and an initial one-time membership fee of several thousand dollars, but they conform to US and European school years and standards).

In both cities, and most smaller cities, such as Sucre (Bolivia's capital), you can't escape the colonial architecture and dozens of ornate cathedrals, cobblestone streets, and colorful open markets. There is very little zoning and you'll easily find large mansions mixed in with smaller homes, or surrounded by family-run stores and restaurants, street vendors, and noisy night clubs.

Eastern Bolivia (the lowlands) is for those who enjoy hot (often humid) weather, lots of open space, and a laid back lifestyle. This region went from being completely ignored and having almost no infrastructure for over 400 years to being the nation's economic center (but only has been for about 12 years) and Santa Cruz (population 1.6 million) just recently became the largest city in the country. Its growth is fueled by mass immigration from the West and massive oil and gas fields that are Bolivia's main source of income for the moment. This one state alone contributes nearly 40% of the GNP. The problem lies in that its economy is supporting most of the rest of the nation and with what remains it can't maintain or build new infrastructure fast enough to keep up with its own growth.

Younger foreigners and their children tend to thrive here. There are large American, British, German, Dutch, and Japanese expat communities here as well as thousands of Mennonite families. Santa Cruz has more private schools and universities per capita than any other city (most built during the past 12 years). There are several all-English schools here. Many expats mix quite well with the local culture. Because it is warm 9-10 months of the year, most of the population spends a lot of time outdoors and the city is filled with sidewalk cafés, open-air restaurants and great night clubs. There are numerous open markets and supermarkets, shopping malls, country clubs and import stores. Most families find it fairly easy to live and work here (although rental costs are just slightly lower than in the U.S.) and the locals from Beni to Santa Cruz to Tarija tend to be very hospitable. The international communities are mostly linked to business and agencies for cooperation.

Culturally Eastern Bolivia is different from the Andean West in that the Aymara and Quechua population is immigrant and not native to the region. There are over 20 different indigenous groups here, each with its own language and most are Amazonic. The Guaraní are the largest of these (see the movie The Mission - Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro). There are great little towns like Samaipata (2 hours from the city of Santa Cruz), and smaller cities like Tarija (Bolivia's wine country and flower capital) that attract lots of long-stay foreigners and large groups of expat retirees. There is a lot of tropical wilderness to explore here and most tourism is eco or adventure tourism. You can easily take weekend trips or day trips to the dozens of surrounding communities, each with its own culture and attractions.

Aspects you have to take into special consideration and research thoroughly before you move here include the altitude in the West, fairly high rental costs if you want the standard you are accustomed to, and expensive international schools. You also have to consider your health as medical care is severely lacking throughout the entire country. Even with great long-term international medical insurance some meds and technology are just not available. If you plan to live and work here, you cannot arrive on a tourist visa and later request residency. It's fairly easy to set up a business here, but very difficult to find a job if you move here without a contract. There is no one place in Bolivia where you won't soon see severe poverty. Currently the political situation has taken a downturn and there is no tolerance for foreigners who get politically involved, Americans in particular. The food is great and you could learn a new recipe each week for the rest of your life. If you can't tolerate disorderly traffic you'll be doing a lot of walking.

Charis Barks grew up in Latin America from the age of four and as an American expat, third culture kid and missionary kid, relocated to and from various countries in South America, including Bolivia. Growing up overseas gave her a unique perspective she now shares on, a website she builds and designs that contains over 1000 pages of first-hand facts and information about Bolivia for expatriates, tourists, businesspeople, volunteers and students. Bolivians and expats alike also contribute to this site by adding pages with their own travel tips and stories, advice and personal recommendations.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Bird Watching Holidays in Bolivia: Dream Trips for Birders

If you're an avid bird watcher looking for your next intrepid adventure, why not consider Bolivia? Famous for its prolific birdlife, Bolivia offers plenty of opportunities to spot many of the 850 species that reside here. Its diverse geography and range of ecosystems provide the perfect habitats for the different species.

A trip to Bolivia makes for a fascinating and memorable experience but, before you book, make sure you do some research on the bird watching holidays on offer. You should book with a company that offers small groups, a local tour leader, and a varied itinerary to ensure you get the most out of your once in a lifetime visit to this spectacular country.

Highlights of Bolivia

Most bird watching holidays to Bolivia include Amboro National Park on the itinerary, which, because of its incredible range of flora, is home to an astounding number of bird species, including Flycatchers, Tanagers, hummingbirds and Antbirds. This ecological hotspot covers half a million hectares and encompasses three main ecosystems: the Amazon basin, the northern Chaco and the Andes. The mountainous region towers above the extensive lowland areas and, consequently, both highland and lowland animal and plant species are found here.

Los Volcanes is home to several species that are endemic to the area. The Grey-checked Parakeet, Black-streaked Puffbird, Bolivian Recurvebill and the Yungas Manakin are among the many unusual inhabitants to be found in this reserve. It is thought that 170 different avian species live here, which is extremely high considering its habitat and elevation. Experts attribute the diversity to the fact that the forest includes both deciduous trees and evergreens. The well-mapped trail system makes for ideal access to all areas of the reserve for those on guided bird watching holidays.

Because Bolivia is home to the Andes, it has extensive areas of semi-deciduous woodlands in the foothills and other areas of shrub desert. These particular regions offer the perfect habitat for the Red-fronted Macaw, the Red-tailed Comet and the Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant, all sought after species for the avid bird watcher.

Bolivia also boasts the stunning cloud forest of Siberia, a unique ecosystem that is made up of north-south valleys sheltered by the Andes from the extreme Amazonian weather. Comarapa is an area of cloud forest in the Serrania de Siberia where the Rufus-faced Antpitta is often spotted, along with the Golden-headed Quetzal and the Pale-legged Warbler. In the transition zone, where the cloud forest meets the drier valleys, the Ringed Warbling Finches are a common sight.

Bird watching holidays to Bolivia are perfect for those with a long list of exotic birds on their wish list, and a trip to this stunning region of South America will certainly be one to remember.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you're looking for bird watching holidays, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar expeditions and tours to other spectacular regions on Earth.

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