A Letter To Bolivia

Dear Bolivia,

You were my third country on the way to Alaska!

I remember you for your vast landscape. Your high plateau reminds me of another country in Central Asia. For me, you will aways be the Tajikistan of South America.

Your grand vistas are from another planet. The eyes are too small to capture your vastness, and the human ego, too fragile to withstand your grandeur. Your winds are so strong they carve trees from stones.

Here in you, I spent my coldest days and woke up with water frozen in bottles. Is this how you treat guests? On my 39th birthday, you gave me a cold wind and millions of rocky tracks to choose. I had only wished to taste a piece of freedom. You smeared an entire cake on my face.

I was a fish from the pond. You threw me into the ocean.

I remember your salt flats, where the land is the whitest and skies the bluest ever. An ocean stretched above my head. The landscape was so vast I felt naked. Nothing was there to guide me except the horizon. You were the paper, and I was a tiny pencil dot on it. How I wanted to go on forever!

With your rugged mountains talking to God, and your lush jungles on cliffs shrouded by mist, you got everything. But I know you still miss the sea you lost to Chile.

I remember—village women sitting in the middle of street intersections venting quinoa grain seeds—shepherdesses listening to old radio with llamas grazing in the backdrop—the old lady spinning yarn from llama wool looking at me with kind eyes—and the cholita women wearing heavy skirts punishing weak and corrupt men in the wrestling arena at over 4000 m altitude.

How I wanted to take a piece of them with me! Oh, how I begged them all for a photo!

And instead how two little village girls took my photo with their plastic toy phones.

You tested me in every possible way. You taught me that in moments when we are the weakest, we find the strength within us. No matter how big the loss and how broken we are, something still carries us on.

If there is one thing you taught me. It’s self-belief. And that with enough small steps, we can come a long way. That’s how I made it to Alaska.

For that, my dear Bolivia, I will always love you.

Happy Independence Day!

Cycling by Laguna Verde.
Entering Bolivia from Chile at >4200m.
Descending the death road.
Death Road.
Salar de Uyuni.
Two village girls take a photo of me with their toy phones made of plastic.
Shepherdesses listening to old Sony radio while llamas graze in the backdrop.
Stone carved into a tree by sandblasting.
Cycling in the moonlight. No headlamp needed.
Cycling the Bolivian Altiplano at altitudes above 4200 meters.

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