The flag of Bolivia has a horizontal tri-color flag with three bands red, yellow and green with the coat of arms in the center. The red represents the bloodshed for those who fought for the country, the yellow represents the wealth of resources and the green represents the richness of natural areas and hope. The coat of arms is a little more complex. First of all in the center has a cartouche image of Mount Potosi with the Sun rising over it with a llama, a palm tree and a bale of wheat representing the nation’s resources all surrounded by a blue border with ten stars representing the nine departments and the tenth former province litoral which was taken by Chile in the 1800s. Finally, on the Bolivian flag you have the name of Bolivia above then you have six Bolivian flags on either side once again making Bolivia one of the few countries that has a flag with miniature versions of its flag on its own flag. Then you have the four muskets in the back with two cannons in front representing the struggle and fight for independence. On top of the cannons you have a Phrygian, hood and an axe representing liberty and freedom. There is also a condor and Laurel branches that stand for peace and the willingness to defend.
Keep in mind also that you might see a lot of colored flag in Bolivia known as the “Wiphala” which is most often is seen as a national symbol but could also be referenced towards the indigenous people of Bolivia and more specifically the Aymara people which make up a huge population demographic of the country. Bolivia is a very interestingly situated country and to understand it you have to travel back in time. Bolivia is a landlocked country located in South America bordered by five other countries Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. The country has very meticulously surveyed borders with every single one of its neighbor countries and that’s partially because they had a lot of wars with every one of them.
In the past Bolivia actually had a lot more land than it did today in fact in the past it had a province called litoral which is what the tenth star on the flag is referring to which was the only area that Bolivia had access to the ocean. Bolivia is divided into nine regions and technically it has two capitals La Paz also known by its official name Nuestra Senora de la Paz which means Our Lady of Peace and Sucre which means sugar. Sucre is the constitutional capital where the Supreme Court is located but La Paz is where all the seats of government reside. The legislative executive branches are both found in the city and even the president resides in the Palacio Quemado Palace in La Paz and since China took over from Tibet that made La Paz the world’s highest capital at about twelve thousand feet or 3700 meters above sea level. The height is so extreme that typically visitors might find themselves short of breathing and might experience altitude sickness in which the locales will be happy to provide you with coca leaves as a remedy. You can either make it into a tea or chew them up raw and dried.
Water also boils at a different temperature at about 88 degrees Celsius which makes things typically take a little bit longer to cook. La Paz is a beautiful city with a frightening majestic snow-capped mountain IIimani overlooking everything in the southwest and has a plethora of skyscrapers and monuments and getting out of the Paz is quite tricky. This glorious urban gem is locked and tucked away in the Andes Mountains so you really only have like two extreme options. If you head West you have to pass through the driest desert in the world the Atacama which looks virtually indistinguishable from the moon at some points with no living plants in sight for miles. Heading east you have to pass through the mountains where you are so high that you can literally see the clouds below you as you drive into the tropical amazon basin. But before you do you have to go on the Yungas highway otherwise known as the Calle del Muerte or the death road. The road at its narrowest is only about three meters wide or the width of an actual vehicle and sits over the edge of a drop well over 600 meters or 2,000 feet with no guardrail. Nonetheless this road is still technically a two-lane highway that offers traffic to drivers going in each direction. Every few hundred meters there are shoulder curbs that drivers can use to allow other cars to pass on the opposite side. Every year it’s estimated that about 200 to 300 people die on this road alone. However, it’s funny because this one road has actually become a huge tourist destination for Bolivia.
Bolivia has some of the most contrasting landscapes you’ll see in all of South America. First of all, about a third of the country is covered in the rocky dry snow-capped Andes Mountains to the west and to the east after traversing the mountains you enter the hot humid wet pampas or rain forest zone. As the most sparsely populated country in all of South America, Bolivia’s interior is widely untouched and uncultivated, in fact you can even book your own three-day eco tour that involves getting your own cabin, food and doing activities like fishing for piranhas, feeding wild monkeys, interacting with crocodiles and swimming in the pink river all for about $70.
If you stay in the west side of Bolivia you can still experience some amazing geological anomalies. In the south and the Potosi province you reach Salar de Uyuni the world’s largest salt flat. In the dry summer months this creepy serene area is a completely flat white salt bed that goes on and on for miles to the ends of the horizon. In the wet winter months, the rains pour down heavily covering the entire area in a shallow watery glass that you can walk in and respectively becomes the world’s largest mirror. Further north closer to La Paz you reach Lake Titicaca the highest lake in the world which Bolivia shares with Peru.
Even though Bolivia doesn’t have a coastline they still have a navy which for the most part patrols over the lakes and the rivers. Agriculture makes up about a quarter of the GDP even though about 2% of the country is cultivated for crops. Despite the fact that arable lands are quite abundant it’s just not used. Cash crops are coffee, cotton and coca. Coca is that controversial little leaf that when used correctly can help heal sickness and when used destructively can create a little drug known for causing the deaths of many I’m talking about cocaine. Coca leaf has been grown in the country for centuries and has actually gotten Bolivia in a lot of heat even with some of their friends.
Bolivia’s people are pretty much unlike any other people in South America and here’s why. First of all, the country has a little over ten and a half million people and along with Peru is one of only two countries in South America in which Amerindians make up the majority and is the only country in the Americas let alone the world in which Amerindians make up over half of the population. About 30% of Bolivians are mestizo and about 15% are white. In terms of Amerindian subdivisions there are 30 people groups however the largest ones are the Quechua, Aymara and the Guarani. Most of the Quechuas and Aymara live in the West in the Andes mountain range whereas most of the Guarani and other amazon tribal peoples live mostly in the east and in the heavily forested pampas which in addition to Spanish make up the four official languages of Bolivia.
At the end of the day however pretty much everybody speaks Spanish however Bolivian Spanish is a little different from the standard Mexican or Spain Spanish that most people are taught. In addition to an accent heavily influenced by indigenous languages a whole different vocabulary exists for example instead of hearing “Hombre” you might hear “Verone” instead of hearing “Basura” you might hear “Chorita”and sometimes “Nino” becomes “Tili”.
Bolivia kind of divides itself kind of like Belgium where you have two regionally distinct identifiable people groups. The Collas or the people who live in the west by the Andes and the Cambas or the people that live in the East in the rain forest. Technically there’s a third people group called the Chapacos who kind of have their own little thing going on and the people of Tarija identify more with Argentina rather than any people group. Most people fall within the Colla and Camba categories, these two people groups are quite distinct in their cultures due to the fact that they live completely different lives in completely different atmospheres that they’ve adapted to.
Culture wise Bolivia is quite noticeably particular from its neighbors for one they are much more heavily influenced by indigenous customs, rituals and clothing and even festivals. Interesting, women from Bolivia like wearing one of those round small bowler hats whereas the Peruvian women like to wear the western hat with a flatter brim. Another funny side note if you visit La Paz in El Alto make sure you buy a ticket to watch the wrestling Cholitas a show in which women wrestle both men and each other while wearing the traditional clothing.
When it comes to diplomatic relations, with the exception of Peru, Bolivia’s relations with all its immediate neighbors are all kind of strained a little bit. For Paraguay because of the Gran Chaco area they had dispute that led to war. For Brazil they fought the Agray war and Chile with the Pacific War even Argentina had a few scuffles with Bolivia. Nonetheless all these countries still have relatively close ties and they all have their own embassies and consulates in Bolivia.
Bolivia does not get along with Israel. The presidents of Bolivia have severally threatened to cut ties with Israel but many of the Bolivian people are incredibly against this as Israelis make up a huge demographic of the tourism sector. In many places in La Paz, you can even find street signs and posters printed in Hebrew and many of the locals actually learn how to speak Hebrew to accommodate the visitors. Without the Israelis, they actually might lose a huge potential in revenue.
Bolivia’s best new friends might be Venezuela and Cuba. This is actually kind of new considering that relations weren’t really that strong before and the reason is that it has something to do with the fact that they all agree with the same anti-imperialist and socialist ideologies. In terms of their old best friend Bolivia might probably consider Peru. They were together for a short period of time and were part of the same Confederation that fought against Chile together. Peru out of sympathy has even allowed Bolivia to build a port on the ocean on their land that they can use.
In conclusion Bolivia likes to call itself the heart of South America and considering all the amazing astounding things that you’ll encounter it’s not really hard to believe that saying they just wish they had a coast.