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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Chaocito Bolivia

¡Hola Todos!


The group is currently spending our final night in our El Alto homestays and will be leaving tomorrow morning for Cusco, Peru.  I have immensely enjoyed spending nearly two months exploring Bolivia, from the depths of the hot and buggy Amazon rainforest, to the heights of the cold and rocky Andes mountains, to the bustling city streets of historically rich Sucre.  I wanted to take a few minutes on this chilly evening to share with you a few of the quirks of Bolivian culture and Bolivian Spanish the group especially enjoyed.

Quirk number one, everyone in Bolivia is “amigo” or “amiga.”  What’s the most proper way to call over your waiter if you want a refill of papaya juice?  “¡Perdon amigo!”  How do you  greet the stranger you pass on the street or the friend you run into at the salteñeria?  “¡Hola Amiga!”  How do you identify the man using a machete to hack his way through the jungle 30 feet away (who you initially thought might have been los pigs)?  “Es un otro amigo.”  This friendly and welcoming spirit sums up the warmth, kindness, and patience which how so many of the wonderful people I interacted with treated and assisted me.

Another amusing and fascinating quirk is the stunning myriad of opportunities to buy things through the windows of the trufi, taxi, or bus you are traveling in, leading a member of the group to exclaim: “Life is a drive-through!” Group C’s very own instructor Jesse Moore is especially talented at completing such maneuvers.  One of his higlights surrounded a barely 30-second stop on a bus ride from Sucre to Potosi, in which he quickly threw money out the approximately twenty foot high window into the waiting hands of a gracious vender and deftly caught the purchased bag of passionfruit juice as it hurtled up to him (that he proceeded to spill the juice all over himself and his backpack need not even be included if the reader was aware of the complicated logistics involved in biting open and drinking a small and overfilled bag of juice in the back of a cramped bus on a winding road).  He also successfully purchased (although unsuccessfully bargained down the price of) a ballcap emblazoned with the logo of the heavy machinery brand “CAT” for our instructor of the same moniker, while in slow moving trufi fraffic in downtown El Alto.  I myself have even purchased a coconut ice pop through the window of a Toyota Land Cruiser stopped at a government checkpoint while traveling down a dark and dusty road in the Amazon late at night, and can personally attest to the great convenience and efficiency of such a method of proffering ones’ wares.

A final quirk (as it is getting late and I have not yet begun the arduous process of fitting three months of clothing and gear into a single backpack) is the use of the suffix “-ito” or “-ita.”  Often used in Spanish to denote smallness, e.g.: a gatito is a tiny cat or kitten, many Bolivian Spanish speakers add it to a whole host of other words where the grammatical purpose is far more unclear but the endearing quality is preserved or even amplified.  Soup becomes “sopita,” water becomes “aguita,” tea becomes “técito,” now becomes “ahorita,” a rest becomes a “descancito,” money is “pesito,” and so on and so forth.  While on the surface this change might seem minimal and ineffective, when, in the course of listening to rapid fire Spanish while trying to buy Bon o Bons from a tienda or order an empanada, a Spanish learner such as myself picks up on this very innocent and somehow amiable tid bit, it almost never fails to bring a smile to my face and gives me the sense of comfort to finish the interaction.

Thank you for reading this somewhat disjointed post, I hope your desire for more yaks is satsified Mom 🙂