A landlocked South American country which during its modern history has had its share of dark chapters too. There was the struggle for independence (the country is named after revolutionary Simon Bolivar!), for instance, and later wars with neighbouring countries too, e.g. with Chile
, to which Bolivia lost its access to the sea (still a sore point to this day), hence the conflict is known as the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).
And in the second half of the 20th century there was a socialist revolution that was overthrown and followed by, in true Latin American style, a military junta. More coups and counter-coups ensued, including the concomitant human rights abuses, torture, and "disappearing" of people, as in so many Latin American countries in that era (cf. Chile
). But since then things have improved.
Bolivia is still South America's poorest country, despite great natural riches, including, in particular, silver ore and various other minerals. But these have traditionally been exploited by outsiders with little benefit for the vast majority of the population. The discovery of vast lithium reserves in the Salar de Uyuni
provides the chance to change that "tradition", and make Bolivia a more affluent country, if it's handled right ….
Current President Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader of a Latin American country (first elected in 2005), joined ranks with Venezuela
's recently deceased president Hugo Chaves in an effort of re-nationalization and "Latino-socialism" – thus angering the USA
, or rather: the US-owned corporations whose "interests" in the country are at stake, e.g. in silver mining. Hence US state propaganda tends to paint Bolivia under Morales as a kind of "pariah".
But if it's one revolutionary name in connection with Bolivia that has been standing out in international consciousness and popular culture for decades it has to be Che Guevara – whose famous portrait photograph must be one of the most reproduced of all time and one of the most immediately recognized, having adorned millions of T-shirts, badges and posters on the bedroom walls of rebellious teenagers.
And this is where dark tourism comes in: Bolivia's tourist industry includes a so-called Ruta del Che
, or Che Guevara Trail
Whether any other sites related to the darker chapters of Bolivia's history (esp. the junta years) have been developed or are being developed for tourism is something I still have to find out. It's not unlikely, though, that Bolivia will follow Chile
's example in that respect …
Che and politics in general aside, Bolivia also offers stunning scenery such as the Andean plateau of the Altiplano with the Uyuni salt flat
, flamingo-filled colourful lagoons, volcanoes and eerie moonscapes, which also have a kind-of dark twist to them.
Finally, two of dark tourism's rather more dubious attractions that are located in Bolivia will probably have to be mentioned here as well:
One is the infamous Yungas Road
, considered to be the "most dangerous road in the world" (or even "Death Road"). It's featured in the Lonely Planet Bluelist 2007
chapter on Dark Tourism, rather tongue-in-cheek, though it is also pointed out that this road is indeed extremely dangerous, claiming hundreds of lives every year. So those thrill seekers' mountain bike tours on this road that are offered by some operators are rather a form of extreme adventure tourism, if not downright danger tourism. Sure, the scenery is breathtaking, and the drive is certainly good for some extreme thrills – and I can also just about see the attraction – but it's not, I claim, dark tourism proper (see the concept of dark tourism
and beyond dark tourism
The other extreme tourist attraction that I find somewhat dubious – although again I can also see some parts of the attraction – is the silver mines of Cerro Rico, Potosi
. Here you can go on guided tours of the mines and witness the extremely harsh working conditions – dirt, sweat and health-and-safety risks
all part of the adventure, even if for tourists it's just a couple of hours of voluntary adventure. For the miners it's real life – and death: their lungs typically pack it in after a few years due to silicosis. The average life expectancy for the miners is as low as 40. Here, mining is still done in true 18th century style: all by hand, and (and dynamite), without any health and safety concerns to speak of … unless you count the rituals of appeasing the mountain's devil-god (this typically involves sacrificing cigarettes and sprinkling hard liquor and/or sometimes the blood of an on-the-spot slaughtered goat or other animal). Oh, and there's child labour to behold too.
At the local market, dynamite is freely on sale – but don't even think about taking any home as a souvenir (at best you'll make yourself extremely unpopular with your airline).
To alleviate the element of voyeurism inherent in such tours you can leave a generous donation – as the poor miners need these donations to help make ends meet. The mountain is nearly depleted, so it's unclear how long they can carry on at all …
Visiting the Potosi mines is certainly one of the most extreme tourist offerings in Bolivia – and I can't help but having very mixed feelings about it. You have to decide for yourself, I suppose … (cf. ethical questions
So far, then, only the following two separate chapters are provided for Bolivia here:
- Bolivia 01
- Bolivia 02 - in the vast empty Altiplano
- Bolivia 03 - broad Altiplano vistas
- Bolivia 04 - Laguna Verde
- Bolivia 05 - early Bolivian winter rain
- Bolivia 06 - Laguna Colorado
- Bolivia 07 - with lots of flamingos
- Bolivia 08 - vicunas are a common sight
- Bolivia 09 - llamas
- Bolivia 10 - geothermal field
- Bolivia 11 - bursting bubble
- Bolivia 12 - Salvador Dali Rocks
- Bolivia 13 - more surreal rocks
- Bolivia 14 - not much traffic in the Altiplano
- Bolivia 15 - remote villages in the Andes
- Bolivia 16 - potatoes - the gold of the Andes
- Bolivia 17 - making Evo Morales proud
- Bolivia 18 - another abandoned train at the Ollague border with Chile