Run the equator: Luxury in Bolivia?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Luxury in Bolivia?

Through the arch
Click on pic to see slideshow
or here to access the set

As I mentioned before, we made it to Bolivia and spent some time in Copacabana on the shores of lake Titicaca doing... nothing. We even skipped that overrated bunch of rocks called "Isla Del Sol". We wanted to see it but various factors prevented us from taking that day-trip: either the weather was bad, or we had to change rooms, or again, I had I slight cold and preferred the coziness of our room to the great outdoors.

Speaking of rooms, the suite we had at "La Cupula" was without a doubt the best hotel room we had so far; kudos to the German owner and the management team. The best way to describe it would be to say that we actually enjoyed spending time in our room, which I cannot say about any other rooms we've had in the last three months. It was that good, yes, and cost us only $32 per night, price that got even lower since the first day there has been a power outage and the owner felt it was worth a discount to make the clients happy, and for the rest of the days we had a 10% discount for being South American Explorers members.

Copacabana is a tricky place though - food is dirt-cheap: you can get your belly full to burst for $5 but other things don't come in conveniently: there is no ATM so you're stuck changing money with the local exchange offices which give you a dismal value for your dollar, and even less if you want to change traveller's checks. There's one small bank on Avenida 6. de Agosto that has the best rates (but still bad) and where one can get cash advances on the credit cards - assuming one doesn't mind the hefty interest rates our banks at home usually charge for this service... In adittion, internet is very expensive, 12B/hour (about 1.5 dollars) - I know it doesn't sound like much, but for somebody like me who has to blog and upload pictures, it quickly adds up, and it doubles, since Angela is usually online as well at the same time. Compare that with the La Paz internet prices of 3B/hour...

Honestly, there's nothing to see in Copacabana proper, it's just a small, dirty town which happens to be on the tourist route between Peru and Bolivia and offers great views (but not necessarily the best) of Lake Titicaca. I'll have to see the lake again, there's something eerie and fascinating about this immensity of water situated so high up in the mountains...

We're now in La Paz, discovering the city street by street and trying to find deals on side-trips and hotels (since we don't like ours that much). Food is cheap as well - the first night we got here we rewarded ourselves with a gigantic Argentinian steak for dinner, with wine and all the good stuff, all for 180B - about $22 - for both of us. I know It's pointless to compare this with the prices in the United States but we wouldn't have gotten away without paying $150 for an equivalent dinner in Seattle. Leaving the understandably-overpriced US restaurant business aside, after seeing the price and the quality of fruits and vegetables in South America, Angela and I are already feeling outraged at the fact that grocery stores in our country charge insane prices for the same products (and double for the so-called "organics",) prices which cannot be explained economically except in terms of a fool's tax for a high living standard. Any opinions on this controversial topic?


alex wetmore said...

I'll bite on the food stuff.

You are travelling where a lot of this produce grows natively either where you are or in a neighboring country. In the US we are spending a lot of our fruit dollar on shipping the fruit from South America to here.

If you buy produce that is locally produced and from the grower then it often ends up being fairly cheap. For instance organic apples grown in NZ cost about $2.50-$3/lb here. When apples are in season it isn't hard to find them for well under a dollar (also organic), even less in quantity. That difference is largely going to transportation (fuel) and distributors.

Bananas (and Mangos) don't grow here, so they won't be as cheap as they are there. It is amazing that they can be sold for under $1/lb in Seattle anyway. I expect that such pricing won't last long since it is a result of underpriced petroleum fuel.

The price differential for organic normally isn't double. 12 years ago I set a price limit of paying a 50% premium for organic and these days that 50% extra allows me to buy almost all of my produce organically.

I'm enjoying the blog and it sounds like an interesting trip so far. I'm jealous of all of your diving, we haven't even used our certification since getting it.

c said...

Good to know that you two are still having fun. Playing catch up with all your posts and pictures. Just for reference you auto map feature does not render on the iPhone :)
You can wish me luck (you all are not the only ones traveling) have to go to Peru soon. Will continue to hold up the bar for you.

Big Fat Rat said...


Hi Alex, glad to hear somebody from work still remembers me ;-)

Of course I was simplyfying matters, economically speaking. It was more a frustrated reaction to the fact that back home I feel that it's impossible to leave the grocery store without dishing out $75 to $100 for basic food, mostly vegetables and fruits. I'm usually a QFC shopper...

Next diving is in Egypt.


Good luck in your trip to Peru. By the way, do I know you personally? "C" doesn't ring a bell.

Unfortunately, my map probably doesn't work on other platforms either: I have only tested it for Internet Explorer and Firefox. I know for a fact that it doesn't work in Opera and some versions of Mozilla... maybe I'll have some time to investigate this in Buenos Aires where we're renting an apartment with wireless included!