Day Nineteen – Cochabamba: On Purpose This Time!

I breakfasted with a group of young French girls, who have been inhabiting the same dorm as me for the last three nights, then hopped in a cab with Margarit and Bauke to the airport. My flight went beautifully in a clean, relatively comfortable Boeing 737 with BoA Airlines. I’m not sure how Margarit and Bauke’s flight went with TAM Airlines, however, when I left them it had been delayed six hours due to mechanical problems, with no option for a refund.
I filled out a survey about travelling/touring in Bolivia for a Masters student yesterday. One of the cohort questions asked what my standard of living is compared to other Canadians. My initial reaction to this was to chuckle about the potential accuracy of the answers to this question due to the general modesty of Canadians and most people. I struggled to answer the question accurately, but after mulling over the question subconsciously overnight and while sitting in the airport I suspect my answer was not accurate. Two issues come to mind when considering the accuracy of answers to that question and then why the question was posed the way it was. I will mention my thoughts on question design first, because they are less knotted.
My first reaction to the question, “What is you standard of living compared to others in your country?”, was critical. The question can so easily be changed from subjective to objective by asking about household income, why invite confounds into your study unnecessarily? (I will discuss the confounds introduced later, as they are entwined with my thoughts on an individual’s ability to answer the question accurately; for now we will just accept that the question is subjective and therefore introduces confounds, whatever they may be). If this question was designed purposefully then I would guess the Master’s student is trying to accommodate the fact that many travellers are students, and therefore have little or no income of their own, yet their standard of living will likely reflect their historical or future socioeconomic status. To me this reasoning is only valid if a majority of travellers fall into this sort of incomeless, yet from a upper socioeconomic class, category; and of this I have no idea. The Master’s student may also, actually, be interested in the self-perceived status of the travellers, as that may be a more useful tool in directed advertising, I’m not sure. I doubt it though. I think advertising speaks to our subconscious perceptions of ourselves, not our conscious ones.
Now for confounds; and why I might walk away from this trip thinking South Americans are even poorer than they are. (This may read disjointedly, and the two ideas mentioned in the previous sentence may take awhile to seem related, but bear with me.) Human beings always want to be wealthier/better off than they are. We are attracted to groups “better” than us and are constantly aware of our deficiencies in attaining admission to this “better” group. Therefore almost no one will say they maintain the “best” standard of living, (even though that is true for most of the people reading this, on a worldwide scale). We inhabit the “fanciest” environment we can socially and economically get away with, which results in each individual generally perceiving themselves at the bottom of the pond they managed to enter. In fact, depending on exactly how our lives go, we may be nearly unaware of how “the majority” live, or at least anyone more than two or three ponds below us. (This is why household income, compared to the national average seems more useful a description of where we are in the grand pond).
Now for my realization about my travels in South America: I have [purposefully?] entered a [significantly?] different class than I usually inhabit. This was forcefully driven home to me while sitting in the airport. Some form of the thought, “Ah, here are more ‘normal’ people” crossed my mind as I looked around. (Don’t judge me too harshly, I suspect most of us would have this subconscious reaction, perhaps fewer would think it was smart to post it to the Internet). Anyhow, I realized with a crash that it was highly unlikely that I would travel 14hrs on the Greyhound in Canada. And if I did I would be heaping judgement on many of my fellow passengers and feeling a vague sense of discomfort and mistrust. I fly at home, or drive myself. And so to say that Bolivians (or Chileans) live so differently from me is… well of course the Bolivians I am currently living amongst live differently than me – I’M living differently from me! Now, I accept that a larger percentage of Bolivians, compared with Canadiana, live at a lower standard of living than I do, but I am not exactly experiencing apples to apples. There is likely a high degree of romanticizing going on, reducing the level of .. discomfort and disgust felt when living amongst the poor of one’s own country. Which is false, and seems unfair to the poor of both countries. 

Alright, enough of my thinking out loud. More reports about what I did, when. The taxi I took from the airport was grossly over-priced [30BOB, compared to 10BOB for a comparable ride in Potosi]. I admit I knew this getting in the cab, but was too lazy to fix the problem by walking the equivalent of two blocks outsid of the airport compound to grab a regular taxi. Now, the cost of living may be higher in Cochabamba since there seem to be more.. ? Middle class? Type people walking around a larger area than in the Bolivian cities I’ve been in thus far. But still, I reckon if I’d walked the two blocks it would have been 15-20BOB. 

My hostel, Running Chaski Hostel, is extremely well-appointed; and has phenomenol wifi. It’s the most expensive place I’ve stayed in Bolivia thus far, (75BOB/night for a dorm bed), but likely worth the extra expense, (unlike Terrace Lodge in Putre). It isn’t even that much more expensive compared to other hostels in Cochabamba. 

The staff and owner of Chaski are friendly and helpful, although, perhaps don’t do enough research into an individual’s expectations before making restaurant suggestions. Which brings me to Casa de Campo, my supper venue for the evening. I had a long comment prepared about this restaurant, however, it late, in summary: lack lustre restaurant that serves [likely] authentic … “fancy occasion” cultural dishes of Bolivia. These are quite different from Canadian “fancy occasion” dishes, so, if you can ignore the faux fancy pretentious atmosphere, it’s worth the 75+BOB.  

Before my siesta, and heading out for supper, I successfully, (generally confidently and without major mishap), navigated the small market. I acquired food supplies for the next few days, (bread, cheese, tomato, apple), and started stockpiling Uyuni perspective props. 

Anyhow, the big excitement of the evening has been my phone coming online, following its journey to my ex-hostel, a scramble to call my ex-hostel (they didn’t answer), email the hostel, unlock and call my phone (they didn’t answer), and put a new lock screen message on the phone as it headed back to the finder’s home.


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