A week of protest tourism

By Published On: June 10, 2005Categories: Politics1 Comment on A week of protest tourism

I am sure it looks better from a distance

Guest blogger and friend, Graham Gordon tells his story on a slightly unusual holiday in Bolivia:

This article doesn’t attempt to give an analysis of the current difficult situation in Bolivia, but an insight into the different aspects of a new form of tourism, increasingly popular the world over, protest tourism.

Day 1:
Whilst landing at the airport in El Alto on Monday in the intense Bolivian sunshine, I knew that all was not right when I didn’t see a single car on the road.  The upside was that, when leaving the terminal, I wasn’t mobbed by a horde of taxi drivers touting for business.  The downside was when asking for taxis we were told “he’s just left”. 

Fortunately “he” returned a few minutes later and took us as far as he could, which was a few hundred metres up the road, to the meeting point of the daily marches.  We had no choice but, rucksacks on back and suncream on face, to join the march, being thrust a Bolivian flag each (green stripe at the bottom, isn’t it?) and being shown our place. 

Each march divided itself into four lines and on numerous occasions I stepped out of line and was strongly reprimanded.  We soon made friends with those around, learning the slogans and being offered their daughters in marriage.  My favourite slogan was “this is not a Sunday parade, it’s a protest march” to motivate the silent marching majority.  I tried a “Viva Inglaterra” but was accused of confusing the issue.

After a couple of hours going steadily downhill, we arrived at the city centre and sloped off for cappucino and carrot cake, as true protesters always do. To celebrate Nick’s birthday we enquired about music in a local jazz bar, and were told “There’ll be music if there’s a president and social peace” 

A few hours later the President, Carlos Mesa, resigned.  There was no music.  Maybe it would take a couple more days to resolve the issues.  The mountains behind La Paz looked ever more enticing.

Day 2:
We headed up to the Plaza San Francisco, concentration of most of the protests, to get a few good photos.  We arrived just at the wrong time when there was a friendly exchange of dynamite and tear gas between protesters and police.  It did have its benefits though, as I discovered that tear glass unblocks your nose far better that Vics Vapour Rub.  Immediately I registered the patent. 

Walking back down a policemen in full riot gear, returning from teargassing a group of miners called out to us: “How do you like La Paz?”  A quick witty reply eluded me.

I was sure it would all be over the next day.  After all, I needed a couple of days to acclimatise so I hadn’t really lost any time.

Day 3:
We found out that tourists were still able to get to the mountains by leaving at 2am to avoid the blockades, so we went to enquire.  Sorted out a tour for the next day, petrol dependent (there is a national petrol shortage, as the main deposit has been blockaded for 3 weeks). 

We had to run around town, dodging the marches and trying to find when each shop was open, to buy woolly jumpers and fleece sleeping bag liners, essential for any serious walker.  That evening all hope was on the Bolivia-Paraguay match, as the last chance to qualify for the Germany 2006 world cup.  4-1 to Paraguay.  Chaos seemed imminent, but we had our sights on an early start the next day and a few days in tents communing with nature. 

Day 4:
There was no petrol.  We were glued to the TV all day as the congress was due to meet and decide whether they would accept the resignation of the President, and to decide his successor.  The focus of the protests moved to demand the resignation of the the politicians most likely to take over the presidency (Vaca Diez, head of Congress, and Cosillo, head of the Senate).  Neither looked like budging.

All international flights were banned.  Various countries had decided to get their citizens out.  Anyone for more tea?

Congress was due to meet at 10:30, but was postponed until 18:00 and then, due to the death of a miner involved in the protests, cancelled all together, the worst possible scenario as the nervous tension needed a direction in which to be channelled. 

Rumours were rife about a possible coup d’etat or civil war if Vaca Diez didn’t resign and everyone was bulk buying in local shops "a la Millenium’s eve".  We moved down to stay with some friends in the posh area of town, wondering if we would be evacuated the next day.  The mountains seemed to be getting further away.  Remind me why I came?

A few hours later both Vaca Diez and Cosillo said they wouldn’t accept the presidency, Congress was called to meet at 22:00 and the President of the Supreme Court was installed as President of the Republic for the next three months, with promises of elections amongst other things.   The whole country celebrated, and our walking holiday looked once again a possibility, fuel dependent.

Day 5:
The blockades still haven’t been lifted, fuel is still in shortage, as is gas and food.  Manage to get a day’s walk in nearby hills and only had to cross one blockade.
7pm: Arrange three day trip with tour operator
9pm: Tour operator calls to confirm 9am departure the next day (hooray! Surely it can’t be true?)
11pm: It’s not. Tour operator calls to say that fuel hasn’t appeared. Maybe tomorrow?


One Comment

  1. Alonso Soto January 26, 2006 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Hello Graham,
    My name is Alonso, I’m a reporter with Reuters in Quito.
    Hopefuly you can see this message, because I was interested about what you said on “protest tourism.”
    I want to find more about this, want to talk to you about it.
    Email me: alonso.soto@reuters.com
    Sounds interisting, I dont know if there a more tourists like you.
    Alonso Soto

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