In the second of a popular series, this site features another guest blogger, Marlene Barrett, friend and former colleague who has come out to visit the truly amazing, unique, one and only country of Bolivia.
The man I´ve come to visit is in love – with a city, a country, its politics and its people.
His acute sense of adopted national pride became evident several days before we even arrived at the Bolivian border, when we were trekking with Graham and another Nick in Peru. Having lived in Peru for three years, Graham has his own nicely developed sense of adopted national pride, and the competition between these two proponents of their respective current homes became at times quite fierce.
Whether it was a question of prices, politics, potato recipes or the quality of alpaca wool, each claimed their chosen place of residence as the best country in Latin America. The only thing that seemed to unite them is a mutual prejudice against the sea-stealing Chileans.
For sea – or rather the lack of it – is one of the more sensitive issues for Bolivians, who used to have a bit of coastline before it was appropriated by Chile.
But having just spent three days by Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world says the guidebook – I´m not sure that this is such an issue.
The lake is big enough that you can´t see to the other side, and has waves enough to lap nicely on the beach in calm weather and to make stormy sea sounds when the wind blows up. Not to mention swells strong enough to cause seasickness on the crossing to the Island of the Sun (fortunately not for me, but for a poor five year old who must have had a hefty breakfast to produce quite so much vomit). And there´s even a (rather sad-looking) naval base at the edge of the lake.
Add to all that the stunning snow-capped mountain backdrop and you´d hardly find yourself pining for Bognor Regis.
Of course Peru can also lay claim to its side of Lake Titicaca, so it doesn´t score as highly for Bolivia as it might in the game of national one-upmanship. In La Paz the old joke about the lake´s name (tete means breasts and caca means shit) runs that Bolivia has the tete and Peru has the caca – but in Peru they have the same joke in reverse.
For me all this best country competition leaves a dilemma. Do I just agree that Bolivia is a beautiful, vibrant and politically alive country, in which I can understand Nick feeling very much at home? Perhaps, in Graham´s absence, I should speak up for Peru? Or do I start defending my own territory?
I can sing the praises of London’s own multicultural dynamism and the local community activism and politics which I’m involved in there, but I don’t think I, or the English in general, do national pride very well. So maybe it´s time to find out more about the great country of Chile…