International Insights

Gaby Szteinberg

Senior Gaby Szteinberg is an international student from Bolivia. This is the first of a series of articles written by Lawrence international students about their respective home countries.It has been said that you can compare Bolivia to the state of Texas because they have the same shape. Bolivia is a landlocked country in the heart of South America with an area of more than one million square kilometers, divided into nine unique departments, and containing about eight million people.
Bolivia is said to be one of the poorest countries in South America. And this is true in the economic aspect, but not at all culturally. Many indigenous tribes have passed by Bolivia.
One example is the Incas, who settled in the highlands. They established a big part of their empire in Bolivia and the surrounding areas, such as northern Argentina, Peru and Chile. Today, we are lucky that many of the things that the Incas did are still preserved.
For example, if you go to Samaipata, which means “resting place in the altitude” and is located about two hours away from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, you can visit “el Fuerte,” the Fort, where you can see the place where Incas lived on the altitude.
There are some remains of the constructions where they used to live. You can also see some ladder-like structures on the hills that were used for plantations, which ensured that water would reach every crop when irrigated from the top of the hill.
The Spaniards also left a big legacy since they established themselves during the Colonial times; this is especially seen in the architecture. Sucre, the constitutional capital, is famous for having beautiful buildings that date back to the 18th century and earlier.
The Spaniards and the indigenous natives intermingled, leaving Bolivia with a lot of mestizos. However, in contrast to other South American countries, there are still many pure natives from the three major cultural groups: Aymaras, Quechuas and Guarayos.
There are many different tribes in Bolivia, but there are three general groups of people. There are the “collas,” people from the highlands; the “cambas,” people from the lowlands; and the “chapacos,” people from the valley.
The Collas are from La Paz, Potosi, Oruro, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba. They have darker skin and look very much like the Incas used to be; the Cambas are from Santa Cruz and Trinidad, have lighter skin color and are the famous mestizos. The final group, the Chapacos, are from Tarija and are very similar to the Cambas.
The people from these groups have had problems with each other for many generations. They make fun of each other for what they look like, how they talk and how they behave. However, their differences vanish when Bolivia has to play soccer against another country. At least they agree in something!
Bolivia is a fun place. People go out a lot, and depending where you are you can find different activities to do at night. In La Paz, because there are many hills around the city, you can drive up to a “mirador” that overlooks the city and you can drink wine with your friends and enjoy a chill night.
In Santa Cruz, my hometown, there is a very busy nightlife at the bars and clubs. Women and men dress up very nice to go dancing and see people. Even though it is a city of about one million people, everyone from the same social class knows each other. Everywhere you go, at any time, you will see a familiar face and that makes Santa Cruz a very friendly place to live.
Despite its small size, Bolivia is a diverse country where you can explore the jungle, hike around the mountains, have a good time with friends while drinking “Pace¤a”-beer-or even learn about the indigenous cultures that lived in South America.
It is a country that would fit anyone’s desires. Come and visit!