Photo: James Southorn
1. You can tell what region a woman is from by the shape of her hat and the length of her skirt.
Bolivian women are famous for wearing bowler hats and ankle-length skirts. Those are only the cholitas from the department of La Paz though. As you move around Bolivia, you notice that the women’s attire differs from region to region — the lower the altitude, the shorter the skirt, and the longer the brim of the hat.
2. You’ve finished the gringo trail long ago, and you’re still finding amazing places to see.
The Uyuni salt flats, Potosi, Sucre, La Paz, Rurrenabaque and Copacabana may be the most popular backpacker destinations, but they’re not everything. The Sajama National Park is great for hiking in the altiplano. You can walk in a tropical forest in the Chapare region. And you even found out that Bolivia produces wine — in Tarija.
3. You can’t recall your life before salteñas.
Those delicacies have nothing to do with the empanadas salteñas found in neighbouring Argentina. These take the whole empanada concept to the next level with their sweet crust and juicy chicken filling.
4. You’re totally confident about getting into a stranger’s minivan to go somewhere.
The principle is that you hail a minivan from any street corner, and you get off at any point along the route. It did feel a bit intimidating at first, but once you know your way around a city, it’s actually easier than having a formal bus system that usually runs late anyway.
5. That little strange-textured grey thing in your soup doesn’t worry you anymore.
It’s called chuño, and it’s a type of Andean frozen potato. Maybe not the tastiest thing you’ve ever had, but certainly edible.
6. Just because all the seats are taken, doesn’t mean a car is full.
Especially if that car is a shared taxi. You know there’s always room for more.
7. You’re totally cool with showing up in a Bolivian city without a place to stay.8. You’re not appalled by people eating roasted chicken from a plastic bag on the back seat of a shared taxi.
Where else would they eat it?
9. You can point out on a map the region where each of Bolivia’s four official languages is spoken.
You may even know a few words in Quechua or Aymara.
10. You haven’t seen a supermarket in ages.
And you don’t care.
11. You’re up-to-date on Bolivia’s regional rivalries.
You know the fundamental difference between a colla — a person from the altiplano and the neighbouring valleys — and a camba — somebody who lives in the eastern part of the country. You know they dislike each other, so you just avoid talking about it.
12. You actually know what to do with coca leaves now.
You don’t chew them. You just place them in your mouth, under one of the cheeks. And forget about them for a while.