South America (SA) is a bit mysterious to some people. Everyone knows that it’s the continent below ours (for Canadians anyway), but many people don’t know a lot about the history, culture, or geography of SA. Here’s a brief overview of some important things you should know about South America (in general), Bolivia (more specifically), and Sucre (the city where I’ll be living).
A few pictures from our last South American adventure! Left: Amanda with chef at a cooking class in Chile; Middle: Steve with a monkey in the Peruvian rainforest; Right: Steve and Amanda on a little cart (a “taxi” to the port to catch a boat) on the border between Peru and Bolivia.
Note: The pictures and facts in this post are mostly from Wikipedia (except the pictures above, of course), and you can see the links for the appropriate pages in the text below. I know, I know – not the most reliable source, but definitely one of the quickest ways to get lots of useful information. 🙂
As you all know, South America is one of the seven continents in the world. It contains 12 countries which primarily speak Spanish and Portuguese – and Bolivia is right in the middle! Brazil is the biggest country, holding more than 50% of the population of the continent. Most people in SA live along the East and West coasts, while the middle of the continent is a lot more sparsely populated. Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in SA, and Brazil is hosting the summer Olympics in just a few months (thought there are some problems with that…).
The centre of South America many lack a dense human population, but it’s rich with animals and nature! It’s one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, and home to many unique species of animals like the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuña, and tapir. The Amazon rainforest in particular is home to a major proportion of all the Earth’s species. Venezuela is also home to Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall (at 3,212 ft or 979m).
Left: A map of South America (Bolivia is the orange country). Right: Iguazu Falls, located on the border between Argentina and Brazil – One of the new seven natural wonders of the world, and a place that Steve and I really want to visit!
There is evidence that humans have lived in South America since 9,000 BC. At that time, they started cultivating some of the foods loved around the world (such as squashes, chili peppers, and beans). The Andes region was dominated by the Incas from 1438 to 1533, with their capital in Cusco (which you would have travelled through if you ever visited Machu Picchu). The Inca civilization contained up to 14 million people and was connected by 25,000 kilometers of road! They also used a lot of terraces and stonework to build precise cities on the mountain sides.
Unfortunately, South America also has a really large gap between the rich and the poor. The richest 10% receive over 40% of the nation’s income in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Paraguay, while the poorest 20% receive 3% or less in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia. One in nine people in SA live on less than $2 per day. You can see the inequality in many large cities where the poor slums are located quite close to luxury apartment buildings. South America declared independence (mostly from Spain and Portugal) by José de San Martín in Argentina, and Simón Bolívar in Venezuela (who are two of the most important Libertadores). Bolívar led a great uprising in the north, then led his army southward towards Lima, the capital of Peru. You might have guessed that the country of Bolivia was also named in his honour! 😉
Bolivia is a land-locked country in South-America, bordered by Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The primary language spoken is Spanish (thanks to colonial Spain) but it declared independence in 1825. It has a population of around 11 million people, with a per capita income around $6,500. Confusingly it has 2 capitals: La Paz is the seat of government and the biggest city, while Sucre remains the constitutional capital and the house of the Supreme Court. Approximately 67 percent of Bolivians live in urban areas, and approximately 60% of the people there are under 25 years of age! Bolivia has a huge range of altitudes, from only 90 metres above sea-level to over 6,542 metres (21,463 ft) above sea-level.
Bolivia is really ethnically diverse. There are sound 36 different indigenious groups, whch make up approximately 60% of the population. Another 30% are considered mestizo (which is a mix of white and Amerindian), with 10% of people identifying as white. The largest ethnic groups are the Quechuas (2.5 million), Aymaras (2 million), Chiquitano (180,000), and the Guaraní (125,000). 28% of people speak Quechua (in the 2001 census). Bolivia is quite a religious country: 78% catholic, 19% protestant and 3% non-religious. That means about 95% of the population considers themselves a follower of a Christian denomination.
Bolivia is located in the heart of South America (left), and was conquered by the Spanish (right).
Bolivia is a relatively poor country. In fact, less than 30% of the population has access to improved sanitation (aka. any toilet facilities). However, the country is rich in certain resources. For example, the Salt Flats contain up to 70% of the world’s supply of lithium (very useful in those lithium-ion batteries), with over 5 million cubic tonnes of the stuff in the southern desert areas (called Salar de Uyuni). The government is trying not to destroy the unique natural landscape where it’s found, while still trying to balance out a healthy, and sustainable extraction of the resource. Laws in Bolivia state that Bolivians must own 51% or more of any enterprise, meaning that big foreign companies cannot come in and buy everything up without creating local partnerships.
The people there really care about nature and the earth. In fact, it’s known worldwide for having a “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth”. This law gives the same rights to nature as humans. Bolivians refer to mother nature as “Pacha mama”, and often spill a small amount of any drink on the ground as a way of saying “thanks” to nature. Bolivia is also the birth place of a lot of (apparently) delicious things than other people love – like peppers, chili peppers, peanuts, yucca, and several species of palm. Bolivia also naturally produces over 4,000 kinds of potatoes! (Yum…)
Left – The Bolivian state flag (red stands for brave soldiers, green symbolizes fertility, and yellow is for the mineral deposits).
Right – The second (and more beautiful in my opinion) flag of Bolivia was introduced in 2009, by the first indigenous president of Bolivia, Evo Morales. It’s called the “whipala” and represents in the Andean people. It was meant to promote inclusion of different cultures (Bolivia has over 30 different native cultures), but some people feel that it’s actually promoting discrimination.
Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia. I’ve never been there, but I’m told that it’s a beautiful city, with tons of white-washed colonial buildings. In fact, it was even designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sucre is known as “La Ciudad de los cuatro Nombres” (The City of the four names), due to it’s previous names, including: Charcas (Pre-Hispanic Times), La Plata (when it was founded in 1538), La Plata de la Nueva Toledo (City of The Silver of the New Toledo), and finally Sucre (in 1826). It is located in the Oropeza Province, and has a population of 300,000 people (the 6th biggest city in Bolivia). It is also located in the same time zone as Toronto (so y’all can Skype me more easily!). 😉
Left: A view of the Sucre skyline. Right: A map of Bolivia with key cities highlighted.
Sucre is a big tourist destination in Bolivia, due to it’s well preserved colonial architecture. It’s home to the Supreme Court of Bolivia and one of the oldest universities in the world. The city itself is organized in a grid in the European style, with lots of narrow streets and corridors. Apparently lots of people also move there to study Spanish (which is great for me, because I’ll definitely need a great course to get up-to-speed). The main sport in Sucre is football (aka. soccer), as would be expected in South America!
If you’re like me you would be thinking, “Well, Bolivia is in SOUTH America, so it must be warm there right?”. However, that’s not really the case. When we visited Bolivia in June 2014, I actually wore a toque to sleep every night! Similar to where I was living in Nepal, although the temperature doesn’t go below zero, there is no heating or insulation. So 10 degrees feels a lot colder than it would here, because you never get a chance to warm up. Sucre is located 2,810 meters (9,214 feet) above sea-level. Due to this, some people experience varying degrees of altitude sickness when they arrive in the country. It also means that the temperature stays fairly stable all year round, and it never gets very hot or freezing in the city.
The temperature is about the same all year – ranging from about 15 to 25 degrees Celsius – perfect fall weather (apparently the weather was also preferred by the royals throughout history).
I hope you learned a bit more about where I’ll be going. I’m sure I’m going to learn tons more over the next year, and I’ll be sure to share it with all of you! But as always, if you have any questions you’re wondering about – shoot me a message – and I’ll look into it for a future blog. 🙂
Check out my other blogs about my upcoming move to Bolivia:
- So, are you like freaking out? You leave in less than 2 months!
- What will you be doing in Bolivia when you arrive in August?