I can count on one hand the number of American friends who already knew where Cochabamba, Bolivia was.
Tucked away in a small, fertile valley, Cochabamba is certainly not a small city with a population of around 1 million people. It’s even known on a worldwide scale for its citizens revolt against privatization of the city’s water resources. Such is the heart and courage of the people that live there, one of the many reasons Cochabamba is a fascinating city to live in.
I hesitate to say that Cochabamba’s an easy city to get used to, but it’s got a lot of advantages that make life here enjoyable. The cost of living is low, the climate is mild, and the landscapes are breathtaking. I’ve never tasted fresher fruits and vegetables, and even just a few dollars can get you a week’s supply. Plus, there’s a fascinating culture alive and kicking, with vibrant festivals and dances to go with it.
On the flip side, Cochabamba also features frequent roadblocks, ‘healthy’ portions of food-poisoning, and widespread poverty in villages outside of the city. Most showers have these nightmares attached to them, the internet is the 2nd slowest in the Western Hemisphere, and street dogs run free for blocks and blocks.
Cochabamba could also certainly use some help. The economy isn’t broken, it’s just poor. Bolivia exports very little, and it’s currency isn’t competitive in relations to any of its neighbors. It also means that the average citizen has very little purchasing power. Many luxuries are only distant dreams.
More importantly, Bolivia can’t provide many social programs for it’s citizens, and generous individuals are left to create initiatives themselves. But their lack of government support doesn’t impede them from making a great deal of impact. Projects such as Performing Life, Mano a Mano, and CECAM all find innovative ways to directly improve the lives of many.
It’s the proverbial world-apart from anywhere I’ve lived previously. And most importantly, I wake up every morning in a city that continues to fascinate me and teach me new things every day.