While our first goal in Bolivia was to get to Sucre, for our extended six month volunteering stay, we took a slight detour on the way in order to visit Tarija. We had spent a few days in Tarija back in November and loved the town; more importantly we met a couple, let’s call them S & D, who had retired to Tarija from N America. S & D’s obvious love of Bolivia and their stories about their neighbors was one of the influences that made us change our volunteering plans – working in Bolivia instead of Africa.
Our first night in Tarija we spent at the La Ensenada recreation area, where we had stayed last time.
The encargado, manager, at La Ensenada was there, working as always, and remembered us from last time. He is a very gracious man and made sure we were comfortable, that the shower worked, and that we had keys to the port which was locked every night. As we were headed to town the following morning, and he was not going to be there until the afternoon, he told us to just drop the keys off with the caretaker who lives in a house right next to La Ensenada.
Bad, very bad, plan.
The next morning, Karen went to return the keys. She walked up a path to the caretaker’s house and since no one was outside, she entered through the gate into the property. As soon as she did, three dogs attacked her. And, she was bitten twice as she ran back to the camper.
There are dogs all over S America, and particularly in Bolivia. But even the dogs who belong to someone are not the kind of pets we are used to: they are semi-feral animals who are not trained, and will and do go after people with a vengeance. Later, as we were telling this story to our Tarija friends, they said that even though they know their neighbors well, and their neighbors’ dogs, they do not walk around, and do not even enter a friend’s property, without a sturdy stick. The dogs have a healthy respect, from experience, for people with sticks.
Karen was very badly frightened and had a bite on each leg. We read up on what our first aid book said to do, which was to rinse the wounds with water and to seek medical attention, and headed into town to look for a medical center. First though, we spoke one of the dogs’ owners, the lady of the house. She was not very apologetic at first – “anyone knows not to enter a property that has dogs” – but she became concerned when I demanded her phone number, and her assurance that the dogs had rabies shots. She became more concerned when the tall, angry, gringo told her that the police and/or the doctor talk to her about her dogs.
With the help of the police, we quickly found a medical center. And even though there were a dozen or so people in the waiting room, we were led immediately into a treatment room where Dr Oma saw Karen. (It’s good to be a gringo at times…). If you are going to get bitten by a dog, Bolivia may be the best place for it: the doctors are experienced and have treated bites a thousand times before. Dr Oma cleaned out the wounds with soap and water, told us why these wound should be kept open (just as our first aid book says), and then Karen got a tetanus shot.
We were in and out in less than 15 minutes. And it was free – Bolivia has a plan in place where treating dog bites is no charge, even for extranjeros. Btw, they also have a plan where vaccinating dogs for rabies is free, so the doctor said that the dogs were most likely vaccinated, and that rabies amongst dogs that belong to someone is extremely rare.
After this scary start to the day, our next stop was to find a gomeria, tire repair shop, as we had another flat, our third in S America in seven months of driving. Two flats in Argentina, this would be our first one in Bolivia.
After some cruising up and down the main street into Tarija, and after stopping at a few tire shops to ask questions, we found a gomeria that could handle our tire size. Our tires aren’t huge, but some shops don’t have the equipment to remove the tire.
The owner at the gomeria was very friendly, but told us it was going to be at least 30 minutes before he could get to us as he had a few trucks and buses ahead of us. No problem.
Once they got to our tire, it was less than 15 minutes work to repair the puncture. And US$ 2.75.
As this post and the previous post have tried to convey, Bolivia is different. But certainly not in a bad way. Yes the country is poor, the roads are bad, and the dogs are an issue, but these are things you get used to quickly. All in all, we love it. The people are friendly, the scenery is incredible, food is delicious and so inexpensive. We sincerely hope that we can do our bit to help Bolivia in the next six months.