This is a story about buying glasses in Bolivia.
My granny always told me that eating carrots improves your eyesight. I must have decreased my carrot intake at an early age because I wear glasses now and my granny is never wrong. More precisely, the eye doctor prescribed me glasses my junior year of high school. I wasn’t a fan of them and only truly needed them to see faint chalk from a distance; ultimately, I stopped wearing them after a few months. Over the next five years, I experienced brief moments that made me question whether my eyesight diminished. Those thoughts were confirmed after I graduated college and applied for my first job. They required a physical and eye exam. I failed the eye exam. It was embarrassing for me and probably humorous for the examiner as I arbitrarily said letters, hoping there weren’t any numbers or symbols in the mix.
I’m not sure why I put off going to the optometrist for so long. Perhaps I was afraid of realizing my own decay, or less morbid, maybe it was one more to-do that interfered with college bliss. Either way, I prescribed to the philosophy, “I’ll see tomorrow.” Brian Regan has a hilarious comedy sketch embodying this idea if you have the time. Two reasons I suggest you reject this philosophy and get your eyes checked: it is irresponsible to drive visually impaired, and seeing is great!
Glasses like carrots come in different shapes and weights. Insurance helped me purchase a lightweight pair with no bottom frame for $120, what would normally cost $300. Here’s the thing, even though I had glasses before, I was still new to wearing them all day, every day. Less than three months at work, I took them off and set them on top of my truck to change my shirt before driving home. I forgot to put them back on my face. They slid off the roof as I pulled away, and yes, I ran over my glasses. I said to myself, “this is why we can’t have nice things.” Insurance would not cover a new pair so I happily purchased two cheap, seventy-dollar, full frame glasses. The money and quality background is relevant, I promise.
A year later, I quit my job and sold my truck to travel from Argentina to Alaska. Bolivia was the third country to visit and where things got a bit spicy. My father and I went on a pampas tour. It is a region in the southern basin of the Amazon. The main form of transportation is a skinny, wooden canoe with a motor on the back. Aside from the humidity and mosquitos, it is a magical place. There were monkeys, caimans, neat birds, and pink dolphins. The guide told us we could swim with the pink dolphins. I jumped in, not my best idea for two reasons. I’m fairly certain the river caused my 11 days of diarrhea and I forgot I was wearing glasses. Boom, main pair gone. The realization was shocking, but not depressing because I had a backup pair in better condition in my back pack.
That was December 31, 2016. On January 1, 2017, the very next day, our tour ended and we got back on the canoe to head back to Rurrenabaque. Half way though the ride, it started to rain. Correction, down pour. As the rain came down, so did group moral. I was tired of hearing the grumbling guests and started to whoop and holler. The rain was cold, but we had three days of intense heat so I made it sound like the greatest gift from above. Some of the others laughed and accepted the conditions. I was so caught up in my radical freedom, I accidentally slung my glasses into the river while whipping my hair back and forth. My pride was hurt as the other travelers verbally noted how ridiculous it was that I lost my only other pair within 24 hours.
The next ten minutes, I spiraled into a deep depression. There I was, in Bolivia, without glasses. I had no idea how I would get new glasses, if I could get new glasses, or how much they would cost. I didn’t have any insurance at this point. In the United States, they took weeks to make my prescription lenses. I didn’t want to wait weeks in Bolivia, nor did I want to spend the precious reserve of travel money on a new pair. But, I also didn’t want see a new place without actually being able to see. Not to mention, I make a video a week and glasses are imperative for shooting and editing. I took a deep breath. The Amazon is not the place to lose your cool. I decided I would figure out my options when we got to La Paz, the biggest city in Bolivia, and our destination after Rurrenabaque. Oddly enough, I had this bizarre peace come over me and the self-deprecating jokes came easy.
We arrived in La Paz four days later. I asked a few locals where I could purchase new glasses. Luckily, my mother, an angel, sent me my prescription information. It was expired, but the rules are a bit different in Bolivia. I explained to the lady in broken Spanish that I’m an idiot and needed new glasses. We found a pair like the ones I ran over. I braced myself for the price. They were 240 Bolivianos, or roughly 35 dollars! She asked if two hours was okay. I about pooped my pants. True, I still had diarrhea, but that was an incredible offer. After paying her, I said I’d purchase a second pair if the lenses came out well. In the end, I had two pairs of glasses, with the same design as my first pair. What would cost me $600 and take two weeks in the states cost me 70 dollars and took less than a day.
Some people call me irresponsible, forgetful, and even wasteful. Indeed, all three incidents were costly mistakes, but the memory of losing your glasses in Bolivia is priceless. If you explore the Northwest territory of Bolivia, look out for a dolphin or caiman with spectacles.
Go to the Argentina to Alaska page to watch the full series or watch the video below about our experience on the pampas tour.