Strollers and wheelchairs in Bolivia

I meant to write about this topic during our stay in Bolivia, but I forgot until recently.

This time around, we took an umbrella stroller with us for toting Jadzia. We took it everywhere, but found it didn’t do well in every circumstance. Dirt roads were very tricky, especially the one from our country cabin in Samaipata to the town. And in cities, you have to be cognizant of sidewalks.

Sidewalks in Bolivia are unlike those in the U.S. They are the responsibility of the home or business owner, not the city. So, as you walk on the sidewalk along a street or avenue, you will find yourself stepping up, then down, then up again, as the level of the sidewalk changes from building to building (or house to house). You will also notice the sidewalk materials change from one building to the next.. concrete here, nice ceramic tiles there, dirt and weeds there, etc. Quality varies widely, obviously. And in the heart of Santa Cruz, most street corners have even higher curbs with no curb cuts at intersections.

This poses a problem for those who would push strollers, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. It didn’t cause us any huge issues.

But imagine you are someone who is confined to a wheelchair. That’s a whole different ball of wax.

Yoli has a friend who uses a wheelchair all the time. The first time I was in Bolivia, we visited him at his house to eat empanadas. This year, we saw him again, but he wanted to meet us at a restaurant downtown.

When his taxi arrived, I helped him get from the street to the restaurant. And later on, we all went together a few blocks to a photo store to pick up our photos so we could show him.

It was quite a task for me to push him along. The curbs were very difficult because they were so high. And of course in Bolivia, there are no signals to help pedestrians cross. You are at the mercy of the prevailing traffic.

I can’t imagine how he could navigate the downtown alone. It is simply impossible. The truth is that because so much of Santa Cruz is inaccessible for folks in wheelchairs, he can only get out of the house by taking a taxi and driving directly to whatever place he’s trying to get to.

This was eye-opening to me. And it makes me think of how good we have it in the U.S. Obviously there are many areas where things could be improved, but it’s worlds beyond the condition of streets and sidewalks in Bolivia.