When I rang up one of my good friends a couple of months ago to tell her I was leaving for Bolivia her first response was: “Oh, that’s absolutely amazing!”
Her second: “Umm, where’s Bolivia?”
Now, this is someone who defines India as “somewhere to the right of Germany!”
But, in her defence, the other day I was told an amazing story which suggests that Bolivia really and truly is off the world map – and it’s all down to us Brits.
So, here’s how the story goes:
In 1867 Mariano Melgarejo, a man of wild excesses and widely considered the worst president Bolivia’s ever had (which as one Bolivian blogger put it “is saying something!”), summoned all the foreign dignataries in La Paz to his palace to celebrate the promotion of his prized white horse Holofernes to the rank of General, an idea he stole from the greatest of all role models, Caligula.
The British Ambassador, being ever the diplomat, attended the farcical event and once there was offered a cup of the traditional Andean alcohol chicha.
Now, the ancient way of making chicha was to chew ground maize before rolling the well-gnoshed and sloshed grains into a ball and laying them out to dry, while the chewer’s saliva did the handy work of breaking down all the starch and fermenting the alcohol.
Maybe the Ambassador got wind of this and thought he’d rather not or perhaps he’d heard that Melgarejo’s favourite pastime was to get his guests blind drunk and then make his beloved Holofernes piss on them. Either way, the Ambassador declined – politely – and asked instead for a mug of chocolate.
Now Melgarejo, not used to being turned down for anything, took great offence at this. But he could hardly deny an envoy of the Great British Empire herself. And so he gave the Ambassador what he asked for…and more.
He had an enormous jar of chocolate brought in and then forced His Excellency to drink every last drop.
Well sated, he then tied the Ambassador face to arse on and ass and marched him three times around the main square before unceremoniously ejecting him from the country – no doubt by the seat of his pants.
Now, the story goes that when the humiliated emissary returned to England he told Queen Victoria of his many abuses. Her Highness was incensed and demanded that Bolivia feel the full fire and fury the Royal Navy.
When her aides pointed out that, notwithstanding the unrivalled supremacy of Her Majesty’s fleet, Bolivia was simply too far in land to be bombed by sea, the Empress cried out: “Where is Bolivia?”
Herein our Monarch was promptly furnished with a map of the Americas and spotting the offending country she’s said to have snatched a pen and scratched a large cross over it and right then and there proclaimed the immortal words:
“Bolivia Doesn’t Exist”
And that my dear readers is how Bolivia fell foul of Ma’am and forever from the Mapamundi.