Travel: Bolivian belly

Simon Calder@SimonCalder
Friday 07 October 1994 23:02

THE LAST big epidemic scare was the outbreak of cholera in Peru in 1991. As with the plague in India, other countries imposed medical checks on people arriving from the stricken nation. I found myself under suspicion when trying to cross by land from Peru into Bolivia.

The tiny border post high up on the Altiplano had no facilities for conducting a check, so the immigration official dispatched me to the clinic in the nearest town. This involved a three-mile hike 14,000ft above sea level: if you could survive the walk you must be healthy.

The doctor's English was even worse than my Spanish, so his interview technique involved a series of increasingly distasteful mimes to inquire whether I felt any symptoms of the gastric illness.

He then ordered me to lie on the examination table, where he prodded about with none of the finesse of the average Peruvian pickpocket. Finally, bruised and humiliated, I was given a scrappy piece of paper declaring 'Mr Simon' to be disease-free - in exchange for several thousand pesos, value nearly 50p.

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