Ten years of exploring and traveling around Bolivia have given author Shafik Meghji an insight into the pace and scale of the climate crisis. From feelings of despondency to moments of hope, he shares his personal journey and understanding of an ancient Amazonian culture adapting to a new world.

In 1867, so the story goes, Bolivian president Mariano Melgarejo asked the British ambassador to pay respects to his latest mistress. When the request was haughtily declined, Melgarejo took offence. The ambassador was apprehended, stripped naked, tied to an ass and paraded around La Paz’s main square, before being kicked out of the country.

When news of the incident reached Queen Victoria, she angrily ordered the Royal Navy to bombard the city. After being told La Paz was high in the Andes, 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the Pacific coast, the monarch called for a map of South America and crossed out the country’s name. Bolivia, she declared, does not exist.

I first heard this apocryphal story—the ‘black legend’—during my first visit to Bolivia in 2004. The date, protagonists and nature of the dispute change from telling to telling. But while the tale may not be true, it sometimes seems as if Bolivia really was crossed off the map.