Saturday, June 30, 2012


When the high is supposed to be 80 degrees back home, you don't wear a coat. Period. Here I made the mistake of assuming things would be the same. Unfortunately highs of 80 in Cochabamba mean lows in the 30s - no laughing matter in a place where buildings aren't often heated. Wish me luck tonight when we visit a very rural town with a very rustic hotel. I'm praying for hot water, lots of blankets and a space heater. And next time I travel I'm bringing my long johns and my coat. 80 degrees or no!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Not dead...

...just out of town. I'll try to post again this weekend, but no promises. I'll be out of town on a work trip with uncertain Internet. Tell you all about it when I get back!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This week - yes, more tourist pictures

Being an intern is hard work. You have to be ready to drop everything and have fun at a moment's notice. Luckily, this Thursday we were at the top of our game. The country took the day off for the Aymara New Year/Winter Solstice and we headed out for a day trip.

Just 30 minutes or so from our housing is the Valle de la Luna

It's about 1 hours worth of entertainment, but it's just gorgeous. And at 15 Bolivianos (a little over 2 bucks) the price was certainly right.

Naturally we had to take an embarrassing shadow picture.


The weekend came pretty quick after that. Saturday we rented a car and headed out to the Yungas again, this time for a little excitement (ie riding zipline, this was my first time!)

We started out passing some typical altiplano sights - lots of llamas and sunlight.

We hit the summit of….something.

Then we hit some gorgeous mountains.

Finally we were in the forest, home to the beautiful city of Coroico, the zip line, and a very famous road.

(The death road!) Unlike last week, this time we did the official death road. We only drove on it for about 5 minutes to get to the top of the zip line, but now at least I can cross it off my list.

Then we zipped from one mountain to another. It was a rush.

Literally, from one mountain to another. Three times for about 30 dollars. Mostly I didn't get many good pictures, but suffice to say that we were really high off the ground for awhile and I was super brave.

We stopped for a quick lunch in the beautiful little town of Coroico …

And headed back home.

(Through the fog.)

Isn't it pretty fog though?

It's crazy how it can be so tropical and green just a couple hours from La Paz. We felt utterly spoiled with all the readily available oxygen, humid air, and greenery everywhere. If I was posted here for a couple years I would spend quite a few weekends in Coroico.

Coffee Plantation - the Yungas

Last weekend we spent a day visiting a coffee plantation in the Yungas - a region just an hour or two from La Paz, but a world apart. Picture steep mountainsides covered in jungle-esque vegetation. It's a pretty steep drop from the altitude in La Paz, so the Yungas are warmer, wetter, and full of life. It makes a nice contrast to the city and the altiplano, and it's pretty convenient so a lot of people in the expat community like to chill here on the weekends.

The drive was definitely one of the most beautiful, and memorable in my life.

We took a road called the South Yungas Road. The North Yungas Road is better known as the Death Road - considered the deadliest road in the world for good reason. The South Yungas Road is a slight (though certainly not enough) improvement. It's basically a dirt road, clinging to the side of a cliff. One lane, but not one-way and full of utter speed demons like our driver. See the picture below? See how the cliff is really close to the car, with no guardrail? And see how it's blurry? (Hint: That's because we were flying along that road. Every once in awhile we'd slip on the gravel and the whole bus would take a collective gasp. Fun stuff.)

Basically all my other pictures are utter trash because we couldn't roll down the windows and we were moving at the speed of light.

Anyway... we eventually arrived intact at the coffee plantation. (It's the highest in the world and voted one of the world's ten best coffees - it's available at whole foods too. Makes me wonder why I traveled all the way to Bolivia to taste it when I could have walked four blocks from my DC apartment...) We met these cute little guys:
and sampled some coffee (it seriously needed cream and sugar). 

Then we ate this:

Scariest food ever. It's like a giant shrimp (ha!) or a mini lobster. I'm not sure which but they said to cut off the tail and suck out the head. Yeah. It was among the most unpleasant things I've ever eaten, but we gave it a go. The rest of lunch paled in comparison.

We learned a tiny bit about coffee making. Mostly it left me wondering who thought to make coffee in the first place? It must have been the same person that originally looked at a lobster and said 'I could eat that.' Creativity.

Then we went home.

(one more gratuitous picture of almost death road)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gran Poder 2012 (2)

Okay, dances continued!(Better two weeks late than never!)

There is the diablada - depicting the devil. Miners used to (still do?) make offerings to the devil to keep them safe in the mines.

Little devil. Not so scary, right?

The devils are, inexplicably, accompanied by some giant…furries.

No comment.

Then there was the llama herders' dance. I didn't get any pictures of this. Oops.
In addition to the dancers with very specific costumes there were plenty of women's groups dressed in their chola finest. Like so:

Each group was also accompanied by their own huge, very loud band - marching to the beat of some very large drums.

I was struck overall with the differences between American and Bolivian parades. In the US mostly young people (kids and teens) dance in the parades or play music, but even then there isn't much actual dancing. The Bolivian parade was all high-energy dancing and it was done by adults with only occasional kid participation. I was very impressed at the number of adults here who are able to play an instrument and groove a little. Maybe I can bring the Gran Poder back to the states with me this fall…

Anyway, loved it all, it was a fantastic day. We stayed til noon and topped off the day with a showing of Blancanieves y la Legenda del Cazador (Snow White and the Huntsman) in Spanish at the luxury theater. They served us full meals in giant plush recliners (for less than the price of a matinee ticket back home). I could get used to this!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


We saw this site a week or so back, but I haven't had time to post about it til now.

An hour from La Paz is the holy/archaeological site of Tiwanaku. High on the altiplano the tiwanaku culture (predating the Incas) built a bunch of temples. Not much remains of the temples, but it's a great excuse to get out on the altiplano for a day and explore a bit.  The trip was gorgeous.

First was the sky - I've really never seen it so big.

Next were the hills. (Ignore the fact that I can't hold a camera straight.)

Then there were the mountains -the Cordillera Real. Absolutely beautiful.

Compared to all the nature the ruins had a hard time stacking up, but there were some nice bits. I liked this statue of a priest.

And the wall set with faces. Apparently there is one face for every tribe absorbed into the main tiwanaku culture. Not sure what the facial expression is supposed to indicate. Surprise? Anger? Fear?

The actual temple is mostly lost to nature and looting (apparently the stones show up in churches built by the Spaniards all over the altiplano). This is what's left. We didn't climb up it because despite how tame it looks, this is 13,000+ feet and some of us remember the adventures at the lake a little too well.
This coming Thursday will be the Aymara new year. Tiwanaku is the place to be when the sun rises on New Year's Day. We decided we'd rather have it to ourselves, but if you're in the area, it's supposed to be a neat experience.

PS I am really behind with the blog. I've just resigned myself to update when I can and fill in the details when I get back to the states. Now I know that (good) internet access needs to be one of my bidding criteria!

Monday, June 11, 2012


That's right, my first South American football game! And even more exciting, it was Bolivia (my temporary home) vs Paraguay (my brother's adopted home). We got a giant flag, I had my face painted, and we cheered a bit for both sides. The stadium is beautiful and the crowd was awesome. If I were here for longer I would definitely get some season tickets.

Beautiful stadium. The highest in the world I think. Maybe that explains how Paraguay, which was supposed to win, lost 3-1. 

Under the Bolivian flag at halftime.

Yes, I ate ice cream in a developing country.
No it didn't make me sick.

Maybe that's the biggest victory of the day!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sagarnaga/The Witches Market

This weekend we stuck around in town to see some of what La Paz has to offer.

First we hit up Sagarnaga, a famous shopping street.

It's in the old part of town and also known as the Witches' Market, where you can buy traditional folk remedies and offerings to make to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Most strange to American visitors are the llama fetuses. From what I understand, you bury it in your yard to protect your household and bless it.
The Coca Museum is located in the middle of the market. The guidebook called it very even-handed, but it seemed heavy handed to me. Anyway, the history and science of coca are very interesting. It's worth the 10 Boliviano admission and 30 minutes it takes to read through the exhibits.


After the coca museum and the Witches' Market we saw Iglesia San Francisco, founded in 1548. We didn't have time to see much though because we had a very important be continued!

Friday, June 8, 2012


I got my Paraguayan visa today! I'm headed there at the end of my trip to visit my brother and his wife. I'm very excited to see him. One of the difficult things about traveling so much is that when I'm back I only get to see the friends and family that stay close to home. I never have enough time/energy/money to see the ones that have scattered. So this trip is a real treat. In other news, yesterday we visited an ancient pre-Incan site called Tiwanaku. It's a series of ruined temples located in the middle of the altiplano. The site was absolutely gorgeous. I love to get out and see the countryside. This particular trip was made possible by a local holiday, Corpus Cristi. Did you know we get both American and local holidays off? Don't worry though - I'll make up for it by working all day for the Independence day event. Sorry no pictures today, I'm on my iPad and it isn't speaking to blogger apparently. Anyone with ideas about how to fix that feel free to comment! Finally, I may be dog sitting next week and I am unreasonably excited. I have been petting every street dog in La Paz since I miss my dog so much, so hopefully I can play pet owner and get that all out of my system. All the best from La Paz, the best post ever (and a 25% differential if you're interested!) Til next time!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gran Poder 2012

Yesterday was a big day in La Paz - the festival of Gran Poder. This is a vaguely religious festival, celebrated since 1663. The festival is marked with a giant parade that lasts, I kid you not, from 7 am til long past dark. There are thousands and thousands of dancers, wearing incredibly elaborate and expensive costumes. They don't just dance to whatever pop song is on the radio. Instead they have several traditional dances that depict segments of society and periods in their history. The whole thing is a massive production and the more I found out about it the more interesting it became.

Let me caveat the below pictures by emphasizing that it is incredibly hard to photograph moving targets without experience/a really good camera. I did my best, let your imagination and/or Youtube fill in the rest.

First, there's the Suri Sikuri, a dance symbolizing ostriches. This one is my favorite. There were only a couple of troops dancing it. I can only imagine how difficult it is to keep those feather things on your head.

There's the Morenada, which represents the Afro-Bolivians, brought originally to work in the mines around Potosi. The dancers wear barrel shaped costumes. I'm not sure why, but I assume it has something to do with mining. They have very stylized faces, but are clearly supposed to be black men. This was a very popular dance (every 2nd or 3rd group did the Morenada). I'm not sure why the hispanic Bolivians identify so much with the Afro-Bolivians. And I'm not sure why they don't just invite some Afro-Bolivians to dance the Morenada. But whatever the reason, it's an interesting cultural statement.

Next most popular were the the caporales, representing cowboys/girls the Spanish military. Their outfits seemed kind of scandalous by Bolivian standards.

Then there are the bull fighters. The dance is called Waka Tokoris and satirizes bullfighting - which was an activity reserved for the Spanish colonizers when the dance was created. Is it just me or does that bull's head look kind of real? And are those spoons on the back of the costume? Hm….

Next are the weavers, they dance the Kullawada - you can see the little spinners they hold. They also were identifiable by the fringed hats.

Isn't she cute?

To be continued when my internet connection is a bit more powerful...