Street market in La Paz.
After spending a month in Bolivia, a post of love. We’ve written a lot about the land in Bolivia, and wanted to share a few words on the other pieces that make this place.
1. So, I’ll start this off by saying that as much as we’ve loved Bolivia, the public infrastructure here sucks. Aside from a few main highways, most of the roads are unpaved, and most of those unpaved roads wind through streambeds, mountainside washouts, and winding switchbacks without too much care. The busses themselves are somewhat rickety, spew toxic exhaust, and are likely to breakdown, overheat, or sometimes, inexplicably, make it successfully to your destination in half the expected time, despite outward appearances suggesting impending disaster.
J and a door in Sucre.
2. Interestingly, public funding does seem to be spent in abundance on immaculately manicured city parks. Except that no one is allowed on the grass (it is sometimes protected by nice hedges, sometimes by knee-high, elegant fencing, and sometimes by barbed wire). We’ve also been awed by the attention to detail in architecture. Run-down, tiny concrete buildings will have beautiful, intricately-carved doors with old-fashioned brass knockers. Brightly painted homes and businesses liven up even the poorest and plainest of towns.
Colonial architecture in Cochabamba.
Inner courtyard at our hostel in Tupiza.
3. While small towns and poor suburbs are built out of adobe or concrete, most cities are dominated by colonial architecture. City blocks are structured as canchas – solid-fronted buildings hiding beautiful inner courtyards. Many of the places we’ve stayed, even the cheapest ones, have incredible and incredibly pleasant tiled inner courtyards circled by beautiful balconies.
The local markets are loud, crowded, sprawling, and dirty. And awesome. This is our first stop in any new city or town.
4. It’s incredibly unhygienic here. On our first day in Bolivia, a shop woman spread ten raw chicken carcasses across her counter, dangerously overlapping the dishes of gum and candies. She then interrupted the process of beheading and cleaning them to, with bloodied hands, grab a box of milk for us, take our payment, and hand us back slimy change. We were warned about the water and took (some minimal) precautions with food, but we were pretty much guaranteed to get sick at some point while here.
Meat delivery in Tupiza. In most places, trucks, stores, and restaurants are very unlikely to have refrigeration.
5. Local food consists of lots and lots and lots of potatoes. And lots of other starches as well. Every meal is guaranteed to contain at least two different kinds of starch, some as many as six or seven. The national food of choice is fried chicken, which is deliciously done, often served with rice/quinoa and french fries. The most delicious new find is a breakfast drink called Api – a warm beverage the consistency of a smoothie made of purple corn, cinnamon, clove, and apple.
Bus station in Sucre.
6. Bolivia has the highest percentage of native people out of any South Amercian country, and it is evident. Outside of cities, many people do not speak Spanish, only Quechua or Aymara.
Towns are filled with women dressed in traditional garb. This generally consists of a hand-crocheted cardigan, lacy blouse, and a round, box-pleated, knee-length skirt, worn with sling-back sandals. The ensemble is topped with a tiny bowler hat (or sometimes a wide lacy sunhat) worn over two long braids tied together with large beaded tassels. Sometimes she adds knee-high stockings, thick knit legwarmers, and several layers of heavy woven shawls, wraps, and scarves. Even younger women in western dress will carry loads by wrapping them in a large, colorfully-striped blanket tied around their shoulders. The definition of “load” ranges from large bundles of sticks or potatoes to babies and toddlers to cauldrons of food.
A traditionally-dressed woman crosses the street amongst the colonial architecture of Sucre.
Interestingly, although women dressed like this can be found from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, apart from campesinos (farmers), men seem to avoid traditional dress and opt instead for more western slacks or jeans with a knit sweater or fleece. We once witnessed a young family on an outing consisting of a young woman dressed head to toe in traditional styles with a baby wrapped in a blanket around her shoulders walking with her partner, who was wearing fashionably torn blue jeans, city sneakers, and a tight, short-sleeved button-down with black polka dots and piping.
Bolivians of both genders are impervious to heat and tend to wear layersof warm sweaters, jackets, scarves, and knit hats while we sweat in tank tops and shorts. This is true in the north, where it is occasionally nippy, but also in the south, where it is a desert.
Friendly campesino in Sorata who chatted with J for awhile.
7. Strangers in the street are friendly and curious, eager to ask questions about where you’re from and what you think of Bolivia. We’ve had interesting discussions with city folk and campesinos alike and discovered some interesting quirks. For example, Bolivia fought a Pacific War with Chile and Peru in the end of the 1800s. The result was that Chile annexed a small chunk of territory that previously connected Bolivia to the ocean. Bolivians today see this as a huge atrocity, and the Bolivian “right to the sea” was something that came up several times, including in this mural, in a small town in central Bolivia.
All in all, we spent a great month in Bolivia. We loved the country, the land, and the people and are already dreaming of a return trip.
Next up: Peru!
Lots of love,
C and J