Star Date: May 2013
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Floating amongst the clouds, rooftop of the world, Bolivia shines as the highest, most remote, driest and coldest nation in the southern hemisphere. It has been called the Tibet of South America. Being the poorest nation on the continent makes for an interesting political climate; ripe with strikes, protests and demonstrations. Rich in resources it is too poor to develop them and so is a target for exploitation. In 1932 oil companies speculated on oil reserves in El Chaco. Standard Oil backed Bolivia, Shell backed Paraguay. After 80,000 lives were lost part of the land was given to Paraguay. No oil was found. An so it goes in the giant chess game of world power. Bolivia has had over 200 governments in power since independence from Spain only 180 years ago. Don't like the government? Just wait a month or two.
The current President, Evo Morales, is an indigenous farmer, representing the over 70% of Quechua speaking indigenous people in Bolivia. Indigenous natives make up 85% of the population of Bolivia. A former coca grower and activist he is getting a taste of his own medicine with increased strikes and roadblocks. Bolivia recently passed a law that declared that Mother Earth has rights! Such forward thinking. He also is focusing on education and sharing some of the wealth with rural folk. Morales has many critics of his recent policies but thus far he seems to have maintained a connection with his roots and Nature.
Coca has been an integral part of the Bolivian culture from the beginning. The Inca love goddess is represented holding leaves of coca. The leaf is chewed into a golf ball sized 'akullico' which is held in the cheek to provide relief from the effects of high elevation, cold and pain. The raw leaf is neither harmful nor addictive but instead is full of medicinal properties and rich in calcium, iron and vitamins. It was the secret ingredient of Coca cola and only after the derivative of coca, cocaine, became an expensive recreational drug mainly in the U.S.; was traditional use of coca threatened. Thirty thousand acres were set aside to preserve growing this important plant but in the 1980's the DEA barged in to help curb the production of cocaine. 'Cocaleros' or coca growers were abused and the DEA was thrown out finally in the late 2000's. President Morales led the campaign "Coca si, cocaina no". Coca yes, cocaine no.
During our rest in the charming, warm colonial city of Santa Cruz, we first met Manuel and his traveling store in a van, selling coca products. He travels South America sharing his hand made coca products and educating the people about the health benefits of the coca leaf. He emphasizes that this leaf is NOT cocaine anymore than potatoes are vodka.
After almost not getting into Bolivia (see April 2013) we were then blocked by a landslide between Santa Cruz and Samaipata. Was this a sign? Once cleared our van limped through ankle deep mud into the charming little foothill town of Samaipata. Samaipata is where 3 different ecosystems converge: Amazonia, Chaco and the Andes. There began our wild ride known as Bolivia. We met up with Manuel again parked on the town square. We joined him for a trip to the ancient pre-Columbian ruins of El Fuerte. The true history of this fascinating continent is shrouded in mist, just like the surrounding mountains. If only those condors or rock precipices could talk.
He invited us to
experience Ayauasca with him and a local shaman. Open to
explore the culture of S. America we agreed and before we knew it we
were fasting then sitting in a dark, candle lit room with a small group the
following night. Not knowing anything about Ayauasca except
that it is used by S American shamans to break down barriers in our
minds/psyche and expand our awareness; we relaxed to the blessing, music,
chanting and feather rattle of the kind shaman.
After drinking the mixture specially prepared from 2 jungle herbs
and roots we laid down and let the experience flood over us.
Not every vision is enlightening and if done incorrectly there can be negative side reactions. This is always to be done with the help of a guide or a shaman.
We got along so well with Manuel that we were invited to join him (for an offer of gas money) to Sucre the next town about 10 hours up further into the Cordilleras. A real genuine person and a gentle spirit we were blessed that our paths had crossed. Driving along he all of a sudden saw a small brown arrow showing 'La Ruta del Che' - the route of Che. Veering off we embarked on a grand adventure for 6 days through some of the worst roads to date. Che Ernesto Guevara is an icon for change and revolution worldwide. (see his history on our page on C*ba). Che is either loved or hated. Idolized as a hero or despised as a murderer. After helping win the revolution in Cuba he wanted to spread his idealism further, ridding S. America from the imperialism of the U.S. and control by the C.I.A. in the political arena. Born in Argentina he thought hiding away in the mountains of Bolivia would be the perfect base for guerilla training. His plan was wrought with failure as he had bitten off more than he could chew. He and his small army worked their way through these remote mountains until he was cornered, captured, and executed in a small schoolhouse in La Higuera. His body was flown by helicopter to the Knights of Malta Hospital in Valle Grande where photos were taken to prove to the world press he was dead, his last death. Before being shot by a soldier Che told him emphatically that, "You will only be killing the man". He was right. Che has become a hero and martyr to change and revolution and this icon lives on.
We wound our way along disintegrating roads ( the government does NOT maintain them on purpose). The tiny remote towns are seldom visited and the roads impassable for months in the rainy season; luckily we had very little rain. We stayed in small guesthouses, visited a Che museum in Valle Grande, including photos of him laying peacefully in their local hospital. Eyes staring wide. To enter the museum you talked to someone downstairs and they gave you the key to have a look at the memorabilia collected from their town's short claim to fame.
The scenery and the remote villages were worth the trip alone. At points Manuel wished he hadn't brought his van on the terrible roads. At other times we were all saying prayers as the van teetered on the edge of gravel precipices falling 2000 feet to the river bed below. I heard the doves saying, "It's ok, it's ok." It really wasn't a road in many places. But then that is part of this grand adventure.
In La Higuera we stayed in a small compound with a couple of volunteer doctors from Cuba and visited the little schoolhouse where Che met his end, just 25 ft from our door. 'Tu exemplo alumbrar. Un nuevo amanacer '- Your example lights the way. A New dawn. It has become a little shrine of sorts with people who make it to this isolated spot paying respect. Che is still dearly loved in many parts of the world. 'Hasta la victoria siempre' is one of Che's most famous slogans. 'Until Victory, Always. Can't help thinking 'live by the sword, die by the sword'. A real shame and waste of an intelligent forward thinking young doctor. Dead at 33.
Slowly we wove our way through the Cordillera Mountains up towards the Andes. Almost a week later we stopped at the small village of Tarabuco, above 9,000 ft. elevation. Bands were playing and hundreds of indigenous people were milling around. Seems we had just missed the President's visit by about 10 minutes. What a treat to see the endless parade of bright traditional costumes as people walked around the small town square. The following day was the large weekend market with a dizzying display of wares, farm produce and colorful ethnic dresses and hats. Tired from the elevation we slowly walked around trying to absorb the brilliant display. Manuel's van wouldn't start and we went ahead to Sucre - meeting him later in town and hoping it was a little warmer than freezing at night.
We collapsed at the Grand
Hotel and spend a couple of days in the friendly city of Sucre.
Good thing it was so friendly because it was impossible to leave.
Literally. The road blockades had moved to surround Sucre.
'bloqueros' - roadblocks are a common form of protest in Bolivia.
Nature also provides natural roadblocks in the rainy season -
spending the night on the other side of a rockslide will make you
appreciate having extra jackets, food and water in your bag.
Diagonal semi trucks blocking the roads is another matter.
We were stuck for 4 days with no traffic in or out. On the 5th
day I found
a van driver who would
bypass the blockade by means of a bumpy precarious road and continue
on to Potosi - the world's highest city at 4,090 metres (13,420 ft) .
A smooth trip once we had joined the pavement; our merry band
of travelers, 2 other couples and the driver, decided to take a
break and have some lunch before continuing on. Not all in
Potosi glitters of the silver mined here.
Arriving in Uyuni was like being thrown into a deepfreeze in your pajamas. Usually these warm blooded 'woosies' from Hawaii go running in the other direction when the temperature drops; but we are glad that we stuck it out on the Altiplano - the highest plain in the world. But then everywhere is high, cold and spectacular in Bolivia.
From the time we crossed the border we heard about the Salt Flats near Uyuni. Not going would have been like visiting Egypt and not seeing the pyramids, "because everyone does!" We went on an expedition to the surreal blinding salt flats, staying in a hotel made of blocks of salt. The bed platform was salt, the bedside tables were salt, the walls and floor were salt. At night it was so cold that after dinner everyone just crawled under mountains of blankets and hid until morning. Luckily the days were sunny because staying at 15,000 feet was nothing short of freezing - and no central heating anywhere in S. America. No matter what direction you look there are wind swept mountains, snow capped peaks, and interesting rock formations. The next couple of days we explored the even more ethereal rainbow rock mountains, parks, green mineral lakes, red lakes with pink flamingos, geysers, bubbling mud, hot springs, strange rock formations, and the Salvador Dali Desert. The scenery was nothing less than spectacular at every bend. We were in a land cruiser with 4 wonderful, fun people from Spain. What a trip. And all for $25 a day.
La Paz, the capitol, was a whirlwind of activity after our time out in remote S.W. Bolivia. Lively markets, towering cathedrals all with 'chalitas' in bowler hats bustling about. We called these dear ladies 'little dumplings' and loved to interact with them. I'm sure they keep warmer with their padding than me in this cold elevation. In the markets we ate potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes, just like everyone else. They have yellow, blue, red, white, big, tiny and even black potatoes. If you like potatoes or quinoa this is the place for you.
Lake Titicaca, one of the highest navigable lakes in the world, is a stunning site with the sapphire blue water contrasting with the high, dry Altiplano. The villages of the Aymaran line the shore of the 230 km long lake. At an elevation of 3820m it has islands of the Sun and Moon, the cradle of the Incan civilization and birthplace of the sun according to Incan mythology. The Island of the Moon was where young virgins were treated royally before they were sacrificed to the gods. Not being virgins we took a boat out to the Island of the Sun and spent time on this small, unique island, close to the Incan gods. With beauty like this all around us we were living in the surroundings where myths were made.
And so it goes.........................................Next traveling up the Altiplano of the Andes, and exploring Peru. Until next month let's remember to watch our thoughts. Be aware of what is going on around us but help create the world we wish to live in, starting with one encouraging thought at a time. Shift from anger and upset to gratitude and optimistic thoughts. From fear to love and caring. We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch. We love to hear from you. Take care!
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar = 6.91 Bolivian Boliviano
One meter = approx
3 feet of altitude
Directly across from the back door of the market. Tiny little doorway with great people and vegetarian food (tell her ahead). Amelia , Grandma and little Franko won't let you leave hungry. They said they were going to put up a sign "Buen Banquete Restaurante.
Routa del Che:
One one side of the plaza look for the sign. Get the key from
the lady at the desk on the first floor and enjoy an eclectic trip
through the life of Che. ($1)
The little gazebo in the park will make potato empanadas if you have time to sit and wait.
We cooked at
the Bruasteria Esperanza. Wonderful lady! Just walked in off
the street and she made way for me to cook vegetables in her very
popular chicken and chips restaurant. Calle Monteagude S/N
Condor Cafe and
Trekkers: Happy Veggie Food. Wonderful non-profit group running a
tasty little vegetarian restaurant. Get a tucumana (vegetable
stuffed pastry and salad). Cakes, coffee and tea to warm you
up in this homey gathering place for lost condors and travelers.
Let friendly Romina help you pick something to eat or a trek to take
in the surrounding mountains (as low as $42 for 2 days).
Locals are taught and employed to help with this worthwhile project.
Phone #728 91740, 102 Calle Calvo,
email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers accepted.
Next to Red Planet (they charge 2x a much for the same tour)
is wonderful Norma at Sumaj Jallpha Expediciones. Only 650 pp
for 3 days/2 nights. Tell Norma what you need. She
matched us up with similar people and tried to get vegetarian food.
Make sure to double check everything but their company takes you on
a few back roads where other groups don't go. Say you want to
sleep, so not near the partying Israelis!
As with all tours ALWAYS get everything in writing before paying.
We often pay half before and half upon completion.
Inti Karka Resendencial, No 132 entree Illampu y Linares, phone # 712-46951
The place right
up the hill from Karka is a good budget choice.