#potd: Back to La Paz – art, culture, social struggle and edge!

mujeres_justiciaReturning to La Paz in Bolivia the other day felt a little like meeting an old friend again, we felt instantly at ease. As we wandered the streets for the first few hours back in this amazing yet crazy city, we sensed once again it’s uniqueness, it’s peoples confidence, and a vibrancy on the streets that was missing in Peru. In our first few hours we saw more street art in La Paz than we’d seen in 10 weeks in Peru, much of it with a clear social message – like this piece ‘Mujeres en busca de justicia’ (Women looking for justice) by the radical feminists of Mujeres Creando – still going strong three years on we are pleased to see, on a wall outside their building (see their website – the article ‘vivir bien como disfraz‘ pulls no punches).

Cusco airport at 6am brrr

Cusco airport at 6am brrr

We’ve been here only once before, for just 12 days back in March 2014 (see blogposts), and have wanted to return ever since to learn & understand more, fingers crossed we will have longer this time. We flew in this time to La Paz’s airport up on the altiplano (over 4000m), in it’s sister city of El Alto, the sun was out and the views stunning as we landed, and experienced for the first time driving over the ‘edge’ down into the valley bowl where La Paz is, some 500m below.

view south down Cusco valley from our last hostel

view south down Cusco valley from our last hostel

We’d been back in Cusco (Peru) for a final few days after visiting Arequipa, but not only was Cusco windy, cool & wet, but we’d both picked up our first stomach bug of the trip, meaning we couldn’t stray too far from a loo for several days. This was a bit of a letdown as we’d hoped to revisit a few people & places, and end our time in Peru on a higher note. Indeed departure day summed up those last few days – damp, misty & cloudy.

But hey it could have been worse, we could have been freezing our bits off back in the UK, watching the British Prime Minister gladhand the monsters currently in power in the USA & Turkey. Yuk!

UpsideDownWorld – growing potatoes at 4500m

upside-down-world-logoWe were delighted to note the other day that the excellent website upsidedownworld.org was back online after recovering from a very malicious hack several months ago. UDW has been ‘Covering Activism and Politics in Latin America’ since 2003, and they’ve now moved their archive to a new site & server. See their About page. Obviously their recent news/analysis is pretty sparse and not all sections of the site are running fully yet, but there’s still a wealth of informative writing to peruse.

To celebrate their return, we thought we’d share this article from January 2015: ‘Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andes‘. This refers to their potato & other crops in the mountains near the town of Pisac, in the Cusco region (which we visited in 2014 – see photos). In this area can be found the ‘Parque de la Papa’ (Potato Park), where indigenous communities “are preserving potatoes and biodiversity, along with their spiritual rites and traditional farming techniques” at altitudes of upto 4500m, with a stunning 1460 varieties of potato! Continue reading

Disaster strikes – not once, but twice!

You may have noticed this blog has had a quiet week…we set out last Monday, 17 March, for Copacabana and the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, in high spirits.

At the mid point of our trip, ahead of us lay many interesting and exciting options. We had a general plan – few days on the Isla, another week to explore the underbelly of La Paz/El Alto, on to Salar d’Uyuni and the Atacama desert, the north of Chile, an anarchist bookfair in Santiago, more Chilean culture and sights, before back to Santiago for May Day, followed by a last Pacific beach blast before a visit to family in Canada.

We have, and would have had, plenty more to write and say, pics to share, opinions and rants to unleash. Alas…it was not to be…

By Wednesday we were back in La Paz licking a wound, one of us was quite sick. A Friday in a clinic, and tests revealed both salmonella and amoebic dysentery in the gut, so strong meds were purchased, and we had 8 days to recover for the Uyuni and onwards.

It was not to be. The call that all travellers fear and hope does not come, came – an elderly parent, in London, has suddenly just died. And that is that, the end of the trip, c’est la vie as they don’t say in Spanish. The priority now is to return to share the practical and emotional burdens of bereavement with family and friends. Marion D Beasley RIP, a kind soul who gave so much and asked so little in return, you will be missed.

So no time now, as we tap away awaiting a connecting flight faraway, for stories anew. No time to tell of the hailstorm that left the beaches of the Isla del Sol white, nor of the odd celebrations in La Paz this weekend to commemorate a Pacific war long lost.

This may, or may not, be the last post to this blog? We may, or may not, return later to complete our south American trip? Thanks for reading, we hope you were amused, entertained, informed and provoked in equal measure. We were!

Spanish classes, plus crash and burn!

So we have just completed our week of Spanish classes, 10 hours each, at a cost of approx 1000bols/£100 in total. We learnt at the i.e Language Institute ( http://www.institutoexclusivo.com), located on 20 de Octubre, in Sopocachi, who were very accommodating to our needs, and the fact we only had the 1 clear week to take classes!

The absolute beginner one of us had a fine time at five 1 to 1 sessions, gaining a massive increase in Spanish, and the confidence to use it. Additionally, the teacher also gave many insights into local La Paz customs and history, and tips on things to check out. The ‘lower intermediate’ one of us had a harder time in a small group, not least because the grammar & vocabulary that was learnt some 20 years ago, remained firmly buried in the darkest recesses of the brain – so yes it was a struggle to keep up in class. Due thanks to the sympathetic teacher….just gotta keep practising she said!😈

Crash & Burn! After 4 energetic days of exploring the nooks and crannies of central La Paz, on Tuesday we crashed and burned. wpid-IMG_20140311_140408.jpgSurprisingly this occurred just after we’d found an excellent vegetarian buffet restaurant, and eaten their superb 4-course almeurzo (lunch), at a cost of just 32bols/£2.90 each! The veggie restaurant Armonia (Harmony!) is located above a Buddhist/ spiritualist bookshop of the same name in calle Ecuador, in Sopocachi. Sadly it opens only for lunches, but most of what you eat comes from their own organic, petrol-free farmed land outside La Paz.

Zebras teaching people to cross roads...and cars to stop!

Zebras teaching people to cross roads…and cars to stop!

Quite why we crashed and burned, given we’ve been living at 3300m and above for 3 weeks now, intrigues us!? But it meant the rest of Tuesday was spent napping in the hostel. Wednesday was no better, and ironically the more robust one of us was suffering the most. The slow week has meant our explorations of the city have been put back, and we have yet to use the crazy system of busses & micros (mini vans) to get further afield and up into the higher parts of town, never mind get to some sights worth visiting outside the city.

Therefore, when we return from our full moon trip to Copacabana & the Isla de Sol sometime next week, we may well spend another week in La Paz. In the meantime listen out for us howling at the moon, or maybe just at the hippies we suspect we will come across!

Pic of the day 39 – Mount Illimani

wpid-IMG_20140314_131328.jpgMount Illimani sits to the south east of La Paz and towers over the city.

At 6438m high it is Bolivia’s second highest mountain. It is located towards the southern end of the Cordillera Real, a range of mountains that mark the northeastern edge of the Altiplano – which is the (fairly) flat highland area sitting between the two branches of the Andes, and includes Lake Titicaca & La Paz. The Cordillera Real is the most dramatic part of the Cordillera Oriental in Bolivia, with 6 peaks over 6000m. Serious mountain climbers can have a great time here, indeed from La Paz you can take a 4 day trip up Illimani. We will be skipping that option!

Illimani means ‘water bearer’ in Aymara, the dominant local indigenous language, and is considered to be the queen of the mountain gods. We are lucky enough to have a good view of Illimani from the roof of our hostel as we look south east. We’ve been even luckier with the weather, which most days so far has meant warm & sunny daytimes with temperatures into the 20+degrees. Indeed in the morning its been great to watch the mists and clouds that shroud Illimani & the cliffs above La Paz, slowly burn off. This pic was taken from the hostel roof, with our trusty digital camera.

Pic of the day 38 – dirty underpants!

Los 12 Calzoncillos Suicos del Estado Plurinacional

(= The 12 dirty underpants of the plurinational state). wpid-IMG_20140311_140226.jpg

This is a calendar produced by the radical feminists of Mujeres Creando, which we picked up whilst having a cafe at their building in La Paz called ‘Virgen de los deseos’. Each month features a cartoon critiquing a key issue, or problem, that they believe the Bolivian Govt has either failed to deal with well or has avoided altogether.

A number of cartoons naturally deal with issues of major relevance to women. For example, abortion remains illegal in Bolivia, and contraception is frowned upon. The country remains a very macho, male dominated place, despite some improvements for women in recent years. President Morales has provoked feminist anger with some comments, not least in suggesting that women, especially younger women, should have more children! Women’s pay, indeed access to jobs at all for women, remains a major problem, especially with a rise in single mothers abandoned by feckless men.

 It is difficult for us, in this a short time here so far, to assess how much support the ideas of Mujeres Creando, and similar groups, have? We have heard talk, from men, about how strong and community-minded women are, but from we can see so far the struggle for gender equality, equal rights and general female empowerment has a long way to go! http://www.mujerescreando.com

For those who don’t know, Bolivia has a full general election coming up in autum 2014. Although President Morales has been elected twice already, constitutional changes have led to him being allowed to stand for an unprecedented third term. One of those changes, in 2009, was the renaming of the country as the ‘Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia’, to reflect the large number of ethnic groups in the country.

We have noticed a tendency amongst the more Spanish, or lighter skinned, Bolivians, to poke fun at Morales. Yet as south Americas first truly indigenous elected leader, there is no doubt that alongside stable government he has introduced numerous changes intended to benefit the majority – and seriously pissed off many global corporations & states such as the USA. A key criticism of him from his radical support base though is that he can and should have gone further faster.