Wednesday, October 27, 2010

El Lago Titicaca

Well, I spent the last weekend at Lake Titicaca. It was incredibly beautiful, and I saw some Incan ruins which were pretty fantastic. Titicaca is publicized as the highest navegable lake in the world, but I have since found out that this is not actually true. It may, however, be the largest, highest navegable lake in the world...I'm not sure on that one. Measuring about 3,200 square miles and sitting at 12,500 feet, it's quite impressive.

However...I must say that it felt like being on Lake Michigan! I suppose I'm just spoiled, but it did make me miss home. We have quite the lake system, ourselves!

Titicaca shares a border with Peru, so I managed to wave to their country a couple of times while out there. Enjoy the photos!

Leaving Copacabana - we took a boat just like this one to Isla del Sol. We rode on the top!

View of the Andes and Isla de la Luna from Isla del Sol

Incan Temple of the Sun
Inca Steps. There are supposedly 1,000 of them, but it felt like much, much more.  You can also see here the traditional indigenous dress for the northern part of Bolivia.

Sunset over Isla del Sol and Peru

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Trip to La Cancha

So, La Cancha is unofficially known as the largest outdoor market in South America...and just happens to be in Cochabamba. I've now gone there twice...and it's difficult to describe. There are SO many people - to the extent that you are really just carried by the crowds. The stalls are divided by area - roughly all of the clothing will be together, all of the artesan products together, all of the food together, etc.

I think the best way to provide any sort of picture is simply to provide a list of some of the things I saw...please keep in mind that this is only some...

  1. Walls of shoes. Walls.
  2. A live chicken.
  3. A dead chicken - the whole thing - and then all of the pieces that had been removed from the other chickens who had already been purchased.
  4. Hand knit hats with llamas on them. 
  5. Stray dogs everywhere.
  6. Mountains of fruit - apples, papayas, pineapples, and many that I didn't know the names for.
  7. Abercrombie, Hollister, and a variety of other high-end brand-name clothing items 
  8. Women breastfeeding. They are everywhere. And they just whip out their boobs like it's no big deal. I think breast feeding is great, but it is a little awkward to be shopping for a pair of socks while the vender is breastfeeding her child (sometimes as old as 3 or 4 years old!).
  9. HUGE hunks of meat. Like the entire backside of a cow. 
  10. A dressing room made out of a sheet of fabric that was held up by the vender while another woman stood behind it changing her clothes - you could still see her head from the aisle:)
  11. Ripped off CDs and DVDs. There aren't really any copyright laws here...or if they are, they are not enforced. You can honestly get anything here. Justin Beiber seems to be very popular.
  12. A woman walking around pushing a cake on a cart. You could pay her and she would cut you a slice.
  13. In terms of selling food - there were people walking through the aisles with buckets of juice and sweets. My favorite are the women selling cups of jello - they wander through the aisles singing/yelling "Gelatiiiiiiiiiiiiiina!!!!"
  14. Microwaves. MP3 players. Cameras. Refridgerators. Speaker Systems. Televisions.
  15. Ice cream. Handmade. There are these big buckets that have handles on them. These buckets go in bigger buckets that are filled with ice. The woman stand over the buckets and spin the handle, creating delicious cinnamon or cream flavored ice cream.
There are so many more...but you get the jist. It's a mad house. I've heard it's even crazier at Christmas time. The first time I went it was overwhelming, the second time it was less overwhelming and more fun, and we'll have to see what the third time brings!  

A Trip to the Biblioteca

Hello my dear, neglected blog!

First off, Biblioteca is library. I finished the book I had brought with me, and decided it might be fun to go check something out from the library here! I got the address for Cochabamba's public library, walked my way there, and was immeadiatley out of my element.

1. You can't actually look at the books. You walk up to a large counter where there are two women who will take the information for the book you would like, walk back between the shelves, and bring the book to the counter. "Wandering through the stacks" doesn't exist here.

2. You can't actually check out a book. I mean, you do check it out when you take it from the woman at the counter, but you aren't allowed to take it home. There are two big rooms with long tables, and everyone sits there and reads. Well, some of them read. Some of them talk. If you are easily will never get through a book.

I wasn't so suprised by the card catalouges - organized by Author, Title and Subject...but it was impossible for me to find a book, as I didn't even know what I was looking for!

Luckily, Sustainable Bolivia (the host organization through which I am working) has a small library, from which I was able to borrow a couple of books that will hopefully get me through the next month. Plus, there are tons of bookstores around here, so I'll likely be coming home with some books as well!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

La Laguna Alalay

Another great spot in Cochabamba is the lagoon. It has a very nice walking trail that goes all the way around it.

I was amazed by the hills surrounding the trail - the houses were literally built on top of each other. They also looked much more basic than the house in which I am living.

A number of cholitos were taking their lunch breaks. Many of them work for the local government, cleaning up the city and gardening. The Laguna is a nature preserve, so I'm guessing that these men and women were working the land. 

I was also impressed with the ability many of them had to nap - this man on a boat, and others on the ground or sidewalk!

 Can you spot the Cristo?
This is what a driving range looks like in Bolivia. Please note the tires!

While walking, I was met by these horses. They were just out roaming free! There were also a couple women tending their sheep at the side of the lagoon. 

Well, that's all for now. This weekend I am heading to the Salar - the largest Salt Flat in the world! I'm sure I will have fabulous stories to post, so stay tuned!

Cristo de la Concordia

My friends from work and I climbed the Cristo. This is no small feat, seeing as how the Cristo is 869 feet above the city, and 9,317 feet above sea level. Climbing it was the first time I actually noticed the altitude change...I had to take some pretty serious resting breaks to catch my breath!

The stairs felt like they went on forever - it took us about 45 minutes to climb.

This Cristo is actually the tallest statue of Jesus in the world, and the largest statue in the Southern Hemisphere. While the Cristo in Rio de Janiero, Brazil is still marked as one of the wonders of the world, Cochabamba's beats theirs by about a meter. Of course, ours was completed in 1994 and theirs in 1931, but that's beside the point!

The people I work with: Back:Maia (England), Freddy (Bolivia), Michael (England), Peter (England)
Front: James (England), Rocio (Bolivia), Henry (Bolivia) and I

This is my city!

This is another friend that I work with. Her name is Wani ("Shadow" in Quechua), and Freddy found her on the street when she was about a month old. We decided to take the natural trail back down the Cristo, and Wani was rather scared, but we all made it down alive!

The next day I hiked up the Cristo again with my Bolivia sister Andrea - my legs were shaking by the time we made it back down. It's quite the hike! The Cristo is visible from most places within the city, and even in the suburbs. I have a great view of him from my window. He looks particularly nice at night!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bicentennial Eve

So how lucky am I - just happening to be in Cochabamba for the city's 200 year anniversary! Yesterday I was woken up at 7:30AM by this fantastic military band marching past my window.
Following that my work colleagues and I climbed up to the Cristo (more on this in a later post), after which point we were given the rest of the day off. At about 7:30PM my family and I left to watch the Bicentennial Eve Parade! Parades here can last as long as six hours, sometimes more. There is another city in Bolivia that has an annual festival - their opening day parade often lasts for 20+ hours! We only stayed for two hours, but here are some things I saw:

1. All of the students from the night colleges and classes march in the parade. They dress up - the girls often in black mini skirts and high heels... really high heels. And then they march, sometimes for six hours. Holy cow!

2. Cochabamba has scouting programs too, just like the Girl or Boy Scouts in the U.S.

3. Marching bands galore! While it is Cochabamba's Bicentenario, many high school bands come from out of town to participate in the parades. Two specific differences I noticed: All of the drummers carry their drums old-fashioned style, with one strap and balancing on their hips. Many of the drums needed new drum heads. 

And second, most of the women participating served in the capacity of either flag girl or baton twirler. For their uniforms, most frequently I saw sleeveless or strapless dresses with mini skirts, accompanied with thigh-high heeled boots. Again, holy cow. This picture is of a more modest uniform.

One of my favorite moments of the parade was watching the sock-and-sandal sporting nuns marching by, but I was unfortunately unable to capture their picture. Yet another favorite was a high school band marching by with the brass and bells playing the same song, but it two completely different keys! 

Last but not least, a bit of a cultural lesson. Here, traditional campesinos, or country-folk, are referred to as cholitos (cholitas for women). Here is a typical cholita outfit - tall hat, lacy shirt, and poofy skirt. I see this outfit all the time, as these are typically the women selling fruit or candy on the streets or in the market. 

It was quite the night, and more to come tomorrow for the actual Bicentenario!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Día del Peatón

So everything I posted in the last blog about traffic becomes null and void one day a year…September 5th, El día del peatón, or Day of the Pedestrian. It’s essentially Cochabamba’s version of Earth Day. Imagine this: in a city of roughly 600,000 people, not a car can be seen driving. All traffic noise stops. There are no exhaust fumes. Everyone comes out of their houses and rides their bikes or roller blades or walks around the city.

I was both amazed and impressed. It would be difficult to stop all car traffic in Battle Creek, a city of 50,000, let alone in a city of so many as Cochabamba! It was absolutely beautiful! It was easier to breath and so much quieter. Plus, there existed an overwhelming sense of community with everyone sharing in the vacant streets. I am so glad I was here to experience it! 
The corner where my house is. Many of the traffic pictures from the previous post were taken of this corner.

This is my street, which is usually filled with cars!
My Bolivian brother Coco, teaching his son Santiago how to ride a bike!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hitchin' a Ride...Bolivian Style

I find the modes of transportation and road communication here absolutely fascinating…so now you all get to learn about it!

In terms of transport, you typically have three options:
1. Taxi – Anyone can be a taxi driver. All they have to do is put a sticker on their window that says “Taxi.” It’s typically not a good idea to pick one up off the street, especially at night. They cost around 10 bolivianos – a little over a dollar.

A micro on the street
2. Micro – also known as a bus. These are just like buses in the U.S., except that they are painted very brightly, and the seats go any which direction to fit as many people as possible inside. They cost 1.50 bolivianos.

¡Qué colores!
Taxi Trufis
3. Taxi Trufi – Costs the same as a micro. I take one of these four times a day to travel from my office to home or vice versa. It costs me 6 bolivianos a day…about $0.85. Trufi’s have specified routes, and on top of the vehicle will be a sign that says “Trufi” and the route number. These are typically tricked out station wagons…the trunks have been ripped out and there are three rows of bench seats. They can hold up to 9 people…three in each row, plus throw in some kids for good measure and you’ve got a packed car! You hail a trufi just as you would a taxi in the U.S., and the direct the driver to drop you off “en la esquina, por favor.” My favorite Trufi experience thus far involved climbing in to discover that the car was built for the UK, and the steering wheel had simply been ripped out of the right side of the vehicle and affixed to the left…leaving a big whole and all of the dials on the side opposite the driver!
A different kind of micro, next to a taxi trufi

Other quick notes:

Traffic signals seem to just be suggestions. If you’re sitting at a red light and there’s no one there, the cars just run the red lights!

Horns. Car horns are used all the time for communication. From what I can discern, the horn honk can mean any of the following:
- Get out of my way!
- Please cut in.
- I need to get over.
- Look at me, my taxi is empty and I can give you a ride!
- My taxi is already full.
- I’m going to drive through this intersection now.
- Your car is too close to mine (important, as there aren’t really any lanes to discern spacing)
- I’m so happy to be driving!!

I find this all particularly funny as the city has a publicity campaign out advertising that people should not honk their horns as it creates noise pollution.

The other interesting point is that pedestrians have absolutely no right of way here at all. Thus, I can often be seen sprinting across the street, trying to avoid cars that are running red lights and animatedly honking at me. Good times had by all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I have arrived in Bolivia! It seems rather crazy that three short weeks after returning from Europe, here I am in Cochabamba. I honestly thought I would be experiencing a bit more culture shock that I have, but my head has been whirling from so much travel that I think I still haven't recovered!

The rules are certainly different here, as evidenced by my trip through the airport in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. In 40 short minutes I was able to:
1. Buy a visa
2. Go through immigration
3. Obtain my backpack
4. Go through customs
5. Purchase a plane ticket to Cochabamba
6. Pay an airport departure fee (about $1.50US)
7. Pass through security (I didn't even have to remove my shoes!)
8. Board the plane. Crazy!

The third floor windows are my room

Plus, on the 35 minutes plan ride from La Paz to Cochabamba I was served a mini-quiche, apple juice and hot tea! All for no charge! I'm beginning to like South America:)

Upon arrival I was taken to my new home with the Arébalo family. They are all absolutely wonderful. Rosemary and Jorge already feel like surrogate parents, Andrea (daughter) is my new neighbor, and Dayana (daughter) and Coco (son) stop by regularly. My room is on the third floor and has a wonderful view of the city from the balcony.
This is the view from the balcony
This is where I sleep
Amanda - the sweetest dog ever and my newest friend!

Lunch is the biggest meal here, and I've already eaten so much I'm afraid I may weigh 500 pounds by the time I come home! My vegetarian diet has completely gone out the window - there is meat in everything - but I have yet to get sick, so no worries. Tomorrow I will start my work at CECAM, so I'll post more soon!