Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amazonas and SAnta Cruz

I´ve got little time to post and this connection is too slow for photos, but I´ll just say that we descended down down down into the very hot and steamy jungles and arrived in Santa Cruz Bolivia tired but thrilled at having ridden the bus yet again down from Andean heights into the Amazon basin and then a little bit above it. Santa Cruz is very hot nonetheless and a fairly handsome and laid-back kind of place. This is definitely the most prosperous Bolivian city we´ve been to. There are people of many cultural backgrounds here and the wealth of the bolivian oil and agro industries is readily noticible. Hipsters and middle class families ply the streets in fashonable clothing and SUVs along with the rest of the riff-raff. Despite it´s wealth and sprawling nature, the city of Santa Cruz´s nice spots are fairly navagable on foot. We are now up in the highlands if you can believe it as we have returned up here to the jungly rainforests for one last gasp at the Andes! ...and then it's home to work and other stuff. Neither of us are really ready to leave this part of the world, but we have so much we have to do back home and more importantly, we are pretty much out of money and while I relish the thought of being here longer, it's pretty hard to keep up the fun times and travel on Bolivian wages assuming we could even get gigs down here. It's always best to end on a good note, so back into the arms (or rather, the arms of our friends)of Vancouver we go! To those in Vancouver - see you soon!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cochabambina Shmochacambina

We are holed up in the very Balmy and comfy city of Cochabamba almost smack-dab in the centre of Bolivia. The bus ride here was a bit crazy, but we made it in two pieces and with our luggage. We took an unconventional route here and as most of the more comfortable busses go at night it meant we had to change busses in Orouro at around 3 in the morning. I guess the spaced-out driver of the bus and his swamper/helper didn´t realize we were jumping off in the middle of the night as the bus was due to go through to La Paz. As we noticed that we were leaving town, I decided to knock on the driver´s cab door. The situation in the cab area of this bus was not conventional and the 4 dudes engaged in heated talk (drink?) were not happy about having to talk to me much less alter their trajectories. We ended up (after some harsh words and 3AM sleepy eyed searching in the luggage compartment for our bags) getting dropped off in a rather deserted industrial zone near the outskirts of the city, which in any town, and especially in South America, is not the nicest place to be walking with all your stuff. Luckily cabs are fairly common in most Bolivian cities and one came by quicky enough that we didn´t have to get that weird, scared, menacing spidey-sense feeling you often get when you´re walking though a totally obviously impoverished and dangerous place and totally obviously not belonging there and totally obviously wishing you weren´t there.

Anyway, Cochabamba is a bustling little city that sprawls along the floor of a warm and productive little valley surrounded by dryish and rocky mountains. On the next bus in the morning as the sun came up we were treated to some spectacular views! In terms of climate, it feels a little like parts of Mexico here. So far I´ve found Bolivian cities to be very busy with people. To compare, every night in these citys looks like a festival weekend in Vancouver to me. On warm nights the plazas and streets fill with young and old alike.

Children kick balls, teens make-out and sometimes there´s a performance or a politician is gladhanding for mayorship, but most people just seem to be out for some socializing and people-watching. We´re treating ourselves to a rather nice room with non-electric hot water nozzles and Cable TV as it´s in a very good location and we were desperado for someplace quick to sleep after the big Red-Eye the night before.

Have I mentioned yet that it´s nice to be someplace tropical and warm? Well, the world flocks to such places for many reasons not the least of which is the scent of Jasmine blossoms and possibly new and exotic foods. Bolivia is all bout the meat when it comes to stuffing your maw. I wolfed down this dish just before jumping on the bus and faught it all the way from Sucre to Cochabamba. It´s called Pica Lo Macho and it´s basically a version of Poutine but instead of cheese curd on top it´s 3 meats, yes, 3 meats (chicken, beef, sausage), veggies, egg and hot peppers! Yee Haw! Not for the weak - stomached.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sucre to Tarabuco

We finally got a chance to sample some of these giant bean pod things that we have been seeing people snacking on from the heights of Quito to the Coasts of Peru to the streets of Sucre. Once inside there are giant beans that you don´t eat, but if you suck off the sort of fluffy pulpy stuff surrounding them you get a mouthful of pulpy and rather sweet stuff. Then you ditch the bean. Not bad if you´re looking for something nice and sweet to stave off the hunger for something more exotic. The seats on the busses in Equador were littered with the pod casings and seeds. This other package has some kind of unkown to us corn kernals that are cooked until they puff-up like Popcorn, but they don´t explode completely. It´s delish and as good if not better than popcorn, but more compact and it doesn´t go stale right away. Puffed things seem to be all the rage in Bolivia. Actually throughout the Andes you can get popcorn almost everywhere and other puffed snacks. Markets in Bolivia frequently have a place that sells giant giant bags of puffed stuff. Some of it is a mystery. Mostly it´s puffed wheat, barley, quinoa, and other assorted grains that you can puff. Some of it is sweetened. It´s puffin awesome and ridiculous. Watermelon is, of course, everywhere and ready for the eating.

Have I mentioned that Burros are awesome? We all know that, but sometimes we forget and I have to put up another burro picture here to remind myself and others of their undaunting usefulness and their crazy big heads and their timeless sad-sack expressions. They are cheaper and mellower than horses, they eat spiney stuff and you can ride them! We ran into these burros along with their mentally troubled owner on the streets of Tarabuco which is just outside of Sucre. Tarabuco is a great place to shop for Bolivian souvenirs and other hand and factory-made stuff not from Bolivia but from other places.

At one point we found a hand-made bag with ¨ecuador¨ printed on it, but the town is also small and pretty and temperate surrounded by dry hills with little farms. It felt almost Californian without the Californians. This old colonial building caught my eye. There were many old one´s decaying in the heat.

All in all it was a rather unremarkable town with a rather large Sunday market aimed at both locals and Tourists alike. Unlike Sucre things seemed a little bit more ¨desperado¨ here. Many people would come up and shove stuff in your face for sales and were a little pushy, but there was some really beautiful authentic stuff as well and for the ammounts of work put into these quality hand-made textiles, we had to walk away with a few things. BUT...

...It´s worth mentioning this giant and very graphic statue in the central plaza of an Incan warrior standing victorious above what looks like a conquistador soldier. He is holding aloft a blood-filled horn with one hand and in the other he holds the man´s heart freshly ripped from his chest! there are rivulets of blood rolling down from his mouth and he has this intense expression on his face. It was a pretty grizly scene, but I guess some moments can´t be captured with a stoic figure with a big mustache on a horse or what-have-you. heheh...

Friday, March 12, 2010

There are some other photos around here somewhere... hmmm. Just let me look in this shoebox. Aha! There they are. I´ll just shoot you the link and then we can forget about meeting at a coffee bar or at your house for a slideshow or ever for that matter. Ther´ll be more too - HERE

More of where I´ve been

Well I am still here in Sucre in Bolivia and we are enjoying the warm colonialness of this comfy city. The weather seems to encircle and roll over the city but rain rarely touches it even though it appears to fall in the surrounding mountains every day. I guess that explains the abundance of fresh produce and fruits from the area.

I just thought I´d use this post to show some more pictures of the places we´ve been over the last few weeks. We were staying near the black market zone of La Paz where there is simply too much stuff for sale all at once to really describe the place in detail, but it´s simply a neverending maze of all kinds of stuff. It was worth seeing but it´s a little hard to find specific things unless you´re familiar with the layout of the place. Which could take a lifetime.

La Paz is a pretty busy place. Actually I´ve noticed that Bolivian towns are particularly busy with foot traffic. La Paz seems to have the least personal autos of any city I´ve ever been to, however, he streets are clogged with trucks, busses, small combi busses and throngs of bustling locals and tourists alike. There is no real centralized public transportation, so it´s a good thing the city limits are fairly small. Most transit seems to go from the heights of El Alto and back which is located up above La Paz´s canyon wall (and spilling over it) and is no longer a suburb of La Paz but more of a twin city to it.

This is just a little parrot-thing that we took some pictures of in the Musical Instrument Museum because we like parrots.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sucre, La cuidad de estudiantes

We are now firmly inside Bolivia and enjoying the balmy climate and somewhat laid-back vibe of Bolivia´s judicial capitol, Sucre. It´s quite hot here actually and much dryer than Lake Titicaca or even La Paz. This is a smallish and well-preserved colonial built city with narrow streets that bustle seemingly constantly with throngs of Students of all ages. There is a more prosperous feel here and the city has many private schools of all types. We are actually looking for some more schooling ourselves here as we hear that this is a good place to study spanish.

This is a picture of something I´ve been meaning to snap for awhile. It´s a clay oven at a garden restaurant that we ate at yesterday that is typical of the andes and almost every restaurant we go to seems to have one. What this means is great baked potatoes, broiled meats, baked fish, and pizzas, lasagnas etc... Usually they are wood-fired and, from what I can gather, are a traditional Andean cooking method. When the results are this good, why buck tradition?

Our hotel room has a kitchen so we went to the market yesterday and bought everything we needed for a good Quinoa soup which seems to be a staple down here. The markets here are an adventure unto themselves. I´ve never been to a market that is taken up 2/3 with it´s meat section. Check out this Chola whacking into a hunk of meat with a giant axe. As always, market trips are pretty challenging for people more accustomed to isles of pre-wrapped meatstuffs and sanitized deli-counters but the shock wears off eventually. We finally found a ¨supermarket¨ where we could get a few things we couldn´t find in the market, like soysauce, and that was as weird as the open market but in a different way. It was like shopping in a supermarket with about a third of the selection on it´s shelves. The dairy section consisted of various plastic bags of milk and yogurt with only a few brands represented. All the produce was wrapped in plastic.
  • All in all this city is really comfortable and pretty. There are many old, colonial buildings and since it´s a university town there is a youthful vibrance and the primary tree-lined streets are well looked after. The main square is full of people of all types socializing and sucking on delish coconut popsicles in the shade of giant trees. Yeah, I think we are doing OK.

Friday, March 05, 2010

La Paz

Well, we are in La Paz still. We´ve actually found a great place to stay so we´ve decided to hang out for a bit here in this city. We will head to Sucre or maybe Cochabamba on Sunday, but we will have to see how things go. I was remarking in my last post about how strange it is to see people from distinct cultures or places ¨acting¨ or sort of performing for the tourist cameras. Anyone who comes from a heavily touristed place will understand what I´m talking about. Things can get even weirder when the average daily income in a place is 100 times less what it is in your country. When I saw the villagers of the Uros Islands greeting us with a familiar greeting in forced unison it reminded me of the TV show FAntasy Island where all visitors recieved a Lei and drink with an umbrella in it as soon as they stepped off the plane. I found myself being constantly on-gaurd for this kind of behavior. For awhile anyone in customary indiginous dress that seemed a little too clean or made-up I regarded as a ¨performer¨ and it made all sorts of things seem staged to me. Much like the Native carver I once saw Japanese tourists videoing at the mouth of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, these people seemed to be putting on a show. I suppose we´ve all done similar things - especially for money, but when the behavior is extended into the confines of your home, it seems even weirder. Hayley was good enough to point out, however, that while a lot of men on the Island of Taquile, for example, wore customary dress when soliciting rooms for the night and then changed into more mass-fabricated modern clothes for the morning chores, most indiginous women of these communities continued to wear their traditional clothes at all times. Maybe it´s not all a performance then. I´m still not sure. If you go to NYC and get a cab, do you think that guy is being particularly familiar and projecting a NYC attitude to help the tourist have an authentic experience? Hard to say I guess... Well, enough of that. WE are currently in La Paz which is a big city and full of all kinds of inauthentic and authentic people alike.

The sprawl of La Paz up above the valley is called El Alto and it´s the Ayamara capitol of the world I´m told. I´m pretty sure most people are too busy hustling here to worry too much about weather or not things look good for the tourists. What I do know is that this snack food known as a Saltena and is basically a baked empanada full of juicy meat or veg stew is constantly orbiting around in my mind as I walk the streets and wonder what we should do for lunch.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lake Titicaca

Well things seem to be taking a long long time on this computer in La Paz Bolivia that I am attempting to upload about 10 pictures onto. In that case I may have to use the addage that a thousand words are worth a picture and write sans pictures for today. If you are still with me I guess it means that you are a truley dedicated reader and don´t mind the lack of dazzling colors to titilate your senses. Anyway, we are obviously in La Paz, Bolivia and it´s pretty amazing. I´ve never seen a city quite like it. Aha! there the photos go - uh, disregard the intro to this piece, as some of the photos just went though. I´ll be adding a few here and there.

We are up in the high altiplano and we recently went to Lake Titicaca where we vistited the renouned islas Flotantes. These are made by the legendary and much touted in the tourist guides, Uros people who proved to outlast the Lakes original empire, and the incans, ...and even the Conquistadores to some degree. They are still living out there on the lake tucked away on self-built islands of Totora Reeds, fishing and catering to the whims of Tourists. Will they outlast this latest cultural invasion? Time will tell, but from the little mini tour we got on our way out to the Isla Taquile, it seems like things are going OK for these folks dispite the dozens of tour boats that land every minute. It´s easy to be cynical about ¨touristy¨ attractions and hard to see the value through the playacting etc... but
money in any form can´t be that bad when you´re sleeping in a hut that´s floating in the middle of a cold lake can it? These people seem to be taking the onslaught in stride. As if they have a choice I guess.

These photos are taken from the Isla Taquile which is where we spent a night in a sort of family-run house/hotel. They were really nice and this Island is an amazing thing to see! There are no cars and little paths run throughout the island past sheep pens and potatoe patches. It reminded me of the place Frodo Baggins lived before he had to leave. Totally fairytalesque. I will try to post more photos of this place as it was amazing. Note the angle of the clouds. In Lake titicaca it always feels like you are looking out the window of an airplane or hiking in the high sierra, but there are so many things going on up here you feel as if you have discovered another planet.
The woman who is running this shammy internet cafe just started downloading another Telenovela and my computer has slowed to nothing so I guess I´ll just try to post pictures later through a faster connection. We are really enjoying La Paz so far. The food especially and surprisingly but not surprisingly the people too! There is a lot going on here - protests, parties, tourism, and markets, markets, markets! It is like a canyon with a metropolis crammed into it. The part of the city we are staying in seems to be 50% made up of stalls and stands offering everything from Llama fetuses for Pachamama ofrendas to Solar Powered calculators. You must navigate through the mazes of tarps and comedors (lunch counters) but you don´t really mind because it´s quite fun and interesting and useful if you´re actually looking for something. Wish us luck!