Bolivia: The Peace
La Paz, where shoe shiners outnumber residents 2 to 1! It´s a city nestled down in a bowl of the mountains and is a fascinating mix of old and new. There are parts of the city where Spanish is a second language (mainly Aymara is spoken) and then other areas of town that could be found in any modern city. We were there for only 2 days and spent the entire time just walking around and perusing all of the different markets that fill the city. The most interesting was the witch´s market, where you can by charms, talismans, llama fetuses, herbs, etc. The llama fetuses are used when a new home or business is built and are buried outside the front entrance to ensure success.
Another thing that has been prominent throughout Bolivia that I haven’t mentioned yet is the chewing of coca leaves. It is really interesting how deeply intertwined this activity is with the traditions and beliefs of the indigenous culture. We went to the coca museum one day to learn more about the industry and history of the coca leaf. It is most heavily used (for chewing anyway) by miners because it increases oxygenation (which is why it miraculously helps with altitude sickness as well) and curbs their appetite. In the olden days, slave owners used to insist that the miner slaves use coca leaves as they could then endure the torturous labor for up to 48 hours straight. It is also used in religion, marriage ceremonies, witchcraft and magic, medicinally, and as a social lubricant. Even the harvest of coca is considered a celebration. The women are the only ones allowed to do the harvest and they dress their best in hopes of finding a beau. We have seen ginormous bags of it all over Bolivia and there are always people walking around chewing away.
From La Paz we continued on to Sorata, a tiny town in the mountains and the only remote-ish village we’ve made it to in Bolivia. It is incredibly beautiful in this part of the country with cliffs and snow-capped peaks and patchwork quilt mountains. Some of the people in the surrounding villages are so isolated that it takes them 7-8 hours of walking, mainly uphill, to get to town. It was quaint, quiet and relaxing. The little town teems with activity mainly around the central plaza, where all the mom-&-pop stores are located. It was reminiscent of what small town USA used to be like, pre-Wally World and other such chain giants. We were only there for a little over a day, but very glad we went out of our way to check it out.
Onwards to Titicaca.