What we learned from farm-sitting

We spent two weeks farm-sitting in Olmué, a couple of hours outside of Santiago. We learned how to live by ourselves without external entertainment (although we did find a DVD player during the second week) And at the pace of life dictated by the farm’s needs. In theory, we got an education in how to make hand-made organic wine – but sadly our efforts in this area were not too successful. By trial and error we discovered how to cook meals from absolute scratch, without any kind of processed or pre-packaged ingredient. I also learned that dogs will go crazy for peas.

See here and here for more of what we got up to.

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Our volunteering was set-up through Workaway.

A postcard from La Sebastiana, Valparaiso

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I love looking inside people’s houses. Peeping through cracks in curtains or looking in every room when I’m invited into someone’s home – I just can’t help it. I love looking at how space is used and how it shapes the behaviors of the inhabitants. I love to see what someone’s living space tells you about them.

So when I found myself outside La Sebastiana, home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, I didn’t hesitate in visiting. It didn’t matter that I’d never read any of his work, or that I only knew him from his appearance in Il Postino. I wanted to see the colour of his wallpaper, the layout of his kitchen and how much natural light there was in his living room.

I saw all this and more. I saw his eclectic collection of fine art and kitsch. I felt the extension of space created by the wide windows which took up the whole side of the house, looking out over the city below. I navigated the odd-shaped spaces of stairs, tiny corridors and split-level rooms. I smiled at the holes in the bathroom door, the sailors’ bar of alcohol and the old carousel horse with gaudy colours and flared nostrils.

Visitors’ info: La Sebastiana

A Cheap Beer Tasting in La Paz

It was Friday night, and we were feeling too lazy and too broke to go out, but wanted a reasonable excuse to drink. So we came up with the idea to have a cheap beer tasting.

There are nice beers in Bolivia, Saya to give an example, but we opted for what was on offer at our local Ke-Tal supermarket.

I don’t really know how to write about beer. I googled, “How to write about beer,” and did my best with the sometimes esoteric adjectives provided. After each beer, I got a little more tired, and my palate a little less precise.

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Here are the results.

Bock
Alcohol content: 7%
Color: anemic golden hue
Taste: slightly sour and earthy
Carbonation: fizzy
Mouthfeel: pretty smooth once the bubbles die down
Did you like it?: Meh. The sourness is a bit cloying and the body is weak. Not disgusting, but not an altogether pleasant experience.

Huari
Alcohol content: 4.8%
Color: clear, yellowish-greenish hue
Taste: a bit hoppy, gentle body, minimal scent
Carbonation: low
Mouthfeel: very smooth
Did you like it?: Yeah. Not bad. I’d recommend it to people who don’t really like beer. It’s not especially flavorful, but it’s inoffensive, despite its odd color.

Paceña Pilsner
Alcohol content: 4.8%
Color: standard golden
Carbonation: fizzy
Taste: dry, weak finish, slightly malty but hardly a pilsner
Mouthfeel: light and dry
Did you like it?: Not so much, but it’s better than the Bock. In fact, it’s like a less tart version of it.

Paceña Dark
Alcohol content: 5%
Color: black
Carbonation: soft
Taste: sweet, too sweet in fact
Mouthfeel: sticky
Did you like it?: No. This is dark like Batman is dark… in the Adam West TV series.

Cueva de las Manos

There’s something about cave paintings, about ancient handprints and pigments dotting a rocky surface…So when I heard about Cueva de las Manos I knew I had to go. The fact it was in the middle of nowhere Patagonia only made it better.

You can read more about our visit to the caves and the journey there.

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Watching Metropolis at Centro Sinfónico Nacional

The first major science fiction film, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was released in 1927. Though parts of the film had been missing for decades, a complete (though somewhat damaged) and original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina in 2008. The film was restored and the completed version released in 2010. Lucky for us, it played with a live orchestra this October at the Centro Sinfónico Nacional in La Paz.

The modest old theater sits about two blocks down the hill from Plaza Murillo. When we entered and took our 50 boliviano seats we noticed there was no screen to be found. I was nervous I had dragged people to watch an orchestra perform the soundtrack of the movie, with no movie itself. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and the film was projected on both sides of the wall.

Watching Metropolis with a live orchestra reminded me of these 100 year old Russian photos rendered in color. It was a dynamic look into the past, appropriately set in an old theater, set in the old part of the city.

NamasTe vegetarian restaurant

The advantage of living above a restaurant is that you can eat there any time you want. The disadvantage, when the food is so delicious (not to mention healthy), is that it’s hard to not eat there every day. But even if I didn’t live in the same building, I’d probably still eat at NamasTe all the time. I haven’t found anywhere else in La Paz where you can get vegetarian food for such a good price.

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Sandwiches can be had for 12-15Bs, soups and salads for a similar price and main dishes, (including all day breakfast) from 20-25Bs. NamasTe was originally a tea shop and it’s retained a nice variety of black and herbal teas on the menu. There’s also lots of fresh juices and smoothies. Being an almuerzo fan, my favourite thing is the four course lunch for 20Bs, which changes daily and leaves you feeling satisfied but not too full.

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Everything is prepared fresh to order and takes a minimum of 20 minutes, although the almuerzo is usually faster. Because the restaurant is not that big, it fills up fast and often sells out at lunchtimes (there is another room out the back, so ask if the front looks full). Get there early if you want to make sure of getting the set lunch, otherwise you can order something off the regular menu anytime.

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I don’t need to mention the cool decor or chilled soundtrack that’s always playing (and which, like the almuerzo, is never the same each day). These are just added features that make eating in NamasTe such a fun experience.

NamasTe
Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-4:30pm
Address: Calle Zoilo Flores #1334 casi esquina (on the corner with) Almirante Grau, San Pedro

Also, there’s a newly-opened travel agency right next door which is worth going in just for the beautiful hand-painted landscapes of Bolivia.

Cementerio General, La Paz

The General Cemetery in La Paz is big. There’s space for more than 106,681 (the figure given in 2008) and when we visited we saw evidence of lots more plots being built. In actual fact, they’re not really plots at all. Most are niches, built into cement and brick structures (the largest of which reminded me of council estate housing in England), where the coffin or ashes are placed. There are also mausolea and tombs for families, war casualties and trade unions. Everyone has a place here. Unless of course you can’t pay – we saw quite a few ‘eviction’ notices plastered over the glass memorial panels with notice that the remains would be moved by a certain date because fees hadn’t been paid.

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For more information about the cemetery and death rituals in Bolivia, see issue 23 of Bolivian Express magazine.