The best way to spend 20 Bs in Bolivia

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Got 20 Bolivianos and want a bottle of red wine that’s not disgusting? I recommend Aranjuez and Altimus.They’re both quite smooth and better than “not disgusting” in fact. Both hover between 18 and 23 Bs depending on where you do your shopping. Liquor stores are cheapest. Ketal supermarket is the most expensive (unless, perhaps, you have a Ketal card). Campos de Solana is not as good, but will do in a pinch. Whatever you do, avoid Kohlberg. This can be difficult, since it’s often the only wine available at restaurants. But unless you enjoy the taste of cough syrup mixed with port, I’d give it a pass.

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Ass Gigante

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In Chile, fast food (burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches) usually involves mayonnaise and mashed avocado. Not as a sauce, side or dressing, though. No, here they are more like fillings. Whilst a quarter-pounder of avocado isn’t so bad, that much mayonnaise is just gross (and this coming from the girl who puts mayonnaise on everything).

So we avoided fast food in Chile. Even though it was tempting to order an ‘ass’ just to find out what it was. Instead, good old google came up with the answer: it’s an odd spelling of ‘as’ which means ‘ace’. So there you go. Next time you’re in Chile you can order one knowing its the best choice of hotdog swimming in mayonnaise that you’ll ever get.

Street Art in Sopocachi

All over La Paz you can find graffiti, mostly consisting of political slogans or tags, scribbled haphazardly over every available surface. Among and beside these are works of beauty, whimsy, surrealism and child-like humor: in European, indigenous, American and intergalactic styles.

The relatively wealthy neighborhood of Sopocachi is a mix of cultures, diverse cafés and restaurants, and quirky shops. This is the perfect setting for an original mix of fantastically colorful street art, some commissioned, some not.

Most of these works are found on Calle Ecuador and 20 de Octubre. Also, the tunnel connecting Sopocachi and San Pedro is a continuously changing mural that’s worth a look, despite the dust and smog from the zooming cars.

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Chifa Dragon

Living in Bolivia (and traveling in South America), the one thing that I really feel homesick for is Asian food and food culture. I miss varied and hygienic street food. I miss being able to get something to eat at all hours of the day or night. I miss dumplings.

So when I want a little bit of Asia, I go to Chifa Dragon.

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The food itself is more like western-Chinese than Asian-Chinese style; a bit greasy and heavy on meat, but still delicious (there’s also more vegetables than you might find in a typical Bolivian plate of meat and rice). Although you’ll be served by a cholita, there are Chinese people working here (better still, I’ve seen Chinese people eating here – always a good sign). A nice reminder of my time in Taiwan, it serves tofu stir-fry and a whole chicken foot in your soup bowl. If you’re lucky, they’ll be showing an 80s movie on TV (notice the Karate Kid II in the picture above) or a Latin telenovela.

It’s open pretty much all the time – even Sundays – and if you like eating in a restaurant with no pretension about it being anything but a functional place to get sustenance, then this is the place for you.

A big plate of rice and/or noodles with stir-fried meat (chicken, pork or beef) and vegetables costs 22-25 Bolivianos. Other, more expensive, dishes are available a la carte.

Address: Calle Almirante Grau (the block between Calle Illampu and Calle Zoilo Flores), San Pedro, La Paz

After some more Asian food? Try Corea Town and Vinapho.

How to make teenage boys interested in history

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We spotted this a calendar in a hotel in Tarija. In small print it explains about the Battle of Ingavi in 1841. The hotel had a few more ‘informative’ calendars from this company, about important historic events and the provinces of Bolivia. They all featured semi-naked, highly photo-shopped women.

Potosí

I was surprised by Potosí. I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. I didn’t expect the people to be so friendly and helpful (and I can’t for the life of me understand why, considering the hordes of tourists that descend on the place). I didn’t expect to be going on a mine tour, let alone enjoying it. And I certainly didn’t expect to see so much lovely architecture. But considering that during the 17th century Potosí was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, I shouldn’t really have been surprised.

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Alasitas

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I bite into the puffed, greasy, savory, syrupy concoction of a pastel, and look at the little man on the counter. He’s surrounded by wads of dollar bills and Bolivianos, packets of cigarettes and a brazier. He’s wearing a green, knitted hat with ear flaps and peaked pilot’s hat. He has a cigarette butt hanging from his lips, his face blackened from years of smoking. His shiny, plastic eyes stare unblinkingly at the crowds that walk by.

He is Ekeko.

The height of the Alasitas festival takes place on January 24th, at midday. People buy miniatures of things they would like in the coming year and have them blessed by an Aymara holy person and also, sometimes, a Catholic priest. Dollars, Euros and Bolivianos. Houses, cars, business premises. Husbands and wives, or babies. Boxes of food, bottles of beer and building materials. Degrees, land decrees and marriage or divorce certificates. Roosters, frogs and snakes (signifying a mate, good luck and el zodiaco chino). Everything in miniature.

As I went to work that day, I saw stalls set up on street corners and smoke rising from braziers. Alcohol was spilled, flower petals sprinkled and incantations spoken. At my clients’ office I was given 2,550 Bolivianos, €7,300 and $4,900 in miniature bills (the smallest were just 2cm across). No one could explain clearly whether you were meant to give what you hoped to get, or what you thought the recipient should have. I noticed that the unmarried secretary had been given quite a collection of roosters over the years.

Ekeko watches over Alasitas, receiving offerings in return for bestowing prosperity. Made of stone, mud and gold, in a pre-colonial, pre-Incan form, he received miniatures too. Now he sits in plastic and ceramic, inhaling the greasy fumes of frying pasteles.