I found these in Nasca, Peru. There are a lot of possible jokes to make, all of them disgusting. I’d rather just let the picture speak for itself.
Bolivian cuisine is not exactly world famous. With the opening of a restaurant in La Paz by Danish chef Claus Meyer, this might change. But I’m not interested in fine dining. I’m interested in the cheap eats you can get in barebones restaurants. So here are some of our favourite dishes that we used to order when we lived in Bolivia.
SOUPS – Bolivian soups are hearty and filling. Although served as a first course, the portion sizes are sometimes big enough to make it a whole meal.
Sopa de Mani
This soup uses ground peanuts which gives it a thick, creamy consistency but not really a peanut flavour. It contains pasta and vegetables, sometimes with a chunk of beef.
MAINS – Usually heavy on the carbohydrates and meat, light on vegetables. Like soups, the portion sizes can be huge.
Aji de Fideo
This pasta dish is similar to a bolognese, but with a greasy, meat-based (rather than tomato-based) sauce. Oh, and some potato for good measure. We are in the Andes after all.
Chuleta de Cerdo
A pork chop, cooked in the oven, and sometimes rubbed in a sweet-spicy sauce. It’s usually accompanied by roast potatoes and cooked banana.
Trucha or Pejerrey
Trout and kingfish are farmed in Lake Titicaca. They are usually served fried with rice and ‘salad’ (onion and tomato). At the street stalls in Mercado Rodriguez, your order of fish comes with two kinds of potato, yucca and oca – tuck in with your fingers and try to get through even half of all those carbohydrates.
Saice is a mix of minced beef, peas and potato, served with rice or pasta, and salad. It’s one of the few dishes that’s light on meat.
Although I’m not entirely sure of the ingredients, I think this is the only vegetarian dish I’ve seen in Bolivia. It’s a sauce of yellow aji (non-spicy) with pieces of cheese, onions and habas (broad beans/ fava beans), served over potato and choclo. It’s mild tasting, but the salty cheese is my favourite part.
Sajta de Pollo
Chicken, peas and potato in a rich, slightly spicy sauce made from aji. Served with double carbohydrates, of course.
Pasteles y Buñuelos
These delicious fried dough products are served in the morning as a breakfast snack, often accompanied by api. A pastel has a small amount of cheese inside, whereas a buñuelo is just plain dough (much like a chewy doughnut). Both are sometimes dusted with icing sugar or drizzled in a sweet syrup.
Tucumanas & Salteñas
Various forms of empanadas, which I wrote about here.
Sandwich de Chola
The ultimate late night snack, these kebabs of beef hearts (which taste like the tenderest steak you’ll ever eat) are served from street stalls that advertise themselves with a bright burning flame next to the grill. Add potato and spicy peanut sauce and you’ve got half a meal right there.
When we first got to Nasca, we went to both the natural and man-made lookout points to try to view the famous lines. However, if you have the money, flying is really the only way to appreciate these huge geoglyphs. It´s a dizzying flight in a very small plane, and although you get to see the lines well, taking good pictures is another matter.
A click as the apartment building door closes behind me, and I’m out on the street with the dog from Autopartes Lopez barking at me for no reason. I run across the cobble-stone road to get away from it, and wonder if it spends all night outside in the cold. That’s probably why it’s so grumpy. Even though all the shutters are still down, I smile at the sign for Jhoncar, another spare parts shop, and imagine the cartoon crocodile bodybuilder tearing up that dog instead of a tyre.
At the corner sits the sandwich lady, slicing tomatoes in one hand as she prepares her wares to sell to morning commuters. She’s bundled up against the cold in shawls and layers of skirts and I know I must look woefully unprepared for the 3°C temperature. But later in the day it’s going to be T-shirt weather and I’m willing to sacrifice some warmth now in order to not carry my coat around later. I make do with a scarf wrapped around my neck, which also acts as a shield against the traffic fumes that chug out into the cold, dry air.
Turning again at Plaza San Pedro (from here it’s one long, straight walk), I pass San Pedro Church with its ornate sandy-coloured, stone-carved exterior, and a hand-stenciled sign for Alcohólicos Anónimos. A man opens the entrance to the Hotel Osira next door (which I remember serves a nice set lunch) and shakes out his broom. A shoeshiner walking past offers his services and I glance behind me for a second as he sits in front of the extended, leather clad foot and begins taking out his polish.
The prison rests on the opposite side of the street; tall, windowless, leaking some kind of liquid from its lower parts. With watchtowers at its corners, it looks like a medieval castle, but one that would wash away in the rain. The straw and mud facade on the side facing Avenida 20 de Octubre looks so flimsy to me. I think of all the prisoners inside escaping through a hole in the wall after a storm, carrying their huge stereos that I’ve seen relatives bringing them as gifts, and their cocaine processing equipment that apparently keeps them employed, even behind bars.
On the corner, a man is washing the paintings on the ugly pebble-dash surface of Animalandia (a vet, pet shop and dog hairdresser all in one). From the nursery opposite, a scarily deformed Dora the Explorer and Spongebob wave at passersby – clearly Animalandia employed the better muralist. Ahead a woman pours api and quinoa milk into small plastic bags, straws sticking out the top, to sell to people in a hurry. Those with more time can stand and drink from dubiously cleaned glasses. My favourite piece of graffiti looks down on us; a pigeon lying as if on a dissection table, chest opened with delicate organs and bones exposed. It’s so much more beautiful than the real pigeons that run between our feet to peck at pastel and salteña crumbs, too lazy or too hungry to even fly away until people step into them.
The streets are getting busier and I have to stop and wait for a chance to run across the roads in between taxis and microbuses full of people. I sidestep and try to ignore the man slumped in the doorstep, rocking himself, with a pile of fresh vomit at his feet. Two paces ahead a well-manicured father tries to flag down a taxi while his equally well-dressed son stands daydreaming. His perfect little uniform is the same grey-black colour of the greasy stains left from rubbish bags piled in the street every evening
As I keep hurrying, I get stuck behind a cholita moving slowly. Her long black plaits are caught under the stripy pink and purple cloth that ties a baby to her back. The too-small bowler hat rests miraculously on her head, as with each step her pea-green, satiny skirt swishes and a toddler is pulled along by her free hand. I lose patience and step into the road to go around her. Though from behind her dumpy shape had made me think she was old, I see she’s not much more than a teenager.
I stride across yet another road (and you have to stride here otherwise you’ll never make it if you wait politely for traffic to stop for you). The pavement in this spot, where Avenida 20 de Octubre meets Calle Ecuador, is particularly treacherous. The slope, combined with the age-worn smoothness of the paving slabs, sends me slipping every time. I’ve gotten used to it now and know exactly where to tread if I want to slide but not fall. The guy in front isn’t as aware as me and he stumbles momentarily.
A puff of exhaust makes my nose tickle. I know I need to blow it but I don’t have any tissue and I hope I can last until I reach work. I’m just passing the flamboyantly baroque building of Mujeres Creando, an anarchist-feminist group, which houses a radio station, cafe and hostel for women. The shabby, deep pink building always seems to have sunlight on it at this time of the morning, and the giant painted woman on the facade glitters in her silvery nakedness.
The pavement here is less steep and less worn down. Sopocachi is full of fancy restaurants and cafes (by Bolivian standards). I pass Sweet Shop Chocolaterie, Swiss Fondue and Ja Ron (with a logo very reminiscent of Hard Rock Cafe). For some reason the Cuisinart shop sells office chairs and a single box of gold Christmas baubles, in addition to some expensive outdoor barbecue sets.
I see the metal gate across the road, open and waiting for me. As I press the doorbell to be buzzed in, I feel in my bag for my thermos. It’s one of those days – days that don’t even give me enough time to eat properly – so coca tea is going to get me through until this evening when I head back up the hill to San Pedro.
Nasca airport. A grey strip of concrete in a dusty, grey desert landscape. I’ve just returned from a twenty-minute flight in a tiny plane to see the Nasca lines. Staring out the window as the plane tilted dizzyingly to one side and then the other, the pilot’s crackly voice announcing which image we could see, I traced the familiar images with my eyes.
You see, I’d wanted to visit the Nasca lines since forever. When I was young, I had a book called ‘The Unexplained’ (which I read to the point of obsession). The lines were in a pseudo-archaeology section about Earth Mysteries. When I found out they were real and I could actually see them (unlike fairy paths and ley lines), I was amazed. When I decided to go to South America, I realized I actually had a chance. And so we went to Nasca and I took an expensive plane ride to see what I had already envisaged so many times before.
Despite studying archaeology at university, I don’t know much about the lines. They were created by removing rocks from the surface of the desert to reveal the different colored soil underneath. Their use is unknown: current theories suggest they’re processional paths used in water and fertility rituals. Or astronomical calendars. Or irrigation systems. You can see why they might end up in a book of The Unexplained.
I suppose my imagination tends towards grandiosity so I was surprised not at the lines themselves, but because the desert was so small. From up in the plane I could see green river valleys and irrigated farmland. I had no idea that the lines were built on a plateau. What was even more surprising is that earlier I had walked a couple of kilometers between the man-made and natural miradors and couldn’t see the curve of the road only a few kilometers ahead, let alone the edge of the desert. Walking from the hills on one side to the edge of the plateau on the other would have been hot and dusty, but looked completely doable.
I wonder how the people who made the lines viewed the landscape, how far they travelled and how regularly. Seeing the lines in situ has transformed them into something far more concrete to me than they ever were before. But they’re also now more intriguing.
I flew with Aero Paracas for $85, in July high season. Flights run from 8-11am and it’s possible to turn up and get a flight same day.
This sign on a bus in Ecuador says, ‘Don’t vote for trash out the window.’
[Obviously it’s supposed to say ‘Don’t throw trash out the window’, but despite Spanish being one of the easiest languages to spell, I often see people mixing up votar and botar. But that’s another story.]
While it might seem like common sense, or at least common courtesy, not to throw rubbish out of a moving vehicle, it isn’t in Bolivia, Peru and, to a certain extent, Ecuador. But at least Ecuador puts up signs like this one and provides bags for rubbish on bus journeys. And since I’ve only seen someone throwing rubbish out the window once, I’ve got to assume it’s working.
This behavior seems incredibly selfish and ignorant to me, and I get really mad when I see people doing it. However, the other side of it is that people make a living sorting through rubbish and recycling salvageable material. If someone is always ready to go through your waste for you, then you don’t really have any need or incentive to do it yourself, let alone think twice before littering in a public place that will get cleaned up quickly.
If you’d like to find out more about recycling and the informal economy, this interesting article explains about the system in Lima (which is very much like that in La Paz). For a look at Uruguay’s recyclers, see our blog post.