“Evo quits politics to open a poncho shop”

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Along with miniatures of money, houses, university degrees and animals, tiny newspapers are sold for Alasitas. These Onion-like periodicals contain headlines such as, “Sean Penn named Minister of Transparency” (Evo asked the actor to be an ambassador for the coca leaf, among other things) and “Chile offers 10 million bottles of seawater to pay off the maritime demand” (Bolivia lost its coastline to Chile in the war of the Pacific over 100 years ago and Morales has been pushing Chile for access to the sea).

There’s a section with numerous photoshopped images of the vice president and his new wife getting wed in every marriage tradition possible to prove their marriage is the real deal. You see, many Bolivians suspect the vice president is a closeted homosexual and/or he married the young journalist to align the government closer to the media.

These newspapers provide a nice contrast to the protests which occur weekly in La Paz, but still give somewhat of a glimpse into what at least some of the population thinks about politics.

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.

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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A postcard from Cementerio General de Sucre

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You don’t have to be a goth teenager to enjoy a stroll through a cemetery. They’re beautiful because they’re meant to be, especially the Cementerio General de Sucre. Unlike the Cementerio General in La Paz, which is fascinating, but not necessarily peaceful, the one in Sucre has manicured grass and full plots with tombstones, combined with the more morgue-like vaults for those who can’t afford more space. On the benches along the main path there are blind people you can pay to say a prayer for the one you lost. Children work for tips, bringing ladders to those who wish to leave flowers, children’s toys, bottles of whiskey, cans of Coca-Cola or photos for the departed on the higher rows.

How to get there From the center, walk southwest down Calle Junin for about 15 minutes.

Cost It’s free, but you can pay a young child about 10 Bs for a tour.

Hours 8:00-11:00 and 14:00-17:00.

Max Ronald’s

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There are no McDonald’s in Bolivia. They haven’t been banned or anything, they’ve just failed. Too expensive perhaps, though Burger King survives in a few locations in La Paz.

And, of course, the completely original Max Ronald’s thrives in Tarija. Observe Max and his sidekicks stepping in the blood of their enemies.

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.

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.

Census day in Bolivia

Today, November 21st, was Census Day. That means, of course, that we weren’t allowed to leave the house or we’d be arrested or fined. But a day off is a day off and we made the most of it.

Two high school girls interviewed us around 10 a.m. They asked us such questions like, “Do you own a boat?” (I wish!) and, “Do you like to use home remedies when you’re sick?”

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After this pleasant ordeal we got down to business. Other than the thrilling task of laundry, we spent hours baking rocks – I mean bagels. They turned out diamond-hard and burnt on the outside, and gooey and undercooked on the inside. Kind of like the fish sticks Lisa made in that one Simpsons episode.

We had more success with banana bread in the evening, though at this altitude it took several epochs to cook.

We also spent the day wishing we were watching Game of Thrones, but alas, no sorcery could conjure up a device for us to watch it on.

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All in all, Census Day is a great time. If you’re in Bolivia ten years from now I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina “Eduardo Avaroa”

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We’re ascending, higher and higher in this desert landscape, to cross from Chile into Bolivia. I’m so worried about getting sick in the thin air that the altitude has become an obsession. Fortunately, nothing worse than light headaches and shortness of breath is in store for me.

The border station is a shack at the edge of nothing. The “toilet” is a place to stand or squat behind an old rusted bus. Processing is quick, and I’m told I should buy my visa in Uyuni when we arrive two days later.

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Sometimes place names are remarkably literal. “Altiplano” means highflat and it’s just that. In this atmosphere blue-brown snowcapped mountains show off, with no foliage to obscure their grandeur. And wind-sculpted sedimentary rock statues display impossible curves against a backdrop of blue sky.

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Laguna Colorada’s deep scarlet and rusty hues are formed by algae, but I like to think it’s the Earth secreting some essential life-giving fluid which these ethereal flamingoes, from some distant tropical paradise, come to feast on. I don’t actually know where flamingoes come from, but I’d always thought of them as tropical birds whose flamboyant pink could be linked with carnaval and other debaucherous occasions. We give these elegant birds the respectful distance they deserve, but all too soon they fly off to who knows where.

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Sol de Mañana geyser field might attract more visitors if it were renamed “Death Field.” Like the old “Death Road” from La Paz to Coroico (which tourists happily cycle down nearly every day the weather permits) this collection of bubbling pits, which also lacks guard rails, has its own share of death traps.

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The locals probably think we’re idiots, following a group of llamas through this barren town, trying to get the perfect photo. Imagine a group of foreigners enraptured by a herd of cows in a farm near your hometown, and you get the idea

San Pedro de Atacama

“Es caro, pero vale la pena. How do you say ‘vale la pena’ in English? Is ‘It’s worth the pain’?”

“It’s more natural to say ‘It’s worth it.'”

“It’s worth it the pain.”

Close enough.

As a tourist town isolated in the middle of the driest desert on earth, San Pedro de Atacama is a bit expensive, but certainly “worth it the pain.” Attractions include the expansive and stunning Valle de la Luna (not to be confused by the valle of the same name near La Paz), sandboarding, and the ghostly and chilling Geyser El Tatio. At 2,400 meters, it’s also a good place to spend a few days acclimatizing before you cross into Bolivia.

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