Wanna hear Michael Jackson in Quechua?

There are 448 indigenous languages in South America. Of these, Quechua is the most widely spoken with an estimated 8-10 million speakers (although technically Quechua is a language group consisting of 46 varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible). Despite being an officially recognized language in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and being used in intercultural bilingual education I these countries, Quechua speakers – like many speakers of indigenous languages around the world – are still shifting towards using a lingua franca, in this case Spanish, because of the opportunities it affords.

But all is not lost. And here’s proof in the form of 14 year old Peruvian singer Renata Flores Rivera singing Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’.

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Playing handball in El Alto

El Alto is the fast-growing, indigenous city that sits on the high plateau surrounding La Paz, Bolivia’s capital. Even when you’re acclimatised to the altitude of the altiplano, the lack of oxygen and humidity, combined with cold temperatures, makes every step you take a little harder. When I lived in La Paz, I used to joke that even just lifting a pencil was a workout. Walking around and exercising at La Paz’s 3,600m average elevation is tough, but El Alto literally takes it to new heights at more that 4,000m! I once left my house with a long-sleeve top and a scarf to find myself shivering in flurries of snow once I arrived in El Alto.

Early morning on the way to El Alto.

I wanted to share these photos of grandmas in El Alto playing handball as part of a health program funded by the city government. What I love best about this is that even while they play they’re still wearing all their multiple layers of skirts, sweaters, scarfs and shawls! I was always told to ‘dress like an onion’ to deal with the changing temperatures throughout the day, but I’d always get too hot and have to shed layers walking around at midday only to freeze again once I stepped into shadow. I believe that Bolivians have their own internal microclimate as they never seem to take off layers, no matter what the temperature around them is!

For more on El Alto, see these articles from the New York Times and The Guardian, this blog post from Cultural Survival (an organisation that advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights) and this longer article about the economic difficulties in El Alto.

Rain in Rurrenabaque

Our flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque had been delayed due to a storm and when we arrived in the tropical, river-side town, the clouds still hung low and the streets were slick with run-off water. The next morning we piled into a jeep and began driving along a flat, dirt road to the village of Santa Teresa (where we would get on a boat and spend three days on the Yacuma river). Wedged into the front seat between Jon and the driver, I watched the half submerged landscape as we drove through sporadic showers and the windows slowly steamed up from our perspiration.

We passed huge holes and ruts dug deep into the road surface which had been softened by the rain (this is one of the main trade routes to Brazil). Lorries tried to manoeuvre around them but were sometimes forced to drive through. We saw more than one that was stuck – the front cabs easily sunk 6 feet deep into chasms of shiny, sucking mud and the trailers sticking out the back like giant discarded lego bricks. And then there were cows.

So many cows! It had to be thousands, as we sat there waiting quite a while for the bovine river to pass us. And then we continued on, reaching Santa Teresa just as the rain stopped.

On the way back, the weather was scorching. The water had dried up. The holes in the road were being filled with big stones and wooden planks. The water meadows that were visible before had receded (although not completely). And the mosquitoes had come out.

We stopped at a gas station to use the toilets, which consisted of concrete cubicles with occasional doors. They were across a paved courtyard and as we began to walk towards them, a cow appeared from no-where. Three stray dogs also appeared and began chasing it, snapping at it’s heels and growling with hackles up. The cow ran back the way it had come, but the dogs were riled up and chased us instead. We didn’t make it to the toilets. For the guys this wasn’t a problem; they just peed on the side of the road. Us girls had to get back in the jeep and endure another bumpy, thirty-minute ride before we spotted a track leading off to the side that was somewhat sheltered by bushes. As I waited my turn, clouds of mosquitoes swarmed around my face and the girl ahead of me in the bushes yelped and cursed as her exposed parts were bitten by the little blood-suckers. Needless to say, I tried to do my business as quickly as possible.

Los Imperdonables

Here’s a wonderful video form Amapola Media Studio.

“Developed in La Paz, Bolivia. Unforgiven, 50 places in La Paz you can not miss. Landscapes, typical food, extreme sports, nightlife, its people and its culture. A video from La Paz to La Paz, so that people can re-fall in love with their city and re-discover those places that had lost their sense of wonder.

Proyecto desarrollado en La Paz, Bolivia. Los Imperdonables, 50 lugares de La Paz que no te puedes perder. Paisajes, comida típica, deportes extremos, vida nocturna, su gente y su cultura. Un video de La Paz para La Paz, para que la gente pueda re-enamorarse de su ciudad y re-descubrir esos lugares que habían perdido su capacidad de asombro.”

I think I have just re-fallen in love with La Paz.

Mi Teleferico

This month, La Paz opened the first phase of it’s new cable car commuter system. Once complete, it’s going to be the longest urban line in the world.

Whilst living in La Paz last year, I saw government ads with photo-shopped images of cable cars hovering inexplicably above the steep slopes of the city. It didn’t look very convincing. Most people told me that it was just another one of Evo Morales’s grand ideas, meant to distract people from the real issues. Others said that even if they did start building it, it would never get finished. Considering the fact that it took them 6 months to resurface the road outside my house, I was inclined to agree.

20140421-235243.jpgThis was four months into the job. It was at least better than the gaping six-foot hole that had been there for the past two months.

They also said that the bus drivers wouldn’t stand for it – after all, they would potentially lose revenue if people rode the Teleferico instead of the buses. And this being Bolivia, there’s nothing like a good protest to let the world know that you feel threatened. The image below (which comes from the news website noticiasfides.com) shows the federation of drivers dragging down a carriage while a startled condor watches them.

But just before I left La Paz last July, I heard from someone who had met an Austrian guy who worked for the company which was going to build the Teleferico. It was a friend of a friend. Really. And I started thinking, maybe it was actually going to happen.

And now, less than a year later, it has. I’m going to have to assume Austrian efficiency had something to do with it.

I’m pretty disappointed that I never got to ride on it. I mean, it’s bound to be the cheapest cable car in South America, and, if I do say so myself, probably the one with the most stunning (or, at least, unique) view. But I keep remembering some advice given to me by Gil, the friend we stayed with in Brazil: “You know how London has the London Eye? If you see something like that in South America, don’t go on it. For safety.”

Colibri Camping – where to stay in La Paz

You may have already heard about Up Close Bolivia, where we had an amazing time volunteer teaching English classes. Today I wanted to let you know about their sister organisation, Colibri Camping.

Colibri CampingStaying in the village of Jupapina, shopping at the little stores and eating in local restaurants was one of the best things about our time with Up Close Bolivia. We felt completely at home in this friendly community. Not to mention the gorgeous scenery! The camp site was still being built when we were there, and now that it’s finished I wish we could go back to experience it. You can use your own tent, rent equipment from them, or even stay in a teepee or A-frame cabin!

If you’re looking for somewhere a little different, somewhere you can feel part of a community and not just a traveler, I can absolutely recommend Colibri Camping.

And don’t forget to say a big hello from me when you get there!

Brunch in Sopocachi

Although it’s one of the wealthier districts in La Paz, Sopocachi’s restaurant prices aren’t too bad, especially when compared to the tourist spots around Sagarnaga. On 20 de Octubre, just by Plaza Avaroa are three places where you can satisfy your brunch fix. All of the following have indoor and outdoor seating.

Alexander’s

alexFor the best coffee in Bolivia, head to any one of the numerous Alexander’s locations, including El Alto airport. The Sopocachi branch is located directly across from Plaza Avaroa. The atmosphere can be a bit noisy and busy, with music videos on continual play on a large TV in the back. But if you can put up with the occasional 4 Non Blondes video, the menu contains creative and delicious choices, like the vegetarian Andina wrap, which contains quinoa and habas (fava beans) as well as a variety of smoothies and milkshakes. There are plenty of breakfast options such as pancakes and huevos rancheros, too.

Café La Terraza

terrazaLike Alexander’s, La Terraza is a local chain. If you’re really hungry, feast on the massive Desayuno Americano. There are breakfasts for smaller appetites (and wallets) as well. The menu also includes a host of sandwiches and paninis. The inauthentic Philly Steak is nevertheless tasty and good value for money. It comes with fries, too.

Blueberries

BlueberriesMy personal favorite brunch spot, Blueberries is cheaper than the above options and also has the most relaxing atmosphere. It gets busy in the afternoon, but before midday it’s a great place to hang out and read, work on your laptop, or pretend to work on your laptop while browsing facebook. If you’re a non-smoker, you’re in luck, because the non-smoking area is also the best place to sit, in the back with a glass roof by the garden. As for brunch, I recommend Desayuno a La Copa and Desayuno Panqueques. The former is a cheap and filling choice, which comes with eggs, juice, coffee or tea, toast and a croissant. The pancake breakfast comes with coffee or tea, juice, and pancakes topped with strawberry and banana slices.

Writing about the mines in Potosí, Bolivia

potosi, boliviaI’ve just had an article published on Matador Network about visiting the mines in Potosí, Bolivia. Although I’ve written previously about our visit to the mines, this article takes a more creative approach and I enjoyed crafting a story out of this experience.

Please check it out and let me know what you think.