julio 06, 2004

Not for the Weak of Stomach

Bolivia is a completely different world than any i have previously visited. when you cross the border from argentina you notice that the streets have come alive; there is color and music everywhere, and the streets are lined with markets and 500 pound bags of coca leaves that you can buy for $2 per kilo to chew. The population in bolivia is 7 to 3 indigenous and thus anna looks like a freakshow on parade (her comment) and besides that is full of unbelievable cultural differences. the women here dress mostly in the traditional manner, with aprons, many-layered skirts, the huge colorful bags tied around their chests, and tiny bowler hats perched atop their heads.
the bus ride to la paz was another plethora of cultural surprises. busses cannot leave for their destination until they are completely full, including sitting or sleeping in the aisles, under the feet of those who have seats, and on the roof racks. midway through the trip we discovered that we even had a stowaway kid hiding under the bus above the wheel. the first 10 or so hours was unpaved through the mountains, and we would bounce along under the full moon inches away from precarious cliffs, winding our way along at full speed seemingly heading straight for towering walls and just as the people in the front row would start screaming (no kidding) we would plunge into a tiny hand-carved one-lane tunnel and then shoot back up into the high mountains.
The bus did not come complete with bathroom, so we would stop every 4 hours or so and all 40 of us pee together in a field. (sanitation is a monumental problem in this country. i shy away from the gory details in this email, but suffice it to say that cholera is endemic here for a good reason)

We arrived in La Paz some two and a half hours late. the final leg is on the flat altiplano, which is kind of like driving through ohio except that there is a pretty snowy mountain range in the distance and a huge peak that grows bigger and bigger in front of the bus. then you enter city, and think to yourself "hey, this is weird, i thought la paz was *in* the mountains" and then suddenly the bus literally falls off the end of the earth and you are on top of the peaks, with the city spreading out like tentacles in the ravines below.

The bus can hardly make it through the streets, which are shared equally between the millions of people and the tiny minivans that serve both as taxis and short-distance busses, since nothing else can navigate in the crowded, narrow streets. The markets encroach on the streets on both sides, and anything you can imagine is sold. Walking through the witches' market we encountered everything from toads to dried birds to llama fetuses and condor talons for good luck. In the meat market they sell all manner of unrefrigerated products. there are piles of cows' legs with hooves and flayed infant pigs and whole ears and snouts and chicken feet, and there was one lady completely surrounded by a huge pile of bloody severed sheeps heads. ok, anna's turn...

On a more pleasant note, this morning we boarded one of the minivans with 16 other people and a pile of luggage that made us look twice our height for Tiwanaku. It was especially interesting for my (anna's) dorky side since I took a precolombian art class that spent a good week on Tiwanaku, which happens to be the pueblo continuously occupied for the longest time in the Andes. A lot of the modern houses look more historic and ruinesque than the almost pristine, towering fortification around the plaza. It's really beautiful and pre-Incan and I kept boring Randy by telling him about the iconography. There's also a cool catholic church from the end of the 16th century that's incorporated statues from ancient Tiwanaku into the front entrance and fa├žade.

Tomorrow we're off to Cuzco, crossing Lake Titicaca! This vacation touches most of the most beautiful places on the continent, and yet, we're inordinantly preoccupied with the states of our rears and our bladders. Currently we're at 95 hours on the bus in the last ten days, and rack up twelve more tomorrow.

Chau,
Randy and Anna

p.s. we made it here just in time. we heard on the radio today that the route we came by is completely impassable due to snow.