Episode 9: Bolivia , Endearing – Tarija, Potosi , Sucré , Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku, La Paz
As a preamble, it should be remembered that Bolivia has the lowest GDP per capita in South America and that the death rate from COVID has been the highest on the continent. Life there is tough and difficult for many Bolivians. However, the economy is growing strongly, which improves the daily lives of Bolivians.
I filmed and took photos with a lot of reservations, I didn’t want to show the mess.
The previous episode (8) was, for the Bolivian part, focused on the Salar Uyuni and the Andean deserts. This episode 9 follows a route further east and passes through several important cities and the extraordinary Lake Titicaca.
The 1st stage starts from Salta in Argentina, crosses the border and arrives in the city of Tarija. It is a medium-sized city, 200,000 inhabitants, little known and rarely mentioned in travel guides. We liked the “ Museo National Paleontological Arqueológico ”, the central square, the Casa Dorada and some churches. The visit to the vineyards and the Aranjuez winery is impressive and the tastings are very pleasant.
The 2nd stage in Potosi was a test. Arrived very early in the morning after a night in the bus, we were picked up “cold” by more than 4000 meters of altitude, in the cold, a closed youth hostel and nowhere to settle. Lise was quickly stricken with acute mountain sickness (MAM) and we left the next day.
The 3rd stage in the town of Sucré, the institutional capital, was very smooth and pleasant. The city is beautiful, we made very pleasant visits there, in particular the guide of the Casa de la Libertad who told us with great brio the history of Bolivia. We also ate very well there.
The 4th stage was a crescendo, the Isla de Sol on Lake Titicaca was an extraordinary haven of peace. No motor vehicles, few tourists from Bolivia because they cannot travel due to institutional instability and protests. We were quiet and rubbed shoulders with the locals with simplicity. The hikes to the Inca sites are superb, …
The last leg brought us to La Paz. It is said of La Paz, that “either we love it or we leave within 24 hours”. Well, we stayed there for a week and loved it. Either, life is tough there and sometimes suffering in the street. But there is also a lot of kindness, good humor, lots of Bolivian tourists, incredible markets, and the cable car trips are extraordinary.
To go ahead !
As a reminder, the video is available by following this link: https://youtu.be/Z3pUMF1K8-I
or directly here (switch to full screen mode):
The interactive map of “Andean Deserts”, ZOOM IN:
A few words about Bolivia
Bolivia, 12 million inhabitants including 2.9 in the La Paz agglomeration, has the lowest GDP per capita in South America and the COVID has been devastating there (we wore the mask there in the places closed public). However, over the last 10 years, GDP/capita has almost doubled. Many constructions are flourishing even if the COVID has stopped many ongoing projects. This country, without access to the ocean, has 3 types of vegetation, in the west the highlands, in the center of the valleys and the Amazon in the east. The relationship to the land and to the ancestors is strong, it is not without reminding me of the practices of Côtes d’Ivoire.
Theme – Link to the land: The first peoples in Bolivia
This is a theme that has been greatly enriched!
Imagine, dear readers, a civilization that has been present and active from 2000 BC . at 1500 AD , i.e. 3500 years. This is the Tiwanaku civilization of which we visited several sites and about which several guides were inexhaustible. This civilization was born on the banks of the Titicaca River.
According to several Bolivian sources, the “flat” organization, as opposed to a pyramidal organization, was decisive for the prosperity, harmony and longevity of this Tiwanaku civilization.
Of course, the Tiwanaku civilization is compared to the Inca civilization which supplanted it. For the Bolivians, the Inca civilization is only a very short episode of history, expansion from 1438 and power until 1533, that is a hundred years. The main reason for the extinction of the Incas is the pyramidal organization and the power entrusted to a dynasty which was torn apart. This extinction is contemporaneous with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
It is interesting to note that this culture of the first peoples of an organization where everyone can become the representative of a community and of a group of communities is a source of explanation, among other things, of the current disputes in Peru, in Bolivia and Ecuador .
The influence of the sun, the 4 cardinal points, the solstices and equinoxes, is very important. Of course, a sun gate is present in the temples.
I noted a very interesting point of the practices of the Tiwanaku civilization. It’s about how to “include” different communities. On one of the sites we visited , sculptures of the faces of about forty community representatives were inserted into the wall and showed that everyone had their place. Another notorious point, the woman and the man are represented at the same level of importance with equally imposing statues.
The Bolivians regret that few means are granted to the excavations and research of this civilization.
Over the course of discovery: Tarija
The visit to this average city was interesting . The “ Museo National Paleontological Arqueológico ” took us back to the time of the dinosaurs with impressive skeletons and enlightened us on the lifestyles of the first peoples of the region. We tasted high altitude wines and a wine alcohol, Singani , close to Cognac . As French people, we got preferential treatment.
Along the discovery: Potosi
Potosi is an imperial city with a rich past of silver ores. Potosi is also the highest city in the world, it culminates at 4090 meters!
Getting there early in the morning, after a night on the bus, in the cold, a closed youth hostel, a gloomy covered market, … was an unpleasant ordeal. As the first day of discovering the center of the city progressed, Lise’s headache got worse. During the night, the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) accumulated. We made the decision to leave the city as soon as possible to go down to lower perched regions.
Too bad we didn’t visit the “Casa de la Moneda ” museum which is cited as one of the most beautiful museums in South America.
As you discover: Sucré
The contrast with Potosi was huge. Sucré is a sweet and pleasant town.
The visit and the comments of the guide of the museum “Casa de la Libertad” delighted us. What a beautiful presentation of the history of Bolivia over the last five hundred years. By the way, it was nice to hear the thanks of the excellent Bolivian guide for our French revolution which had an influence on the liberation of the Bolivians from the yoke of the Spaniards.
The “ Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore” allowed us to discover the ” Illas “. They are miniatures that represent a dream that we wish to realize”. What a great idea, rather than buying the latest smartphone or the big car, let’s buy the miniature, that’s enough! Here is the solution to reduce overconsumption… to meditate on.
This museum also explained to us the emancipation of women, who, from carriers of meals for their husbands, became traders and emancipated themselves. These women traders are still very present in all the cities of Bolivia.
Let’s stop for a few moments in Simón Bolívar Park nicknamed “El Libertador” which gave its name to the country. Originally from Venezuela, he had a decisive influence on the emancipation of the Spanish colonies in South America, notably through decisive battles against the Spaniards.
Along the discovery: Lake Titicaca
A waking dream to stay several days on the island “Isla del Sol” located on the famous Lake Titicaca which was a mythical place of my trip to South America.
Attendance on the island is low due to the absence of Peruvian tourists who can no longer travel. During our stay, the island was incredibly calm, the inhabitants went about their agricultural work, their trade and their village festivals. In the middle of the day, a few boats disembarked tourists in a hurry near the two Inca sites, but their visits were quick. And the lucky tourists residing on the spot, like us, walked one day in the north another day in the south. These lucky people enjoyed an island without motors (and without the olfactory and noise pollution that goes with it), ate the trout of Lake Titicaca, visited the Inca sites in peace and rubbed shoulders with pleasant islanders.
What a great memory.
Over the course of discovery: La Paz, the pink city of its brick constructions
As stated in the introduction, we loved La Paz. Well, it wasn’t won right away, it’s an agglomeration of more than two million inhabitants, noise is omnipresent, pollution is high, poverty is visible in the street and children work there.
And then, we took our marks there. The ” Ethnography Museum” sent a French-speaking guide just for the two of us, we discovered Bolivian art in a brand new and high quality setting. We visited the city by cable car. We know all about the benefits of coca leaves whether for health or social life. The market at the illas (the miniatures) was a great moment. The joy of the dancers in the evening was contagious.