Variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. When it comes to traveling, whether it’s in my own backyard or half way around the world, I look forward to discovering new… everything. It’s in my nature to be curious. Gee, I wonder if there’s any connection to being a photographer? Anyway, I’m pretty easy when it comes to food and sleeping arrangements, driving down an unfamiliar road or starting a conversation with a stranger, you get the picture.
However, I am also aware that as open minded as I like to think I am, I bring along my own preconceptions. Whether it’s from the Coffee-Table books full of wonderful photographs, Documentaries we’ve watched on TV or Travel Guides we’ve leafed through, we arrive at our destinations, often expecting one thing and perhaps finding another.
I like to believe that I’m going to arrive in a place distinctly different from where I just left, otherwise why bother. I think it makes for a far more adventurous experience when one is wiling to try the indigenous cuisine in the establishments popular with the local people, hangout in the public squares and visit the local markets. Heck, even try to use the lingo when ever possible. Sure, there may be challenges with the language and the way people organize themselves, but it’s well worth abandoning most if not all of the hang-ups about the clothing, the music and certainly the food.
Food is a big one for me. I know that Toronto has a great selection of cuisine from around the world, but when I travel I hope to leave that all behind and discover the true flavour of the place I’m visiting. But alas, globalization makes that increasingly difficult. Fortunately, although I haven’t walked every street in La Paz, this is a large city with approximately a million people, I’ve only seen one Burger King and I’ve been told that there aren’t any McDonalds. Although they do have some of their own chains, they appear to be very small and family owned. Now that all sounds promising, until you realize that they’re all selling burgers and fries, and fried chicken. I know, I know, that’s where my own baggage starts to get in the way. Just as we’ve adopted a variety of cultures, so have the Bolivians and they’re very proud of that, as they should be.
Anyway, I made this observation to our CUSO contact and she told me that that’s because I’d been walking up and down the same strip, where all the university students frequent. She suggested I head out of our hotel, in the opposite direction, and I’d find a much better selection. Absolutely true. No question that there is a strong influence from Argentina in terms of the excellent beef and from Peru for the seafood. Bolivia lost it’s access to the sea after the War of The Pacific and is now only one of two land locked countries in South America, along with Paraguay.
Remember how I descried that one could have a three course meal for around $10.00 including the beer, tax in? Well I stopped into a little restaurant where I ordered a delicious trout dish, with soup as the appetizer and a flan custard for dessert for which I would have easily paid $40.00, before taxes, in Toronto. The wonderful twist was that it was fresh trout from Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
Gratefully, Bolivians didn’t stop at burgers and fries and they’re very proud of their skills in mastering other cuisines. Case in point, there’s a really good Chinese restaurant, for example, right next to the hotel, where last night I had a bowl of Egg-Drop soup and a couple of Spring Rolls, as good as I’ve had in Toronto. I was having dinner by myself and next to me were two older couples, (anyone apparently older than me is always older) from Germany. A quick aside, I stopped into a book store to peruse the shelves, and discovered there has long been an interest in South America by Germans, that extends beyond the post Second World War.
Anyway, although I couldn’t understand any more than a few loose words of their conversation, I thoroughly enjoyed watching them, imaging their stories and how different their experience of Bolivia will be, from mine, if for no other reason than the language barrier. I couldn’t help but smile when the waiter brought them their dishes and amongst the rice, vegetable and noodle dishes, were two big plates of french-fries. As I was saying about pre-conceptions. One last note worthy observation about the experience, I didn’t see anyone using chopsticks. Sure, neither was I but it’s kinda’ difficult to eat soup with chopsticks. I asked the waiter about that, and he said it wasn’t uncommon for patrons to ask for them.
Otherwise, there’s a great variety of food in La Paz, and the markets have pretty well anything you want. Imagine a papaya as large as a cantaloupe without that huge pit. One doesn’t so much find cooked-food on the streets, other than empanadas, but every corner has someone selling fresh fruit along with the cell phone chips, magazines and pop. That’s soda for any American readers. With regard to buying fresh fruit on the street, Anouk and I have been warned not to eat any street food, including the fruit, because of the uncertainty as to how or if it’s been washed. We’re only here for five weeks and loosing any time to introducing our bodies to the local microbes would seriously cut into our itinerary. On the other hand, I’ve been washing my teeth with tap water, without a problem and we’ve been told that La Paz is the only urban centre in Bolivia with tap water meeting International Standards.
Breakfasts at the hotel consist of fresh Mangos, Pineapples, Bananas, as well as freshly squeezed juices, along with the typical fair of crusty breads with all the fixings, cold cereals and pastries. This is certain to change in the next few days.
After two days of repose to acclimatize to the altitude and two days of In Country training to reinforce local issues surrounding health, safety and an excellent overview of the political structure and situation, we were finally off to visit our first CUSO project yesterday. However, we’re off to Santa Cruz tomorrow, the largest city in the country, and after a few days there, head out for almost , two weeks to visit small rural communities, some may not have electricity and others certainly without internet. We will be flying to Santa Cruz which is just shy of 1000 km way down the slope (great just as we were finally reaching our 2.5 hour marathon) and from there we’re into trains, busses and mule carts. A real live Planes, Trains, and Automobiles adventure. Some communities as close to Santa Cruz as a 100km will take us upwards of seven hours along dirt roads, if the rain holds.
I know that you’ve probably been waiting to see those photos the most, so I’ll try when ever possible to post something, even if it means keeping the writing to very basic descriptions and context, in lieu of uploading the images. It’ll be tough, but I’ll do my best for all you loyal fans.
Bien o mal, tengo los dedos cruzados de que los de habla Español que estéis leyendo esto, podáis entender mucho si no casi todo. De todos modos, quiero añadir que aparte de la oportunidad de poder viajar, sea donde sea, unos de los lujos mas satisfactorios de este viaje es el poder estar hablando en castellano a diario. El tener que escuchar con cuidado los accentos de los otros participantes en varios otros proyectos, que han llegado de Chile y Méjico. El tener que hacer conversaciones que van mas haya que lo domestico, el poder hablar de temas mas importantes, que si el precio de lechugas esta muy alto. Anoche cene en el Sancho Panza, un restaurante cuyo dueño es un Madrileño que se vino en el 2005 y no volvio a España. Cenamos a base de raciones y estuvieron buenísimas.
Hasta la próxima.