You may have thought that I’d fallen off the face of the earth, and at times I wish I had of, but nope, I’m back in Toronto. Dropped in to Pearson International two weeks ago, instead, and have been trying to get up to speed: returning telephone calls, answering E-mails and opening and sorting Post Mail. I was without daily access to the internet during my last week and a half in Bolivia, so Blogging let alone uploading images would’ve been impossible. Still, I knew that there were some final observations I wanted to pass along and certainly Post Posting Blues that would need airing.
The Large Cities: OK, we only got to La Paz and Santa Cruz. The other two large cities of note are Sucre and Cochabamba. Oddly, returning to La Paz felt like I was returning home. I know, I know, I was only there for a week before heading down to Santa Cruz, but what can I say. As wonderful as it was to spend three weeks in the warm; no, hot and humid, embrace of that Amazonian City, I find La Paz far more interesting from a photographic point of view. You just can’t beat the steep and winding streets for interesting compositions. Also, there is far more colour than in Santa Cruz, as well as a variety of buildings of different heights, the surrounding mountains and the quality of light at either end of the day is just amazing. If only they would do something about the air pollution, I could live with the constant honking of car horns.
The Overhead Sun: I know this might sound “so what” to those of you that have traveled lots, but one thing I observed the very first day I arrived in La Paz in late October, was that this was the first place and time in my life where I’d been anywhere where the noon day sun was almost directly overhead, on it’s way south for the summer. Also, although there are many variables, such as altitude and geography, it takes a little getting use to the notion that it gets colder the further south one goes, rather than north, like I’ve always been use to. The night sky was amazing and I had the opportunity, while in San Antonio, to locate the Southern Cross.
Strangest Experience: There I was in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a colonial Spanish city, and walked into an Irish Pub, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication playing over the in-house loud speakers, and ordered a Lasagna de Carne, but the saving grace was the cold Huari, a Bolivian Beer. No Steam Whistle, but just as welcome.
Safety and Security: I was warned about openly carrying my camera in plain view, in certain neighborhoods in La Paz and told outright that Santa Cruz was a very dangerous place. Now I wasn’t about to outright dismiss the advice and certainly it pays to be prudent, however, and this may be naive of me, but I honestly think that people over react. There is a fear of the other, which at times I think is more dangerous than the perceived threat. I’m a photographer, the whole point is to have my camera out. Keeping it in my camera bag or worse in the hotel room, is pointless. I’m always careful and aware of my surroundings, even in my home town of Toronto.
When walking around, I try to be discreet and cradle the camera in my arms to disguise it, but I watch people’s eyes as they walk by and I clearly see their eyebrows go up. I was told that it wasn’t just a matter of keeping my hands firmly on my equipment, but that I could have someone pull a knife on me. Now that would be frightening, but fortunately, I didn’t experience anything remotely threatening.
No doubt the language was a huge advantage for me, but generally I found people to be friendly, if not always the greatest ambassadors for their cities. Try and get directions and it seems that no one knows where anything is, not even the taxi drivers. On my second to last night in La Paz, I was looking for a restaurant where I could order Llama, that’s the relative to the camel not the jolly old monk in the orange Kasaya. Anyway, I stopped in front of the Plaza Hotel, on the main pedestrian strip, Paseo del Prado, to ask two policeman where I could find the Marbeilla, which I had been told should be close by. Well they didn’t have a clue. I could’ve been asking them for directions to Casa Loma. I walked a block and a half further and there it was. It was on their beat!!
Racism: I think this goes back to a point I made earlier about a fear of the other. Although I never witnessed anything overt, there is some internal resentment between different indigenous groups. Also, be it politically driven or not, I think that some people don’t quite get that the tourist is bringing in money. I add politically motivated, because there is currently a Government led my Evo Morales that likes to play the evil foreigner card. Anyone arriving from abroad and wanting to invest, must want to “steal what’s ours”. Maybe a truly democratic political system with checks and balances would go a long way to prevent, if not completely avoid the corruption that can lead to stealing of resources for personal gain, so enough with the broad brush.
Things I Did Lose: My Red Baseball Cap and grey Hoody, or what as a child, we called a Kangaroo, because of the… ya… the pouch. Actually, I didn’t lose it, so much as someone liberated it.
Challenges: No one there is follicly challenged, so I stood out when sans Red Toque, despite being vertically challenged, like most paisanos.
Well there you have it, some last thoughts, although I doubt they will be the last I think about Bolivia, the people I met and the wonderful experiences I had. OK, one last thought, it’s a long flight, the air fare can be expensive (try the off season) but once you get there, and traveling with Canadian, Australian or U.S. $$, the British £ or the Euro, it’s very inexpensive to eat, move around and visit some of nature’s awesome sites. Oh Ya! Learn to drive a Standard Transmission and get your Drivers License, you never know when you’ll be asked to take the wheel.
Some parting shots of the chaotic knots, the colourful buildings in La Paz and a self-portrait. The rest will have to be face to face.
Buenas noches Illimani.