So far so good here in La Paz, i’ve settled into a great routine and I feel really comfortable. My work has taken up a lot of my time as of late so it has been harder to keep up with interesting blog posts. I decided to wait a while and build up some stories and experiences before writing. Currently I am working on promotional booklets and videos for pro-rural to put together an information package to entice financiers to support pro-rural’s work. But i’m in my last 30 days and I still have lots to do, though I managed to scratch some adventures off the list:
The Road of Death
For anyone visiting La Paz, this is THE thing to do; biking down the Road of Death. Formerly the only road between La Paz and Coroico, it is a single lane - dirt road - hugging the side of the mountains. They call it the road of death for obvious reasons: there were/are so many deaths on the road because of the little to no protection from the dead drops and wet/muddy conditions. Though a bypass has been built the road is still used by communities who do not have access to the newly constructed highway and year after year, locals and tourists continue to fall and suffer serious injury or death.
The ride started around 8 am just outside the city limits of La Paz, our destination was Coroico, about 4 hours. We started on paved highway but soon found ourselves on the dirt, passing cross after cross marking where people had fallen to their deaths. It was an adrenaline pumping experience! It was all down hill and fast as hell. Even though we were with a guide, and even though tourists bike the road all the time, it is still very dangerous. One of our biking companions, and even our guide, fell off his bike. I made it to the bottom, safe and sound, had a great victory lunch and took the bus, another 4 hours back to La Paz.
Grave of an Israeli rider.
I took a very interesting tour of El Alto, it is the city above La Paz (for all the Torontonians it is like the Missussaga to Toronto). We toured the witches market - the REAL witches market, not the touristy one - saw some spectacular views of La Paz from above and learned a lot about the ‘Gas War’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolivian_gas_conflict ). El Alto has a culture entirely different from La Paz. It population is almost entirely made up of indigenous peoples and is the fastest growing city in Bolivia with more and more people moving into the city from rural areas in search of work and opportunity. The city feels like relative chaos compared to the (some would argue) order you find in La Paz. With insane traffic conditions and thousands of people everywhere all the time, it brought back memories of the chaotic streets I experienced in India. Related Story: on our way to climb a glacier, approximately 2.5 hours away from La Paz, it required a trip through El Alto - the traffic problems in the city delayed us 2 (two) hours.
Dried baby llama fetuses in the witches market
A statue of Che Guevara or ‘El Che’ stepping on a bald eagle representing the United States.
Communist-esc artwork at the University of El Alto
After getting out of El Alto I, along with about 50 other young people, headed toward a receding glacier with an environmental group studying the effects of climate change on the mountains surrounding La Paz.
NOTE: The snow and glaciers of the mountains surrounding the city are important as they provide fresh water and electricity to the populations. As the effects of global warming increase, the rate at which the glaciers are melting pose a serious risk to water supplies for the surrounding cities. This is a big, BIG problem especially for a landlocked country.
The busses stopped at a near by village and we embarked on a 3 hour hike to the Glacier. The terrain is rugged and challenging, but absolutely breathtaking. Upon arriving at the foot of the glacier, we stopped for a snack and made our way up, each step taking more energy, with our bodies screaming for air to aid our tired muscles. We climbed a little further and picked a spot to take pictures and enjoy our accomplishment. The walk back to the bus: 1.5 hours downhill. What topped off the trip was the night of the Super Moon. pictures below.
The foot of the glacier
The Glacier used to be so large it extended out to where those lakes are.
Me and Pablo
THE SUPER MOON! (yes that is the moon not the sun)
By request, I have stayed out of the hospital and I am back at work and on the road!
In order to develop pro-rural’s brand image, I decided to head to Caranavi with some co-workers to conduct interviews with producers and to see first-hand the people and products pro-rural is helping to finance. My 6 hour journey began through the winding and frigid mountain roads, then to the tropical -single lane-muddy-wet- hope.the.rain.stops.because.we’re.going.to.fall.off.this.cliff- only road to the city- adventure.. it was wild to say the least…
For one week we traveled through the dense foliage of the Yungas to interview the various coffee producers and farmers of Caranavi. Each day consisted of a 1-2 hour drive through the jungle to remote communities where collectives of women, or entire communities, had chosen to produce coffee to make a living. The result of the interviews: the communities were generally happy with their partnership and financing from pro-rural but more capital was needed to keep their businesses alive as the market for for coffee, though large, is extremely competitive and difficult to manage as costs increase.
I have now seen; 1. how coffee is produced (every step from plant to cup); 2. the impact that pro-rural is making on local, rural communities - providing financing and opportunities where there were previously none; and 3. how pro-rural empowers women through the financing of these women led collectives and businesses. I really appreciate the work. Pictures below. (If you dont know, the red fruits pictures below are ripe coffee beans ready-for-a-pickn’).
What the…….thats right, she IS wearing a System of a Down t-shirt……. \m/ >.< \m/
As a fun trip, some of the Canadian volunteers and I decided to head to Oruro for Carnivales! It is a festival that is celebrated all over Latin America, the most famous is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and equally as famous in Oruro for Bolivians. Let me tell you, it was wild! The festival lasts 3 days; it is 3 days of parades, music, drinking and debauchery. We left La Paz around 3am and took a bus on a bumpy 3 hour trip to Oruro. At 7 am, the festival was alive and kicking! The parade was in full swing and people were already drinking heavily. The parade was incredible; the costumes, dances and music was like nothing i’ve seen before. The costumes (pictured below) represent different stories in Bolivia’s and Latin America’s history; colonization, slavery of the indigenous peoples, religious stories, triumph, and love.
Carnivales is celebrated all across the country with lots of parties and celebration but by the evening/early morning it gets messy as many people (almost exclusively men) have been drinking for 24 hours. It is like this for 3 days but its totally normal. At 2am in a taxi on my way to catch the bus to Oruro our cab was hit by a drunk driver, not too hard but enough. Now, this could happen anywhere in the world, any day of the week, during any party or holiday (christmas, new years, etc) The difference was it didn’t seem like it was a big deal when it happened. The taxi driver was pissed but just wanted compensation for the damage to his car, the police weren’t involved, and we just hopped into another cab and caught our bus like nothing happened; All in all it is best to enjoy the holiday during the day.
We stayed in Oruro for one day, returned to La Paz then went onwards to Coroico. From La Paz to Coroico is about 3-4 hours and on the way you pass the highest altitude point in Bolivia; Just under 5000 meters above sea level! From there it is a a winding, downhill adventure into the tropical climate. In La Paz I was wearing a sweater, pants, and a jacket, in just 3 hours I was in shorts and a t-shirt getting bit my mosquitos - its amazing what a couple thousand meters of altitude can do! Corioco was gorgeous, lush and humid; we went on a beautiful hike through foothills of the Andes; past small villages (puebols), though thriving coca fields, to a natural waterfall. The waterfall wasn’t that great because it had been obstructed by recent construction necessary for irrigation to the farmers and the city, but the way back from the waterfall was waaay better. We became lost.
“Go left? go right? go down? ok lets keep going down, i’m sure we’ll find someone” it was like that for a few hours, walking through coca fields, chewing the product as I went. Eventually we ran into some farmers, who guided us in the right direction and even gave us a ride into town! ….and we found a spectacular waterfall (pictured below) All in all, a good day! pictures below.
So. A lot has happened since my last post.
I was supposed to start work on the February 2nd, but found myself in the hospital for 4 days! I had been sick for about 5 days before; managing it with a lot of rehydration powder, Gatorade and rice but it got the best of me and it was necessary to check-in to La Clinica del Sur; one of the best hospitals in La Paz. I had no prior experience with hospitals in other countries and my thoughts on Bolivian hospitals prior to my check-in were wary. I was a little nervous when the first nurse I saw was trying to find my vein to insert the intervenes; she couldn’t find it but kept poking around with the needle 4 or 5 times before she decided to use my other arm, haha. But from there on out I had a smooth and, other than the illness, rather pleasant experience! The doctors were good and checked on me frequently, and the nurses were funny and very helpful; on call and efficient. I was in and out of La Clinica in 4 days and I recommend the hospital in the future (although they don’t trust foreign insurance companies so you have to pay cash – so they say).I started work at pro-rural 2 days later.
Ever wonder where your daily cup’o coffee comes from? Who cleans and sorts the perfect beans to make sure there are no bits of jagged metal, plastic, stones, or corn in it? Then who ships it from a land locked country? See photos below of my visit to one of pro-rural’s partners, Eco Coffee.
(The Coffee you see being loaded- all by hand-is heading to Australia, the United States, and Canada)
I have been traveling during the day to visit rural communities and producers to get a better understanding of pro-rural’s work and improve the quality of my own work. The men, women, and children pictured are some those who benefit from the partnerships which pro-rural helps to create. The partnership between pro-rural and Eco Coffee has created jobs for over 30 families who work at the sorting and distribution centre alone. It is my job to help create partnerships like these by looking for possible investors interested in making a difference in rural Bolivia and who want to build and grow their own businesses. I encourage my readers to please donate to my fundraising page and help make a difference (its tax deductible!!!!!):
The Alasitas Fesitival is going on in La Paz right now. It’s a festival that is unique to the city and the world. The people ask Ekkeko, the pre-Christian deity of abundance, money and luck, for almost everything; it works like this, you buy miniature items and offer it to the Ekkeko in hopes that you will get what you ask for. You want a new car? Buy a miniature car and offer it to Ekkeo; Want a degree or a passport to the United States? Buy a mini degree and a mini passport, and offer it to Ekkeo; want to get married? Buy a mini bride and groom (and so on, and so on…). It’s a lively festival; the people are happy and excited, there is lots of music and games, and great food! See pictures below (I am chillin with Ekkeko himself!)
Finally, I went to a football match between the Bolivian champions, The Strongest, and the Brazilian champions, Santos FC (this is the team of Pelé!) The Strongest took the match 2-1! It was great game with amazing chants, great chances, and flares and fireworks being shot off from the crowd. I’m gonna catch another match for sure. Sorry for the long post, all for now. football pictures below:
Before I begin….(don’t worry, there are adventures and pictures below)
So some of you may be wondering what my daily routine is like. The best way to know what im up to every day is to follow me on twitter at: @julianbarbieri.
This month I’ve been taking Spanish lessons every day to prepare for my work with Pro-Rural on February 2nd. After my lessons I go for a Saltena, go to the gym, then for an almuerzo (a set lunch consisting of a soup, meat-usually trout or chicken, and yogurt or jello for dessert), study Spanish and either go kickboxing or play soccer. Sounds like an easy time but this week I met with my bosses at Pro-Rural to discuss my mandate and responsibilities beginning next week.
My job will be to develop a communications strategy to build Pro-Rural’s presence in the online community. This will include 1) managing an intranet database of information consisting of Pro-Rural’s financial information and progress reports; 2) build a social media strategy (Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Pisca etc.) to promote the work of prorural Pro-Rual and create ‘buzz’ about Pro-Rural’s work in the community. For more information click here (my donation page) and here( Pro-Rual’s home page -in Spanish)
Now….Living in La Paz!
La Paz is a great city full of hustle and bustle. It definitely not as laid back as Sucre, thats because its a city of business and nightlife. I live on Avendida Arce; its kind of like an embassy row with the Spanish, American, British and Brazilian embassies just down the street. The night life is fantastic; there is a plethora of restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs to choose from and they pretty much go all night! The food is delicious; with a multitude of options to choose from (Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Bolivian, German, Japanese) its hard to have a dull evening. There is one thing about La Paz that is quite interesting…the rain. When it rains, it POURS! and because La Paz is a city that sits in a valley, all the water flows down hill and causes these crazy flash floods! (pictured below). Not to worry though, there is always higher ground :)
Below, Plaza Abaroa (on one my favourite spots on one of the many gorgeous day in the city). Dedicated to the famous commander who fought for the ocean in a war with Chile from 1879 to 1883. Chile won the war and Bolivia been land-locked ever since; the economic repercussions of this still effect Bolivia today.
Titicaca and La Isla del Sol
Last weekend, I went to see the world famous Lake Titicaca, and stayed for 2 nights on La Isla Del Sol . Why so famous? Perched at 3,811 Meters above sea level, it is the highest altitude lake in the world and is also the biggest lake in South America.
I left La Paz around 8am by bus; up the winding hillsides of the city to the flat ‘altiplanto’ for about a 3 hour drive to Copacabana - which included getting off the bus, having it ferried over and getting back on again to our (almost)final destination (Bus being ferried pictured below).
Arriving in Copacabana, no time was wasted. We purchased our tickets for 25bs. (about 3 bucks) and hopped on another boat for a 2 hour journey to La Isla.
Arriving on the Island was spectacular. Like most high altitude locations, I was expecting it to be very cold and a little desolate. Not so. The Island was incredible; the sun was so strong and that most people only wore bathing suits. I went for a nice hike up to the tallest peak I could find and snapped some photos, then down to the beach to relax and take a snooze.
Something to mention: La Isla Del Sol is also a hotspot for Argentineans; and there were a LOT of Argentineans. Most were either backpacking/camping through Peru and Bolivia or just taking it easy on la Isla for the holidays. (everyone pictured on the boat below, besides the 2 women on the right, are from Argentina.)
Like the Salar, it is hard to put in words what I saw so i’ll let the pictures do the talking:
I just got back from an amazing trip to Sucre and the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats of Uyuni). I met amazing people (In order below: Emmerson, me, Michelle, Alexandra, Dimitri, Jasmine; Not Pictured: Phillipe, Mary-Helen and Emmanuel) and took in some incredible sights.
Sucre is a fun city with beautiful architecture, warm weather, lively atmosphere, and great food. I spent the Christmas holidays in Sucre and, as you can see below, the city gets right into the spirit.
Sucre is nicknamed the ‘white city’ because of its painted white-European styled municipal buildings that are beautifully well maintained. The nightlife is fun and relaxing; there are many pubs, bars and restaurants to eat, drink, and dance with a warm atmosphere that is inviting for Bolivians and travelers alike; this makes Sucre a VERY popular tourist destination for people from all over the world.
The highlight of the week was definitely the Salar; a totally surreal experience. From Surce, we took 2 buses totaling about 9 hours on some exhilarating roads; from Surce to Potosi and arriving in Uyuni late in the evening. We had booked a driver, Henry (pictured below), and the next day proceeded out to the flats. I could try to explain what I saw, but I think these pictures say it all.
All For now.
View from my apartment. The American embassy is just below.
Hello from La Paz!
The flight went smoothly and I have settled into my new apartment well (This was my view descending into La Paz).
The altitude has’t been giving me too much trouble (i´m about 4000 meters above sea level), but when i first landed it felt like someone was sitting on my chest! but that quickly passed. The city is full of hustle-and-bustle and the food is delicious (i´ll have a special post about the food soon.)
Just a quick picture.
I saw this herd of Zebra walking down the street today, so I investigated.
They escort pedestrians across the street at roundabouts all over the city. The reason they are Zebras is because they reflect white lines on black pavement.
All For now,
On my way! Miami then La Paz!
My work and apartment.
The wait is over, my visa arrived yesterday and my flight has been booked, I will be heading to La Paz this Saturday and arrive Sunday Morning. Before i start my work at Pro-Rural i will be taking one month of intense Spanish language classes. I will be living in Sopocachi, a district of downtown La Paz and I will be staying just a stone’s throw from the Pro-Rural office (see above map).
As a volunteer for Crossroads International I will be fundraising $2000 to help foster and promote awareness of Crossroad’s initiatives and goals. For more information on Crossroads International, my mandate and how you can donate, visit my donation page: http://cci.akaraisin.com/Crossroaderfundraising/julianbarbieri.
Thank you to anyone who contributes!
Needless to say, I’m very excited and i can’t wait to get down there to learn, experience and contribute my skills and knowledge.