Aug 3 - Well It Ain't No Machu Picchu

We decided to be a bit adventurous this weekend and head out to the nearby ruins of Tiwanaku. Really, I don't know how it made it up to #9 / 47 attractions in La Paz. Actually...looking at the list of things to do in La Paz, I guess the city is a bit lacking.

So we grabbed a mini-bus to the cementary. Really, this was the highlight of the trip--riding through the area of Eloy Salmon, protected from the raging market area outside by the bus window. You drive by cholitas selling fish, bread, chuños (dried potatoes), everything. Great!

The cementary was also interesting. Stacks of small windows of people's loved ones, containing their pictures, poems from their children, miniature bottles of beer and coke, favourite childrens' toys, flowers new and fresh or old and dried. Felipe asked me what I wanted inside my window--I don't think I want a window. Just let me go and continue on with your life.

We then grabbed another mini-bus for the 2 hour ride there. God damn traffic. And we saw the barely there ruins of Tiwanaku. Meh. The most interesting part was the Pachamama monolith--an impressive ancient carved stone. Too bad the monolith wasn't in La Paz like it used to be. It would have saved us a bunch of travel time.


minibus, sopocachi to cementary: B$1.5
bus, cementary to tiwanaku: B$30
entry, tiwanaku, foreigner: B$80
entry, tiwanaku, local: B$10

Aug 15 - Eating Out in La Paz

I have never eaten out so much in my life. Our new place is a bed and breakfast which means that we just have the communal kitchen to make food. Well, the communal kitchen is very…communal. There’s always someone in there. A family with noisy kids, a couple having a romantic dinner in, or some backpackers who haven’t had a home cooked meal for months.

So we have had the forced luxury of eating out every lunch and dinner. La Paz has a lot of options for food and we get to try all of it, from local greasy fried pig skin and overfried chicken, to salty Chinese food, to a high end restaurant by a world class chef. A side effect of eating out all the time is that we have to relax our vegetarian / flexitarian habits--eating meat again is nice, but I feel a bit guilty.

We’ve kept a list of the places we’ve eaten and ranked them a la Tripadvisor. Our favourite is a Spanish place hidden in an alley behind a knockered door, Rincón Español.

Best Overall - Rincón Español: Seafood and tapas. We ate here a few times and any choices from the menu are solid. Someone described the ambiance like being in a cave, so don't come here for a lively time.

Best Ethnic - Coreatown: A local recommended this place, and I was thinking "come on, good Korean food in Bolivia?!". But it was awesome--very tasty and big portions. I missed the good and plentiful Asian food living in Toronto, but this delicious place really made up for it.

Best Value - Manolo's: Lunch is the cheap meal of the day--you can get a 3 course lunch for 20 - 30Bs ($3 - 4). Other than lunch, the dinners are still reasonable. Close to the main restaurant strip in Sopocachi, they have a simple menu with grilled meats and sandwiches. The steaks were tasty, not too tough like most of the meat in the city, and weren't completely tourist prices.

Best Vegetarian - Namaste: This is really an oasis in the middle of the chaotic and congested downtown. The food is creative and nicely presented, with reasonable prices. One downside is that the portions are quite small.

Best Juice - Vagon del Sur: Fruit and juice in Bolivia has been a highlight. At the markets, you can get a pint of golden berries (uchuvas) or a bag of passionfruit (maracuyá or granadilla) for a tenth of the price in Toronto. A jar of fresh fruit juice is available pretty much everywhere. But the best juice we found was in the Zona Sur at Vagon del Sur. They have a fresh peach juice that is expensive but amazing. The food is based on local dishes and very tasty.


Restaurant prices for 2:
Rincon Español: B$150
Gustu: B$465
Vagon del Sur: B$200
- juice, 6 glasses jar: B$60
Coreatown: B$110
Manolo's: B$53
Namaste (lunch): B$46
Taqueria Orale (lunch): B$40
Cactus Cafe (lunch): B$40

Aug 17 - A Day with ProMujer

Felipe is so lucky, he gets to visit borrowers in different towns and talk to them and see how they live. He tells me the stories and it's like he went to another world. He tells me about their businesses, selling tomatoes at a market stand, making sandals made out of old tires, fishing with nets on Lake Titicaca. He tells me about being stuck in a stuffy room with 10 cholitas and their strange "challa" rituals to Pachamama with their loan money--they put the money in the centre of one of their typical cholita cloth "aguayos" they use for a backpack, and then they poured a bit of Coke in the four corners, and then sprinkled sugar on the money. Felipe joined in and blessed the money with them.

So today, I got invited to an event with Pro Mujer, the field office that Felipe is working with. Once a year, they conscript their local managers to become more involved with the loan process. They take a bus out to a random small neighbourhood and try to form loan groups from the locals. It's a fun promotion and creates a small party in the middle of the neighbourhood.

We ended up in a dusty section of El Alto called Palestina (interesting choice considering the violence in the Middle East recently). The group broke up into teams of two and went into their assigned block of homes to talk to the locals.

We walked down the dusty street walled with mud bricks, street dogs barking and following us menacingly. Tapping on the sheet metal doors until finally a small cholita would answer the door, small children at her side. The Pro Mujer lady would then go through her spiel regarding micro-loans, insurance, health care for the family, and a better life. The cholita would nod politely and give a toothy smile, her children playing with the balloons we gave them. Very friendly.

We ended the day successfully forming one entire loan group--more tomatoes, sandals, and fish for everyone! It was a fun and satisfying day giving me a peek into the other world Felipe has been working with for the past couple of months.




Interest rate on Pro Mujer micro-loan: 30%

Aug 20 - The Great Alpaca Hunt

Llama, alpaca and vicuña--their fur is consider the gold of the Andes. It's so soft--like wearing a kitten, I really got caught up in the frenzy and needed to have some. In both Peru and Bolivia, we've been visiting tons of stores and running our hands shamelessly across $2000 sweaters. Peru definitely has a more developed market, with high quality and style. Bolivia has been more street market quality stuff with few exceptions.

We got sucked into the marketing scheme of the "baby alpaca". This is the first shearing of the baby alpaca and is supposedly even softer than alpaca. I bought a pair of "baby alpaca" gloves in a store in La Paz for $15 and then later saw it sold on the street for $3. Not even careful shopping can save you from the "maybe alpaca" syndrome here!


Alpaca Style (prices vary by salesclerk):
- baby alpaca sweater: B$650
- baby alpaca handknit scarf: B$250
- baby alpaca thin scarf: B$150
- "maybe alpaca" 2-sided gloves: B$90
---> same gloves on street: B$22

Mamarawa (fair trade store in Zona Sur)):
- baby alpaca scarf: B$138
- alpaca knitted hat: B$60
- alpaca gloves: B$100

Cuzco, Peru (in Soles C$1 = S$2.5):
alpaca blanket: S$90
baby alpaca socks: S$50
baby alpaca sweater: S$350 - S$450
vicuña sweater: S$5650 (!!)

Aug 22 - Weekend Getaway

I think Bolivia has 10 capitals or something like that. La Paz is one. Another is Sucre. They call it the white city, the walls of the buildings are a surprisingly clean white. The city is relaxing, lacking the noise, chaos and pollution of La Paz. One thing that you notice immediately is that the cholitas wear shorter skirts and look much thinner than in La Paz.

One cool not-for-profit store we found, Inca Pallay, sold fair-trade work made by artisans from the surrounding villages. The Jalq'a weavings were super intricate, full of fantastic creatures from local mythologies. They were so striking and detailed that we couldn't leave without taking one with us.

uncomfortable ride to potosi
casa de moneda
pachamama painting
dangers of the night
wtf owl
buying a mantel
the white city
jalq'a weaving


flight, Amaszonas (1hr): C$178
bus, full bed(12hr): C$22
2 nights, casa verde B&B: B$402
1 entry, casa de moneda: B$40
eating out for 2:
- lunch, la huerta: B$160
- dinner, tentaciones: B$112
- sunday buffet casa kolping: B$135
Jalq'a weavings: B$1800 - 2500

Aug 23 - Sin Mineros No Hay Potosí

Potosí was once a rich and bustling city, centred around the crowning hill Cerro Rico. This city was the source of silver galore to the Spanish conquerers. Even after the Spanish left the hill for broke, the local Potosians have continued to burrow like ants into the reddish hill. The miners brave the dust filled tunnels, knowing that they'll eventually die from it--silicosis sets in by the time they turn 30 and their lungs just give out.

We took a local minibus up to the top. In the bus, we met a family--the father was a tough guy miner. He asked us where we were from and we started making small talk. He offered to show us his Tio (uncle), a devilish statue worshipped as a protector of the underworld. Every Friday they would offer coca leaves and cigars to the statue and then drink themselves into a stupor. We saw so many drunk miners.

The miner was very proud of his work, bragging about diving 300 meters into the earth 8 hours a day. By the time he got deep into the earth, the stifling heat would force him to strip down and work in the buff. It sounded like brutal work. But even with the paltry amount of silver he could dig out of the mountain, he was able to make a much higher wage than the non-miners in the city. He gave us a tour of the mine entrance--we decided to avoid the silicosis and didn't venture in to see the Tio. But his stories and firm handshake good-bye left us with a lot to think about.


taxi, sucre to potosi:
bus, potosi to sucre:
local minibus, B$1.5



see itinerary