Thursday, May 14, 2015
Are you planning a trip overseas this summer or fall? Or are you considering going to the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and want to travel around South America?
If you’re in the mood to learn a little history and to see a different culture, consider Bolivia.
The markets of La Paz, including the Witches’ Market, are a blur of color. Native women with black bowler hats and brightly colored clothes hawk their wares. Things for sale include big (a yard across) plastic bags in red, yellow, and blue filled with popped corn, trinkets, baskets, and pottery. The most interesting items were llama fetuses, gifts to the gods. (Yes, Bolivia is officially a Catholic country, but the “old gods” haven’t been forgotten.) I think the best view of the market is from the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco.
Potosí and nearby mountain, Cerro Rico (the source of much of the silver that built the Spanish empire in the 1500s and 1600s) deserve to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. But be warned, the price of extracting all the silver in term of loss of human lives and ecological damage is staggering.
If you’re looking for natural wonders, consider Bolivia.
The Valley of the Moon (10 km from downtown La Paz) is eerily stark and beautiful with thousands of rock spires, but not as colorful as Bryce Canyon in Utah.
Lake Titicaca is considered the highest navigable lake in the world (elevation 12,507 feet). Remember the pictures of reed boats on Lake Titicaca in your fifth grade geography book. Indigenous people still live there on floating islands they create from reeds.
Salar de Uyuni is a 100-times the size of Bonneville Salt Flats, and the largest source of lithium in the world.
Downsides of travel to Bolivia
Altitude sickness can be a problem. (The altitude in Potosí is 13,420 ft, and in La Paz is 12,000 ft). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends travelers to Bolivia be vaccinated for typhoid and Hepatitis A. It is unwise in Bolivia to drink tap water, eat raw fruits and vegetables that you didn’t peel and wash yourself, or eat any food sold by street vendors.
In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist, a public health consultant, is your guide to Bolivia. Of course, her view of the Witches Market and Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz might be a little different that that of the average tourist because someone, determined to kill her, is chasing her across the church’s roof. The descriptions of the roof and the markets below are realistic (as I saw them while walking at a leisurely pace).
Because Sara is an epidemiologist consultant for USAID (United States Agency for International Development), you’ll learn a lot about child health and pollution problems in Bolivia. But you won’t have Sara’s problems. She can’t decide which of her new colleagues to trust as she learns too much about the movement of coca from Bolivia to the U.S. and the dangerous working conditions in the silver mines of Potosí. Of course, you’ll only vicariously enjoy the attentions of the roguish Xave Zack, too.
Better yet, read Ignore the Pain before you travel to Bolivia.
Ignore the Pain is available at Amazon: http://amzn.com/1610091310