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Bolivia in keywords

SHOPPING

You will find in the cities (La Paz, Sucre, Potosí and Santa Cruz) quite nice Bolivian handicrafts. In addition to the inevitable lluchus (Andean cups) and t’ilinchos (ceramic figurines), we recommend fabrics from the Andes or the Amazon: a Macha from Potosí, a Charazani from La Paz and especially a cloth. alqa or tarabuco de Sucre, true masterpieces of textile art.

In La Paz, Sagarnaga Street offers interesting craft shops. There are also shops for tourists in a hurry but these are not the ones we recommend.

In Potosí, take a little tour in the « artisanal mercado » and in Sucre, go to the project museum Asur (J’alqa-Tarabuco): there are the most beautiful fabrics of Bolivia. The most sumptuous ones cost 300 US $, but starting from 20 US $, one finds beautiful ones.

In Santa Cruz, the specialty is wood. The store « Arte Camba » offers the most beautiful replicas of objects of the Jesuit missions. As for the lovers of colors, they will bring back a « mesa » of the Calle Linares (the street of the wizards), in La Paz.

The mesa is the kit of mountains and wonders, necessary to honor the Pachamama, during the rite of challa. Know that the mesa includes a lama fetus (sentient souls abstain). Bolivia is also the country of hats and masks, masks worn traditionally by Bolivian dancers.

ALCOHOL

Bolivia has a real alcoholic culture (it’s called « cultura chupistica »). Any occasion is good to drink a « Chuflay » or a « Paceña » (the most widespread beer).

This phenomenon of society presents as many interesting aspects as there are negative consequences for the country. Because if we take into account the countless parties, we end up drinking throughout the year.

It is therefore necessary to have a good descent when accepting an invitation. In cities, alcohol is the expression of the macho side of Bolivian society.

In the countryside, alcohol consumption is linked to the rites of the animist religions of the Andes and the Amazon. Do not think that all Bolivians are alcoholics, only they like to drink and party almost as much as Bretons!

ALTIPLANO

In southern Peru, the Cordillera divides into two to give birth to the Cordillera Royale and the Western Cordillera.

Between these two cordilleras, in the heart of Bolivia, emerges an immense space at more than 3,600 meters of altitude, the Altiplano, geological mystery populated with legends. Land of the Aymara and Quechua, the Altiplano is the true heart of Bolivia and South America.

ALTITUDE: the « Soroche », mountain sickness

The first day, you will certainly be affected by the altitude. The usual symptoms are: migraine, lack of appetite, fatigue. In general, these effects fade quickly (after 1 or 2 days depending on the person), provided you respect a certain calm and a reasonable amount of effort.

Do not hesitate to drink a lot of water, coca herbal teas (« coca mate »), to manage your efforts (no sudden effort), possibly to take an aspirin at the beginning of the day to thin your blood.

AMAZON

It is often forgotten that nearly two-thirds of Bolivia is in the Amazon. The Amazon, for its part, is full of diverse landscapes. Of course, there is the primary forest but also the pampas, large expanses « open », ideal for the observation of wildlife.

The Madidi National Park, a gateway to the Amazon, has the richest ecosystem in the world, from its staging from sea level to 5,000 meters above sea level.

ANDES

God is far away and we must negotiate with his intermediaries, the mountains.

Despite this proverb Aymara, the natives of the Cordillera Real have never been really attracted by the heights. Even today, few Bolivians are found at high altitudes.

For them, the mountain remains a deity that must be respected, a neighbor who deserves offerings when one dares to disturb him.

And for those strange « gringos » who venture to the top? Of course, they are going to get gold but they do not tell anyone …

CRAFTS

The crafts of any place in the world is a cultural expression, which every day acquires new adepts; those who appreciate the manual and personalized work.

When the foreign tourist arrives in Bolivia, he can find a wide variety of craft items at fair prices: decorative items, clothes and accessories made by artisan associations, usually made up of entire families, who have found in the practice of this art a way to generate income. This is how thousands of Bolivian families feed each day through crafts.

one of the best known clothes to fight the low temperatures of the Altiplano region is of course the poncho. Of pre-Hispanic origin he appeared under the name of « Unku ».

Another element very heavily used in the manufacture of artisanal pieces is aguayo, a typical Andean fabric, of pre-Colombian origin also and with a huge cultural load. Each aguayo tells a story; the weft of the fabric, the colors, the threads, the drawings, etc. say a lot about the characters, homes and way of life of communities and weavers.

ATTITUDE

Travel trains and educates, not just youth! This is even more true when it comes to a third world country, where, as a tourist, you will be faced with unusual situations for a Westerner. First of all, be patient: times and times do not matter here in the West.

In Bolivia, time is slower. Delays, these gifts that we make time, are part of the daily landscape of land transport. It will be necessary to prepare elastic travel itineraries, with one or two days of margin in case. No need to set a tight schedule: you may not enjoy the country or miss your plane.

Also, remember that when you arrive from an industrialized country you will be among people with modest incomes. Be respectful of the customs of Bolivians, of their poverty. A smile or a pen can, no doubt, do more good than a few pennies or treats (moreover, think that in the remote countryside toothpaste or dentist do not exist).

Find the spirit of the Renaissance, discover unknown horizons, unique and original festivals. Bolivia is undoubtedly worth more by its culture and by its men than by its fabulous treasure of Potosí.

CINEMA

Movie lovers of the world, unite! Go to the Cinemateca Boliviana, La Paz, or the Ibero-American Institute of Santa Cruz (only on Tuesday at 20h).

We must also watch film festivals at Casa de la Cultura where European film cycles are often organized. But above all, do not miss the films of Bolivian director Jorge Sanjines (Yawar Mallku, The Clandestine Nation).

They are true masterpieces. In La Paz, there are two rooms of good quality: Monje Campero and 16 de Julio.

As for the American « blockbusters », we can see them three or four months before their release in theaters in Europe (in English, subtitled in Spanish), for less than 4 euros.

COCA

The coca leaf, of course, whose culture is here traditional.

At all times, miners and peasants in the highlands have taken advantage of their anesthetic and hunger-suppressing properties to support their labor and the harsh climate. Today, many people forget these ancestral virtues to assimilate it to cocaine. It is at the center of politics and destiny of the country. On the one hand, American pressure to eradicate coca fields. On the other hand, the popular pressure that has placed in the second place of the presidential elections of June 2002 Evo Morales, the defender of « cocaleros ».

Bolivia produces « only » 30% of the world’s leaf production. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of drugs pollutes more and more the traditional political circles by gangrénant part of the establishment Bolivian.

Thus, serious accusations of corruption were brought against the former president Jaime Paz Zamora (1989-1993), who, during the Universal Exposition of Seville, declared that « coca is not cocaine » and wanted to demonstrate the inocuity of the leaves by bringing them on the spot. It is true that the leaf consumed for almost two thousand years by the Tiwanakotas and the Incas possesses only minute quantities of alkaloid.

Coca was then considered a nutritional supplement – it is unknown or pretended to be unaware that coca consumption, despite its bitter taste, brings mineral salts and calories to the body – and also has a character mystical.

It will be the Spaniards and the « boom » of Potosí mines (explosion in Quechua) that will revive coca crops, banned since the beginning of colonization by the Catholic Church because of their religious element. The intensive work in the mines, the ever increasing need for labor, revive the culture of coca (in the Yungas) and allow to kill two birds with one stone: one increases the productivity of the work at the same time that one sells to the mitayos (the miners of the time) the precious leaves.

What is called in cooking microeconomics « to have butter and buttery money ».

A few years later, while Freud unveils the « therapeutic virtues » of cocaine sulphate and Paris drinks the coca wine of Mariani, it is far from imagining that these discoveries of the « Belle Epoque » will generate two social phenomena of the XXth century.

The Coca Cola first, « the symbol of the twentieth century » according to Eduardo Galeano, and the paranoia of the white goddess who reached its peak in the years of « golden boys » and the Iran-Contras scandal in the United States.

Indeed, it is the same people who, for reasons of state (see Alain Labrousse’s works) have opened the doors to one of the deadliest drugs, which today accuse the Andean countries of being the new « empires of evil ».

Forgetting that the problem of cocaine, like any good that exists in a consumer society, is economic. Alain Touraine does not believe so well when he says that the tensions of the drug market are the best illustration of the law of supply and demand.

Those interested in the subject will read with profit: Coca and cocaine, Denis Richard, Coll. What do I know?, Number 2920, PUF, 1994

CONCERTS

It is possible to attend good concerts of Bolivian music, throughout the year, in peñas, houses of culture or local theaters.

Large groups like « Los Kjarkas », « Savia Andina », « Altiplano », « Jacha Mallku », « Rumillajta » often occur during Christmas and during the months of July-August.

CONTRAST

His geography first. As great as twice France, Bolivia offers an incredible diversity. Altiplano, Llanos, Titicaca, Yungas, Lipez, Amazonia, so many names for landscapes unrelated to each other.

High plateau perched at 4000 meters and surrounded by peaks over 6000 meters high, infinite plains lost on the borders of Brazil and Argentina, desert stones and volcanoes where temperatures can oscillate between + 20 and – 25 degrees in the space of 24 hours, intertropical valleys with mild humidity …

It is not uncommon to start a day on a glacier, more than 5,000 meters above sea level, and finish it at the edge of a torrent, a papaya juice in hand while listening to the song of parrots.

DELINQUENCY

Bolivia is a safe country, according to some of the safest in Latin America. Unfortunately, it is often equated with less reassuring neighbors like Colombia, Peru or Brazil.

However, some precautions are needed against petty crime in recent years, following the economic crisis in large cities. This is how fake, rogue cops challenge you, often early in the morning, in streets of popular neighborhoods (near train stations), and pretend to take you to the station for a paper check. Once in the taxi, they strip you of your money.

These types of sequences, though rare, can sometimes happen to foreigners traveling alone. To this, a remedy: derision or a somewhat violent attitude, which will discourage the thug. As for the theft of personal belongings, it’s like everywhere in the world, in trains, night buses, railway stations or some streets in the city center. Readers reported flights to Oruro train stations. In the bus stations, beware of « accomadators » of passengers. Be careful!

In any case, it is better to be safe than sorry: take out an insurance policy that will cover your luggage, even if, in Bolivia, it is unlikely to be used for anything …

DRUG

Janiwa! (Aymara), Mana! (Quechua), No! (Spanish). Simply no! Article 1008 severely punishes those who hold drugs, even in small amounts.

It is nevertheless allowed to bring back the Mate of Coca, the tea of Coca (what to make one or two teas in memory … not kilos!).

We refer the irreducible to the magazine France 2, Special Envoy, and its report on the ruthless conditions of detention in the prisons of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

STUDENT

The student card can be used to obtain discounts on domestic flights. In your home country, you can buy the IHYF card for Bolivian youth hostels (see « La Paz »).

As for museums, they are so cheap that any reduction becomes useless.

FUTBOL

Santa Maradona, pray for us! In Bolivia, the « futbol » takes the place of a true religion. Especially since the national team of Devil Etcheverry and Platini Sanchez, Cristaldo, Moreno and other young students from Tahuichi Aguilera Academy of Santa Cruz led the country to the USA 94 World Cup.

The next meeting in Bolivia was July 1997 for the Copa America de Futbol, a great opportunity to see Bolivia giving one of the most beautiful games in recent years, losing the final against Brazil …

You can attend a Bolívar-The Strongest derby in La Paz or at a San José-Wilstermann in Oruro. Just to make your mouth water, even if you’re not a fan of the « rifle » caliber, the No.1 supporter of the Destroyers Club of Santa Cruz, who has not missed a single match for twenty years (you can meet the « rifle » at the Santa Cruz stadium on football days, he wears a yellow and black shirt, the flag of his team, that of Santa Cruz and that of Bolivia …).

STATIONS

Bus stations, known as bus terminals, are the starting and ending points for local buses (with a few exceptions). Relatively well organized, they have counters of all the companies, where are indicated timetables and destinations.

There is also sometimes a post office and Entel cabins. The best run is Cochabamba, which even has an Enlace cash machine.

BUSINESS HOURS

In general, from Monday to Friday, from 8h30 to 12h and from 14h to 18h30 for businesses and administrations. Banks close between 16h and 17h. In the cities of Oriente and Tarija, activity resumes only around 15h, heat requires.

HORA BOLIVIANA

In other words, for the majority of Bolivians, punctuality is not a categorical imperative. When you make an appointment with someone, always specify if it is the hora boliviana (+ 30 mn difference) or not.

HOSPITALITY

A saying of Santa Cruz says « is ley del cruceño hospitalidad »: for Cruceños, hospitality is a law. Nevertheless, we can say that this golden rule, mutatis mutandis, applies to Bolivia as a whole. If hospitality is a law, you will certainly be entitled to it.

However, like any law, it has its exception: it does not apply to the typical « gringo ».

BARGAINING

« Casilla Rebajame (or Casera)! »

This expression establishes a relationship of trust with the merchant, while requesting a discount. The bargaining is part of the Bolivian customs, but the reductions granted rarely exceed 25% of the price originally announced.

However, do not try to devalue the price of local crafts, its survival depends on it. A few years ago, many North American « researchers » began buying alqa (the best fabrics in Bolivia) at $ 5 a piece because women farmers did not know the real value of their products. In fact, these coins were worth a hundred times more.

The Americans in question have in fact dedicated a museum to them in San Diego. In addition, the tissues I alqa nearly disappeared from the Bolivian culture, the women of the region needing to have previous models to ensure the continued manufacture.
Here is another sequence of facts that confirms that we can not pick a flower without disturbing a star.

MEDIA

We will talk about the print media first and foremost. For only 80,000 potential readers, Bolivia has a serious press, a style close to its neighbor Chile, very little tabloids, rather newspapers « politically correct ».

To those on a business trip to Bolivia, we strongly recommend Nueva Economia, an economics and management weekly, in line with the French magazine L’Expansion.

The newspaper Presencia, of La Paz, keeps a Catholic line of left, a little in the image of the World.

La Razón is identified with the Bolivian business community and produces every day a rather complete Economia y Negocios supplement. His equivalents are El Deber in Santa Cruz and Los Tiempos in Cochabamba.

In Potosí, the journalistic institution is El Siglo. Finally, for two years, circulates in Bolivia a weekly in English of very beautiful presentation, The Bolivian Times. You will find all the tourist news and on the last page an exhibition-museums-concerts section.

Smart journalist! You are a photographer and you can write texts in English or Spanish of a correct level? The Bolivian Times is constantly looking for articles on trips to Bolivia and Latin America that they exchange for subscriptions or simply pay for.

Bolivian Times: Calle Jauregui 2248 (Sopocachi neighborhood) La Paz & 2391 796 – Fax 591 22 390 700.