If I'm going to give you some local flavor let's start with food. Saltenas are a delicious little meat pie sort of thing that you can order in hot or sweet flavor. The dough is quite thick to contain all the juices. There is serious skill involved in eating a saltena without having everything run down your face and arms. It is NOT a skill I developed during my visit. As I was trying desperately to maintain some shred of dignity during my feeble attmepts to eat one Bolivia style and my friend was laughing his head off he let me know that the tradition is for the first spiller of saltena juice to buy the first round of saltenas.
I was travelling with 4 other people, one of whom was exceedingly careful about what he ate. He'd been a Peace Corp volunteer in Peru 30 years earlier and was meticulous about food safety. I caused quite a bit of anxiety in him with my willingness to eat just about anything. 'I know your type! You're the kind who gets a tapeworm and is happy because it means you can eat MORE!' All week his kids watched me slurp up differnet things they were forbidden to eat. The day we went to the jungle and I was in ecstacy over a succulent pawpaw (which they'd been forbidden to eat since it had been taken from the ground not the tree itself) was too much. Their dad finally sighed heavily and caved into their longing eyes. When I washed it all down with a gallon of tostada (a boiled barley drink)he rolled his eyes and said, 'You know it may have been boiled but they probably watered it down with water that wasn't boiled.' What can I say, I have to try. I did draw the line at cow udder though since even our host said it was pretty vile stuff.
We stayed mainly in Cochabamba, which is sort of central to Bolivia. Cochabamba is very dry all the time but the temperatures are also pretty mild year round. Where as Trinidad has the same climate through the whole island Bolivia has tremendous variety. The Andean foothills form a series of peaks and valleys called yungas. Individual yungas can have entirely different climates one from the other. There are also lowland jungles, and of course the high peaks of the Andes. The day we drove from Cochabamba to the Chapare region (Bolivia's cocaine capital, and let me tell you it's a somewhat unsettling thing to be in a carload of gringos in a place like that) we started in crisp fall weather, drove up the mountain through heavy snow, then descended into tropical heat. I called it the three season day.
I don't have a really good picture but the first time I looked out the airport window at La Paz and saw the Andes it took my breath away. It is simply one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Then again I was in the world's highest capital city and the altitude was doing me in quickly too. We got off the plane and I wheeled my little carry-on bag about 100 yards and felt like I was going to pass out. I needed the rest room which was one flight of stairs down and I honestly had to rest before doing the flight of steps and after. Two guys I was travelling with wound up spending a day in bed due to the hard adjustment to the altitude. We were all feeling like real wimps until our Bolivian friends told us that even they feel ill when they go to La Paz. Interestingly, they also asked if we noticed how short the Pacenos are. We had and they explained that people who are native to La Paz tend to be extremely short, as if the altitude stunts their growth, but they have disproportionately large lungs. Makes sense to me, I'd want some extra lung capacity if I lived there too!
Our friends took us to a Quechua village where they worked. We took a bunch of bulk food and school supplies and spent time with folks. I'd seen so many ladies carrying babies in their colorful aguayos and I really wanted one picture of that. I just loved seeing those shining eyes peeking over a shoulder.Por favor, senora, puedo sacar su foto? Yo? Soy fea y vieja. Por favor, usted y su chiquitita son hermosas. Ok. Muchas gracias, senora. Muchas gracias. I took the picture and then she nodded and placed her right hand on my left shoulder and smiled. My friend told me that was the Quechua way to greet or take leave of someone respectfully. I returned it happily.
And then there was this dear one. All the children were pressing us as we passed out sweets. Some would slip their hand in yours. Others wanted to drag us off to meet another friend. Lots of smiles and giggles. Como se llama? What's your name? Michelle. Que? Michelle. Como? Finally, I just started saying my name was Miguela for the benefit of their little ears until this spitfire with a lolly came up and insisted in no uncertain terms, in English, that no norteamericana was named Miguela, what was my English name? I winked and told her. She wrapped her Quechua tongue around my French name like the other kids couldn't and declared, 'It's a good name. Use it.' Then she set about to keeping order among the mob. I liked her spunk and was in awe of her intelligence. What was she, 10 maybe? She lived in a village we were told had only spotty government provision of school teachers and she could speak three languages when most of the adults around her spoke mostly Quechua and maybe Spanish. Impressive, chica. Don't ever loose your spunk.
Happy Bolivian Tuesday!