One of the first things I noticed in Bolivia, was the women, called Cholitas (see picture above) on every block selling snacks, fruits, breads, and an array of other goods. Cholitas are the women that are all around selling products on the street in traditional multilayered skirts and long plaited hair. Don’t let the attire fool you or put them into a box—they fight, drink, and party. They are strong and hard working women and there is no way to become one except to be born one and decide to carry on the family’s tradition. Being a thick woman is still admired in this country to a great degree although western influence is relentless in the media, marketing, and ads. Cholitas are thick hunty. And in the meat-loving South American and 4000-types of potatoes having Bolivia, how could you not be. They also have a sense of pride about themselves that I admire.
Commerce is the biggest industry in what is known as the poorest country in South America. Even being the poorest, I will say, the sidewalks stay down when you walk on them and there isn’t dog poop every 15 steps like in Soho Palermo (BA, Argentina). lol. However, you still must look down because there are random two feet deep holes that you could easily step into if you’re not paying attention. Something else to watch out for (I was told by locals) are the shoe shiners. There are also a good amount of them about the streets of La Paz. These men tend to be tiny and keep their face hidden with a knitted ski-mask like covering, which is a little scary to me. I was told they cover their face because it is a shameful profession here, reserved for alcoholics and drug addicts.
Overall, the city of La Paz is strangely beautiful in a chaotic, train crash kind of way. It's enormous and yet small at the same time. As the sun sets, you'll witness miles and miles of lights covering the vast land for as far as you can see. It's relatively authentic and a good number of people here appear indigenous or at least mixed. Interestingly enough, the poorer people here live higher up and further out, while the richer people live lower down and in the center of the city. I'll let you guess the aesthetic differences.
One day we rode "the world's highest" cable cars (Ciudad Satelite) from the poorer area to the richer area which, coming from my area, was surprisingly immaculate. That same night, I was robbed of my camera and other belongings (in the "good" area). lol. I was a rather devastated initially, but it's been a few days now and my friends back home and here on RY here have really been helpful in providing support as I recover from the incident. There's no better place than here I guess to insert that some of the pictures on this post are borrowed from other remoters. lol.
Besides the likelihood of being robbed, another thing I don’t like here, is the hygiene. It's generally lacking compared to The States. For instance, some restaurants don’t have sinks in the bathroom. It's common to see people use the bathroom and not wash their hands. A friend of mine even witness more than one person waiting in line for the bathroom just resolve to peeing on the bathroom floor. And, that's not it! There are more hygienically shocking things, but I'll stop. Just know that many remoters have gotten sick already and we have only been here 7 days. I realize, I'm making things sound terrible, but there is much charm to this little big place too.
For the RY welcome event, I was able to visit a lovely little art gallery, Fundación Mamani Mamani, at the end of the oldest road in Bolivia--Calle Jaen. It was: Quaint. Cute. Charming. The art by San Miguel was so unique, bright, and beautiful; yet, totally represented Bolivia. That is what I admired most about it. Also, during my first week, I took a walk through an open air food market which was something I’ve never seen or experienced before. Cholitas were selling rice out of bags as big as a zip car and offering samples of types of potatoes I'd never seen before in my life. I eyed enormous squash, plantains, and pineapples; passed by parts of animals that I could not identify on site; and, grimaced at raw, plucked, drained chickens laying stomach split open with the head still on. The market was packed with people bumping and passing you at every step.
As you can read, I've learned quite a lot since being here; but, in all honesty, I prefer a place where I don't have to be so concerned with my safety (physically or health wise). It's quite the experience though and there is so much more to share; therefore, more to come! In the meantime, check out some photos from my first days in Bolivia.