from andes to amazon

[written 01/09/08]

it’s been difficult trying to figure out where to start, especially since for most of you, this is your first exposure to bolivia. i love this country so much, and am so proud to be part of it at all, but still i have so much to learn. so, with that said, here’s my first attempt, i hope you like it.

…..

the first thing to understand about bolivia is it is a land of contrasts. that may sound so clichéd, like a travel guide’s motto, but it really is.

for example, we flew into la paz, the bolivian capital (or rather one of two, but that’s for another day) – where the majority of my extended family lives – which is on the altiplano. it’s actually in a valley just on the edge of the altiplano, but that’s still pretty darn high – say 11,800 feet above seawater (vs. the altiplano’s 13,000+ feet, which is where the main airport is located. when you land, there’s always oxygen tanks right by the doors, for those tourists foolish enough to run around as soon as they get off the plane). along with this height – which is basically the widest part of the andes mountains – comes very dry air, lots and lots of wind, and of course cold weather, even during the summer months. at such a high altitude, you can see for miles and miles, and the mountain tops are always covered with snow and the stars are beyond bright, they’re luminous glowing gorgeousness. it makes sense there’s such a wealth of fiber arts to be found in the andes – clothing is understandably crucial, so a lot of time and effort has been put into making it.

anyhow, so, this is where we’d been since arriving – every night was pretty cold requiring lots of sweaters for chilly arms, foot lotion for tired dry feet, dreams of warm baths and showers (hot water is kinda iffy), and so on. then, sunday morning, my dad says, coroico! we must go to coroico! after two hours of driving, we’re there – and it’s totally different. i mean totally.

coroico is in the yungas, which is basically the start of the amazon in bolivia. it’s in the same state, or department as they’re called in bolivia, as la paz, and like i said, only two hours away by car, but it’s such a change. humidity up the wazoo as there’s easily over 100 inches of rain a year, enormous old forests and dense greenness everywhere, waterfalls continually heard in the background, and perhaps only barely surpassed by the sounds of many, but many birds. i wish i had a faster camera that could have captured some of those birds – little teeny ones to big parrots, all raucous and chatty. (bolivia has over “40% of the total number of bird species found in South America”!) coroico, the main city in the yungas, is at about 4,000 feet above seawater, i believe, and you can feel the difference- running around or even just walking up a flight of stairs doesn’t leave you gasping for breath. (can you imagine! by car going from 13,000 feet to 4,000 feet in just two hours. your ears are popping the whole way, i tell you.) the only real problem is the mosquitos – which is quite an understatement but i’m back in la paz and feel pretty safe from them now, phew -, who love fresh gringa blood, ay, but with some deep woods off!, you’re fairly safe from them. (what people did before off, i shudder to think.)

so. in my disjointed rambly way, here’s the first little snapshot of bolivia. any assumptions or generalizations have to be tossed out about a country where you can go from the andes to the amazon in barely two hours. it’s just impossible, i tell you.

btw, any requests for specific aspects of bolivia are happily accepted – i’ll see what i can do. happy wednesday to you all, you nice readers you ~ ~

[pics: the top five pics are from the la paz area – mostly achocalla where my parents are building a house, and one of the valle de la luna in mallasa, where we’re staying with my aunt most of the time. oh and that’s my niece in the red hat trying to skip stones with some kids from the village, so cute. and the last five photos are of coroico – i can’t stand how fuzzy the pics came out, so it seems clear i gotta spring for a better camera sometime this year, but i love that mossy limb one. there’s something about moss that’s positively magical. and it looks like underwater coral too. i love ties like that – between the underwater world and the airy world we know.]