-Guest Post by Kay Wiegand-
On my trip to South America in fall and winter 2011/2012, I travelled through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. First I wanted to pass Bolivia quickly and focus on the famous salt lakes of Uyuni. But then my stay in Boliva was much longer in the end and I have to say, I don’t regret one single day. I was impressed again and again, Bolivia is such a beautiful and diverse country. The nature is extremely robust because of the high altitudes. In addition, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and you will realize this very fast. It’s great to see how well people handle their lives with that little and it always helps me to stay down to earth. In between protests, demonstrations and roadblocks, a trip to Bolivia can also be a real adventure. Take care and enjoy discovering the multi-ethnic society. Let yourself drift!
In the north you shouldn’t miss Lake Titicaca. The clouds, the blue water… just awesome, best open a Pecena and enjoy the view. Lake Titicaca is the second largest lake in South America and the highest for commercial shipping.
From the Bolivian town Copacabana you can take a boat to the Isla del Sol which is a wonderful place for excursions and my favourite recommendation. You should stay one night at least to see one of the lovely sunsets, believe me.
La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and as it’s located on 3.200 up to 4.100 meters it’s the highest capital on earth. It is amazing how close all the houses on the slopes of the hills are built. Stunning photographs are guaranteed! With the clouds moving and the light changing all the time, I could just stand there and watch for hours. On top of the hills it is windy and the people are poor, in the lower parts of the city it is warmer and the people are wealthy.
My perfect hostel there had a rooftop and an inhouse brewery, perfect combination. What else could you want… maybe a beer for free every evening… right, that was included as well. Food from the markets was a good refreshment for the discovery tours through the city, whether you want to visit San Pedro prison or learn all about the coca plant. You will find a lot of activities, everything from Cholitas Wrestling to hiking and down-hilltours on the Death Road. I’m sure everybody will find the right thing and it won’t get boring.
Sucre is the constitutional and cultural capital of Bolivia and famous for its chocolate… for whatever reason. A lot of tourists are there to learn Spanish, I don’t know why I missed this. The city is located on 2.800m and proves its charm as a colonial city in South America with white buildings which are typically arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Shopping and haggling at the markets was my favourite activity.
The Salar de Uyuni and the close Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa are the absolute highlights during a trip to Bolivia and I’m not kidding! Uyuni is a small boring town used by tourists as a starting and endpoint of their tours through the countryside. Like a big bar 😉 The cemetery Cementerio de los Trenes is a part of the Bolivian railroad history and you will find this place three kilometers south of Uyuni. The big adventure starts with a jeep tour through the salt desert, awesome in all seasons. I recommend a three day tour, so you can sleep in a salt hostel and swim in hot springs. Indiana Jones feeling, definitely… but at night it will be very cold at this altitude. I know, to lie in your sleeping bag with clothes on is a nogo, but it was so cold, damn. Ask other travelers for their experiences with the agencies and the best guides.
The Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa offers breathtaking landscapes with different colored lagoons, volcanoes, geysers and flamingos on the longer tours. You will be fascinated and stunned. What can I say, you have to do that! Like the Salar de Uyuni this place is a must see for all photography freaks, believe me: this will be great!
Kay has been living in Berlin since 2010 and gets a lot of motivation and inspiration from the German capital. He works as a freelance Developer, Technical Project Manager and Consultant for agencies in the media and advertising industry.
The fascination of photography has influenced him early. For Kay photography is the challenge to catch a moment, to capture the mood, feeling and atmosphere. Travelling is also an important part of his life and helps him to keep his mind open.
He’s open for cooperation and interesting projects. For any questions and requests, feel free to contact him:
Ethnographic Information –
Bolivia is a country which is settled mainly amongst the Andes Mountains, but is also comprised of both the Amazonian Rainforests and Lake Titicaca. The environment itself contains many abundant natural resources and is also home to the world’s largest salt flats. There are also many cities, the most populated being Santa Cruz, which is home to many native residents as well as diverse populations. Bolivia is also one of the poorest countries in the world, despite having an amazing economic potential and value. Foreign investors have decimated the land’s natural resources and have destroyed the agricultural basis. This is due to the over use of renewable natural resources as well as slash and burn agriculture. These methods have also caused soil erosion to occur in rural areas, which causes the country as a whole to suffer due to the decimation of food sources. With a population of about ten million and the sustainability of the land destroyed along with a lower crop harvest each year, the people of Bolivia suffered, suffered so much in fact that a staggering forty percent are left below the poverty line and the percentage itself is still climbing. As a result, many of the poverty stricken people of Bolivia are unable to afford basic needs as well as education and health care.
Many residents need to struggle day by day through hard labor in order to provide for their families. The occupational status of Bolivia consists of construction workers, merchants, and most of all, farmers. The farmers lack the technology, the natural resources, and an adequate rural environment which is needed to maintain a proper crop yield. Many Bolivians live off of the many different varieties of potatoes and grain, and lack of crops lead to unhealthy families and poverty stricken people. The economy itself relies heavily on the country’s numerous natural resources, but due to high production costs and a lack of investors with regard to renewing these resources, the economy itself is limited.
The caste system is also unequal, regarding access to terms such as political and economic resources. Class, race, and culture mark the distinct differences between the castes. The castes consist of Indians, Meszitos, and an elite white caste. The Indians of Bolivia mostly consist of unskilled laborers and peasants, who are mostly monolingual in the Andean language and may have very little knowledge of the Spanish language. Indians, being the lowest in the caste system, receive very low income for their labor, have very little education, and mostly conform to either being a Catholic or a Protestant. In terms of physical appearance, Indians have more of a darker skin tone and are somewhat short in stature. The Meszito population is second up in the caste system. Their physical appearance is undeniably comparable to that of Indians, but their customs are more related to that of Spanish origin than Andean. In the early history of Bolivia, Meszitos were known as the offspring between both someone of Spanish descent and a native of the country. Unlike Indians, Meszitos have better knowledge of the Spanish language and are more likely to be educated. The highest social caste, as well as the smallest, consists of an elite white caste who holds most of the wealth. This caste in particular holds many governmental, political, and business jobs, and are also very fluent in Spanish. They also do not conform with Andean traditions, but instead hold more of a Western influence within the society. This upper class lives within the major cities of Bolivia and benefit financially from the country itself.
Gender within the native part of the caste system plays the traditional role of a women conforming to domestic duties, and men having either an authoritative career or one which requires labor. However, when it comes to farmland, both males and females share the same job of cultivating and caring for crops. The female usually tends to the sale of crops. When considering ritualistic purposes, males are usually in charge. Women mostly hold the responsibilities of portraying traditions to following generations and teaching those generations of the Andean language. Marriage itself is an expected cultural component among all Bolivians. It is something which marks the adulthood of an individual and leads to the creation of a new dwelling or residence. The process of an Andean marriage consists of three processes; the first of which involves both the male and female creating a home and a family for the first three years. This is a process known as juntados. The second process consists of a civil marriage, and the third process consists of a religious marriage. Marriages in Bolivia are mostly monogamy, which is the norm, but very few consist of polygamy. The children of these families are taught at a young age how to be hardworking and how to be responsible as an adult. They are often cared for by their parents, and are required to attend school at the age of seven. (Abercrombi 1998)
Being a tradition of the Bolivian natives, the Tinku Festival is a celebration based on ritualistic combat and dance. Tinku, meaning physical combat or physical attack in their native language, is something mostly males participate in compared to the females who also partake in the celebration. Originating in Potosi, Bolivia, the festival is celebrated annually within the first couple of weeks in May. A ritualistic dance was formed based on the native belief towards the Goddess Pachamama, also known as Mother Nature. The fighting that follows this dance is considered by Bolivians as ritualistic sacrifice; the bloodshed from combat is believed to pay homage to the Goddess in these terms. The sacrifice is done to ensure a safe harvest for the remainder of the year and many people have died because of the fighting. Each death was believed to bring forth new life for the same year. The fighting is also meant as a release; a release which attributes towards the different communities and groups who participate. The fighters often fight with their bare hands, but are known to clench rocks within their fists to create more power when throwing punches. In the present day culture, the festival lasts anywhere from two to three days, the last day being the most violent. Murder is no longer permitted, and police would usually have to break up the fighting on the last day due to it being the most violent. It occurs all over Bolivia and Potosi holds the largest festival of them all. The attire worn by both genders is very decorative and colorful. The men wear head protection which consists of leather and they also sometimes wear leather clothing for their own protection. The women on the other hand usually wear colorful dresses and hats, which are amazingly decorated with different colored ribbons and feathers. The celebration begins with both genders dancing, and then proceeds to the women forming circles around the men who in turn fight one another. The dance consists of a warlike type of music with many instruments including drums; the dancers dance with kicks and stomps which follow the beat of the drums. Men, women, and children all participate in these dances with the exception of the fighters. (Stobart 2006)
When comparing this holiday to that of the holidays which are celebrated in the United States, there are a vast amount of differences. The United States does not have any violent holidays which include bloodshed, nor are there any holidays which are as festive and involve the kind of dance that ensues within the Tinku Festival. The culture and environmental comparisons themselves are also vastly different. The social structure throughout Bolivia is largely based on race, and the social structure itself impacts the education received, the jobs acquired, and the income which is received. In the United States, everyone is required receive an education up until at least high school if chosen; United States citizens have the right to choose their destiny unlike the Bolivian population. There are also many different jobs which can be acquired in the U.S. compared to the jobs in Bolivia, which mostly fall into the category of agriculture. The environments are also vastly different when considering the landscapes as well as the destruction towards Bolivian soil, which is very nutrient poor due to the way in which it is used. The poverty rate is also much larger in Bolivia than the United States most likely because of this very reason. Some families have to go days without eating because the economy is mostly based on agriculture. When it comes to gender roles in comparison, the women in present day America have the same job opportunities as men and are able to have a secure economic status. The women in Bolivia usually tend to crops and the marketing of those crops. They also tend to be the ones who take care of the children while the men are working. The men in Bolivia are either farmers, factory workers, or construction workers. Marriage is similar in the aspect of monogamy and it is the most accepted form of marriage. Marriage is similar in the aspects of celebration, but is different in the overall process. Bolivians have a three stage process in which there are two different celebrations of marriage along with a time period of child bearing. Americans usually have a wedding with a ‘honeymoon’ which comes afterwards. Children in both cultures are taught to respect their elders and to work for what they desire. The religion in Bolivia mostly consists of Catholicism and the United States is comprised of many different and diverse forms of religion. The comparison between both cultures in many aspects are vastly different, but there are very few similarities. Both cultures have almost completely different lifestyles and celebrations, each having their own heritage which makes them unique.