Two days till 2014! This new years celebration will be in the jungle. We are going to a hotel in Chapare, a rainforest region of the Cochabamba area.
That will be one more ecosystem to be experienced during this trip.. A week ago we flew to La Paz – half and hour by plane – to spend two nights in a hotel and explore the surroundings. It was great to be in the city with two locals, Pame and Chris knew their way around and it also feels so comfortable, safe and fun to be together in a big group. La Paz is the hilliest city I have been to. We felt bad in the poor old taxis screeching and roaring their way up the steep roads.. In the night, seeing out the window you stare at the hills and it’s like looking up to a bit different looking starry sky. We visited the markets to buy some crafts and clothes, we saw dried llama fetuses that are used for witchcraft, to bring luck or for other ceremonies, and we tried chewing coca leaves and drank coca tea, thinking this would help for the slight symptoms of altitude sickness some were experiencing. It is a bit more than 3000 meters in La Paz, and indeed you could feel it when walking more briskly, or heart tends to beat faster at times.. quite a few of us have had a bit of a cold in addition, or stomach ache, and the coughing doesn’t seem to cease. These are just tiny trouble though.
We visited the Moon Valley, absurd landscape surrounded by red mountains just outside the city. We also had a glimpse of Illimani through the clouds, the highest mountain in the region overlooking La Paz. There is something about the mountains, what I guess people always keep wondering.. why do we often feel a certain way when seeing mountains? Maybe they make us feel small, sense humility and awe for something so big and ancient. Or it makes us feel like part of everything, because we are part of that landscape and the mountains connect many things and tell us a story of everyone’s history.. “Mountains, Gandalf, I want to see mountains!” recited Pamela the words of the beloved hobbit.
The second day we went to Copacabana, a small and attractive town on the shore of lake Titicaca. On the way we spotted the first live llamas together with the rest.. 😉 the first of countless. And Tuula spotted some big condor-like eagles. From Copacabana we took a boat to Isla del Sol, island of the Sun.. the incas thought this is where people originally came from. It still is a sacred place, as is the island of the Moon nearby, both with secret, ancient history.. this time our visit was short, and we merely enjoyed the boat ride – lake Titicaca truly is vast and wide-spread, like a sea – and a little stroll on the beach of the island. Chris promised to dip in the water if we did! So of course that was the highlight of our visit, the crazy gringos and one crazy local in the cold waters of the highest lake in the world.
We came back for Christmas, and had a dinner together with Chris’s family. Thank you to them for having us around that night! Lovely, hospitable people, both families are, and we are extremely thankful for all they do for us and the love-filled moments we spend together. It has been heart-warming to bring together these people from around the world, the families of Chris and Pame from Bolivia and part of their family in Europe. Christmas night we also briefly visited Chris’s grandparents, who live on the side of a mountain overlooking Cochabamba. It was a party with much family again.. so good to meet them, but we Finns have a little yet to get accustomed to with all this hugging and kissing – you’d think it’s enough at least to do it once, but surely it is customary to greet and kiss both while arriving and while leaving..! Takes a while, but feeling much love around is good. 😉 After midnight the party was just starting at Pamela’s house, so we met a couple more cousins and other family members there and exchanged Christmas gifts before heading to bed, one by one.
Yesterday we returned from Uyuni and the salt lakes, one of the main destinations for travelers to Bolivia. In three days we traveled around one thousand kilometers across the region, on a tour, together with about 500 other Land Cruisers and so, quite a few tourists..! But well, it is some incredible landscapes, so no wonder many people wish to visit, both locals and foreigners. We crossed the salt lakes on the first day. It used to be a sea bottom and now the salt remains. Sun, blue sky and white salt make an unbelievably beautiful and surreal landscape. Our guides were wonderful drivers and friendly people. We stopped in places to see hotels made of salt and an island with huge cactuses. First night we slept in a salt hotel and the second night in another hostel up on the mountainside. The two last days we spent in the mountains more or less, taking in the sights and stopping for pictures and meals. There were volcanoes, deserts, snowy mountains, lots and lots of llamas and vicuñas, and lagoons.. colored by the chemical process between micro-organisms and sunlight. We were also happy to see flamingos in the lagoons and a number of other animals. And just enjoy each other’s company again, in those dreamy dinosaur landscapes, not really knowing the day or the time, just being and appreciating the beauty in the surroundings. It was quite a long trip to Uyuni, but the return was nicer on a train from the city of Uyuni to Oruro, from where we took a bus to Cochabamba.
Going past such various places and landscapes, you see people living in so many different places.. Everyone has their life and their important places, dreams and little things. It is always overwhelming somehow, but beautiful, just to think of it..
Pamela and Chris were talking so much about Bolivia and all the things here, when we were together in the Netherlands, and now we have seen a little bit of it for ourselves. It has been interesting, touching and thought provoking.. it has got many of us reflect on lots of stuff, our values, the importance of things. The class differences are as clear as anywhere.. It doesn’t seem like the government of Evo Morales are really doing much good; he’s the first indigenous president, and when started he of course promised great things and has made some changes.. but many people are not content. Just recently he for example decided that foreign NGOs or other groups should not work in the country anymore, because it is stealing the country’s identity little by little, or whatever.. so, as the government does not promote agriculture and other development in the country side, there is no one to do it. People are attracted into the cities, which apparently is one of the government’s schemes, to accommodate all and provide people with opportunities.. but what opportunities are there for millions and yet millions in the already crowded cities? Where there’s not always electricity and water, and definitely no work for everyone.. loads of beggars, children living in the streets, and country men still come to city in search for something better in their lives, perhaps finding misery. So many people still live in poverty in the country side, cultivating the land in the way they have been taught to for centuries maybe.. but it leaves them in poverty it seems because the system sort of requires that you produce and participate in the national production or something in order to succeed.
But truly, in reality many could do with assistance, support; help with building more vital communities where revenues do not stay with only a few and where everyone have opportunities for work and school, health care and water. Support with agriculture, livestock and other “traditional”, land-based activities should be high on the list when thinking of where to support and assist. Extensive coca-production in the rainforest region.. it brings high revenues but it also encourages the illegal trade, of cocaine, wildlife, other products.. and takes space maybe from sustainable fruit production, agroforestry and other practices that could rather take place and might be friendlier to the rainforest in the long term.
Things we tend to discuss.. I know so little about Bolivia yet, but it is at the same time fascinating and sad to learn, see how things are going, and also there is hope for there are always passionate people who fight for something they see valuable, and people who love what they do. As everywhere.. But our discussions tend to often come to the same points. Once we started talking about Lauri’s lactose intolerance, and somehow the conversation went from genetic information to power relations and greedy people and finally to the fact that people just tend to be greedy and don’t allow love, respect and happiness in their hearts and these simply are the problems of human kind that everyone should be working on rather than repairing the damages that follow from ignorance.
Of course there is much laughter in our discussions as well. And just in the presence of each other. Things easily get rather festive in this company; and just as well so – it is a rare and precious time together!
So… for the coming year, as always, let’s wish for and create much, much love, consideration, conscious behavior, caring, forgiveness, curiosity and laughter; actually enough of all sorts of things for that is the balance of life. Cheery encounters.
I wish everyone safe and fun parties and happiness for the new year!