While in Bolivia, I heard it said “Bolivia is the most democratic country in the world.” The meaning was there is always somebody protesting something.
Our first day in Santa Cruz we walked the plaza, wandering through the booths and crowds. It was a fascinating experience, to be among all that liveliness. I made a number of captures that afternoon, some just snapshots; others more like street photography. My intent was to capture my impression of my first few hours in a new country.
Not long after I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, we walked from Los Tajibos a block or two to the Farmacias to buy bottled water and any other necessaries. I learned quickly to watch traffic because traffic rules in Bolivia are only suggestions. There is no telling what might happen in traffic.
This capture came from a group I thought I lost. It was made with my Panasonic compact camera. The images were staged on my MacBook Pro in (or course) a place where I would not lose them. The problem was, I lost them. But I found them Friday while cleaning up some files on my notebook computer and sorting images on my external drives.
This is good because some of my street captures were made with the Panasonic, which is a better camera than my iPhone 6S (although the latter is very good for what it is). Now I can share some street photography on my weblog.
One evening while I was in Tarija, Bolivia, I had a chance to step out of my hotel and walk across the plaza. It was a bustling place, full of life and energy. I’m told that the plaza is where everything happens at night in Tarija. People go to the plaza to talk about the news, visit, and play.
After traveling to Tarija and spending the evening with friends, both new and old, I slept well. I woke the next morning, but not too early, rose, cleaned up, and went downstairs to meet an old friend and colleague, David. We walked across the plaza to get breakfast before my morning meeting at Universidad Católica.
The restaurante David chose served an American breakfast, desayuna Americana. It was actually a ham and cheese scramble, with coffee (instant) and juice. The food was plentiful and good and I was happy to have eggs for breakfast.
It was also fun to visit with my old friend. He is very happy in Bolivia and has been encouraging me to come there for years. So, finally, I met him in his adopted home of Tarija, Bolivia. I can see why he loves the place so.
We walked over to campus and waited for Enrique. The arrangement was for David and I to spend an hour or so with engineering students to answer questions. It was something I wanted to do while in Tarija.
They were a bit timid at first, but warmed up with some encouragement. I think having the university president present may have dampened their enthusiasm a bit (administrators can be intimidating). Nonetheless, I enjoyed the interaction. In fact, being around students lit me up quite a lot, which surprised me.
Of course, there were empanadas after the session. There was also time to mingle with the students a bit as well. Then Enrique drove me to his home where I met his family. They insisted I eat some lunch with them. So, I did although I was really not very hungry. He was a beautiful house and a lovely family as well.
We were then off to retrieve the remainder of the U.S. contingent at the aeropuerto, then deliver all of us to the Victoria Plaza Hotel. We all had a chance to rest for a bit before meeting for supper. It was good to have my compatriots with us again.
Supper was at Taberna Gattopardo, I believe. We ate at several places while in Tarija and I know at Gattopardo a couple of times, plus afternoon time streetside for tapas y cervezas.
Tuesday morning we rose early for breakfast at Los Tajibos, which was good as always. We checked out of the resort and were then shepherded to the Sociedad de Ingenieros. The taxi driver got lost on the way there, which amused me, but I knew the event would not begin until we arrived (we were the stars, after all). In addition, it is not unusual for things to begin late in Bolivia. It is what it is.
There were about 200 students in the group. I missed her title, but a university official (dean or president) made our introduction and then left. We made short presentations and then took questions from the students.
This was great fun and I enjoyed the interaction immensely. But the treat, for me, came after the formal time. The students were released to interact or leave and there were empanadas! I love empanadas, especially those in Bolivia. This morning we were provided empanadas de queso and they were tasty, with a pastry-like shell filled with a sweet cheese.
We were asked for photographs. To me it seemed like the girls were about 80-percent and the boys about 20-percent of requests. It was fun to watch them all smile, giggle, and pose.
I stood around with a group of a dozen young men who obviously knew each other well. They were laughing and teasing each other and we communicated with their broken English and my bit of Spanish. They asked if I like football (soccer).
I said “Of course.”
“Which is your favorite team?”
“I don’t have one, really, but I do enjoy watching the game.”
I asked for a bottle of water and one of them rushed off to find one. He returned with a two-liter bottle and poured some into a glass for me. I was thankful. One of the young men started to get some water from the bottle and another said “No!”
“Why not?” I asked.
“He is black.”
“He’s not black!”
“Yes, he is.”
“Well, that’s not black like where I come from.”
“He is darker than the rest of us.”
“I am that dark when I’m in the sun, although I am more red than he is.”
We all laughed and it was clear they were not prejudiced in any way, but were just teasing him like all young men give each other a hard time.
Soon it was time to go and the other guests were shunted off to catch their flight to Cochabamba. I had time before my flight to Tarija, so I went to lunch with Tomás, Monica, and Andres. Tomás is the dean of engineering and science at the Santa Cruz campus of Universidad Catóica. Andres is one of the engineering students there. His English is excellent!
Lunch was fun and took our time. It was interesting to visit with the three Bolivians and I enjoyed the interchange greatly. But the time came to leave and they drove me to the aeropuerto to check in and catch my flight.
I was a little trepidated by my lack of language, but Andres volunteered to see me to the security checkpoint so he could interpret if needed. I checked my bag, and walked up to the checkpoint entry. I said my goodbyes to Tomás and Monica. Andres accompanied me to the checkpoint. They were thorough, but friendly and I didn’t need an interpreter. I bid Andres goodbye and entered the secure zone.
I wandered around a bit while waiting. They sell meat in the airport. Yes, there was a meat market in the airport. My flight was a little delayed, but not much. There was plenty of traffic at Viru Viru.
Soon enough I was boarded and on my way to Tarija. I was looking forward to meeting friends there and seeing this place I have heard so much about. As we approached the airport, I noticed a vortex of vapor condensate rolling between the fuselage and engine over the wing. I made a couple of captures because fluids always fascinate me.
The Tarija Aeropuerto was the first time in a long time I walked down the stairs from an aircraft and across the pavement. It was fun and it was fun to see the observation deck above the terminal. It would be possible to go watch flights arrive and depart from Tarija.
David, Rosemarie, and Enrique were there to meet me. It was good to meet Rosemarie (David’s wife) and Enrique. We loaded my gear into the car and headed into town.
It was quick and easy getting into my hotel room and I had a few minutes to recover before we went to supper at Gattopardo on the plaza. Gattopardo Taberna easily became my favorite place to eat and hang out while in Tarija. I could see spending many evenings outside enjoying the evening air and the lively plaza environment. The food is excellent as well.
After preparations Sunday for our first full day of workshops, a crew of us went to supper (la cena) at the Asian Fusion, an interesting juxtaposition of Bolivian cuisine and sushi. Given that I was leary of anything not cooked, I elected the llama steak, which was very good. Others in our party were more adventurous. The wine was also very good.
We rose early Monday, had a bite of breakfast at Los Tajibos (very good buffet with a chef who made excellent omelettes), and then were guided to the Universidad Católica for the day’s activities. After some introductory remarks, Ing. Aguilera (the technical director for SEARPI made his presentation about their activities to mitigate flooding and bank erosion of Rio Piray. This engineer is very interesting. It was clear he has talked about SEARPI activities many times. But what fascinated me most about him was that he spoke slowly with many gestures. His delivery was excellent (¡muy excelente!) and he was very entertaining.
When we broke for lunch (la almuerza), they guided downstairs to the break room. They provided very nice sandwiches (two of them, which was too much) and plenty of warm soft drinks or bottled water. I elected the water. Ing. Aguilera and one of the translators sat with us and we chatted over lunch. We were invited to Ing. Aguilera’s home for supper.
The afternoon passed quickly. My talk was right after lunch and of course the audience had food-induced coma. I was not at all surprised. I don’t remember much else about the afternoon. Perhaps I had food-induced coma as well.
Ing. Aguilera and one of his staff members picked us up from Los Tajibos early on a beautiful Santa Cruz evening. The drive to his home was only a few minutes. As we entered his beautiful place, we were greeted by his sister and a waiter who was there to assist with the evening festivities. There was good wine and whiskey. I stuck with the wine.
We had enough people there who were conversant with English that understanding was not an issue. We chatted before supper, drinking wine and munching appetizers. Regardless, I think I would have understood Ing. Aguilera anyway. He spoke slowly and with great elocution. I could follow most of what he was saying with my few words of Spanish and by following his hands and face. He is an excellent host.
I asked (Jaime I think) whether Monica would be attending that evening. I was assured that she would be there. I wanted her to pose with me so I could send an image to my children to tease them about their new step-mother.
“Bolivia is a very dangerous place for a single man,” Ing. Aguilera informed me. He laughed at himself for being married not once, not twice, but four times. He told stories about himself, his life, and his work.
La cena was very interesting. I’m generally open to new foods, but couldn’t bring myself to eat the tripe or tongue. I suppose that when I return I will give both a try. Monica teased me about the traditional food and told me the tongue is really quite good. I have never eaten tongue, but have had tripe before. It’s certainly edible, but not my favorite protein source because of the texture. I can eat it, though. So, I’ll have to try the tongue.
After supper, over wine and dessert, the group chatted about water-related issues. I was impressed that technical people involved in hydrology generally have the same set of problems and concerns. It was clear from the discussion, even with the language barrier (which wasn’t that great of a barrier, really), that we share so much. The Bolivians are in a place where we here in the States were maybe 40-years ago. They have an advantage, though, in that much of the research to help them deal with their water problems has already been done. What they really lack, I think, is the institutional drive and funding to completely deal with their problems.
I was impressed that the Bolivians are intelligent, dedicated, hard-working, and capable. I left with much to think about as the evening ended too soon. Papá shooed us off to our accommodations because we had another big day to follow on Tuesday. So we said buenas noches and bid our hosts adios for the day.
After Easter Almuerza, it was time to get to work. We had our first big set of presentations Monday morning and needed to edit our slides and practice our talks. Papá set us up in one of the work rooms at Los Tajibos and we got to work. After some futzing about with the equipment, we were able to use the flat panel display as a monitor and got after it.
While waiting for my turn, I decided to have a cup of tea. (The coffee is generally instant coffee and not up to my standards.) I found this bag of green tea, made from the leaves of the coca plant. So, I made a cup of Mate de Coca.
It is a very nice light tea. It has a slightly sweet flavor, even without sweetener. I did a little research on Wikipedia and learned that Mate de Coca contains coca alkaloids with a concentration of about 4 mg per cup of tea. A line of cocaine has an alkaloid concentration between 20–30 mg. My expectation is that ingestion by swallowing is very different than inhalation (or injection) and the impact of the drug is much changed in the tea form. However, on my return from Bolivia I would have tested positive for cocaine use because I drank the tea at every opportunity.
Its use is being discouraged. It is contraband in the States. I really don’t see why, unless it were to be used to refine cocaine from the leaves. The tea is a mild stimulant and I don’t think one could easily drink enough of it to get high.
This is another example of our world gone wrong where a naturally occurring substance in its organic form is banned because it is abused in its refined form. Meh…
The tea is quite good. When I get back to Bolivia, it will be one of my staple drinks. I like coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. I see no reason to change that habit and green teas are a nice change from black teas.
The weekend right after I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is something of a blur. Between recovering from an all-night flight from Miami to Santa Cruz, adjusting to a totally different, foreign environment, and readying myself for my talk the coming morning, I was a bit blitzed. But, I recall going to brunch (really lunch) at the big spread put out by the Los Tajibos resort. There were many interesting things to eat, all prepared according to local custom.
I was careful of anything not cooked, because I did not want to be sick and knew I was not accustomed to the local bacteria. I really wanted ensalada, but refrained. I found plenty of food to fill me, though, and enjoyed both the meal and the company. Papá took good care of us.
On the leg from La Paz to Santa Cruz, I was too pumped to sleep any more. I spent too much time looking out la ventana, amazed by what I saw. What an experience it was to see Bolivia as my first (real) time out of country — to be looking at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It was difficult to believe I was actually there, actually looking at Bolivia, and that in a few minutes I would land at Viru Viru in Santa Cruz.
I was tired from riding in airplanes all night. I was tired of sitting in cramped seats. But I was so excited by what I saw it didn’t matter that my ass complained the last hours on the trip. It was worth it.
Although we flew over Bolivia for several hours before landing, this was my first real view of the country. It is an aerial view of La Paz just before we landed at the La Paz airport. It was only a layover, though, and we never left the aircraft.
At over 10,000 feet, it was an elevation greater than I’m accustomed to. I didn’t notice any altitude problems, although I did not have the opportunity to move around. I’m told it will take me a week or so to acclimate to the altitude, should I ever have the opportunity to visit again.