Tag Archives: bolivia

Shit I Learned In Bolivia

There was definitely no shortage of shit to learn in Bolivia. Some of it sad, some of it angering and yet some of it hilarious, entertaining and interesting. It is a country that has had it’s ups and downs and then some more after that. Here is some shit I learned while I was there.

Bolivia used to have access to the sea

Well once upon a time, before Chile decided that the bird shit for fertilizer meant big dollar signs and that they could just essentially go to war with Bolivia and take that area of land and call it their own. Needless to say, Bolivia is now landlocked and this is one of the contributing factors to it being one of the poorer countries in South America. No access to the sea, means having to transport goods through another country overland and that is going to cost. Another win for Chile.

The dollar sign was created in Bolivia

$$$ Yep! That one. Back in the day when the mint in Potosi was working at exceptionally high output (well for back in those days when horses were operating the machinery) they used to brand the coins with symbols that signified that they were indeed minted in Potosi. These symbols consisted of the letters P T S and I merged into one symbol. The S and I merged together were what originally gave rise to the dollar symbol. Well according to the mint in Potosi…. the internet is still out with those decisions.

The Bolivian Presidential term is supposed to be limited to two terms.

I say supposed to be because the current, corrupt-as-shit president decided that if he changed the name of the country, then he could run again for a third term because he was president of a whole other country before. The locals obviously got pissed off with this as they don’t want some corrupt-as-shit wanker running their country and had a referendum they referred to as 21F because it happened on the 21st February. The majority decided they were against changing the constitution to allow dictators the capability to take over the country, but as dictators do, they take over and don’t listen regardless. There are still quite a lot of protests happening with this, but mostly they fall on deaf ears.

A 21F protest. ‘Bolivia says no’.

A man’s prowess is to be expressed through knitting

That’s right, you heard correctly. Knitting. When these boys are young, they have to get out their knitting needles and start practicing making these knitted hats that they use to demonstrate to the ladies how skilled they are. The single chaps wear different hats to those that have married, however, if ya boy can’t knit, he is gonna have some shocking lady problems. In that he ain’t gonna have one.

The Tiwanaku gave rise to the Incas

The Tiwanaku people originated on the southern parts of Lake Titicaca, which now is much smaller than what it was before as the ruins that used to be on the water are now a substantial way inland. The people consisted of different groups that spoke different languages, two of these being the Aymara and the Quechua. Today you can still see small groups of the Aymara’s living on the lake. The have built fabulous reed islands and have an interesting culture. The Quechuan speakers, however, went off and became and entity unto themselves. They became what we know now as the Incas. Majority of the building structures and styles of the Incas demonstrate a knowledge developed from the time of the Tiwanaku as can been observed by looking at the structures from both periods.

The glorious ruins of Tiwanaku

The Spanish screwed up a few words in this hood too

That famous place that they sing about where music and passion are always in fashion…. yeah that is right, the Copacabana…. that is a word that derives from Aymara. But of course the Spanish can’t pronounce ‘kota kahuana’ and butchered it like everything else.

Other fun word meanings

Lake Titicaca. Titi in Quechua means puma, and caca translates to rock. So Lake Titicaca is essentially a puma rock. Which is somewhat odd. How they ever knew what the shape of a lake that size was in astounding. The lake itself is shaped like a puma, so it makes it somewhat believable. The jury still isn’t on this one though, as there are many different ideas of where the name came from including more Spanish butchering of indigenous words. The truth? Nobody really knows what it used to be called before. There aren’t enough artefacts to tell us.

Dinosaurs

After a very long journey, through a very long valley all the way from Cochabamba to Torotoro to learn about dinosaurs, I learned a great deal about how they train tour guides…. in fact I am pretty sure that they don’t.

“So um, how were they preserved?” I ask.

“Well the dinosaurs just walked here and then over time the mud dried and it got hard.” Ummmm….. and then?

It is fair to say that we had a rather beautiful, humorous and not so informative journey through here. Who am I kidding? I didn’t learn shit about dinosaurs! (Chuckles internally at the thought of making tour guide consistently awkward by asking too many scientific questions in Spanish that he didn’t seem to know the answers to.)

Dinosaur footprints. Big dinosaur (from deduction). Don’t ask me how they got there and stayed there. Who knows? Lol.

Bolivia! Incredible country. Some of the most incredible nature that I have come across and somewhere that I would definitely return to and explore some more if I ever have the time and money!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Shit I Learned In The Potosí Mines

I was picked up this morning by a very funny local man by the name of Antonio Banderas. He tells me that there is the famous Antonio Banderas of Spain who sings (?? I thought he was an actor) and then there is famous Antonio Banderas of Potosí who dances (him).

We first went to his office where we were equipped with sexy red pants and jackets, helmets and torches, ready for a bit of industrial spelunking. On the way of course, we had to stop and acquire some supplies. Such supplies consist of coca leaves, a 96% bottle of booze, and snacks to give as presents to the miners. Why you ask does a person need a 96% bottle of alcohol in a mine, well, we will get to that later.

Antonio Banderas and his dick dynamite

So a bit of background history. Locals lived here for thousands of years happily. The Spanish rock up with their guns and evil trickery and take over pretty much the entire continent. Upon the discovery of a boat load of silver ore underground, some of which being up to (oddly) 96% pure, they decided to base their entire South American economic operations out of Potosí. Problem though. Who is actually going to work in these unsafe mines in shocking conditions for the profitability of the Spanish? Certainly not the Spanish.

According to Señor Banderas, up to eight million local Quechua died working in these mines from either accidents or lung failure from the silica dust. They were forced to work there as slaves. My fact checker journalist friend finds a mere hundred thousand in comparison on the internet but no doubt these numbers have been fudged a bit along the way by both parties. As it stands today, there are 7,500 people still working across 40 different cooperative mines in the area and there are on average approximately three deaths per month. One of the last they had to haul out in pieces after he exploded himself with dynamite.

A derailed cart for transporting silver through the mines

In an attempt to protect themselves from the evils of the mines, there are several rituals which miners undertake to ask Pachamama and their devil friend they call Tio, for sparing. At first we throw coca leaves and some alcohol on the ground at the mine entrance to ask Pachamama for her blessings and then we enter.

Back in the days of the Spanish, when the Quechua would refuse to enter the mines, the Spanish lied to them and told them that unless they went and pulled as much silver out of the ground as possible that they would seriously piss of the God of the underworld, also known as Satan, and that he would rain fucking hell down like you’ve never seen. All lies of course, but what this started was super interesting.

Scattered throughout the mine are devil statues of varying sizes that they call Tio. Tio means uncle in Spanish, but it is more likely the case that they were trying to call him ‘Dios’ without the capacity to be able to pronounce the letter ‘d’, thus ‘tios’. Each Tio has his hands on his knees in sitting position with an optimistically giant erection sticking out from between his legs. The ritual proceeds that one gives coca leaves and alcohol to each hand, to protect the hands, to each feet, to protect the feet and lots for the penis for “lots and lots of sex sex sex!” Antonio Banderas tells me. Of course he is joking, the significance of the giant schlong is fertility and they make the biggest offering to it in hope that the mine will be rich with ore and give back ample dinero. Antonio then also sparks up a doobie, has a few puffs and inserts this cigarette into Tio’s mouth so he gets the trifector of all vices of miners. Most of the Tios have black noses for this and black lips. This is still something that is performed in devout manner to ask for protection and safety every single day in disregard to occupational health and safety measures. Despite losing both his father and grandfather to lung disease from working in the mines, Antonio still didn’t wear a mask.

One of the many ‘Tios’ scattered throughout the mines

What he did do however was sing the Indiana Jones theme song quite consistently and recommend that we use hands to crawl like ‘Spider-Mans, Spider-Womens and Spider-Pigs’. I can say that I not so graciously attempted to follow this advice as I squeezed my way through some of the small cracks where we observed the miners working in their actual conditions with hammers to break up stone, shovelling rocks into carts and pushing them along the tracks. These days the ore is lucky to contain ten percent and as such, not a lot of money is to be made from such a gruelling process.

They are however a proud people. Proud of their jobs and proud of their history. I can tell you this right now, I don’t think you could pay me enough money in the world to make the daily sacrifices that these men make, with their lives and their long term health, just to sustain their families. But then I was fortunate enough to be born with such a choice. Many of them don’t and come from generations of miners like Antonio Banderas. He did something smart though. He learned to speak English and started doing tours of the mines.

One of the tunnels used for transporting silver in the mines.

“Six years”, he will proudly tell you he has been speaking English. “Fuck is the first English word I learned”, he chuckles as he adds in “fucking tourists, jejeje”. He is one of the most friendly and jovial men you will meet, and very, very funny. But his face takes a hard worn look to it as he discusses his friends that died in the five years he was working in the mines as a miner. A reality that every single man in the mine faces.

It’s all fun and games crawling around a mine as a tourist, in all your gear, with your helmet, but at the end of the day, that’s what we are. Tourists in the unfortunate lives of others. These men work in appalling conditions that will either lead them to rapid accidental death or the eventual death by age forty from the constant inhalation of silica dust. It is hard, dirty, and completely unregulated in what we would consider a western standard. Nobody here survives in the end. They just accept that it’s their card and get about it until they die, with the exception of the odd ones like Antonio and a few others who defy this and find work elsewhere. It certainly gave me an appreciation for the options I have for work in my life. At least I don’t have to die to provide for my family for the short working span of life I would have working here.

 

Shit I Learned About Bolivian Ladies

The Bolivian ladies are a special breed. They don’t take any shit, I can tell you that right now. In comparison to their other South American counterparts, these women have got it going on. Just be prepared for them to kick your arse good and proper if you piss them off though. So here’s the four-one-one.

  • A ‘Chola’ means a lady that uses traditional clothes. However, over time, and through inappropriate use by the Spanish, this word took on a derogatory tone. The women, however, adopted the name ‘Cholita’ which translates to ‘cute, little women dressed in traditional clothes. Have no fear though. These women are indeed not as timid as the ‘ita’ would have you believe. In fact, some of these women are involved in a local Bolivian pastime; Cholita Wrestling. I was fortunate enough to go and watch one of these shows and the women here are brutes, yelling and screaming at the crowd, threatening audience members, one even threw her opponent on the laps of two of my friends. Somewhat hilarious, but very much staged and a funny thing to see.
Cholitas preparing for battle, ie. talking shit.
  • From the word Chola, mixed with the Swiss word, chalet, you find yourself with ‘Cholet’, a very expensive and posh house that you mostly find up in the area of El Alto, in the higher and richer area of the city. These houses are all developed with extravagance to demonstrate wealth and every house has to be designed differently. Some are used for actual houses, some are used to house Cholita wrestling, and others are used as function rooms. They are however, impressive.
A couple of cholets.
  • The women in the markets, with their Chola-heritage, also don’t take shit. If you take a picture of one without asking, expect rotten fruit to be piffed at your head and god-forbid you actually touch the fruit. You will get the mother of all slaps. You see, they choose the fruit that they want to give you, you don’t get to choose the ones you want. The best way of not getting slapped is to repeatedly go back to the same lady for the same product day after day. She will then get to know you and reward you for your loyalty by giving you the best fruit. You can also ask for an ‘yapa’ (I think this is the spelling, I am not sure) and they will give you a little extra. However you should never, ever ask for a discount as this is considered rude and devaluing their product. If you manage to score a regular lady, she becomes your ‘casara’, which comes from the word ‘casar’, which means ‘to marry’. Go see someone else next week and she catches you, you’re as good as divorced and are going to have to find somewhere else to get your juicy goods.
  • Women’s calves are considered attractive here (Bingo! I’m in!) As such it is not uncommon to see the single ladies let a bit of ankle slip out of the bottom of their skirt to show just how strong those lovely legs are. The married ladies, cover those babies up because hubby wouldn’t be impressed with the exhibition of his lovely calves.
  • The hats that the women in Bolivia wear were originally designed in Europe and bought over by the Spanish. The women originally wouldn’t wear them and then the Europeans thought up a fabulous idea and decided to lie to them about the hats special ability to increase fertility. Next thing you know, hats are everywhere. They are worn straight on by married women and tilted to the side for single ladies so that the men know who the eligible ladies are. They don’t secure these hats to their heads either. They maintain the hat’s position through posture and head tilting.

Of course, each lovely Cholita is somewhat different and for the most part, lovely if you don’t piss them off. I, in fact, like these women. They are definitely more spirited than those that sit around placidly waiting for a man to come along and do everything for them and tell them what to do. They got sass. And you have to respect that.