After an arduous two-day trek by bus from Cusco, Peru, across the Altiplano and over Lake Titicaca by ferry, I'm now sitting in La Paz, Bolivia, which is truly a spectacular city. It's located in a valley at 13,000 feet, and looming above is the majestic peak of Mount Illimani. The city is more than a million people, and the houses crawl up the slopes of the valley. The streets in the city center are teeming with people, many of them in full-blown indigenous attire. You know, the stuff of National Geographic specials. I'll be posting some pics from here after I wander around a bit.
Today, I'll be going to the Coca Museum to talk to Jorge Hurtado, its curator and a leading defender of the coca leaf. Should be interesting. While I'm in the neighborhood, I'll also visit the witch's market, where you can buy all kinds of strange things, includingâI kid you notâdried llama fetuses, which people put in their houses to ward off evil spirits. Guys, how about one of those for the office? [Editor's note: NO - DB]
I've been working the phone and email all day today trying to arrange interviews and visits with cocaleros, Bolivian officials, activists, analysts, and the US Embassy. It is a frustrating process; Bolivian government officials seem to rarely be in their offices, and the US Embassy, as usual, is not being especially helpful. Since I'm not an "official" journalist, merely a member of the "new media," the press office doesn't really want to talk to me, but I continue to hope I can wrangle at least an off-the-record sit down with the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS).
I have firmed up a visit to the Chapare, the main non-traditional coca growing region, where Evo Morales has managed to bring peace through his cooperative eradication program, which allows each family to grow small plots of coca without regard to the official limit of 30,000 acres, all of which is assigned to the Yungas, the traditional coca growing region. I will fly into Cochabamba Monday morning (a half-hour flight versus an all-day bus ride), and meet with the good people of the Andean Information Network before heading out with them by jeep and then motorcycle to the coca zones. I will fly back to La Paz Tuesday morning.
Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope to spend one day going down into Las Yungas (down "the world's most dangerous highway," although I suspect it can't be much worse than that road I took from Ayacucho to the VRAE) and the other day in meetings. I have to start heading back to Gringolandia on Thursday, arriving in Houston at 6am, and back home in snowy South Dakota by mid-afternoon.
Coca is prevalent in La Paz. In addition to numerous street vendors sitting with their bags full of leaves, mate de coca is offered almost everywhere. A couple of nights ago, I went to a downtown bar and had a Mojito Boliviano, a mojito made with coca leaves instead of spearmint. Que rico!
Traveler's Tip #1: Don't drink much alcohol at high altitudes. One mojito will do.
Traveler's Tip #2: Get small bills. Making change is a real problem. A 100 Boliviano bill (worth about $15 US) is difficult to change in the city and almost impossible to change anywhere outside the city. Wow, talk about under-capitalized. This is a real problem, since ATMs and money exchanges always give you big bills.
Some more pictures:
ferry ride across Lake Titicaca
buses riding the ferry (including Phil's)
accident near the lake
view of lake from ferry, overlooking lake
City of Puno, Peru
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