La Paz Bolivia
Camino de la Muerte
Santa Cruz Bolivia
Back Home in California
Greetings from Tiwanaku,
As I put the finishing touches on this Tiwanaku epistle I am loafing in a truly luxurious hotel with professional housekeeping, lavish buffet breakfasts, fast Internet service... and a bargain $50 room rate. The Hotel Presidente is the best of the affordable five star hotels I've sampled in this city. However, after a couple days of being pampered I looked into what else the region around La Paz might have to offer, memories missed on previous visits.
Tiwanaku is frequently mentioned as an important pre-Incan archaeological site; a must see attraction for any visitor to Bolivia. So I booked a one day tour. The agency didn't warn me the tour company uses a kindergarten school bus to ferry clients to the site. The seats were so narrow even a couple skinny farm girls from Kansas crammed into the seat in front of me spilled over into the isle! Fortunately, the empty seat next to me provided essential expansion room. During the uncomfortable hour and a half ride to the ruins we passed through El-Alto La Paz where our guide noted indigenous Aymara people from the rural areas of the country have been flooding into the city suburb so rapidly it has made El-Alto the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country.
At one point on a small grassy clearing along the road a group of five donkeys were practicing their tripod stance. The Aymara people believe drinking fresh donkey milk is a cure for the common cold, among other ailments and pay up to a dollar for a small glass of the warm healing liquid freshly extracted on the spot. It must be good stuff because that is a lot of money for people who might earn only a few dollars a day!
Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage site is located about forty miles to the west of La Paz. It is the first archaeological site I have ever visited where tourists can watch actual excavation work in progress. One or two hundred laborers carefully removed earth at a dozen locations around the park under watchful eyes of professional archaeologists. The history of the ruins reveals more mysteries than facts about the place. It is estimated that only about ten percent of the ruins have been uncovered so far. The process is slow, thin layer of soil by thin layer scraped from the surface to protect any ancient artifact that might lay hidden in the dirt.
Tiwanaku is an important pre-Columbian site, but in its present state of restoration is underwhelming compared to the many other ancient ruins I have seen around the world, including several here in Latin America (Copan Ruinas, Machu Picchu, Lamanai). Originally located on the banks of Lake Titicaca, there is evidence of human activity as early as 12,000BC according to some scholars. The city of Tiwanaku served as a major population center from 500AD to 950AD after which the original inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. The site is now several miles from the current shores of the lake.
I took a lot of photos while inspecting the ruins, but my most interesting shots were taken inside the museum where photography is prohibited. The two photos I managed to get before the highly irritated museum guard told me in menacing English to stop, show a display case full of human skulls. Most are clearly deformed, the consequence of intentional cranial shaping during infancy.
Back in La Paz while wandering the city in search of a dentist, I noticed that just about every other office seemed to be occupied by lawyers. Based on my unscientific survey it is clear there are many more Abagados (lawyers) than all of the various kinds of medical professionals put together. Of course, this is the capital city (even though revolutionary proponents want it moved to Sucre), comparable to Washington D.C. No doubt a survey of professionals in the U.S. capital would find similar disparities.
One cannot wander the streets of La Paz
without being surrounded by hoards of
people in their distinctive attire. They are
everywhere downtown and they are especially
politically active since the presidential election of
Evo Morales in December 2005. I have
seen them marching and demonstrating nearly
everyday in La Paz. The revolution is far
from settled in this tumultuous country.
Every parade and mass gathering full of
Bowler Hats and bulging skirts features
extraordinarily loud fireworks... at least I presume
the explosions are fireworks! In this
country of perennial revolutions one never
Fred L Bellomy
PS: Apparently the enthusiasm with which I described my adventures on the salt flats of Uyuni last time touched several generally silent readers. Most of my literary efforts produce a complimentary comment or two from especially devoted friends who are inclined to see some good in almost anything I do; something that motivates me to continue sharing my work, by the way. However, the flurry of exuberant responses this time came as a surprise:
"I found this postcard to be your best so far. Your writing and the funny way you speak of your experiences had me laughing several times."
"Your Postcard from Uyuni was the best yet!"
"You hit a home run with that one. The Salt Palace must have been inspirational."
"We continue to read your postcards with interest, especially the part about the salt hotel."
"That sounds great!"
"Wow! Fred, that is fantastic."
"I loved the Salt Palace. Absolutely fascinating."
Now if I could only figure out what I did especially right this time I could start planning that Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech. Of course that would mean polishing the piece considerably, not a particularly appealing prospect... at least not until the wanderlust abandons my spirit... or until I have finally seen every amazing thing on this earth... or my brain rebels and demands a rest. FB
PPS: I always search the Internet for supporting materials when putting the final touches on these postcards. Two particularly interesting reference sites popped up this time: Latin America's New Leftists, National & World Religion Statistics. Worth a look. FB
PPPS: Nicholas Negroponte had a dream: one laptop for every child on the planet. The "$100" gadget is ready, but African governments have been slow to make commitments for the millions of units needed to affect economy of scale. So, he is looking for donations of a sort. For two weeks (that ended 26 November 2007) he is offering two units for $400: one to be donated to a child in a developing nation and one for donors to use anyway they wish. There are so many technological innovations incorporated into this little green box I hope to get one just to see how well Linux works on it ... and for the free included one year subscription to T-Mobile HotSpot access. As charitable contributions go, this one offers donors a lot more than a $200 tax deduction. FB
Tiwanaku Bolivia: Indigenous people distinguishable by their dress can be seen doing most of the archaeological work at the site.