Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lake Titicaca to La Paz, Bolivia

I have so much to write about. Man alive. Here we go...

Lake Titicaca Homestay
There are many tribes of indigenous people living on the islands of Lake Titicaca, and we decided to do a boat tour to visit them and stay with a family for a night. The first group we visited, called the Uros, actually live on man-made islands of grass. We started getting nervous, what is this homestay going to be like? We would be staying on the second island, called Amantani. Arriving on the island, each couple of tourists was sent home with a family. We would eat dinner together, then meet up for a party later. Our host father, dressed in traditional black vest and hat, showed us to our room of clay, and pointed us to the pit toilet out back. Then disappeared. An hour later, he appeared with two plates of red and orange colored potatoes (dinner) and disappeared again. By this time it was getting dark, and the island had no electricity. We lit a candle and waited for our next contact with the outside world. This time a woman in traditional costume with gold plated teeth (apparently our host mother) came in and gave Cesar a big woolly brown poncho to wear. Then she started wrapping a skirt and belt around me and put a black cloth over my head. She was dressing us in their native clothes for the party! The party was fun, all the tourists looking silly in their costumes dancing to Andean flute music with the locals. We returned to the room, and tried to sleep in the pitch black night. There was not a sound besides a rustle here or there, I think it was the quietest, darkest sleep I've ever had! The next morning we awoke and discovered our room was next to a herd of sheep. All in all, it was a pretty cool experience.

La Paz, Bolivia
I arrived in La Paz with my mouth open. For one, the view of the metropolis crammed into a steep mountain valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains put me in awe. Secondly, the new altitude had me gasping for air. We found a hotel room next to the "witches market" selling good luck amulets and all sorts of dried animal foetuses. What a crazy city, I've never seen anything like it. There are people EVERYWHERE, you literally cannot walk down the sidewalk. There are all sorts of rickety cars and buses and taxis all competing for a chance to WHAM!BAM! you if you happen to get bumped off the sidewalk. Every street goes either up or downhill, constantly exhausting your lung capacity with every few steps. (Picture: llama foetuses in witches market)

The Coca Plant
Bolivia is famous for the cultivation of the coca plant. Indigenous people traditionally chew coca leaves to combat fatigue, put off hunger, and for altitude sickness. Coca tea (mate de coca) is as common at breakfast buffets as English tea in England. As you know, some crazy westerners took the plant into the lab and created a highly addictive drug, and now are demanding countries like Bolivia to stop production of the coca leaves because they don't know how else to stop addicts in their own countries from buying cocaine. The plant is being viewed as evil, as a great problem in our world. The funny thing is, the US with its war on drugs and its policies against cultivation of coca in Bolivia, is one of the biggest importers of the plant. Did you know that most of you consume the coca plant on a regular basis? You guessed it, friends, that's the magic ingredient still in Coca-Cola. You can personally decide if you think the plant is evil.

Eva Ayllon Concert Fiasco
I love Afro-Peruvian music, and arriving in La Paz we found out Eva Ayllon, one of the most famous Afro-Peruvian singers, was giving a concert on Sun.--YIPPEE!!! We asked around for tickets and found out the show started at 1pm. We arrived early to make sure we got tickets, and were informed the concert didn't start for another 2 hours, at 2pm. Ok, sure, so we bummed around town for a few hours, returned to the stadium and found some good seats. The stadium was already full of anxious spectators. And we waited.
At 3pm (an hour after the show was supposed to start) some roadies came on stage and started setting up. HUH?? At 3:30pm a man came on stage and announced that the concert would start in ten minutes, but in the meantime, who wants to come on stage and sing an Eva Ayllon song for a free bottle of Coca-cola?!
At about 4pm, 2 hours and 8 amateur singers later, the audience started to get impatient. Where's Eva? People started chanting, HORA! HORA! It's time! It's time! At 4:30, now two and a half hours later, the announcer informed us that Eva was feeling ill from the altitude, sorry for the delay, but she will be here any minute. Everyone knew it was a lie because she had played on Friday no problem. Bottles started getting thrown on stage. Chants evolved from TIME! to THIEVES! THIEVES! to KILL THE THIEVES!!!! The announcer asked some children from the audience to come on stage and pick up the bottles. When the kids finished, more bottles started flying with further chants of death to the promoters.
At 5pm, the announcer said Eva would be here in a matter of minutes, and the first opening act came on stage. What? Opening act?? It was then that we realized we'd waited 3 hours and now would have to sit through another 2 hours of treacherous Andean-flute rock music (sorry, but barf!) before Eva came on stage. I couldn't take it. We decided to go back to the hotel, get some dinner, and come back in a few hours for the main act.
We arrived at 8pm only to find people throwing bottles onto a newly emptied stage. Eva finally came on a half hour later. She apologized to the audience, explaining that the promoters hadn't paid them and the hotel was demanding payment---they couldn't do the concert at least until they knew they weren't getting screwed. What a crazy day!!! And what a fine example of life in Bolivia. Just so you know, Eva was excellent.

President of Bolivia Playing Soccer
I know you guys aren't all interested in soccer, but some bullies in FIFA, the international soccer association, are trying to eliminate soccer games at higher altitudes. Soccer-butt kicking countries like Brazil and Argentina always lose when coming to Bolivia or Ecuador because the athletes get breathless after 10 minutes of play in the thinner air. I can understand their plea (=gasp=), but with a yes vote, countries like Bolivia will not be able to hold international soccer games in their own country without building new stadiums in remote areas. The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, in protest to the initiative, set up a soccer game yesterday where he picked his team and personally played against other teams in the national stadium. He was number 10, forward position, one of the most important on the team. My friend Mercedes (my old roommate from Argentina) is a journalist and got us into the game---on the field---as Associated Press, he he. It was AWESOME! To avoid standing out, we were running after the team and the president on the field with cameras, and even sat behind the goal post for part of the game. That is, until we were discovered and kicked out by security. I never thought I'd see the president of Bolivia in person, much less stand within 10 meters of him as he kicked a soccer ball around! (Picture: Evo Morales, president of Bolivia on the soccer field---I took this picture!!)

The Highway of Death
Dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday in an e-mail. When I replied he said, "I will give you *** (censured), but under one condition---you have to promise me that you wont get on the Highway of Death in Bolivia." Er, uh, oops. Just that week I had heard about this fabulous mountain biking tour down the infamous Highway of Death. Yesterday was the big day. Six months ago they completed a new road because the highway was so dangerous, so it was just us mountain bikes and a few crazy idiot buses who wanted to save a little time and gas (the new road is longer). We stopped here and there as the guide described who died where and how. One bicyclist in our group actually went over and Ravioli helped him back up, luckily he only fell a few feet. Needless to say, he was pretty shaken up. The road wasn't so dangerous on bikes, but with a bus and two-way traffic on one-lane-wide roads with sheer cliffs and waterfalls raining onto you, I can see how it could have caused a lot of tragedy in the past. We had a great time, and thanks Dad for not taking back my birthday present!

Today's my 25th birthday, YIPPEE! (for those who know me well, add or subtract as necessary) I never thought I'd be in Bolivia on my birthday! And I can't believe last year this time I was in the car with Mom driving to Mandan from our trip to Winnipeg. And that we ate my faaaaavorite A&B Pizza with Sam and Jamie a year ago tonight (sniff sniff...drool).

All right, enough typing. For all of you who have read all this way, thank you! I miss you all!


Anonymous said...

Wow, no wonder Coca Cola is like no other drink! I see that you have been very busy. Feliz Cumpleanos Shannen...and only vente y cinco mas o menas!! (sp)


Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR SHANNEN..... HAPPY BIIIIRRTHDAY TO YOU! We've got A&B pizza, birthday cake with buttercreme frosting, and a Fiesta Villa margarita on hold for your next trip home!

Sam & Jamie

P.S. Thumper is also saving a super-big-tuna-birthday kiss for you.

Anonymous said...


Happy Birthday!! Such a memorable experience. It's so great to read that you are having the time of your life on this trip. This particular blog was really something else. That Witches Market pic caught me quite off-guard. How interesting, disturbing and totally bizarre!!

Look forward to our next online chat session. take care and keep forging on...

ja ne,

Shannen said...


That's right, only veinte y cinco anos! You remember a lot of espanol since high school! WOW! Were you shocked to hear they still use coca leaves? I've been drinking lots of coca tea, it's like any other tea where it has it's properties (caffeine, calming, or whatever).

*Sam & Jamie*

Thanks for the birthday wish! And say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jamie, too!! Has Thumper developed fish breath again already? I will hold you to that pizza and cake! (can't wait!) I will never forget!!


Thanks for the birthday greetings! The withches market is pretty creepy, huh? They burn the feotuses...they also had dried condors!
It's been awhile hasn't it! Time has been flying by! I look forward to chatting again soon!

Moe: said...

The Highway of Death! AWESOME! I recently read a site that described that road in detail and was wondering if you were silly, er, I mean brave, enough to do it. I think biking would be a bit less scary than being in one of those buses, but still crazy scary none the less.

Yes...HAPPY BIRTHDAY! One of the many things I love about you cousin is that you will always be older than me. ;-D

Shannen said...


Thanks for the birthday wish! That means you are 23, yep, that's right, play along with me here...

The Highway of Death was pretty cool, but we thought it would be a little scarier, he he. I would NEVER do it in a bus, ever ever.

Jane said...

Hi Shannen,
I'm in awe of you!!! I loved reading all about your adventures. I never heard of the Salt Lake; how interesting a hotel made of salt!!!
Happy belated Birthday and I'm looking forward to hearing about your next funny, interesting, & fantastic adventures!!!
Take care,

Shannen said...

*Hi Jane!*

Great to hear from you, and YIPPEEEE thanks for checking out the blog!