Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The people you meet in La Paz

In the Plaza Murillo, which faces the Presidential Palace and the home of the Bolivian congress, you see a mix of people in modern and traditional dress.

A military band performs on a Sunday morning on the Prado, the main drag in La Paz. They performed a medley of Strauss waltzes punctuated with a lot of heavy pounding on the bass drum.

This lovely woman was standing outside my hotel yesterday. An hour later, as I was working at a computer in the hotel lobby, she sat down at the computer next to me. During a cell phone call she identified herself as Carla Ortiz. She is famous as the actress in the most expensive Bolivian movie ever made, The Andes Don´t Believe in God. Its budget was $500,000. She was great in it, and I told her so. She was very gracious and friendly. She´s a native of Cochabamba here, but she lives in the U.S., where she appears in TV shows like CSI Miami. This photo is from La Razon newspaper.

Theese men in traditional dress were walking on the Prado yesterday. You more often see women in traditional dress. I followed them for a block or two trying to discretely photograph them. They all hopped onto a big tourist bus.

In La Paz you have much more sense of the indigenous culture of the country. There is a museum of traditional clothing here as well as the Museum of Coca, which chronicles the history of coca in patent medicines (legalized opiates common in drugstores in the last century), toothpaste and modern anesthestics. The coca leaf is considered sacred.

On the street of the witches, ironically right behind the main cathedral, locals come to buy the stuff needed to cast spells on enemies, bring good fortune and guarantee fertility. A typical store is below. Mummified llama fetuses are in abundance in many stores (not this one). Not sure what they’re used for.

Up until 1975, most people in Bolivia did not speak Spanish. The education system missed them. Two-thirds of Bolivians consider themselves to be members of an indigenous group, with 30 percent identifying themselves as Aymara (the group of President Evo Morales) and 27 percent Quechua. About six in 10 Bolivians speak an indigenous language, depending on which source you refer to. Last fall El Nuevo Dia published a language map of the country that showed some 36 languages spoken, but most of these are very small groups and their languages are in danger of dying out.

Mount Illimani looms over downtown La Paz. How high is Bolivia? The western third averages about 15,000 feet. A wall three miles high separates the plains in the east from the capital. Although it’s only 335 miles from La Paz to Santa Cruz in the eastern lowlands, according to my World Book Atlas, a bus ride takes around 20 to 24 hours because of the twisting mountain roads. You´ve probably seen the pictures. I decided not to do it.

Flying is scary enough. La Paz is at about 12,000 feet, and its airport is higher than almost all of the Rocky Mountain peaks. The air is so thin that the takeoff run needed for a Boeing 737 to get airborne is about 30 percent longer than normal, which seems like an eternity when you’re in a passenger seat. The runway is almost twice as long as that of Reagan National.

Bolivia covers 1 million square kilometers, more than 8 times the size of Pennsylvania and 45 times the size of Maryland. Lake Erie has three times the surface area of Lake Titicaca, although the latter is much deeper.

Business note: There are 250 publicly traded U.S. companies that have higher revenues than the gross domestic product of Bolivia, which is $9 billion.


  1. Jeff Cabot9:19 PM

    A wall three miles high must be very impressive!

  2. Rick Hoehn10:16 PM

    awesome development pattern as a result...way cool..folks around here would say it can't be done...