Sunday, September 22, 2013

Independence Day of La Pz

When we hit the main square of the city we were blown away by countless parades, excited crowds, decorations and flags everywhere!  I Still can't believe how lucky we were to hit this city right in the middle of their independence celebrations!  The Independence Day, also known as Dia de la Patria, is a national holiday in Bolivia.  Celebrations are held throughout the country including the administrative capital, La Paz and usually continue for three days July 14, 15 & 16. Patriotic marches, military parades, gun salutes, street dances and carnivals, and cultural events reflecting the rich heritage of the country are some common independence celebrations in Bolivia.

The national flag of Bolivia was adopted on October 31, 1851. It consists of three horizontal stripes of equal size. The top band is red, the middle is yellow, and the bottom band is green. The green color symbolizes the lush fertility of the land, yellow epitomizes the natural resources of the country, and red represents the courage of the Bolivian soldiers who fought for the independence and for the preservation of the country.  

The other flag that is seen everywhere is known as the Whiphala.  The Whiphala (Quechua pronunciation: [wɪˈpʰɐlɐ]) is a square emblem, commonly used as a flag, representing the native peoples of all the Andes that include today's Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and parts of Argentina, Chile and Colombia. It exists in several modern varieties, which represent the Inca Empire (Tawantin Suyu) and each of its former four regions (suyus).

After watching parade after parade, it was time to move on to see more interesting areas of the city.  We were taken to see the Witch Markets which were equally fascinating and creepy. Dozens of vendors line the streets to sell a number of strange and fascinating products and the raw ingredients used in rituals to call on the spirits that populate the Aymara world.  

Among the many items sold at the market are dried llama fetuses that are said to bring both prosperity and good luck, dried frogs used for Aymara rituals, soapstone figurines, aphrodisiac formulas, owl feathers, dried turtles and snakes, herbs, and folk remedies. Witch doctors in dark hats and dresses wander through the market offering fortune-telling services to locals and other visitors. 

 The dried llama fetuses are the most prominent product available at the market. These animals are fairly large and shocking to foreign visitors. They're used throughout the country, buried in the foundations of new buildings as an offering to the goddess Pachamama. It is believed that the buried llama fetuses keep construction workers safe.  We were told that they didn't kill the baby llamas, that they were from miscarriages or other natural deaths, I really want to believe that is true....

That night was the night of our farewell dinner, we were all headed back to our homes all over the world.  We began the night with appetizers, cocktails and a private tour of one of the famous museums located in the city.

When we arrived at our location we were met by a herd of zebras!  That's right, a whole herd of zebras were there to make sure we crossed the street safely.  They would dart in between traffic, stopping cars and creating a safe pathway for all of us to cross the street.  They are known as the "traffic zebras" and are a part of the Mama Zebra Program which is paid for by the authorities in the country's capital, most of the zebras are young people who use the money they make in this job to fund their education.  Click HERE for a little news story and a video about these famous zebras.

The museum was housed in an old mission and was absolutely breathtaking.  Pictures were only allowed in the atrium, which they had lined with candles, lanterns and special lights.  It was a beautiful setting for our farewell cocktails.

When we returned to our hotel, we said our goodbyes, gave hugs, exchanged emails to keep in touch and got ready for a big travel day.  Our travel day began at 3 am, we headed to the airport, experienced a 2 hour delay because of weather, missed all our other flights, were able to make it to dallas after almost missing our flight in Miami because of a forgotten item at security, finally made it to dallas, got a hotel, stayed the night, then flew home the next morning.  It was quite the adventure, but I got a rad looking stamp in my passport from Bolivia, so that was a highlight.

This trip was amazing.  It was unlike anything I have ever experienced in any of my previous travels.  I love Peru, the people, the culture, the food, the traditions, the scenery everything.  I could have stayed there for another few months and would have been perfectly content.  I am very grateful to of had this opportunity to see this part of the world and I hope to see more of the amazing continent of South America some day.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Valle de la Luna

Our first stop in Boliva was the Valley of the Moon.  It is composed of an area where erosion has worn away the majority of a mountain. Due to being composed of clay rather than rock, over the centuries the elements have created a somewhat odd work of art here, like a desert filled with stalagmites. It is similar to another zone of La Paz that is known as el Valle de las Animas (the Valley of the Souls). It is an important site of the famous holiday, Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
The mountains surrounding La Paz are composed of clay.  It is interesting to note that the mineral content of the mountains varies greatly between individual mountains. As a result, the sides of the mountains are different colors, creating very striking optical illusions. A majority of them are a clear beige or light brown color. There are also areas that are almost red, with sections of dark violet.

It was so interesting to explore this place.  It really felt like we were walking around on the moon, the formations were so unique.

After our visit to Valle de la Luna we headed back to downtown La Paz for a walking tour of the city.  Our first stop was at one of the original streets of the city, to give us an idea of what La Paz would have looked like during the times of the Spanish conquistadors.  The whole town was decorated in it's national colors, red and green, in celebration of it's independence day! There were decorations everywhere, lights, streamers, balloons, flags, how lucky that we happened to be in La Paz the weekend of it's independence celebrations!

And here is a picture of my lovely hotel room and the view out my window!