Peter’s Picture Show: Paragliding in Cochabamba

Here’s a visual of my awesome paragliding adventure with the great guys at in Bolivia. It was a thrilling tandem ride from over 10,000 feet above sea level in the Tunari Range of the eastern Andes and landing in the Cochabamba valley below.

I can’t recommend this highly enough, I will definitely do this again!

Peter’s Picture Show: A Bus Ride Through Bolivia

Here’s a 3.5 minute video of our eight-hour journey through the Bolivian mountains from La Paz to Cochabamba.  We saw all sorts of inclement weather, beautiful terrain and unfortunate accidents during the trip.  Thankfully we arrived unscathed.

Lake Titicaca: At the Copa… Copacabana!

Scenes from scenic, sacred Lago Titicaca

After a chokingly long week in congested La Paz, Paul arrived and at our first chance we were off in search of cleaner air, a less-harried town, and some water in land-locked Bolivia.  I had finished my first week with Kiva, happily making friends at the Emprender loan offices and completing a couple borrower visits. It was time to celebrate my recent success with Paul!

So off we went to Copacabana on the shores of the magisterial Lago Titicaca.  Standing at 3,812 m (12,507 ft), the lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world.  The Copacabana region, or kota kawana in Aymara (which means “view of the lake”), was considered by both the Tiwanaku and Incan empires strategically, economically and spiritually important.  Consequently Copacabana was settled long before the Spanish arrived.

Today it is a quaint town of 6,000 residents and a tourist hub for both backpackers and Andinos alike.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, a hallowed shrine dating back to the 16th century, is home to the patron saint of Bolivia.  This so-called “Dark Virgin” purportedly has magical healing powers.  Her reputation is so great that pilgrims flock to the cathedral all year long.  Revered far and wide, the Virgin even inspired the naming of a now-famous beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Paul and I instantly bonded with Copacabana.  Laid-back, friendly and geographically and culturally interesting, we both relaxed within minutes of getting off the bus from La Paz.  On the ride there, I couldn’t remember if I passed through this town back in 1999 when I made my first Andean circuit with my brother Erik.  At the time, I recall, I was quite ill from the flu and my recollection was fuzzy at best.  But as soon as I saw the distinctive Basilica, fashioned in the mudéjar style of Islamic Spain, I instantly remembered being here.

One tidbit I do remember from my first visit was changing $100 USD at a local bank since Copacabana was my first stop in Bolivia, having just arrived from Peru.  There were no ATM’s in the town then and the bank teller patiently counted out a pile of small-denomination Boliviano notes.  I made my way back to my hotel with a stack of bills as thick as a brick, what a feeling!

The first afternoon Paul and I just wandered idly around town, poking about the markets, climbing the Cerro Calvario which has great views of the town and the lake.  We enjoyed a cold beer as the sun sank on the western shores of Lake Titicaca and delivered an almighty sunset.  The vote was unanimous — Lake Titicaca was a perfect place to be for a few days.

Continue reading “Lake Titicaca: At the Copa… Copacabana!”

Toilet Toil: Building a Bathroom on the Outskirts of La Paz

Adobe Construction in Bolivia

I just happened to notice an interesting leaflet on a telephone pole…

Soon after my arrival in La Paz I chanced upon a notice posted on a telephone pole on tourist-central Calle Sagárnaga advertising a weekend hands-on course in eco-friendly construction techniques.  The course was offered by Arquitectos Sin Fronteras (Architects Without Borders) in Navarra, Spain.  They are sponsoring a 6-month program in rural Achocalla (about an hour outside of La Paz) to build sustainable superadobe homes for villagers.

Busy Calle Sagárnaga in La Paz where I learned about the weekend adobe retreat
Busy Calle Sagárnaga in La Paz where I learned about the weekend adobe retreat

I contacted the project leader, Yoanna from Spain, who warmly welcomed me and gave me all the details.  So early Saturday morning, I hopped on a trufi to Zona Sur where I met the other course members in Plaza Humboldt.

There were 13 of us for the first day, mostly Spaniards and a few Bolivians.  Many of the Spaniards were travelers passing through who heard about the project through friends, but a good number of them either live here — doing research, working for the Spanish foreign office, or studying or teaching.

With an unemployment rate of nearly 50% in Spain for the under-30 crowd, all of the younger Spaniards I met were happy to be living or traveling in South America for the time being.  Infinitely better than being at home right now where the economic situation is dire.

Rural Achocalla with magnificent views of the majestic Cordillera Real
Rural Achocalla with magnificent views of the majestic Cordillera Real

We car-pooled to the construction site in Alto Cañuma near Achocalla in the hills outside of La Paz, stunningly situated with beautiful views of the Andean Cordillera Real mountains and the white-capped Mount Illumani off in the distance.  I was exhilarated to spend the weekend in such an awesome setting.

Fundación EFEL and Suma Qamaña
Fundación EFEL and Suma Qamaña

Continue reading “Toilet Toil: Building a Bathroom on the Outskirts of La Paz”

Week One: Living the High Life in La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

My first week in La Paz has left me breathless.  Quite literally.  At nearly 12,000 feet (3600 m), La Paz is the highest capital in the world. The lower-altitude Sucre remains the official capital, but La Paz is the de facto power center in the country housing both the executive and legislative branches of government.

The magnificence of the setting is striking: the towering Andean peaks of the Cordillera Real to the east, crowned by Mount Illimani which soars to over 22,000 feet (6465 m).   The dense city center flows downwards through the canon along the mostly covered Choqueyapu River.

The wealth of the residents increases as altitude decreases, from the ever-expanding shantytowns of El Alto on the high altiplano rim and down through the dangling Aymara neighborhoods perched precariously on the steep slopes.

Below is El Centro a.k.a. la hoyada (the hole), the crowded heart of the city and home to the government buildings and the scant colonial architecture that remains after decades of rapid change resulting from mass migration from rural areas.

The city sinks further to the upscale neighborhoods of Miraflores and Sopocachi, home to expensive apartments and a wealth of chic bars and restaurants.

Finally, La Paz comes to rest in the newly-minted Zona Sur neighborhood where most of the expats, diplomats and rich paceños live in gated communities.

Standing in the bowl of La Paz at the city center at sunset, millions of lights from the buildings and homes sprawl in every direction.  At night the city glimmers and shines with all the energy of a modern metropolis.

This is my new home for the moment and in my first week I started to settle into the rhythms of my new world.

Below are ten morsels of my first week in La Paz.

Continue reading “Week One: Living the High Life in La Paz, Bolivia”