With our three months in Bolivia almost over, we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the country’s most populous city. The Department of Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s biggest state, occupying almost the entire eastern half of the country. Consider: even though Bolivia is one of South America’s “small” countries, the department of Santa Cruz is bigger than Germany! The idea that three months would be enough time to comprehensively explore Bolivia was probably a little naive.
Though we didn’t enjoy our time in the city of Copacabana, there were plenty of interesting things to see in the immediate area. This was a place of extreme importance for the Inca Empire and pre-Inca tribes, and a number of centuries-old ruins still exist today.
Cochabamba is perhaps most well-known around the world for its water protests of 2000, which shut down the city for days. The “Water Wars” pitted farmers and the working poor against a government-backed multinational consortium, who had taken control of the city’s water supply. Cochabamba’s struggle was unusually successful, and has become an inspiration for those who rail against against corporate greed and injustice.
Masks are an essential part of Bolivian celebrations, allowing dancers to adopt the personalities which populate the country’s myths and legends. Demons, dragons and angels join representations of real-world creatures like bears and beavers.
La Paz has a number of intriguing museums, including one dedicated to the unfairly maligned coca leaf, and another which takes a look at the War of the Pacific, when Bolivia lost its ocean access to Chile. Though we’re normally big on museums, we were constantly distracted by the bustling street markets, and never made it to most of La Paz’s. But we dared not skip out on the Museo de Etnografía y Folklore, near Plaza Murillo.
We’ve already written about the our visit to Tiwanaku for the Aymara New Year celebration. But we had so many pictures, we’ve had to split them up into two posts. Here’s our second set of images from this amazing festival… including the sunrise, and the events which followed. Keep your eye out for Evo Morales: this is the second time we’ve been able to see Bolivia’s president!
The pre-Incan ruins of Tiwanaku, just 35 miles west of La Paz, host Bolivia’s biggest celebrations in honor of the Aymara New Year. With a belief system rooted heavily in the natural world, the Aymara recognize the winter solstice (June 21st) as the true beginning of the year. We woke up early in the morning to take part in the fun.
Most people don’t realize that Sucre is technically the capital of Bolivia. La Paz has become the country’s largest and most important city, but according to the Bolivian constitution, Sucre is still the official capital. And the Casa de la Libertad is the country’s most historically significant building.
Don Francisco Argandoña and his wife Clotilde Urioste Velasco were among the most important members of late 19th Century Bolivian society. He had made a fortune in the mining industry, and owned a private bank. She was the daughter of a wealthy Spanish family, and dedicated her life to helping orphans. On a diplomatic tour Europe in 1898, they called upon Pope Leon XIII, who pronounced them the “Princes of the Glorieta”. They accepted the honor graciously; it hardly mattered that Bolivia didn’t have a monarchy.
Set at 4090 meters (13420 ft) above sea level, Potosí is the highest city in the world and once was its most wealthy, thanks to the silver mines of Cerro Rico. Remnants of Potosí’s glorious past are still visible today, as are the vestiges of the exploitation which made Spain rich beyond measure and resulted in the deaths of millions.