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.
We went up for the Lucha Libre, and returned to experience the gigantic market which takes place every Thursday and Sunday. Anything you can imagine is on sale here. It might be easier to list the things you can’t buy in El Alto’s market: javelins, circus elephants, wine bottles filled with rat heads, and midget fetish porn. That’s it, and actually, I’m not so sure on that last one.
We recently attended the famous Lucha Libre at a sports facility in El Alto. Bolivians are wild for wrestling. Posters of famous American wrestlers are everywhere, and you can’t go a block in La Paz without seeing seeing it on a curbside television set. Bolivia doesn’t have a professional league on the same level as the USA’s WWE, but El Alto’s Sunday afternoon Lucha Libre makes a solid substitute.
American Visa is one of the very few Bolivian novels to have ever been translated into English. A darkly humorous tale of crime and murder set in La Paz, it tells the story of Mario Alvarez’s increasingly desperate attempts to get a visa to visit his son in the USA. The picture it paints of La Paz is colorful and gritty, filled with thieves, transvestites and prostitutes.
I stirred to life as we passed through the satellite Aymara city of El Alto, perched perilously on a hill overlooking La Paz. But though my eyes had opened, I thought perhaps I was still dreaming. Bolivia’s largest and most important city was sprawled out across the valley below us, beginning to light up as though preparing for our arrival, surrounded by mountains on all sides.