Thursday, February 28, 2013

La Paz

When I went to Argentina for a couple of months about two years ago, my first couple of days I was not only rather sick and overwhelmed, but the person I stayed with was less than welcoming to me. I am extremely familiar with as a networking site to find great people to stay with on my journeys, but even well networked sites will have the occasional person with an unkind personality. My desire to prevent a repeat of my initial South American experience, I booked a homestay via AirBnB. That was how I came to stay with a family in La Paz, during my first three nights in Bolivia.

With my own room booked I knew I would have a place to mellow out as I got over the shock of the elevation on my body and the dose of culture shock as well. My room was dimly lit at night, but super cozy with a huge stack of blankets to keep me warm. Only after my first day did I realize the three young children in the family shared a room with their parents during my stay as the "guest room" I had rented was actually their room. My time in the home gave me a true Bolivian family experience with morning breakfasts consisting of bread and tea or coffee, and the main meal a hearty starch-heavy lunch. This family also ate bread and tea/hot cocoa for their evening meal, which seemed excessive in the bread department for me. Each day I took a few hours of Spanish lessons from my host who also had 20 years experience teaching Spanish, and spent a bit of time playing with the children and watching tv programs in English, in Spanish and dubbed in Spanish, all with and without subtitles. Carnival was still going on in my first few days and walking down the street without getting pelted with water balloons, water from water guns or shaving cream time foam was nearly impossible (entertaining my first hour but I quickly tired of foam in my ears as an innocent passerby). As carnival was going on and getting wet on the street nearly avoidable, I primarily walked in the opposite direction while in town and missed some of the museums, but do believe I will be back for a few days before heading to Lake Tititcaca.

One of my friends describes Bolivia as "the place where the people where funny hats," and to me this holds some truth. As a land highly influenced by Spain, some of the traditional wardrobe is thusly influenced. The season was summer in La Paz but with the elevation it still felt rather chilly, so their clothing (and mine) reflected that. What amazes me most about the manner of dress in Bolivia is how there is a portion of society dressing in a modern manner not so unlike people in the US, and a whole other portion of the people living in a more traditional manner and dressing in traditional clothes. How these two types of people can live side by side is what fascinates me. Traditional wear includes a basic, modest shirt, a skirt (often with pleats but not always) that gives the impression of slightly larger hips, hair in two braids and a colorful cloth which can be transformed into a bag for carrying anything from immense amounts of vegetables to babies.

As carnival was occurring, I was able to see traditional dance and feel the festive vibe of the city. As far as going out at night to drink and be debaucherous, I had none of that, choosing to stay indoors to chat with the family, rest (get climatized and used to the time change), study a little and fight with the disappointingly cold shower. Perhaps all the bread I was consuming was another factor in my exhaustion at such an early hour.

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