Watching the Urkupiña Festival in Bolivia

Diablado

According to the most popular story, a young shepherd girl daily herded her sheep on a stony hill, where the Virgin Mary appeared to her several times. At one time she indicated the Virgin to her parents, shouting, “Orkopiña” – “There, on that hill”, as the Virgin was ascending towards heaven. On the summit they found a stone image of the Virgin, which since then has been kept in the church in Quillacollo. Continue reading

Celebrating the Aymara New Year in La Paz, Bolivia

Two Aymara shamans are building a bonfire and laying out offerings for good health and fortune: a dried lama fetus and sugar tablets depicting a house, moneybags and other symbols of wealth and health. Dressed in bright-colored ponchos and woolen headdresses, the amautas walk about in a circle formed by devotees and a couple of foreigners. They interrupt their preparations by calling onto Pachamama (mother earth) and Pachakama (the universe) to bless the New Year. Continue reading

Alasitas Festival of the Aymará God Ekeko (Bolivia)

Ekeko, Bolivia's God of Abundance, is Bolivia's central figure during the Alasitas Festival (©photocoen)

Meet Ekeko, Bolivia’s God of Abundance (©Coen Wubbels)

Calle Sagárnaga, also known as Calle de las Brujas (Witches’ Market) is the commercial center of La Paz’ indigenous handicraft of miniatures and thus an important part of the Alasitas Festival. It lies in the heart of the city’s tourist center with thousands of tourists strolling down the alleys in search of souvenirs and admiring the local curiosities of miniatures and other products that bring good fortune.

In the Witches’ Market you will find a zillion miniatures, and shelves full of potions, natural herbs and dried fetuses. How intriguing is that? We know from, among other places, Thailand, that people buy fake money and burn it in ovens to appease evil spirits or offer paper replicas of material possessions they would like to own. Now we see that in Bolivia they have a similar ritual, albeit with its own, local traditions and customs. Continue reading

5 Popular Religious Festivals in Bolivia

Processions are an important part of religious festivals in Bolivia (©photocoen)

During our continuous journey in South America that started in 2007, we visited Bolivia six times. In total we spent about a year in this diverse country. We were particularly captivated by the extremes in landscapes and the Bolivians’ strong need for celebrations. Although we never planned to be in a certain place for a particular festival, procession, or fiesta, we stumbled on them regularly. Continue reading

5 Museums in La Paz, Bolivia

18th century houses in Calle Jaen.

It was one of these beautiful days: a dark-blue sky, sunrays warming me, and an empty to-do list. I strolled through La Paz’ city center and ambled uphill on the northeastern side of El Prado, the city’s main avenue to visit five of La Paz’ museums, conveniently located in one street, called Calle Jaen. It was a long walk, but as I wasn’t in a hurry it didn’t matter. Continue reading

Studying the Characteristics of Tarabuco Weaving Techniques in Bolivia

Tarabuco dress

I doubt many people outside Bolivia have ever heard of Tarabuco. This ethnic group lives southeast of Sucre, in central Bolivia, and represents one of the country’s prominent traditional cultures. Throughout the centuries Tarabuqueños have woven their own clothes using distinct weaving patterns. Continue reading

Famous Traditional Dances in Bolivia

A masque in the dance of La Diablada, Urkupiña Festival in Cochabamba, Bolivia (©photocoen)

A masque in the dance of La Diablada – Dance of the Devils (©photocoen)

Many Bolivian festivals are a form of religious celebration, expressing a syncretism of paganism and Catholicism. Folkloric dances and music each have their unique costumes, musical instruments and rhythms, and the celebrations may last for days on end, often from early morning to late at night. Continue reading

Sharing Traditional Bolivian Dishes – What Can I Contribute?

Eating with your fingers is the way to go (©Coen Wubbels)

Eating with your fingers is the way to go (©Coen Wubbels)

During Coen’s photography assignment for evrevrijde Wereld, a Belgium NGO that supports agricultural projects with a focus on food security, we visited various rural communities in Bolivia. One of the aspects I loved most during these meetings was lunch as it was a great way to taste Bolivia’s traditional dishes.

After a meeting, which included checking out new vegetable gardens or irrigation systems, we would return to the community center, which most rural villages in Bolivia have, for lunch. According to tradition each woman brought her share and the dishes were shared. Sometimes they laid a table and put out chairs or benches, but that was only because they had visitors. The common practice was to have a picnic on the ground. Most dishes consisted of potatoes, corn and rice and so I thought about contributing something they were unfamiliar with. Would they appreciate it? Continue reading

Forms of Public Transportation in La Paz, Bolivia

I love exploring villages, towns and cities on foot. In South America, La Paz is one of my favorite destinations, which center is a hive of activity but still has the amiable feel of a town. I lived there with great pleasure for some six months.

However, going on foot is not a matter of course as streets are steep and at an altitude of 3800 meters it is easy to get out of breath. Taking a taxi or bus is a cheap and often easy way to move around. Continue reading

Women Empowerment in Bolivia – a Yoghurt Factory

Doña Edelfrida daily walks 5 kms to the yoghurt factory to deliver 40 liters of milk (©Coen Wubbels)

Doña Edelfrida daily walks 5 kms to the yoghurt factory to deliver 40 liters of milk (©Coen Wubbels)

Edited to add Aug 2017: Bevrijde Wereld changed its name and is now called Solidagro.

During Coen’s photography assignment for Bevrijde Wereld (locally called Mundo Nuevo), a Belgian NGO that supports agricultural projects with the emphasis on food safety, we visited a project focusing on women empowerment: a yoghurt factory in Koari, central Bolivia.

INCCA is one of Bevrijde Wereld’s partner organizations in Bolivia and the yoghurt factory was one of their successful projects. Soon after the start of the yoghurt factory, the women were given the opportunity to sell yoghurt to schools in Tiraque (near Cochabamba), where it would be part of the school breakfast, which meant a weekly production of 14,000 bags with 100 mls of yoghurt. How did they manage?

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Women’s Opinions Didn’t Count – Planting Trees in Bolivia

During Coen’s photography assignment for Bevrijde Wereld, a Belgian NGO that supports agricultural projects with a focus on food safety, we visited various rural communities in Bolivia. In the village of Kolga Koya each household received six fruit trees and was instructed on how to plant and maintain them.

Planting trees? You dig a hole, put in the tree, close the hole and water the tree, right? Or is it not that simple? Continue reading

Día del Mar – Bolivia Commemorates the War of the Pacific

Día del Mar in La Paz, Bolivia (©photocoen)One of Bolivia’s important days of commemoration is Día del Mar. During this ‘Day of the Sea’ the country remembers the War of the Pacific in 1879, during which Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific Ocean. In La Paz the occasion includes a daylong parade of military units, government departments and youth bands. Continue reading

Salteñas, Almuerzos, Chicha – Typical Food & Beverages in Bolivia

Pastel – fried pastry with cheese.

The Bolivian cuisine is not as diverse as its landscape. Even though there are regional variations between the lowlands and Andes Mountains, traditional Bolivian meals are mainly a result of versatility in the use of the country’s staple food of potatoes, corn and rice.

Having said that, we do like Bolivian food and would say is most certainly worth a try when visiting the country. After all, food is not only fundamental, but also a way to learn something about a country’s history and geography, as well as its daily life.

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