Driving on Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Driving on Salar de Uyuni, optical illusion photo of Karin-Marijke full sized pushing the Land Cruiser mini-sizedHexagonal tiles of salt stretch to the horizon, hemmed in by bluish mountains. The crunching of salt crystals beneath my feet sounds like stepping on fresh snow. I’m encompassed by total silence in an otherworldly spectacle that is largely devoid of life.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and is situated in the southwest corner of Bolivia. The town of Uyuni, characterized by guesthouses, overpriced tourist joints and tour operators, is the place to organize a trip to this salt plain. 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

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 these celebrations may last for days on end, often from early morning to late at night. Some traditional dances from the Andes have spread throughout the country and can be found in many of Bolivia’s large processions, like the Morenada, Diablada and Caporales.

Dancers during Urkupiña Festival in Quillacollo, Bolivia (©photocoen)

How do you recognize folkloric dances like the Morenada, Diablada and Caporal, which are part of Bolivian festivals such as Carnival, Urkupiña and el Gran Poder? Let’s take a look. 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

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)

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

beDía 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

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 centre of La Paz’ indigenous handicraft of miniatures and thus an important part of the Alasitas Festival. It is also is 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 to own. Now we see that in Bolivia they have a similar ritual, albeit with its own, local traditions and customs. 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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Bolivia’s Main Meal of the Day: Lunch, or Almuerzo

Soup is an essential part of Bolivia’s ‘almuerzo’.

Every day – roughly between twelve and two thirty – part of Bolivia closes down. It’s lunchtime. For everyone. Within minutes local restaurants are packed and waiters are serving customers as fast as possible. We daily join the crowds to have a taste of Bolivia’s simplest yet most plentiful meal: almuerzo. It is the perfect way to get a feel for Bolivia’s traditional food. Note that the food discussed in this blog post is focused on the highland (altiplano). Continue reading

El Cafetal’s Coffee Plantation

Young Coffee Plants (©Coen Wubbels)

Bolivia is one of the world’s producers of Arabica coffee. While the Yungas (north of La Paz) is Bolivia’s traditional and principal coffee growing region, the country’s largest exporter is situated in the department of Santa Cruz – in Buena Vista, to be exact. A friend suggested to check out Hacienda El Cafetal, to visit the coffee plantation and factory and, of course, to taste some high-quality, organic coffee. Continue reading

Fresh Mint Tea with Mint Leaves from the Garden

For the past couple of weeks we stayed with friends in Cochabamba (Bolivia), who have a beautiful garden. Gardening is something I miss in our life on the road and I loved getting my hands in that soil again. Most of all, I have always appreciated vegetable gardens. I used to have my own and took great pleasure in harvesting my vegetables, fruits and herbs. Continue reading

Making the World a Better Place – An Animal Rescue Center

Just outside Guayaramerím, in northeast Bolivia, we stumbled upon Ituaba Eco Hotel, a hotel-cum-animal refuge center-cum-recreation park. During our visit the animal refuge center was home to two blue-and-gold and two scarlet macaws, two toucans, two ocelots (medium-sized wild cats), wild boars, a young tapir and a couple of emus. Continue reading

Camping in an Ocean of White

Salar de Uyuni, in southwest Bolivia, is a vast ocean of white of 130 by 90 kilometers surrounded by the Andes Mountains – it is said to be the largest salt flat in the world containing some 10 billion tons of salt. At the entrance are series of salt pyramids that have been scraped together from the surface and are ready to be transported to the nearby village of Colchani.

Wherever we look we see white. It looks like a world of fresh snow which has not yet been disturbed by footsteps. Continue reading