Museo Nacional de Arte

La Paz, Bolivia – April 27, 2019

I wanted to see the Museo Nacional de Arte since I arrived in La Paz some eight months ago.  Today is that day.  Little did I know on this day I would encounter a backwards clock, beautiful 17th Century art, and a crucified, blue Jesus.

On this beautiful, mostly sunny day, I left home shortly after 09:00.  I hailed a taxi to take me to the Irpavi station for the green line of the Teleférico.  I rode the green line to the end of the line.  There I switched to the Linea Celeste (light blue) line and rode it to the end, near Plaza Camacho.  I thought about taking a taxi to Plaza Murillo, my final destination.  Instead, I opted to walk the roughly 835 meters (just over one-half mile).

The façade of a government building on Avenida Camacho.
Detail of the coat of arms of Bolivia.

The walk was easy until I turned right to go up Calle Socabaya.  The steep street required a couple of rest stops along the way.  Regardless, I finally made it to Plaza Murillo.

At the southwest corner of Calle Socabaya and Called Comercio sits the building housing the National Art Museum.  Across the street, on the southeast corner, is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of La Paz.  That was my first stop.

Like many cathedrals, it is a large, imposing, stone structure, started in 1835.  The inauguration of the cathedral did not happen until 1925.  Inside, it is an impressive cathedral, but not overstated.  Photography inside the cathedral is strictly forbidden.  Unknowingly, I entered during mass.  Because of that, I did not explore much of the cathedral.  The most interesting fact I discovered is that the main entry to the cathedral is 12 meters (39 feet) higher than the base of the cathedral at the rear on Calle Potosí.  That provides some idea of the steepness of Calle Socabaya.

The Museo Nacional de Arte is in a building dating from 1775, at the corner of Socabaya and Calle Comercio.
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace on the south side of Plaza Murillo.
The bas relief above the main entry to the basilica.
The door to the right of the main door.
The door to the left of the main door.

Exiting the cathedral, I crossed the street to Plaza Murillo.  As I strode up the stairs to the main level of the plaza, I caught my first glimpse of the dozens and dozens of pigeons.  Feeding the pigeons was a woman completely surrounded by the birds.  At the time, I did not realize the prevalence of this activity.  It reminded me of Leslie, Hillary, and Tyler feeding the pigeons when we toured Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A woman feeding the pigeons at Plaza Murillo.
The towering statue in the center of Plaza Murillo.

Continuing through the plaza, one cannot miss the large clock above the entry to the National Congress of Bolivia.  What immediately captures the imagination is that the clock is backwards!  The numbers from 1 – 12 appear just the opposite of other clocks.  The hands of the clock turn to the left, not clockwise.  I did not have enough brainpower to be able to read the time.  I did not seem to correspond in any way to my watch.

According to a story by the BBC, the Bolivian Foreign Minister said, “…the change had been made to get Bolivians to treasure their heritage and show them that they could question established norms and think creatively.”  As noted above, I must have left my creative gene at home…

The building housing the National Congress of Bolivia (note the backwards clock).
Detail of the flags and clock at the National Congress of Bolivia.

The National Congress building is on the east side of the plaza.  From my vantage point, I looked back to the south.  I could see the towering government building, Casa Grande del Pueblo.  Immediately in front of the tower is the Palacio de Gobierno.  I understand that is one of the homes of the Bolivian President, Juan Evo Morales Ayma.  Dressed in uniforms reminiscent of the 19th century, the guards in front of the palace are hard to miss.

The building in the foreground is the Palacio de Gobierno. One can barely see the red uniformed guards at the front. The tall building in the background is a government building known as Casa Grande del Pueblo.
The red uniformed guards in front of the Palacio de Gobierno.
The guards at the main entry.

Continuing through the plaza, I found pigeons throughout.  Near the central statue, a woman sat on a bench feeding the birds while her companion captured the moment on his cellphone.  She ended up with pigeons on her head and neck.  I spotted a bench in the shade and sat down.  From that vantage point, I simply watched the world go by while taking photographs periodically.

Several street vendors had small stalls throughout the plaza, selling ice cream, cups of jello, snacks, drinks, and, oh yes, bird feed.  At one of the bird feed stations, I saw a sign asking people to please place the small plastic bags in the trash after they finished feeding the birds.

In the center, above the word “gloria,” is the towering statue in the center of the Plaza Murillo.
A closer view of the statue.
A woman posing for her companion while she feeds the pigeons in Plaza Murillo.
View across the plaza toward the basilica.
The woman ended up with a pigeon on her head and one on her neck.
Her companion capturing the moment.
Detail of an emblem on the Casa Grande del Pueblo.
Detail of an emblem on the Casa Grande del Pueblo.
Detail of an emblem on the Casa Grande del Pueblo.
A couple of men on a bench talking in the plaza.
One of the vendors at the plaza. She sold a cup with what seemed to be jello and whipped cream.
Another woman falls victim to a pigeon on the head.
An ice cream vendor wheels his cart by a couple feeding pigeons.
The woman below the sculpture was one of several people selling bird feed.
The flags and coat of arms at the Palacio de Gobierno.
Detail of the coat of arms.
A woman at the plaza selling drinks and snacks.
The stands from which the jello concoctions emanate.
A partial view of the Bolivian flag on the left. On the right is a variant flag of Bolivia, known as the Whipala.

When I got up from my bench, I walked across the street to the art museum.  Created in 1960, the museum opened to the public in 1961.  Don Francisco Tadeo Diaz de Medina y Vidangos commissioned the large house, completed in 1775.  Bolivia declared the house a national monument in 1930.

Entering the museum cost me Bs5 (US$0.72).  I expected to see a sign indicating no photography in the museum.  I was right but disappointed.  Outside the museum, in the courtyard, I did capture a couple of images.  Regardless, the museum was worth every penny of the entry fee.  Some of my favorite paintings follow.

Master of Calamarca, Archangel with Gun, Asiel Timor Dei, before 1728, oil on canvas and gilding, 160 x 110 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, La Paz, Bolivia)

Asiel Timor Dei circa 17th century.  This image is from Khan Academy.

File: Gaspar Miguel de Berrío - Coronation of the Virgin.jpg

The Coronation of the Virgin by Gaspar Miguel de Berrío circa 18th century.  This image is from Wikipedia.

Archivo:Anónimo - La Virgen del Cerro, 1720.jpg

The Virgin of the Hill, artist unknown, 1720.  This image is from Wikipedia.

I like the painting of St. John the Evangelist by Melchor Pérez de Holguín.  I could not find an image of the painting to share; however, I discovered Holguín’s portrait is on the Bs50 note!

This image is from The Banknote Museum.

The Triumph of Nature (1928), by Cecilio Guzmán de Rojas.  This image is from Biografías y Vidas.

The courtyard of the art museum, complete with small rock sculptures.
The water fountain in the courtyard of the art museum.

When I left the art museum, since I was so close, I decided to go to the museum at the San Francisco Basilica.  To begin that journey, I walked along Calle Comercio.  That is a pedestrian thoroughfare.  The center is full of vendors selling just about everything one can imagine.  I did not stop to buy anything.  However, I did see a crew installing a pole and working on the dozens of overhead cables.  I have no clue how they know which is which.  I guess that is why they have not asked me to work with them.

To get to the San Francisco Plaza required a walk down Calle Genaro Sanjinés.  It was definitely “down!”  Just another of the many steep streets in La Paz.  A block or so down the street I glimpsed an inner courtyard through a door.  It turned out to be the Restaurante Pruebame.  I stopped in for a cup of coffee and some French fries.  I think that is a new diet fad…

A man selling books on Calle Comercio. The entry to the art museum is behind him.
The entry to the museum.
Looking down Socabaya.
On Calle Comercio looking toward the basilica and Plaza Murillo.
Workers on Calle Comercio preparing to set a pole.
Another worker seemingly trapped in a web of cables.
The courtyard of Restaurante Pruebame.
Stopped for a coffee.
A man walking past the entry to the restaurant. Yes, many streets in La Paz are quite steep!

Leaving the restaurant, I continued down.  As I was walking, I remembered the plaza is on a major six-lane road.  I imagined a difficult crossing.  Then I remembered seeing a pedestrian bridge a little to the north.  I veered onto Calle Potosí toward Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.  Walking beside that busy avenue I happened to look to my right.  I saw a metallic sculpture of a bull.  I entered the virtually deserted plaza and found several sculptures.  There was no one around nor were there any signs to indicate who made the sculptures.  Some of them were amazing.

Looking down Calle Genaro Sanjines.
The San Francisco Basilica.
A beautiful building on Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz. I ended my tour on top of that building, enjoying a beer.
Artwork in a rather deserted plaza.
A sculpture of a bull.
Numerous wooden sculptures in the plaza.
The other side of the bull.
Detail of the bull and the graffiti.

Continuing toward and onto the pedestrian bridge, there were many typical sights of La Paz.  The sights included vendor booths for DVDs and news/magazines, signs celebrating La Paz, and food booths.  At then end of the bridge is an entry to Mercado Lanza.  I entered, heading toward the San Francisco Plaza side.  The market is a collection of small vendor stands under a very large roof.

The other side of the market is above Calle Figueroa.  That street had more vendor stands.  Some vendors simply staked out a spot on the sidewalk; such as the figurine vendor, and the women selling juice and fruit.  From the top of the stairs, I could see a group of people crowded around one man.  Obviously a salesman, he demonstrated a product for drinking.  Exactly what the product was I am not sure.

A family shopping for DVDs.
A news and magazine stand near the E. Valle Pedestrian Bridge.
The beginning incline of the pedestrian bridge.
Calle Comercio as seen from the bridge.
The marvelous La Paz sign on Avenida Pérez Velasco. The pedestrian bridge spans the avenue.
The view from the bridge toward the San Francisco Basilica.
A children’s merry-go-round at the base of the bridge.
Some highly decorated buildings at the base of the bridge.
Looking back toward the other side of the bridge, one sees a likeness of the mountain peak Illimani.
Patrons queuing at a refreshment stand.
Traffic and vendors on Calle Figueroa.
The view northwest on Calle Figueroa.
A man selling dolls and other trinkets on Calle Figueroa.
Some of the many vendor stalls.
A group of people watching a demonstration of a product.
A woman selling juice on Calle Figueroa.
Looking down on a woman selling fruit.
The man wearing the DC ball cap wowed the crowd with his product.
Walking toward Plaza San Francisco.
A man selling balloons at the plaza.
Plaza San Francisco.

Now at San Francisco Plaza, I entered the museum, paid my Bs10 (US$1.45) entry fee, and walked up a flight of stairs to begin the tour.  At the top of the stairs is a covered walkway leading to what used to be the monastery for the friars.  Standing there reading signs, a guide approached me.  He struck up a conversation, in English, and began guiding me through the site.

I learned the basilica began construction in 1548.  Oddly enough, the structure collapsed in 1610 due to a heavy snowfall.  The rebuilt structure opened in 1772.  At many locations along our route, he advised me to not take photographs.  That admonition applied to a salon area complete with 16th century frescos on the wall; the winery, and a hall containing ten or twelve paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries.  The photo ban did not apply to the room housing the crucified, blue Jesus.  According to the guide, the oddly colored Jesus has something to do with a Franciscan belief; although, I really did not understand what he said.  Adjacent to that room were numerous stone relics from the collapsed structure.

The courtyard of the monastery has a wishing fountain, stone cross, and numerous plants.  Many of the plants have medicinal qualities.  One tree, in particular, caught my interest, the queñua.  The bark of the tree is paper-thin and peels away easily.  Near the tree I saw a very furry, black cat.  Disinterested in my presence, the cat made no attempt to interact with either of us.

The water fountain in the courtyard of San Francisco.
Looking up toward the bell tower.
The stone cross in the courtyard.
The cat in the courtyard.
Another view of the courtyard.
A queñua tree in the courtyard.
Detail of the bark of the queñua tree.
The blue, crucified Jesus.
One of the rooms housed old columns and carved stone from the complex.

The guide walked me back toward the entry stairs.  He allowed photographs of another courtyard.  Then the guide opened an old wooden door at the top of the stairs.  This led into an upper level of the basilica.  From this level, the lower level of the basilica unfolded below.  Since there was no mass, I asked about taking photographs.  “Absolutely no,” was the answer.  Talking with him is when I learned photographs are forbidden.  That puts a different light on my previous visit to the basilica when a Bolivian National Police officer got mad at me (A Great Day for the Dead).

Another courtyard in the basilica grounds.

The first space had on display old dalmatics, chalices, patens, and a large and ornate monstrance.  He next led me to the choir.  Two levels of carved wood seats surrounded a central music stand.  On the stand was an original music book.  The reason the books are so large is to allow the men in the choir to see the music from any of the seats.

Prior to entering the basilica, the guide mentioned that every stone bears the mark of the mason that originally quarried the stone.  After I heard that, I saw the initials in nearly every stone at which I looked.  At the other side of the choir, he led me to the base of some narrow steps made of stone.  These rose up to the roof of the basilica.  The unevenness of the treads and risers made the climb a little difficult.  The struggle was not only real; but, well worth the effort.  Our vantage point allowed a view of the roof and bell tower that not everyone gets to enjoy.  While on the roof, I found a very important bit of information…the building across the way had a rooftop seating area.  More about that shortly.

The bell tower of San Francisco as seen from the roof of the basilica.
Looking down on Plaza San Francisco and the traffic on Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.
From the roof of the basilica, I spotted the rooftop seating of Ichuri. It must have been a sign from above.
Looking along the spine of the basilica roof. The dome is the cupola above the altar.
One of the bells.
View through the bell tower.
The cross on top of the cupola.
There are seven of these structures on the roof. Each allows a little light inside the basilica during the day.

Everything that goes up must come down.  That seemed to apply to us as well.  He led me to another set of stairs to get us down from the roof.  Just before our descent, I gave him a Bs10 tip.  He really appreciated the tip.  Maybe I should have waited until our safe passage.

The stairs were just as uneven and steep as the first set.  A handrail would have been a wonderful luxury; but alas, that was not to be.  The narrow passage meant each of my shoulders touched the wall all the way down.  Actually, that helped my balance.  At the base of the stairs I stopped to look back to the sky.  One of the steps clearly showed the mark of the maker.  Back on the solid level of the basilica I made the sign of the cross in thanks…not actually, but I probably should have.

The guide showed me that the windows on either side of the choir are not glass, but agate.  Several bullet holes in the agate remind visitors of the civil war.

I stopped to look back to the roof after coming down these ancient stairs. Note the “X” carved in the lower step.  A sign of the maker.
In the courtyard looking toward the bell tower.
The covered walkway to the side of the courtyard.

Departing the museum, I entered one of the tourist shops.  Masks to hang on the wall are a big thing in Bolivia.  I am not sure why.  I do know I “needed” one.  I settled on a small bird mask.

The painted wood pájaro (bird) head I bought near the basilica.

When I left the shop, I stopped to look at the carving on the façade of the basilica.  One of the images I spotted was that of the Pachamama (Mother Earth).  This demonstrates the influence of the indigenous peoples on the construction of the basilica.

A panorama of the basilica façade.
A wider view of the Pachamama carving.
The figure of Pachamama on the façade of the basilica.

With the mask in tow, I made my way to the building on which I saw the rooftop seating area.  I entered the building and saw a set of stairs.  Winding my way to the top, it surprised me to not see a door for the restaurant.  Each level of this building had a short hallway with offices/shops on either side, the same as the upper floor.  Walking to the other end of the hall, I found an elevator to take one to the final floor.  I opted for the stairs that wrapped around the elevator.  Sure enough, the door to the restaurant, Ichuri, was at the top of the stairs.

In the plaza, my sights firmly fixed on the rooftop restaurant…
The view to the southwest along Calle Sagarnaga beside the basilica.
The staircase to reach the Ichuri Restaurant.

I found a table under a sunshade on the basilica side of the rooftop.  I sat down to wait for my Paceña beer.  I noticed some male models, a photographer assistant, and a photographer taking photographs on the rooftop.  With the number of clothing changes, I assume the shoot was for a fashion magazine or advertisement.  The relaxing, outdoor environment; the beer; and the sights added to my enjoyment of the moment.

After my leisurely beer, I walked back to the Teleférico for my ride home.

View to the north from Ichuri Restaurant. The Samsung sign reads, “See the bigger picture.”
Models and photographers on the roof of the basilica.
The crest above the basilica’s main entry.
View to the north along Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.
Public transportation queued up on Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.
Pedestrians walking along Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz.
Some of the numerous vendor stalls along nearly any busy road.
Some dogs converging in front of the post office.
Traffic by the median of Avenida 16 de Julio.
A cholita walking along Avenida 16 de Julio.
A very, very red building.
A woman walking along the street with several flower arrangements.
The façade of the Brosso Restaurant.
The water fountain in front of the Brosso Restaurant.
Detail of the water fountain in front of the Brosso Restaurant.

Finally Some Oxygen!!

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia – April 6, 2019

Departing from La Paz one must always wake up early.  Fortunately, when it is a domestic flight, it is not crazy early.  Our driver from Mujeres al Volante (Women at the Wheel) was right on time for our 05:00 pick up from home.

When we can, we use Mujeres al Volante to get us around La Paz.  As one can tell from the business name, it is an all-female taxi service.  We like that idea because it gives women a chance they might not otherwise have.  The service operates, in part, via WhatsApp.  After arranging for a pick up, the service sends a text message with the name, photograph, and cellular phone number of the driver.  In addition, one also receives a photograph of the vehicle, including the license plate.  That allows for confirmation of the ride before getting in the vehicle.

In our experience, each driver is very kind.  Each driver is also very conscientious and safe.  For example, on this morning, our driver stopped at every red light.  That may not be all that unusual in La Paz; however, our driver remained stopped until the light turned green.  That is a bit unusual.  Several other drivers stopped or slowed, only to continue through the intersection.  Those few stops did not hamper our progress.  We easily and safely made it to the airport at El Alto by 05:45.

It was quick and easy to check-in for our 07:30 Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) flight.  After clearing the security checkpoint, we sat at Uyu café.  We both had a coffee.  Leslie also had a heated ham and cheese croissant.  She said it was unusually delicious, especially for airport food.

Cloudy conditions did not interfere with the air traffic.  We had no problems seeing our BOA airplane arrive at the jet bridge.  About 30-minutes after the airplane arrived, we boarded.  Then, right on time, we pushed back from the gate at 07:30.

Our Bolivian Airlines jet approaches the boarding gate.

At roughly 4,115 meters (13,500 feet), there is not an abundance of oxygen.  The main runway at El Alto International Airport is 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) long.  It seemed our airplane used about 3,990 meters of the runway before finally lifting off the ground.  Even jet airplanes have trouble at that altitude.  Quite frankly, that is no doubt part of the reason for so many early morning flights.  As the air heats up during the day, the lifting capacity of the air diminishes.

La Paz nestles amongst the mountains and cliffs along the west side of the Andes.  Santa Cruz de la Sierra, our destination, is about 554 kilometers (344 miles) east and south of La Paz.  That meant our flight went directly over the Andes.  Seeing some of the highest peaks in Bolivia from the air is beautiful.  Two offered some breathtaking views that morning, Illimani (6,438 meters/21,122 feet) and Huayna Potosí (6,088 meters/19,974 feet).  Illimani is the second highest peak in Bolivia, Huayna Potosí is the fifth highest.

We landed at Viri Viri International Airport right on time, 08:35.  As soon as we deplaned, we both felt like Olympic athletes!  There was more oxygen than our bodies had encountered in quite some time!  We felt like we could jog to the hotel.  A mere 55-minutes later we arrived at the Marriott Hotel (via a van).

The reason for our oxygen “high” was because we were low.  In a little over one-hour, we transitioned from 4,115 meters to 416 meters (1,365 feet); about a 90-percent decrease in altitude!  We were as giddy as junior high school kids…well maybe not, but we sure felt great!

After a bit of brunch at the hotel, we got in a taxi and headed to the Cathedral of Santa Cruz.  Our driver let us out on the west side of the Central Plaza.  The plaza covers one city block.  It is beautifully landscaped.  There are multiple sidewalks through the plaza.  At the center of the plaza is a statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes (1770-1816).  He famously liberated the city of Santa Cruz in about 1813.

A statue of Colonel Ignacio Warnes in the center of the Central Plaza.

From the moment we exited our taxi, we heard a band playing.  As we walked through the plaza, we headed toward the cathedral at the southeast corner of the plaza.  In formation and in front of the cathedral, played the Banda Intercontinental Poopó (the Poopó Intercontinental Band).  The band hails from the Bolivian city of Oruro.  Formed in 1964, it is famously known for playing Bolivian folk music.  Every year the band plays during Carnaval in Oruro.

There were about 50 band members on the steps in front of the cathedral.  Their uniforms are distinct.  Each member wears a red jacket with gold and yellow accents.  The jackets have the name of the band emblazoned diagonally across the chest.  Dazzling white slacks offset the red jackets.  Each side of the slacks also carry the name of the band.  The white shoes are like none I have ever seen.  To top it all off, literally, each member wears a brownish hardhat that carries the name of the band.

When we arrived, dozens and dozens of people surrounded the band, enjoying the music.  The first song we heard was the Bolivian national anthem.  After the anthem, they segued to a Bolivian folk song.  We listened and watched for several minutes before entering the cathedral.

The Poopó Band playing in front of the cathedral.
The band smartly lined up on the stairs.
The uniforms are very intricate.
The pants and shoes are pretty snappy too!

Completed in 1915, the Cathedral of Santa Cruz is also known as the Basílica Menor de San Lorenzo Martir (Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence Martyr).  St. Lawrence was a Spanish deacon martyred in Rome in 258.  Inside, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the altar that is opposite the entry point.  The basilica is all brick and concrete except for the beautiful vaulted wooden ceilings.  These vaulted ceilings are over the main aisle as well as the two side aisles.

The main aisle inside the cathedral.

We opted to walk along the right-side aisle toward the front of the basilica.  A normal sight in a Catholic church are prayer candles.  However, I have never seen them done as they were in the Basilica.  At strategic points there are metal tables.  Each table is about two-feet by four-feet with upturned edges.  On the flat surface, worshipers place candles.  The melted wax gathers on the table top without harming anything else in the basilica.  In front of a crucifix and depictions of Mary and Joseph were two of these tables.  Off to one side of the display is a hinged door with a small slot.  Many worshipers place money in the slot while admiring the display.

A pan for prayer candles.
Jesus on the cross with Mary and Joseph below.

Farther along the aisle is a wooden and glass display case.  Inside are depictions of Mary, Joseph, and a young Jesus.  I am not sure who the depicted person is at the left side of the display.  As with the crucifix display, another, albeit smaller, metal table sat in front of the display case.  A donation box was also available.

This case depicts Mary in the center and Jesus and Joseph on the right.
The prayer candles in front of the display.

The next display was a life-size statue, possibly depicting St. Lawrence.  Just beyond that statue, at the right side of the altar was a depiction of Mary.  While we were there, a woman stood in front of the statue the entire time.

A statue in the cathedral.
A woman standing in front of a depiction of Mary.

When crossing from one side of the basilica to the other, the enormous scale of the altar area is striking.  The height and depth make it an expansive space, yet it does seem inviting.  Because the Easter Season is approaching, purple draping is behind the altar and tabernacle.  That is a pleasing offset to the wood ceilings and the mainly white walls and columns.  It also makes the silver tabernacle visually pop from the space.

The base of the altar is unique.  It appears to be hand carved wood bas relief.  The scene depicts Jesus among several Latinos.  The Latinos are in relatively modern looking clothing, not clothing from their native past.  Some of the men sport traditional hats.  The lone woman does not appear to have her head covered at all.  The painting of the bas relief helps bring the scene to life.

The purple draping in anticipation of Easter.
The crucifix above the tabernacle.
Detail of the crucifix.
A uniquely carved altar.

Off to the left side of the altar is a statue of Peter, complete with the keys to the Kingdom.

A statue honoring Peter.

Outside the small chapel is another depiction of Mary and one of Jesus.  Both have space for worshipers to place prayer candles.  The chapel is small and cozy.  The tabernacle is the focus of the chapel as it is in most Catholic churches.

A statue of Jesus.
Some prayer candles in front of a depiction of Mary.
The tabernacle in the chapel.
The prayer candles in front of the statue of Jesus.
Detail of the side of the cathedral.
Detail at the top of the column.

Leaving the chapel area, one encounters another bas relief.  This bas relief depicts the Holy Trinity.  It looks very old.

A bas relief of the Holy Trinity.
A man and woman stop in front of the side crucifix.

We could hear the Poopó Band during our entire visit in the basilica.  When we emerged, we saw some dancers performing between the band and the crowd of onlookers.  At one point, a man from the crowd began dancing to the folk song played at that moment.

At the left is a man dancing to the music of the Poopó Band.
Dozens and dozens of people enjoying the band.
Three members of one of the dance groups.
The clock spire of the cathedral.

Departing the basilica area, we opted to walk along the east side of the Central Plaza.  Along the way I spotted the “Barcelona” money exchange.  Because of our time in Spain, I just had to take a photograph.  We crossed the street and entered a tourist gift shop.  After much looking, we spotted a hand carved depiction of the Holy Family.  Carved to appear like native Bolivians, both Mary and Joseph are unique.  Even though we have a lot of Nativity scenes already, we could not resist this opportunity.  The man that served us was very kind.  He even agreed to have his photograph made while he was wrapping our purchase.

The cathedral as seen from the Central Plaza.
Looking south toward the cathedral along 24 de Septiembre.
A money exchange store.
The man from whom we purchased the wooden set of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Next door was another tourist shop.  There we decided we had to have two Bolivian blankets.  Much like the other store, the woman serving us was kind and posed for a photograph.

The woman from whom we purchased our “cholita” blankets.

At this point it was near noon.  We saw an Irish Pub on the second level of a shopping mall.  It had open windows overlooking the Central Plaza.  We decided that was the place to be.  We walked upstairs and ordered a couple of beers.  Since we had brunch at the hotel, we decided to just snack on some French fries.  Just like noted above our server was kind and posed for a photograph.  In return, she captured Leslie and I at our very best…

Our server at the Irish Pub.
The patrons at the Irish Pub.

From our vantage point above the plaza, we saw a lot.  I think one of the most interesting sights were the two chess tables set up at the side of the plaza, both occupied by chess players.  For the entire time we were in the area, the Poopó Band played.  They never took a break.  I am sure they were exhausted whenever they finally did stop playing.

White flowers in a tree across from the Irish Pub.
Three costumed girls walking through Central Plaza.
It sounds German, but it is made in Bolivia.
Chess games in the Central Plaza.
Thinking of the next move.
One of the local security people in the Central Plaza.
The clock spire of the cathedral.
A juice vendor in the Central Plaza.
Detail of the cross atop the cathedral spire.
The Santa Cruz municipal government building. The Bolivian flag is red, yellow, and green. The green and white flag is for Santa Cruz.
Two women talking in the Central Plaza.

After our refreshments we called for our taxi and returned to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.

The two “cholita” blankets we bought in a store just off the Central Plaza.

Before we departed La Paz, our good friends Joe and Tia told us we needed to eat at the steakhouse, La Cabrera.  We made reservations there for our first night in Santa Cruz.  Before taking our taxi to the steakhouse, we forced each other to have a glass of wine at the Blue Macaw in the lobby of the hotel.  Drinks complete, we got in our taxi and rode to the steakhouse.

The bar/restaurant at the Marriott.
A white wine.
And both wines.
Lighting in the lobby of the Marriott.
Lighting above the bar.

The recommendation was spot-on!  The building is two-stories; however, once inside, one can see the steakhouse actually has three separate levels on which to dine.  Our table happened to be on the ground floor.  Once seated, the wait staff immediately greeted us and asked for our preference of beverage.  Oddly enough, we selected a bottle of wine.  We had a bottle of Juan Cruz Tannat that was one of the most delicious wines I have experienced.

La Cabrera, a wonderful steakhouse.
Interior of the steakhouse.
My happy date for the evening.
The bottle of wine we enjoyed with dinner.

For our starter, we selected Provoleta al Orégano (grilled provolone cheese with oregano).  It was a superb way to begin our meal.  We each chose the half-portion Argentinian steak for our main course.  Brought to the table on a sizzling serving platter, it is almost like a fajita platter.  The server cut a portion for each of us and placed it on our plates.  About a dozen small ramakins containing a variety of sauces and dressings accompanied the steak.  A fresh green salad came was also part of the fare.  Done to perfection, the steak massaged the tongue with each bite.

I am glad we each ordered a half portion.  They were huge!  Nearly the size of a dinner plate!  I do not know what we would have done with the leftovers if we each had ordered a full steak.  As it was, we could barely make it through what we had.  Based on the previous sentence, one may wonder just why we ordered dessert…because we could!

The dessert at the steakhouse.

Our dessert was some sort of huge chocolate concoction.  While it was good, it was not my favorite.  It may have lacked the real chocolate punch I expected.  I am sure part of the issue is that I am not a big dessert eater anyway.  Regardless, we both highly recommend La Cabrera.  It is worth the effort to get there.

On Sunday we walked from the hotel to the Ventura Mall.  The mall is an easy walk, only about one-half mile.  The first store we entered was Supermercado Tia.  WOW!  What a grocery store!  La Paz does not have that supermarket.  It seemed we were in a whole different country.

The store has an entry to the mall.  When we arrived, the mall was not yet open.  That meant we spent our time wandering through the store.  On the street side of the store was a small café.  We each had a coffee and watched the other shoppers wander through the store.  After our coffee, we joined the wanderers.  The store had everything under one large roof.  We saw everything for which we normally shop.  That is different than the area where we live.  When we shop at home, it is not unusual to have to go to between two and four different stores to find everything we want.  We made some mental notes of what we wanted to get from the store when we walked back to the Marriott.

When we entered the mall, we saw a modern, glistening, three-story structure.  We strolled through every inch of the mall.  On the upper level is a large movie theater complex.  We almost went in to see a movie…almost.  We decided not to go in because we did not see a movie that we found interesting.  So, we walked through a small hallway and discovered a huge food court.  There were some vendors we did not recognize, but there were many we did recognize; Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, and Burger King.

We had not eaten at Burger King for a long time.  That day was the day.  We each ordered a flame broiled Whopper, fries, and a drink.  Leslie found a place to sit while I waited for our meal.  That was when I noticed the flame broiling did not take place there.  That appears to have happened elsewhere.  A microwave heats the hamburger patties before placing them on the bun.  The Whopper was ok, but it was not what we were expecting.

Leaving the food court, we stopped at Supermercado Tia to buy a few things and then walked back to the hotel.  We spent the rest of the day lounging.

That evening, we had dinner at the hotel.  At the entry to the restaurant, there is a large amatrine crystal on display.  It is a stunning purple and white semiprecious gem.  The crystal was about 18-inches wide by 12-inches tall.  I have no clue of the value of that piece.  Amatrine is a type of quartz found only in Bolivia.  It contains both citrine and amethyst.  We had a good dinner topped off with Flor de Caña 18 rum…my kind of dessert!

A huge specimen of ametine at the Marriott.
An after-dinner drink of Flor de Caña 18.

On Monday, one of my tasks was to view the local Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office.  APHIS is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture.  It was at that office I saw the most unusual mural.  In a corner of the front garden is a 3-D mural.  It depicts the mission of APHIS.  The mural focuses animal husbandry and wildlife from the high mountains to the lowlands, including farming, and then on to the big cities.  According to the locally employed staff member, the mural, completed by a local artist, cost only US$200 nearly 15-years ago.  I am sure I will never see another mural like that one.

The 3-D mural at the APHIS facility.

Thursday morning, we boarded a plane to return to La Paz.  The BOA Boeing 737 we boarded that morning was special.  A sign at the front entry to the plan proudly announced, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

Our plane waiting for us to board in Santa Cruz.
The fuselage of our plane.
This sign as we entered the airplane read, “Pope Francis flew in this aircraft from Quito to La Paz and from La Paz to Santa Cruz on July 8, 2015.”

The flight to La Paz was quick and uneventful.  Once we were on the ground, our bodies screamed that we seemed to have left a lot of oxygen behind!  Even though we were only absent from La Paz for five nights, our bodies had to reacclimate to the thin air of La Paz.  Regardless, it was good to be back home.  We like the weather in La Paz much more than Santa Cruz.  La Paz is cool and dry.  Santa Cruz is hot and humid.

A worker’s legs dangling through the trellis at the pool area.
A panorama of Santa Cruz, looking east from the swimming pool deck at the hotel.

MAMAN!MAMANi

La Paz, Bolivia – February 16, 2019

At first glance, the title of this blog post may seem a little odd.  It is a rendition of how the artist signs his works, MAMAN!MAMANi.  The first letter “i” is rendered upside down.

When we left our house at 09:00, it was a cool 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius).  It was not foggy, but the clouds were quite low.  A bit of a breeze and a bit of drizzle made the morning all the cooler.

Our destination this fine morning was the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.  I learned of the gallery the day before Valentine’s Day from our good friend Tia.  She and some of her friends had recently visited the gallery and met with the artist, Roberto Mamani Mamani.  I was intrigued by Tia’s description of both the work of Mamani Mamani and the historic area in which the gallery is located.  I suggested to Leslie that we should visit the gallery.  If we found anything we liked, we could buy it as our Valentine’s Day gift to each other.  She agreed, so we were set to visit.

Tia agreed to go to the gallery with us.  We met Tia on the street about a block from our house.  Just as we met her, a taxi passed.  Tia flagged down the taxi for us and we began our ride to the Teleférico Verde.  Our eight-minute ride to the Teleférico Verde Irpavi station cost us $15 Bolivianos (US$2.18).  That amount included a tip of $3 Bolivianos.

On the upper level of the Teleférico station, we boarded one of the gondolas and began our steep ascent up and over the San Alberto area of La Paz.  The San Alberto area has dozens of multi-million-dollar homes.  No doubt the owners directly under the Teleférico remain very unhappy that the public transportation constantly flies overhead.

As the Teleférico Verde crests San Alberto and begins to drop into the Obrajes area, the gondolas are at the highest point above ground.  My guess of the height is about 400 to 500 feet (122 to 152 meters).  This is not Leslie’s favorite part of the trip.  In addition, she was cold.  I assured her she would warm up when we began walking.

We rode the Teleférico Verde to the final station at Del Libertardor.  At that station, one can switch to the Amarillo line or take a short walk over to the Celeste line.  Our destination required us to walk the short distance to the Celeste.  Once on the Celeste line, we continued to the final station, Prado.  As an aside, the cost to build both the Verde line and the Celeste line was US$88,000,000 each!

Emerging from the Prado station, we walked a short distance uphill to Avenida 16 de Julio to hail a taxi.  After a minute or two waiting, a taxi stopped for us.  The driver was a very nice man.  I told him we wanted to go the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.  At first, he did not know the location.  I showed him the address of Indaburo #710 esquina Jaén and he immediately began driving.  Traffic was a little heavier in this section of La Paz than it had been near our home.  The driver quoted a rate of $15 Bolivianos to get us to our destination.  When we arrived, Tia paid the driver $20 Bolivianos (US$2.90).

Immediately upon getting out of the taxi we saw the art gallery.  One cannot miss the building.  There are large murals painted on the building; undoubtedly done by Mamani Mamani.  The building sits at the southern end of Calle Jaén, where it makes a 90-degree turn to the east.  We walked into the gallery at about 10:00.

A man walks past the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery on Calle Jaén.
The north face of the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery building.

Walking into the gallery, one is immediately struck by the very colorful art works.  Everything in the gallery seems to pop out at the viewer.  As we walked through the gallery, one of the employees accompanied us and quoted prices of the various works about which we inquired.  He spoke very good English.  That made our communication easy.

I asked about one large work that caught my eye.  He said it was 5,000.00, I thought that might be in Bolivianos; but then he finished his sentence with the phrase, U.S. dollars.  I quipped that was way out of our neighborhood!  We settled on a much smaller painting and a painted stone frog.  We asked the employee if the artist was at the gallery.  He said no, but he thought he would arrive in about an hour.  We really wanted to meet the artist.  We paid for our items and said we would return in about an hour.  With that, at about 10:30, we began our stroll north on Calle Jaén.

The view north on Calle Jaén.
View from the Hostal Ananay entrance back to the gallery.

Calle Jaén is a pedestrian street.  There are no vehicles on the street.  It is intricately paved with cobblestones.  It is intricate because of the size of the stones used and the alternating patterns interspersed along the street.  The largest stones can be no more than four inches.  It must have taken a very long time to pave that street!

Not too far from the art gallery we spotted the Hostal Ananay.  We decided that would be the perfect place to stop for a coffee.  Walking through the door from the street, one is in a small hallway about 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) long.  At the end of the hallway, one is surprised by a cozy courtyard.  Across the courtyard from the hallway was a door to the café.  We walked in, sat down, and ordered our drinks.

The café was surprisingly large.  There were multiple tables scattered about, a stage set up for musicians, and multiple works of art.  Two art pieces caught my eye.  One was a very odd painting of Jesus Christ.  The painting showed Christ with three faces.  We learned later the piece is titled, The Trinity.  I guess that makes sense, but it was still nothing I would want to own.  I could not read the artists name.  The other piece I noticed I could see hanging in my house.  It was a wood carving of an indigenous Andean man playing a Bolivian pan flute.

A portion of the courtyard at Hostal Ananay.  The chain to the blue barrel is a method of directing rain water.
The Trinity, a painting in the Hostal Ananay.
A wood carving in the Hostal Ananay. It shows an indigenous man from the Andes playing a pan flute.

After our break, we continued our walk north.  We soon spotted a small art gallery.  We climbed the treacherous, no-handle-available stairs to enter.  Once inside, a nice young woman greeted us and asked if we spoke Spanish.  We answered, “a little.”  We asked if she spoke English and she responded similarly.  She began telling us, in Spanish, about the various items in the gallery.  One of the items that she made were sculptures of cholitas that are about one-inch tall.  We had to get one.  She also pointed out some refrigerator magnets.  Each magnet was a bottle cap with a scene painted inside.  She said they were made by her sister.  We bought a magnet with a cholita painted inside.  I was remiss, I should have asked her if I could have taken a photograph of her.  Oh well.

Leaving the gallery, I saw a sign on the wall noting that the Club Atletico Jaén, a football (soccer) team, was founded here in 2005.

A small art store along Calle Jaén.
Farther up the hill on Calle Jaén, looking south. A group of Asian tourists stopped to take photographs of the wooden terrace on the building.
Looking south on Calle Jaén.

Along Calle Jaén are multiple small museums.  We stopped in one.  The attendant said we needed a ticket to enter.  He said those tickets were available in the first museum at the end of the street.  Sure enough, at the T-intersection of Calle Jaén and Sucre is the Museo Costumbrista (Museum of Customs), where they did sell tickets for the museums.  Residents of Bolivian can enter for $8 Bolivianos (US$1.16) while foreigners pay $20 Bolivianos (US$2.90).  Tia and I were considered Bolivian nationals because we had our residency cards.  Leslie was considered a foreigner since she did not have her card.  The fee allows one access to four museums on Calle Jaén:

  • Museo Costumbrista Juan de Vargas
  • Museo Litoral Boliviano
  • Museo Metales Preciosos
  • Museo Casa de Pedro D. Murillo

I was disappointed with the Museo Costumbrista and the Museo Litoral Boliviano (I cannot translate this, but it seems to relate to the early history of La Paz) because they did not allow photography.  There were some very interesting and unique items in each museum I wanted to capture.  I did find a YouTube video for the Museo Costumbrista.  The 00:01:46 video shows some of the masks and costumes worn for the carnival celebration from the early 20th Century.  One may click here to view the video, Museo Costumbrista.

The Museo Litoral Boliviano had several dioramas depicting episodes in La Paz history.  Some of them were rather gruesome.  I have included some photos I found on the internet.

Related image

The above photo dramatizes the quartering of the Indian leader, Tupac Katari, some 237 years ago (credit the Bolivian Ministry of Culture and Tourism).

Image result for museo costumbrista la paz

The photo above is a diorama of the death of Pedro Domingo Murillo.  His house is on Calle Jaén.  It is now one of the museums (credit the newspaper La Region).

We opted to skip the final two museums because we were anxious to meet Mamani Mamani.  That ended up being a lapse in judgement.  The good news is our entry ticket is valid until August 22, 2019.

As we left the museum and began our walk down Calle Jaén, I saw a tile sign that provided the history behind this beautiful street.  It is named after Don Apolinar Jaén.  He was born in Oruro, Bolivia in 1776 and later executed on May 29, 1810 because he was involved in the revolution for independence.  He and others in his group are referred to as the Protomártires de la Independencia (martyrs of the independence).

The sign at the top of Calle Jaén.

I call skipping the other two museums a lapse in judgement because when we returned to the art gallery, we found out the artist was still not there.  We were assured he would be there soon.  We could have easily toured the other two museums.  Instead, we walked outside and sat on some benches to await his arrival.  Leslie and Tia opted for the sunny side of the street.  I was happy to stay in the shade.

Looking south on Calle Jaén.
Approaching the art gallery again.
Leslie and Tia relaxing on a bench.

My bench faced a building on which was the name, Residencia del Adulto Mayor “Maria Esther Quevedo.”  It translates to a retirement home or old folks’ home.  As we sat there, more and more elderly people came to take their place on a bench.  Some of the people we saw were disabled.  At least two walked with visually impaired canes.  Some of the elderly sat near us on the benches (Leslie and Tia finally moved to the shade).  The Bolivians are so polite; as each one sat near us, they greeted us with, “buenas tardes (good afternoon).”  We all responded in kind.  I busied myself with more photography…imagine that!

One of the doors on the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.
Detail of one of the doors on the Mamani Mamani Art Gallery.
The Mamani Mamani Art Gallery has an odd shaped brick structure on the roof.
View of the art gallery from my bench.

In the photograph above, one can see a cross on the side of the nearby building.  It is La Cruz Verde, the green cross.  A plaque below the cross relates the following story.

The tradition is that in colonial times the alley – Calle Jaén today, was a dark place with constant appearances of supernatural beings and phenomena (ghosts, goblins, souls in pain, infernal noises of horse drawn carriages and chains dragging on the ground).  But, above all, there was the  presence of a condemned widow who seduced all the men who gathered drunk in the wee hours of the night to take them on a mysterious adventure. Then, the neighbors of this street, heirs of a deeply rooted Catholic faith, decided to place the green cross to scare away all the evil creatures that frightened them.

I thought it was an interesting story.

The Green Cross (la Cruz Verde) and the plaque with the story of the cross.
A man walking away from the gallery.
A cholita reading the sign in front of the art gallery.

It soon became obvious that the people were waiting for lunch at the home.  The door to the home was closed and locked.  A couple of men, over time, rang the bell and tried to gain entry.  One of the men, in fact, did gain entry after a lot of talking and continuing to step into the building.  At about 12:20, a woman from the facility opened the door and announced it would be ten minutes until the doors opened.  She opened the door again at 12:30 and said, “pase (come in).”  Interestingly, not one person seemed to rush to the door or even get up off the bench.  Finally, one by one, people made their way into the building.  As each one departed, they said, “buenas tardes” to us again.

As some of this was going on, Leslie walked back to the gallery to ask about the artist’s arrival.  She was told he was by San Francisco Church and that he would arrive momentarily.  Leslie came back to the bench to report and sit down.  As soon as she gave the report, a taxi arrived and Roberto Mamani Mamani emerged!  He greeted us all and walked with us to his gallery.

Roberto Mamani Mamani is from Cochabamba, born December 6, 1962.  He is Aymara, one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.  He is world-famous, having enjoyed exhibitions of his work in more than 50 locations, including Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Munich, and London.  As of 2017, he had made more than 3,000 paintings and nearly 70 series.  He is also well known for painting large murals on buildings.

Inside the gallery, he immediately turned over our painting and began writing and drawing on the reverse.  He wrote in Spanish, for Terry and Leslie, all the energy from the Andes, happy Valentine’s Day.  Below that he drew a rough sketch of a sun and moon.  He said I was the sun and Leslie was the moon.  Mamani Mamani is a very nice and genuine person.  It seemed he could not do enough for us to demonstrate his gratitude.  He gave us a small book documenting several of his works.  He also gave Leslie a ring that has one of his works under a bubble of resin.

Roberto Mamani Mamani signing one of his works of art.
Roberto Mamani Mamani signing one of his works of art.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani.
Leslie and I with Roberto Mamani Mamani, showing the reverse of the work of art.
Leslie and Roberto Mamani Mamani. He is holding a painted frog (sapo).

For anyone planning to visit La Paz, it is really worth the time and effort to visit this quaint corner of town.

Our final view of Calle Jaén for the day.

We departed the gallery with all of our purchases in tow.  We hunted in vain for a taxi.  Everyone that passed already had passengers.  We walked about six blocks before Tia was able to hail a taxi.  It was just in time.  Just as we got into the taxi, it began to rain.

The traffic was absolutely nuts!  The traffic was barely moving.  To travel about eight blocks, it took nearly 20-minutes!  At one point, our driver actually set the emergency brake and turned off the taxi while we sat in traffic.  It is at times like that I am glad the taxis in La Paz do not rely on meters.  If we had been in New York City, I would probably have needed a line of credit to pay for the taxi ride.

Our driver let us out of the taxi about a block from the Celeste line.  We walked quickly in the rain to the station.  Then it was simply a repeat of our morning journey, just in reverse.  We were back home by about 15:00.

Alasitas

La Paz, Bolivia – January 24, 2019

On Thursday, Leslie joined me at the office.  The occasion?  Alasitas!!

Our Community Liaison Officer (CLO) coordinated a trip to the opening day of Alasitas.  Alasitas begins on January 24 every year.  As stated on the LAPAZLIFE site,

“Taking place just before Carnaval, Alasitas Fair, or Feria de las Alasitas in Spanish, is a month-long festival, where locals purchase miniature items to give to Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance, in the hope he will bring fortunate and happiness to their lives”.

One can read more at LAPAZLIFE by clicking on this Alasitas link.

Before we left my office, Leslie and I huddled to agree on a strategy for our shopping.  We agreed we might buy one or two items and then just look.  After departing the market, we could decide if we really wanted anything else.  If so, we could return on another day.  That strategy held solid…until we arrived at the market!

At about 11:00, we made the short walk to the Saint George station of the Celeste Line of the Teleférico.  The Teleférico was very crowded.  No doubt we were not the only ones bound for Alasitas.  We waited for several gondolas before one had enough room for us to board.  Once on board, we sat back and relaxed for the ride to the Prado station, the end of the line.

Between the Open-Air Theater station and the Prado station, we “flew” over the Alasitas venue.  It did not take a rocket surgeon to see there were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance.  Our path took us directly over the main entry to the venue.  We saw the official Alasitas opening ceremony was in full swing.

“Flying” in the Teleferico Linea Celeste, approaching the site of the Alasitas.
Our view of the venue as we “flew” on to the final station on the Celeste Line.

Arriving at Prado station, we disembarked and waited for the rest of our group.  When we were all accounted for, we began our walk.  CLO strategically selected the Prado station as our starting point because everything from there is downhill.  That is a huge benefit in this city of monstrous hills.

As soon as we walked under Calle Bueno, we saw the beginnings of the vendor stalls at the Campo Ferial Bicentennial, the venue for Alasitas.  At this far end of the venue, only a few of the vendors were open.  There were, however, many foosball tables and pool tables.  They were all undercover.  Many of the tables were in use.  I assume one must pay a fee to be able to use one of the tables.

Looking down the valley toward the southeast. Many of the vendor stalls on this end of the Campo Ferial Bicentennial were not open.
There were dozens of foosball tables along our route.
There were also several pool tables along the way.

Some of my colleagues at work had told me that there are usually miniature Teleférico gondolas for sale.  I knew I had to get one each of the green and blue gondolas.  I saw some hanging at one of the first booths at which we stopped.  There was a wonderful woman there.  She sold us the two gondolas.  As part of the sale, she provided miniature certificates for each one.  They are copies of certificates for each of the actual gondolas on the operating Teleférico.  She said she is an artist.  She made several of the items in the booth, including a green bus.  As we departed, she gave us a blessing in the Aymara language.  That is the language of one of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.

This wonderful woman sold us the two miniature Teleferico gondolas, one green and one blue.

Our next stop was a booth with dozens of Ekekos of varying sizes.  Ekeko is the Aymara god of abundance.  He is the one the believers think will grant what is desired in their life.  Those desires are represented by the miniatures found at Alasitas.  We opted for one that is about six inches tall.  He will reside in our kitchen.  The young who sold the Ekeko also provided us with a cigarette.  Those are normally lit and placed in the mouth of Ekeko.  We decided it will just be by his ear.

A group of Ekekos for sale.
We purchased our Ekeko from this young man.

By this time, nearly noon, the main aisle was more and more crowded with people.  That is because many believe that they need to purchase their miniatures and have them blessed on the first day of Alasitas, literally at high noon.  For a blessing, one can go to a Catholic priest or an Aymara shaman.  It is customary to pay for the blessings.  The payment is probably around $5 Bolivianos (US$0.75).

The closer we got to the center of the feria, the more crowded things became.
A priest blessing some of the items purchased by a woman.

We veered off onto one of the side aisles.  The aisle was virtually empty of shoppers.  About halfway down the aisle was a vendor stall that had llama miniatures.  That particular stall also had a little girl that was beside herself, wanting an ice cream.  As soon as her mother gave her one, she was very content.  The little girl’s mother was very kind to help us find just the right llama.

While the main walkway was very crowded with people, the side areas were relatively open.
A very happy little girl, once she received her ice cream.
The little girl’s mother sold us a miniature llama.

I seem to be a sucker for color.  That was evidenced when we walked by a stall that had several Bolivian branded items.  In particular, some shot glasses with colorful leather holders caught my eye.  The young woman that helped me a lot of fun and very lively.

From this vivacious young woman, we purchased a set of Bolivian shot glasses.

At the end of the side aisle, I saw some beautiful chess sets.  I am not the best chess player in the world, nor do I have a collection of chess sets.  That changed today, the collection part, when I bought a chess set.  The particular set I bought pits the Spaniards against the Aztecs.  I probably got the European discount, which means I probably overpaid.  Regardless, I thought $250 Bolivianos (US$36) was very reasonable for the set.  My “collection” now includes that chess set and an agate set I bought when we lived in Islamabad.

The very kind purveyor of chess sets, among other things.

There was a booth that sold nothing but miniature food items that were refrigerator magnets.  We had to have some of those, including my favorite, a salteña.

Our next stop was a father and son booth that specialized in small grocery items.  In this case, small truly means small.  There were boxes of food that could not have been more than one-half inch tall.  I have no idea what we will do with them.  I guess we will just have them and love them.

This both, manned by a father and son, is where we found our miniature food packages.

Just down the way was a stall with all sorts of miniature construction items and tools.  Some of the tools were about three inches long.  However, I opted for the wooden toolbox.  This very small toolbox held eight small tools.  The tools are about one-half inch long.  The pliers actually work!  A miniature blue hardhat topped off my purchase.  The vendor tried to sell us miniature Academy Awards statues, Golden Globe statues, and a personal computer.  We thanked her but decided we had enough already.

This vendor concentrated mostly on miniature construction items.

One couple were selling miniature currency from around the world.  We knew these would be for sale.  A colleague from the office actually gave Leslie and I some miniature currency.  She said people frequently hand these out to strangers.  We had to buy a golden US$100 bill.

Money vendors. We bought a golden US$100 note.

After the currency purchase, I vowed to not buy anything else.  I finally remembered the well-intentioned strategy Leslie and I agreed upon; albeit late!

Since we were finished flinging money around like we had it, we decided to walk to the Teleférico and head back to the office.  As we walked through the crowd, heading downhill, we passed several Aymara shaman who were blessing items people purchased.  Part of the blessing entails smoke.  The smoke comes from wood, sugar, and something else.  We both thought the odor was quite pungent.  We did not stop for any blessings, opting instead for fresh air.

People at a table with a shaman to bless their purchases.
A shaman blessing some items.
Another shaman waiting for items to bless.

When we walked through the main entry, on our way out, the crowd seemed multiply.  Above the main entry is a very large Ekeko.  The sea of people seemed to go on forever.  We happened to be walking behind a group from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.  Many of them were carrying colorful gods eyes.  As we walked along behind them, we took the opportunity to hand out some of the miniature currency my colleague had given us.  The recipients truly seemed to enjoy receiving them.

Moving closer to the main entry, the crowds and the smoke increased.
A vendor specializing in Barbie clothes.
A woman selling miniature diplomas and certificates in an interview with local media.
Looking back toward the Ekeko at the main entry.
The crowd at the main entry.
Beginning our walk back to the Teleferico station, the crowd was still enormous.
The group carrying the gods-eyes are part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The crowd of people seemed unending.
Hundreds of people walking toward the main feria grounds.

We finally got to a side road that led to the Teleférico.  Thankfully, it was not crowded with people.  However, there were several dozen Bolivian police standing in formation.  I am not quite sure why they were standing there.  Leslie and I took advantage of the opportunity and handed out the rest of our miniature currency.  Like the other recipients, they were happy to receive the notes.

A gathering of two or three dozen Bolivian police.

At the Open-Air Theater station, I stopped to take a photograph of the side of the station.  Since it is on the Celeste Line, the panels are various shades of blue.  I knew I needed such a shot for an upcoming photographers’ group competition.  I am not sure what the other photographers will think of the shot, but it is by far one of my favorites.

The side of the building at the Open Air Theater Station of the Celeste Line of the Teleferico.

We boarded and rode back to the Saint George station.  At the station is a beautiful mural.  The mural is only about two or three months old.  I have always meant to stop and take a photo.  Today, I stopped and took the photograph.

The mural at the Saint George Station of the Celeste Line. It celebrates 40 years of scholarships between Bolivia and Japan.

From there, we walked back to the office and had lunch.

When we got home that evening, we unwrapped all of our loot.  We are happy with it; although, are not sure what we will do with some of the items!

We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Alasitas.  For anyone traveling to Bolivia at this time of year, Alasitas is a must-see!

Our “loot” from Alasitas.
The Ekeko is definitely center stage.
In this wooden chess set, it is the Spaniards…
…versus the Incas. The detail and color of the set is amazing.