Tag: Shops

Life Happens in La Paz

Life Happens in La Paz

La Paz, Bolivia – June 1, 2019

Life happens all around us.  La Paz, Bolivia is no different in that respect.

After my recent visit to Tiwanaku (see Ancient Peoples or Aliens?), I watched the Ancient Aliens episode about Puma Punku.  That episode features a unique bowl found at Tiwanaku.  The bowl is located at the Museo de Metales Preciosos (The Precious Metals Museum) on Calle Jaen.  Hearing the name of the museum while watching the episode, I recalled being on Calle Jaen with Leslie (see Mamani Mamani).  The bowl is unique because of what appears to be Samarian cuneiform writing.  I decided I had to personally see this bowl.

Saturday morning at about 09:00 I left my house for the green line of the Teleférico.  I was the only rider in my gondola for the entire length of the green line.  The same happened on the celeste line, the white line, and the orange line.  From the orange line I saw a red building that may be a cholet.  I also saw the “illegal” cemetery again.

A red building beside the orange Teleférico.
The cemetery beside the orange line.

I got off the orange line at the Armentia station and walked southeast on Avenida Armentia toward Calle Jaen.  I stopped along the way to take photographs of some of the shops.  Just as I made it to Calle Jaen, I heard some loud motorcycles.  At first, I thought they were on the main road behind me.  Suddenly, much to my surprise, I noticed two motorcycles on Calle Jaen coming quickly uphill toward me.  The motorcycles were from the Bolivian police.  A dog barked and chased the second motorcycle.  Life happens in La Paz.

The Armentia station on the orange line.
Don Justo’s shop.
A small hardware store on Avenida Armentia.
River flower and a van.
A police officer on a motorcycle being chased by a dog on Callen Jaen.

After the motorcycles passed, it was just a few more steps to the entry to the Museo de Metales Preciosos.  I did not have to pay.  I retained my ticket from our visit to the other museums this past February.  The guard simple tore off the stub for the museum.  That left one museum entry, Casa de Murillo.  More on that soon.

At the first exhibit in the Museo de Metales Preciosos (no photographs allowed!) I noticed an abundance of artifacts from Tiwanaku.  This theme repeated itself throughout the museum.  The artifacts included arrowheads and ceramics.

After looking through the first couple of rooms, one exits into the central courtyard of the museum.  Crossing the courtyard, I entered the Gold Room.  The first thing I saw was the unique bowl which prompted my journey.  Fuente Magna is the name given to the bowl.  The museum does not allow photographs; however, one can see and read about the bowl at Ancient Pages.  I am glad I got to see the bowl.  It was fascinating.  Just what was a bowl with Samarian cuneiform writing doing in Tiwanaku?  How did it get there?  Was there some sort of extra-terrestrial travel involved in millennia past?  Life happens in La Paz, but who knows what may have happened at Tiwanaku?

I found two other fascinating things in the museum, mummies and skulls.  One of the upper rooms of the museum has three mummies on display.  Two of the mummies appear just as the one at Tiwanaku did.  The mummies are only about half-height, wrapped with what seems to be a hemp rope.  The only thing exposed is the face of the mummies.  The third mummy on display is without wrappings.  Upon closer inspection, one realizes why the mummies are only about half-height; they are folded.  Instead of the arms crossing on the chest, they lay straight up toward the head, one on either side of the neck.  Folding the legs at the hips and the knees allow the legs to lay inside the chest cavity.  Yes, the knees are in the chest!  No wonder they appear half-height!

A nearby room displays five of the distended skulls I saw at the museum at Tiwanaku.  These were easier to see.  I studied them closely.  I could not decipher how the skulls were distended during the life of the individual.  Other than the odd shape of the skull, the face and teeth appeared normal.

There is some ancient gold on display in the Gold Room.  But my attention went to the items I described above.

Essentially across Calle Jaen from the Museo de Metales Preciosos is Museo Casa de Pedro D. Murillo.  Pedro Domingo Murillo is a revered patriot, freedom fighter, and martyr.  In return for plotting and fighting for Bolivia’s independence from Spain, the Spanish executed Murillo in 1810 in the plaza that today bears his name.  The museum is in the home once occupied by Murillo.  Unlike the other museum, I was able to take a couple of photographs.

A bust of Pedro Domingo Murillo at the Museo de Casa de Murillo.
The courtyard of Casa de Murillo.
A painting at Casa de Murillo as seen from the courtyard.
The Templo de la Compañía de Jesús (Temple of the Society of Jesus) as seen from Casa de Murillo.
The entry portico to Casa de Murillo.

After the second museum, I decided I should have a coffee.  Music drew me into the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.  Like so many of the old structures on Calle Jaen, there is a central courtyard.  That is the seating area for the restaurant.  While drinking my coffee I noticed the upper floor had a lot of art for sale.  Finished with my coffee, I went upstairs to explore.  In addition to the art, some of my favorites appear below, I found a unique view of Calle Jaen.  Life happens in La Paz.

A timeout for coffee at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
Paintings at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
Casa de Murillo as seen from the terrace at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
Calle Jaen as seen from the terrace at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
A painting at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
A painting at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
A painting at the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.
The courtyard of the Hanaq Pacha Restaurant.

I departed the restaurant and almost immediately walked into the Kullama Gallery.  During our February visit, Leslie and I bought some gifts and a magnet in the gallery.  One of the items was a llama leather coin purse.  The coin purse has a painted accent.  Today, I met the accent painter, Inti!  He proudly proclaimed his name is Aymaran.  I bought a couple more gifts, took his photograph, and departed.  Life happens in La Paz.

The artist Inti.

As soon as I stepped back onto Calle Jaen, I noticed a director and photographer working with a model.  I remember seeing something similar on my last visit.  I took a few of my own photographs and continued toward the Mamani Mamani Gallery.  I was happy that the sky was so blue today.  I ended up with a much better photograph of the gallery building.

Turning the corner, I saw more models and more photography in full swing.  I immediately sat on a nearby bench to watch all the activity.  Not only did I see what was happening with the models, I also watched all the people walking past.  Some of the pedestrians included one of my favorite subjects, cholitas.  Life happens in La Paz, so I just watched life unfold for a while.

The woman in the green jacket directing a model on Calle Jaen.
Preparing for the next shot.
The building housing the Mamani Mamani Gallery.
One model standing at the door while another five are preparing for their shot.
Some cholitas walk past a man sitting on a bench.
Another cholita coming by.
The modeling troupe took over the benches on Calle Indaburo.
The models waiting for their shot while the old men wait for their lunch.
A man waiting for his lunch.

From my previous visit, I thought I remembered seeing a large church a block or two away.  I left the company of models to search for the church.  While I walked, I took photographs of the neighborhood and the people I saw.  I did not locate the church.  Instead, I headed back to the photoshoot.  Life happens in La Paz.

A colorful building on Calle Indaburo.
A two-tone building on Calle Indaburo.
People at the corner of Calle Indaburo and Calle Pichincha.
Chubis Burger on Calle Pichincha.
Looking downhill on Calle Pichincha.
Another view of Chubis Burger.
A young girl walks by Cesy Hairstyles on Calle Indaburo.

As I neared the area, I recalled the photoshoot troupe often walked farther west on Calle Indaburo.  I decided to go that way to see what was there.  There is essentially a set of stairs down to the next street.  The walls did have a lot of color and graffiti, so I understood why the photographer chose to shoot in that area.  I saw a uniquely painted metal door.  I am not sure if it led to a shop or a home.  I opted to not find out, just to enjoy the art.  Across from the door is a sign for what I assume is a nightclub, Bocaisapo (mouth and toad).  Near the door advertised; coca, art, and culture.  Life happens in La Paz; however, I do not think I will return to experience the club.

The Bocaisapo (Mouth and Toad).
The stairs from Calle Jaen down to Alto de la Alianza.
Another view of the Bocaisapo.
A painted metal door at 705C Calle Indaburo.

Walking back, I found a small café with a couple of outdoor tables.  The café is in the Mamani Mamani Gallery building.  I went inside and inquired if they had beer.  With an affirmative answer, I went back outside, a smile on my face, and sat at one of the two tables.  Soon the server brought my beer and a small bowl of peanuts.  The beer was very good.  It is an artisan brew I have not seen before, Cobriza.

The table was almost directly across from a door the photographer used as a backdrop for several shots.  I took advantage of the location and took a few shots myself.  Additionally, the models walked back and forth from their staging area to the various locations on Calle Jaen and Calle Intaburo.  I am not sure how they were able to walk in those “ankle-buster” shoes.  It appeared to me to be a challenge to walk in the shoes in the best most level and even sidewalk imaginable.  Add some cobblestones to the mix and it seems nigh impossible to walk.  In fact, they often escorted each other; one in “ankle-busters” and the other steadying model in flat shoues.  Regardless, because of my location, the models walked by frequently.

Soon I saw a familiar man approach the models’ staging area.  I realized it was the artist, Mamani Mamani.  He greeted the troupe.  He ultimately ended up in front of his gallery, posing for photographs with the models.  Afterall, he is a very famous artist in Bolivia.  I was happy to just be sitting there and watching life unfold.  Life happens in La Paz.

One of the models at Calle Jaen and Calle Indaburo.
The gift shop at the Green Cross House.
The pause that refreshes. My table and beer on Calle Idaburo.
Striking a pose on Calle Indaburo.
Receiving direction for the next pose.
The model’s pose prior to direction.
Posing at a doorway.
Two models walking back to the home base benches.
A model in “ankle-busters” taking photographs of other models posing with the artist Mamani Mamani.
Another model taking photographs of models with the artist Mamani Mamani.
The daughter of one of the models striking a pose on a lamppost.

Finished with my beer, I decided I would start my journey back home.  Instead of retracing my steps to the orange line, I decided I would walk to the celeste line.  Luckily that direction is all downhill.

An old building on Calle Indaburo.
The building at Plaza Wenceslao Monrroy.
A view downhill on Calle Genaro Sanjines.

Along my route, I kept seeing a political sign.  I finally stopped to take a photograph.  The slogan in Spanish reads, “Insurrection Brigade.  Elections and the referendum are a submission to the corrupt bourgeois dictatorship and selling the homeland.”  People in Bolivia are definitely able to express their views.

A little farther along I came to a yellow building.  It is striking, not just because of the color, but because of the architectural style and details.  I am not sure what the building is, but it is eye catching.

Posters on a building on Calle Genaro Sanjines.
Posters at the corner of Calle Genaro Sanjines and Calle Ingavi.
Approaching a colorful building on Calle Genaro Sanjines.
Wall decoration on the building.
Detail of the wall decoration.

I made it to Calle Comercio, a street familiar to me from previous treks through the city.  The bustling street meant it was Saturday.  The Mega Burguer sign touts, “nobody does it like us.”  In front of the fast food restaurant is one of many vendor stands.  One can see many cardboard boxes under and near the stand.  One of the aspects of life in Bolivia is that many of the vendors set up and tear down their stands each and every day.  I am sure that is because they do not have the funding to have a brick and mortar store.  I continued southeast on Calle Comercio toward Plaza Murillo.  As I may have noted, life happens in La Paz.

The Mega Burguer on Calle Comercio.
Los Amigos on Calle Comercio.

I made it to Plaza Murillo with my newfound knowledge of the history of the plaza.  It struck me that there were a lot of people around the plaza.  At first, I thought that was because it was Saturday.  As I walked a bit farther, I noticed two reasons for the throng of people.  At the steps of the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace I saw a wedding couple posing for photographs.  In addition to the wedding guests, several people were boarding a bus.  I am not sure if that was part of the wedding or something separate.  It is very obvious that life happens in La Paz.

Next to the basilica is the Presidential Palace.  On this visit I got a much better photograph of the guards wearing period uniforms.  The platforms on which they stand bear the inscription, “Presidential Escort.”

A lot of people in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace at Plaza Murillo.
A newlywed couple on the steps of the basilica.
The guards at the Presidential residence in period costume.
The newlyweds posing for photographs.
Getting ready to descend the stairs.
Wedding guests in front of the basilica.

Two police officers walking up Calle Socabaya.

A pharmacy on Calle Socabaya.

After watching life happening in La Paz, I continued my walk to the Teleférico.  Along my path, I saw some new sights.  First was a building with the sign, “Vice President of the State.”  I assume that building houses the offices of the Vice President of Bolivia, Álvaro Marcelo García Linera.  Near that building is the 1668 Saint Agustin Shrine.  Beside that is the La Paz city hall.

The building with the dome has a sign stating, “Vice President of the State.”
A woman boarding a bus at the corner of Calle Mercado and Calle Ayacucho.
El Sagrario San Agustin (The Saint Agustin Shrine) dates from 1668.
The La Paz city hall is beside the The San Agustin Shrine.

Across from city hall were several protest banners and a lone woman selling items, presumably to raise money for the cause.  One of the banners read, “Mayor enforce the constitutional decision to LPL.”  Another reads, “Revilla, order your company LPL to comply with the constitutional ruling of reincorporation.”  The third sign reads, “Revilla is a liar does not comply with the justice of our reincorporation justice is fulfilled do not negotiate.”  The mayor of La Paz is Luis “Lucho” Revilla.  Life happens in La Paz.

A few minutes later, I made it to the celeste line.  A fitting end to my trek that day was the beautiful mountain, Illimani.

I enjoyed walking around La Paz today and watching life happen.

A protest across from city hall.
People queuing for public transportation near city hall.
A woman selling all sorts of items at a stand on Calle Colon.
Buildings on Avenida Camacho.
The bus stop near the celeste line of the Teleférico.
Illimani is visible in the distance across from the Prado stop of the celeste line.
Museo Nacional de Arte

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 backward 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.  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 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 impressive, but not overstated.  Photography inside 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 entrance 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 entrance 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 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 entrance to the National Congress of Bolivia.  What immediately captures the imagination is that the clock is backward!  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 backward 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.  The guards at the palace are hard to miss since they are in uniforms reminiscent of the 19th century.

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 everywhere.  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 seat in the shade and sat down.  From that vantage point, I 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 road I glimpsed an inner courtyard through a door, 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 entrance 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 entrance 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.

There were many typical sights of La Paz as I walked toward and onto the pedestrian bridge.  The views included vendor booths for DVDs and news/magazines, signs celebrating La Paz, and food booths.  At the 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 an enormous roof.

The other side of the market is above Calle Figueroa.  That street had more vendor stands.  Some vendors 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.  A museum guide approached me as I stood reading signs about the church and monastery.  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 heavy snowfall.  The rebuilt structure opened in 1772.  At many locations along our route, the guide advised me not to 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 did not precisely 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, a 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 did not 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 stones from the complex.

The guide walked me back toward the entry stairs and allowed photographs of another courtyard.  Then the guide opened an old wooden door at the top of the stairs that 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 not,” was the answer.  Talking with the guide is when I learned photos 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 massive and ornate monstrance.  The next stop was the choir, with two levels of carved wood seats surrounding a central music stand.  On the music stand was an enormous original music book.  The books are large to allow the choir to see the music from any of the seats.

Before entering the basilica, the guide mentioned that every stone bears the mark of the mason that originally quarried the rock.  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 tricky.  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 significant 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.  The guide 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 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.  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, but 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) that 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 level.  I opted instead to use the stairs that wrapped around the elevator shaft.  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’s assistant, and a photographer taking photographs on the roof.  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!!

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 pickup, the service sends a text message via WhatsApp with the name, photograph, and cellular phone number of the driver.  Additionally, one also receives a picture of the vehicle, including the license plate.  That allows for confirmation of the ride before getting in the car.

In our experience, each driver is very kind.  Each driver is also very conscientious and safe.  For example, 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 quickly 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 toasted 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 aircraft 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 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 beautifully landscaped plaza covers one city block, containing many sidewalks.  At the center of the square 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 square.  In formation and at the front of the cathedral, was the Banda Intercontinental Poopó (the Poopó Intercontinental Band).  The band hails from the Bolivian city of Oruro.  The group, formed in 1964, it is famously known for playing Bolivian folk music.  Every year the band performs during Carnaval in Oruro.

There were about 50 band members on the steps in front of the cathedral.  Their uniforms are distinct, each member wearing 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 coats.  Each side of the pants also carries the name of the group.  The white shoes are like none I have ever seen.  To top it all off 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!

The Cathedral of Santa Cruz, completed in 1915, 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, the altar that is opposite the entry point immediately draws one’s attention.  The basilica is all brick and concrete except for the beautiful vaulted wooden ceilings.  These vaulted ceilings are over the central 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 typical sight in a Catholic church is 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 tabletop 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.

Further 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 on the left side of the display.  As with the crucifix display, another, albeit smaller, metal table for prayer candles 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 figure 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.

On 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 ancient.

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 to the basilica.  When we emerged, we saw some dancers performing between the band and the group 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 also 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 snack on some French fries.  Just as noted above, our server was kind and posed for a photograph.  In return, she captured Leslie and me 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 was the two chess tables set up at the side of the square, 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.  Prior to arriving at the steakhouse, we had a glass of wine 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 of the steakhouse was spot-on!  The building is two-stories; however, once inside, one can see the steakhouse 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 beverage preference.  Oddly enough, we selected a bottle of wine.  We had a bottle of Juan Cruz Tannat which 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 ramekins containing a variety of sauces and dressings accompanied the steak.  A fresh green salad came was also part of the fare.  The steak, done to perfection, massaged the tongue with each bite.

I am glad we each ordered a half portion.  The steaks 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 enormous 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 walk through the store.  After our coffee, we joined the wanderers.  The store had everything under one giant roof.  We saw everything for which we usually shop.  That is different than the area where we live.  When we go shopping 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 film that we found interesting.  So, we walked through a small hallway and discovered a large food court.  There were some vendors we did not recognize, but there were many we did know; Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, and Burger King, to name a few.

We had not eaten at Burger King for a long time, so we decided 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 ametrine crystal, about 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall, a purple and white quartz only found in Bolivia, on display. I have no clue about the value of that piece. The stone contains both citrine and amethyst.

We had an excellent 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 wall painting. In the corner of the front garden is a 3-D mural. It depicts the mission of APHIS. The mural focuses on 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 wall 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 unusual. 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.
Alasitas

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 [sic] 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 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 onboard, 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 entrance 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 site, 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 documents 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 lives. The miniatures found at Alasitas represent those desires. 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 typically 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 central 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 this service. 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 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, as 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 pitting 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 devices were about three inches long. However, I opted for the wooden toolbox. This tiny toolbox held eight small tools, each about one-half inch long. The pliers 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 was selling miniature currency from around the world. We knew these would be for sale. A colleague from the office gave Leslie and me some tiny money. 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 not to buy anything else. I finally remembered the well-intentioned strategy Leslie and I agreed upon; albeit late!

Since we were finished flinging money around as though 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 shamen 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 entrance, on our way out, the crowd seemed to multiply. Above the main entrance 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 god’s 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 indeed 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 god’s-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 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 photo, 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 a 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, we 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.