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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Two police officers walking up 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.
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.
Friday morning was cold and clear, 1-degree Celcius (34-degrees Fahrenheit). The clear skies bode well for my photography at Tiwanaku, my destination that day.
Right at the appointed hour, 08:00, Mariela, and her driver, Nico, arrived to pick me up for my guided tour at my residence (3,407 meters (11,180 feet)). As one will read, the altitude is a topic of interest throughout the blog. Mariela is the owner of her tour company, Mariela’s Bolivia. One can find her on Facebook by searching for Mariela’s Bolivia. Homebase for her company is in La Paz, but she offers tours throughout the area. I cannot recommend her highly enough. I will use her for additional trips soon.
As I found out throughout the day, the tour was all-inclusive. When I got into the van, she immediately gave me a fabric bag with her logo. Inside the bag were a liter bottle of water, two snack bars, a bag of chocolate-covered puffed rice, and two tangerines. She also took care of all Teleférico fares, Tiwanaku entry fees, and lunch.
Both Mariela and Nico were friendly and personable. Since my Spanish skills are not that good, it is a bonus that they both speak perfect English.
Our first destination was the Irpawi station of the green line of the Teleférico. The plan was for Mariela and me to ride the Teleférico to the last station of the blue line. Nico would meet us at that stop. Rush-hour traffic was heavy, but we made it to the green line station in good time. Mariela and I jumped out of the van and entered the station. Since it was rush-hour, there were a lot of people in the station. When I usually ride the Teleférico in the morning, it is around 06:00…not as many people then!
We entered an empty gondola and sat by the far window. Immediately, another six people came into the gondola. The door closed and we began the ascent from Irpawi. Mariela started to share all sorts of information with me about Bolivia and La Paz. As a history buff, I found the information very interesting.
Arriving at the first intermediate station on the green line, the Teleférico attendant asked us all to scoot closer. I could see a queue of people waiting to get into a gondola. By getting closer, we were able to accommodate two additional passengers.
In about twenty minutes, we made it to the final station on the green line. That is also the beginning of the yellow line, our next transport. There were very few people going our direction on the yellow line, so only two other passengers joined us. Mariela continued telling me about her city and country. One fact I found startling; at last count, some 70,000 people rode the yellow line daily from El Alto to La Paz and back again.
My first venture onto the yellow line provided a spectacular view of the recent horrific landslide. The civil engineering teams working there accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work required. Several homes and buildings continue to be at risk of slipping down the hillside. The landslide impacted at least one hundred families. Amazingly, there were only three casualties.
From the last mid-point station to the final station atop El Alto, the yellow line seems to go absolutely straight up! I do not think the ride is for the squeamish. Arriving at the Qhana Pata station in El Alto, we saw some of the 70,000 people queued up for the trip down to La Paz.
We switched to the silver line and ultimately to the blue line. As we flew over El Alto, we saw dozens and dozens of people readying for the Friday markets. At one point, the silver line crosses above a cliff. As seems to be the norm in La Paz, structures hugged the edge. I believe they were shops of some sort, not homes.
El Alto is at about 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) in altitude. That is roughly 609 meters (2,000 feet) higher than my house.
During the switch from silver to blue, I took the opportunity to photograph a map of all the Teleférico lines. I had not previously seen that.
The blue line goes directly down the center of Avenida 16 de Julio. It seems it will never end. Along that avenue, one begins to see cholets. The word cholet combines the word cholo, a pejorative term, and chalet, as in Swiss chalet. Most buildings in La Paz and El Alto are unfinished, with the iconic exposed red bricks. That meager finish allows the owner to escape some of the taxes imposed on a finished structure. The cholets are finished, some to a fare-thee-well. That brings on the mandatory taxes.
The ground floor is typically set aside for businesses. The next couple of levels are event spaces available for rental. The owner usually lives on the upper floors. The embassy recently offered a cholita wrestling event, and the venue was a cholet.
When Leslie and I recently visited the gallery of the artist Mamani Mamani, I remember seeing a photograph of some buildings on which he painted some murals (see the blog MAMAN!MAMANi). Today I saw those buildings from the Teleférico. I had no idea they were so far away.
Below the Teleférico, we saw nothing but gridlock! I felt sorry for Nicco down there somewhere. Regardless, we made it to the final station of the blue line. There, an enormous Friday market was in full swing. Nico was not there yet. However, after just a few photographs, Nico arrived. Mariela and I got back in the van.
Nico maneuvered the van through the crazy traffic until we got to Route 1. From there, it was smooth sailing toward Tiwanaku, until we arrived at the village of Laja. There is a tollbooth in that village. After obtaining the toll-ticket, there is a police checkpoint. The police officer looked at Nico’s driver’s license, asked where we were going, and quickly waved us through the checkpoint.
About 19 kilometers (12 miles) from Tiwanaku, Nico pulled off the road at an overlook. The elevation is about 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This particular overlook affords one an epic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes). In this area of Bolivia, there is about 120-180 kilometers (74-112 miles) line of Andean peaks always covered in snow. The difference in distance depends on the information source one uses. Suffice it to say, the range at this overlook is stunning. Even without the best light that morning, the mountain peaks are still a fantastic amazing sight.
After traveling a little more than two hours, we arrived at the village of Tiwanaku. It is the site of two famous and ancient archaeological sites, Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. I noticed train tracks in front of an old building that must have been the train depot at one time. I believe there is a special train one can ride from the La Paz area to Tiwanaku periodically. Schoolchildren visiting the sites most often use it. A sign near the old building indicated the altitude at Tiwanaku is 3,870 meters (12,697 feet). Mariela purchased the tickets for our tour at the depot building.
First on our itinerary was a visit to the two museums in Tiwanaku, the Museo Ceramico (Ceramic Museum) and the Museo Lítico (Lithic Museum – as in monolithic). Mariela and I first entered the Museo Ceramico. It was instantly evident that either the heat was not on or there was no heating system. Regardless, the museum helps paint a picture of the history of the area. The information offered by Mariela helped bring the culture into focus. The museum is where one begins to encounter the mystery surrounding Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. Tiwanaku became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the UNESCO site, Tiwanaku flourished as a city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D. However, some materials in the museum date the civilization as far back as 15,000 B.C. That is quite a range!
The museum displays many types of ceramics used in both everyday life and ceremonial life. Additionally, one can view some weaponry, jewelry, and even a mummy found at Tiwanaku. Maybe one of the most controversial items on display is the distended human skull. That one skull is the tip of the iceberg as the museum owns many others. No one knows the methods used to distend the skulls. No tools or records of the activity survived. Some have said the skulls might not be human, but rather extra-terrestrial. I certainly do not know, but I can say it was one of the oddest things I have seen. The museum does not allow photography, so I have no images to share.
Departing the Museo Ceramico, we walked next door to the Museo Lítico which showcase the stone monoliths found at the Tiwanaku site. The Bennett monolith is the star of the show. Wendell C. Bennett, an American archaeologist from Indiana is credited with discovering the monolith in 1932; thus the name. Relocated to the city of La Paz after its discovery, it took nearly 70-years to return the monolith to Tiwanaku. The monolith is almost 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall. One of its more unique features is the backward right hand. More on this later in the blog.
Exiting the museum, we headed to the archaeological site of Tiwanaku! Directly across the street from the museum is the main entrance. From the entry point to the site was roughly 335 meters (1,100 feet). The benefit of being with a knowledgeable guide is that she knew the shortcut. Nico picked us up and drove to the north side of the site. From there, our walk to the site was a mere 33 meters (110 feet)!
Approaching the site, one sees the rock wall of the Kalasasaya Temple, but what catches the eye is the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple). That is a large, square temple excavated about 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) into the earth. Stone blocks make up the walls. The most significant blocks are maybe 30 by 60 centimeters (12 inches by 24 inches). The stones are nicely carved and fit together very well without any visible type of mortar. The seams are tight, but not microscopically tight. The face of some of the stones show what appear to be tool marks, but overall, they are smooth. Each of the corners of the walls appears to be very close to 90-degrees. Interspersed throughout the walls are some much larger stones, some are monolithic.
On each of the four walls are carved heads, 170 to be exact. The carved heads are much closer to the ground than to the top of the wall. I thought that was odd. However, what is even more curious is the shape and design of some of the heads. I saw at least two that could pass for our current belief of the looks of extra-terrestrials. Some of the carvings seem to have turbans, something not known in the area in ancient times. At least one of the heads appeared to be a skull, much like the distended skull in the Museo Ceramico. Some of the objects have small noses, while others have quite broad noses. Likewise, there are thin lips and quite thick lips represented. Some of these features were not common in the area in ancient times.
The massive monolith in the center of the temple is not without its controversy. Known as the Bearded monolith, it sports a thick beard and mustache. The indigenous peoples are not known for such hairy faces. So, the question remains, after whom is the monolith fashioned? Just another of the many Tiwanaku mysteries.
Exiting the temple, one looks directly at the Akapana Pyramid, the third and tallest structure at Tiwanaku, although not exceedingly excavated. Mariela offered to walk with me to the top. I opted not to do that, which meant our attention turned to the Kalasasaya Temple.
The east wall of Kalasasaya Temple is roughly parallel to the west wall of the Templo Semisubterráneo. An ancient set of seven stairs appears to have been the main entrance to the temple in ancient times. The stairs lead to a gate and ultimately to the Ponce monolith. Well worn, the stairs are not open to the public. To enter the temple, we walked along the north wall until we arrived at a much smaller set of seven stairs. Going up the stairs, we made it to the topmost level of the temple.
We walked directly to the Sun Gate. This gate, though carved from stone, is not similar at all to the other rock at the temples. The face of the gate is incredibly smooth. One cannot see any tool marks. Precisely cut 90-degree angles are on either side of and above the opening. Just how was this stone carved? How was the stone transported to this spot? Since there are no signs of stone chips, where did the carving occur? No one knows the answer to these questions. There are many theories, but no proof to date.
At the very top of the stone, above the opening, is an intricate carving of what archaeologists think is the Sun God. To either side and below the Sun God are four lines of figures. The lower line may have been a calendar. The other three lines contain 48 identical winged figures. Lastly, one cannot miss the enormous crack at the upper part of the stone. Some believe that the break is the result of a lightning strike. I disagree with that theory. If lightning is the cause of the crack, I think there would be much more significant damage on the top portion of the gate.
The backside of the gate is not as intricate, but it still has the characteristic 90-degree angles and smooth finishes.
Our next stop was the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith. This monolith is well known for its contrasting colors of the stone. At the monolith we stood near a group of school children, also touring the sites. According to their jackets, the children hailed from the Villa Tunari neighborhood of El Alto. While standing there, Mariela continued to speak to me in English. Hearing the English and the fact that I was not Bolivian seemed to be of more interest to the children than the monolith. Several of them smiled and said hello to me as they departed the monolith.
The El Fraile monolith, like several others, has a unique characteristic. The right-hand is backward, and in the left, El Fraile holds a chalice. The fingers on the left side look natural, holding the cup. In the right hand is what appears to be a scepter; however, if one looks closely, the fingers of the right-hand point in the wrong direction. Another question, why? There may be theories, but no one seems to know for sure.
Along the north and south walls of a portion of the temple are 14 structures, seven on each side. They appear like tombs. Archaeologists believe they may have housed the mummies of leaders or ancestors of the Tiwanaku society. I wonder if that is where the mummy in the Museo Ceramico originated?
While I read a sign about the tombs, Mariela asked me to stay where I was. She disappeared on the opposite side of the wall. Suddenly I heard my name called, but no one was around me. I finally realized it was Mariela speaking to me through a small hole in the wall. Even though she whispered what she said, I heard it all very plainly. The holes in the wall are not only round. They have interior undulations that seem to mimic the inner ear. The holes prompt more questions. Why are the holes there? How were they carved so precisely? The answer appears to be that there are no answers.
In the center of the tombs stands the Ponce monolith. In the bright sunlight, it is easy to see the detailed carvings on this monolith; including the backward right hand. The “belt” of Ponce has a repeating pattern of what seems to be a crab. Those are in addition to the intricate designs on the headdress, face, chest, and fingers. The monolith has what looks like a mid-shin pair of shorts or breechclout, festooned with circles and what looks like peace signs. One theory holds these tracked centuries of solar and lunar eclipses.
On the back of the head of Ponce, one sees what looks like braids or dreadlocks. An unusual hairstyle for that part of the world in ancient times. At the base of the neck on the right side, a large chunk of stone is missing. Spanish explorers possibly tried to decapitate the monolith as they did with so many others at the Tiwanaku site.
Descending from the Kalasasaya Temple, the final monolith we saw was the Descabezado (Headless) monolith. As the name implies, this monolith has no head. The stone looks like the stone used for the Bearded monolith. Archaeologists believe the monolith dates from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.
We departed the Tiwanaku site and walked the 33 meters (110 feet) back toward the van. At the parking area was a woman selling tourist souvenirs. Of course, I had to buy something. After I completed the transaction, she was kind enough to allow me to take her portrait.
Leaving the parking area, we began our drive to the lunch restaurant. On the way, we passed a unique adobe structure. It seemed like Bolivia adobe meets Hobbiton. Nico was kind enough to stop to allow me to take a photograph. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that if I tried to enter the low front door, I would undoubtedly bump my head on some of the even lower ceilings! Because of that, I decided I would not go in!
In a matter of minutes, Nico parked in front of the restaurant Taypi Uta. That means “central house” in the Aymara language. The owner built the restaurant and a sort of museum on the rest of the grounds. The restaurant is modern, spacious, and very clean.
Our lunch, included in the price of the tour, was a Bolivian buffet. It was delicious. Our server, the owner’s daughter, brought our first course; sopa de trigo or wheat soup. As soon as we finished our soup, the server placed a small table with a traditional cloth next to our dining table. On the table, she placed three plates and ten small bowls. The bowls contained the buffet. I tried a little bit of everything.
One of the potato dishes was chuño. They are a dark-colored potato, dried in some manner that allows them to be stored almost indefinitely. They are not my favorite. The potatoes lack taste. My three favorite foods were the fried quinoa, the fried trucha (trout), and the llama. The bowls may look small, but we were all sated by the end of our lunch. That did not stop our server from bringing some yogurt for dessert. It had some banana and quinoa on top. I took a couple of bites, but yogurt is not one of my favorites.
Mariela noted that if we were working in a nearby field, the type of lunch we had would be brought to the area in the colorful fabric, for all to share. After nearly ten months in Bolivia, this was my first genuinely Bolivian lunch.
Lastly, the server brought a basket with several keychains attached to business cards for the restaurant. Each key chain had a small amulet. I chose a chacha puma, a figure that is half-man and half-puma.
What an enjoyable lunch!
During lunch, we talked about our final tour of the day, Puma Punku. Both Mariela and Nico spoke about people from the History Channel visiting the area a few years ago. Those visitors were more interested in Puma Punku than Tiwanaku. With that information in hand, when I got home, I looked up the episode in question. I watched Ancient Aliens season 4, episode 6 entitled The Mystery of Puma Punku. For anyone interested, it is well worth the investment of 44-minutes.
Following lunch, we drove the 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) to the Puma Punku archaeological site. We all three walked into the site, toward the first set of H-stones. As the name implies, these are stones formed in the shape of the letter H. Looking at them from the front, they are approximately 1-meter (3.2-feet) square. Many of the same questions come to mind. Where did the stones come from? How did they get here? How were they carved with no trace of tool marks? How were the precise 90-degree angles formed? What was the purpose of the stones? I am sure the list goes on and on.
Regarding where the stones originated, scientists are reasonably sure they came from a volcanic area, Kapia, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away. That fact makes the question of how the stones made it to the site all the more curious. Some of the larger stones approach 100 tons.
Regarding usage, The Mystery of Puma Punku episode explores two theories; a door hinge system and a space vehicle launch system. Watching the show, one can understand how the two individuals arrived at their opinions. However, I question the validity of either theory based on what I observed at the site. If the H-stones were part of an extensive door hinge system, where are the other hinge components or the door? If the H-stones were part of a launch system, why are they presented in an upright position? Why were the H-stones not aligned on the ground, parallel with the earth? As one can see, the use of the word “mystery” is very appropriate for the Puma Punku site.
There are many other stones at the site, nearly all of which generate similar questions like those above. However, there is one stone that is more perplexing than all the others combined. At first glance, one might not even take notice of the stone. It lies flat on the ground. It is about 1.2-meters (4-feet) long by 0.5-meters (19-inches). There is a large groove with two cylindrical holes on either end of the slot, roughly in the center of the stone, running lengthwise. But the two most unexplained features are “drill” holes and parallel lines.
On the edge of the stone is a small ledge that is precisely at a 90-degrees angle. On that small ledge are multiple small holes, apparently made with a drill. They are roughly equidistant. On the face of the stone, near one end, are two tiny, parallel lines carved into the rock. The lines have the same precise 90-degree angles and equidistant drill holes. I do not think I need to write all the questions here, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of questions about this stone.
In The Mystery of Puma Punku, scientists try to duplicate the cuts and finishes on a small stone taken from the site. They used both a diamond wheel cutter and a laser cutter. Neither even came close to matching the features found on the rocks at Puma Punku. More questions…
The structure at Puma Punku is a raised, pyramid-type structure. At the west wall is a set of ancient stairs that were likely the main entry point. Like the Tiwanaku site, they are well worn. Other than the stairs, the construction at Puma Punku is much different. Precisely cut, the stones at the walls fit together well. The seams are so precise that one cannot insert a piece of paper between two rocks. I saw no signs of visible mortar. Again, questions…
Near the end of our tour of Puma Punku, we saw some rodents living under the stones. I believe they are called cui rabbits. Regardless, they were cute and fun to watch.
After our walking tour of Puma Punku, we drove back into the village of Tiwanaku. I wanted to take a few photographs of the town. The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku, built between 1580 and 1612, is on the east side of the central plaza. Built with stones from the archaeological site, it also showcases two monoliths near the front entrance. Above the main entry door is a stained-glass depiction of a man’s face, possibly Saint Peter. Whoever it is, the man does not look happy at all.
Following the brief photography session, we drove back to the Museo Ceramico. The primary purpose was to use the toilets before our two-hour drive back to town. Emerging from the museum, we crossed the street to one of the souvenir stands. I bought a couple of items there and photographed our charming vendor.
At about 15:00, Nico turned the van toward El Alto, and we began our trek home. We made one more stop at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook. Because of the lighting, the view was even more spectacular than it was in the morning.
This day was one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken. I recommend Tiwanaku, and more importantly, Mariela’s Bolivia to anyone that visits the La Paz area of Bolivia!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Today was the first time I ever saw Dia de los Muertos first-hand. I chose the La Paz Cementerio General for my visit. I was a little apprehensive because of the unknown and the fact that I was going by myself. Another reason for my apprehension was the odor. One of my work colleagues told me there was a foul odor at the cemetery because the tombs were not airtight. As an ex-cop, used to dealing with bodies that had, shall we say, “ripened,” I knew exactly what odor was being described. Spoiler alert – I did not encounter any noxious odors at the cemetery.
Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead) is a traditional holiday in many Latin American countries. It is a day for remembering a family’s dead; but, more importantly, it is a time of celebrating the family members return from the afterlife for a visit. To that end, there are many offerings to entice the family member to visit and then to ease their return to the afterlife. The visits occur between noon on November 2 and noon on November 3; however, those times are not rigid.
A family can expect visits at either the tomb or grave of their loved one or at the family’s own home. In either location, family members place photographs and other items that the dearly departed loved during life. Additionally, things the loved one liked to eat or drink are also laid out as offerings. Those items can include bread, cookies, sweets, food, soup, soft drinks, beer, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.; virtually anything the loved one enjoyed.
The bread used for the Dia de los Muertos is interesting because of its many variations. One of the more popular shapes is the t’antawawa, an Aymara word meaning baby bread. A t’antawawa is in the approximate form of a baby’s body with a painted, ceramic face/head. They can range in size from tiny bread or cookies to nearly adult life-size. The food can also be in the shape of animals such as horses. Other bread shapes include the traditional dinner roll size, round loaves, ladders (to aid with travel to and from the afterlife), and crosses. It appears the maker’s imagination only limits the shape.
A work colleague shared with me that when setting up the offerings at home, their place of choice; they receive as many as 150 family members (living) throughout the holiday. That is a lot of people just to have drop by a home.
With that bit of preface, allow me to share my experience of Dia de los Muertos.
I walked out of my front door at 07:00. Green, Sky Blue, White, Orange, and Red. Those colors have nothing to do with the holiday nor are they colors I saw when I walked outside. Those colors just happened to be the five; that is correct, five, Teleferico lines I had to ride to get to the Cementario General.
While on the Orange Line of the Teleferico, I passed over the “illegal” cemetery, Cementerio la Llamita. I do not know if it is, in fact, an illegal cemetery. If it is unlawful, by deduction, that means that the regulations for burial are less strictly enforced. Therefore, it is such “illegal” cemeteries that may be the cause of my colleague’s comment regarding odor. I quickly tried to take a photograph, which is why the focus is not quite right.
At the end of the Orange Line, I changed to the Red Line. I only had one stop to go to be at the Cementerio General. I got off the Red Line and walked out of the Teleferico building. I noticed right across the street was an entrance to the cemetery. I do not believe that entrance is generally in use, just on select days. Approaching the gate, I saw a few small flower stands. Many cemetery visitors stopped to buy some flowers before entering.
The Cementerio General is the main, and quite large, cemetery in La Paz. The exterior wall of the cemetery is nearly 1.5 kilometers long (4,389 feet or 0.83 miles). That means the area covered by the cemetery is almost 10 hectares (24 acres). On the grounds, there are dozens and dozens of columbaria, some with as many as three levels. The “population” of the cemetery must be in the tens of thousands.
At the gate, Bolivian National Police searched the bags of everyone entering. As soon as I made it past that checkpoint, I faced multiple columbaria. At the end of the columbarium closest to me, I saw a mural with two painted skulls. Then I noticed that almost every columbarium had a painting at the end, even those with three levels. Much of the art was stunning. I did not photograph every mural, but I did capture a lot. At this point, the narrative will cease so the reader can view all of the paintings I captured. At the end of the mural photographs, the story continues.
Some of the above photograph captions contain the word “cholita.” That deserves some explanation. Cholita refers to the women of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua tribes. In the not too distant past, cholita was a pejorative term. However, today, it has regained a particular popularity and resurgence in use. The cholitas are very distinctive with their bowler hats and long hair braids.
Looking down the aisles between the columbaria, I could see far into the distance. They seemed to go on forever. The columbaria here in La Paz look much different than those that one might see in the United States. In the U. S. each tomb is covered by an engraved headstone bearing the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. In the Cementerio General, each monument has a glass door, usually with a small padlock. Behind the glass is a void of some eight to ten inches before the masonry seal on the tomb. On the masonry seals are the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. Often the details include a photograph of the person. Filling the remainder of the void are offerings or representative items of things the person enjoyed in life. In some instances, there are metal holders on either side for vases of flowers.
The tallest, single-story columbaria I saw contained tombs seven high. The visiting family must use ladders to reach the uppermost graves. With the aid of the ladder, family open the glass door, remove dead flowers and old offerings. Once clean, the family places new offerings into the tomb, and the glass door closed.
There is an initial fee and then annual fees after that to place a loved one in a tomb at Cementerio General. If the annual fees are not paid, after about three years, the remains are removed, cremated, and dealt with by cemetery personnel.
I did see a few graves in the ground with headstones, but that was by far the exception, not the rule. The columbaria were the norm within the Cementerio General.
I ultimately made my way to the main entrance of the cemetery. The church is there. The church was lovely inside, but it was not ornately decorated. Of particular note were the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and another area with a depiction of Jesus in the tomb.
Leaving the church, I saw a display containing many of the items that families might bring to the tombs of their loved ones. I was immediately drawn to the t’antawawas, probably because I had been given a t’antawawa cookie the day before by a work colleague. Those on display ranged from cookie-size to some made of bread that was approaching three-feet in length. At the exhibition, there was even a t’antawawa made in the shape of a horse. There were other bread designs, including one that reminded me of a colossal pretzel, bread crosses, and bread ladders. Huge onion plants partially framed the display. The families often use those, and large sugar cane stalks as decorations at the tombs.
I sat down at a bench near the display. I stayed there for quite a while, watching the people streaming into the cemetery. Many of them stopped to view the exhibition, some even taking photographs as I did. Others merely walked on by, destined for the family tomb. While I sat there, I saw a couple of men dressed in medium blue clothing wearing hard hats. One, in particular, made frequent eye contact with me. It dawned on me that they were probably masons, available for hire by the families to make any needed repairs to tombs. I ultimately approached one of the men. He confirmed he was, in fact, a mason, waiting to be hired by an incoming family. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. Unfortunately, I was not thinking, so I failed to get his name. Regardless, he was very nice.
After my rest on the bench, I continued walking through the cemetery. I did find a large map of the grounds. It is truly astonishing just how many columbaria are at the cemetery.
In the eastern portion of the cemetery, I noticed several tombs that had QR codes. If one captures the code with a smartphone, information about the person buried there is displayed. I did not do that, but I did come across two vast tombs that were obviously of revered Bolivians. The first was the tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés, 1944 – 1997, a famous Bolivian singer and politician. The second large tomb was that of Germán Busch Becerra, 1903 – 1939, a military officer and ultimately a President of Bolivia.
I found a mausoleum dedicated to those that had fought in the Acre Campaigns. That was a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil at the turn of the 20th Century. Bolivia was the victor in the fighting.
In all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I never saw any sadness. I never saw any family members weeping. The Dia de los Muertos seemed to be more joyous than a sad occasion. I did find out that families can hire people to cry at the tomb. I did not personally witness that. However, I did see families that hired musicians to play and sing at the graves. One of the more noteworthy groups were about ten boys playing drums and Bolivian pan flutes. They did an excellent job and amassed quite a crowd of onlookers. I did come across another group of boys with drums, but they did not seem to be as polished. In fact, a woman walking by the group covered her ears.
During my walk, I stopped at one point when I saw a man and his young son. The man was struggling with one of the ladders. I asked him if he needed assistance. He politely declined.
Strategically placed throughout the cemetery are sinks and water spigots. The visitors use these stations to clean items from their loved one’s tomb. Most often, the items cleaned are flower vases. Near each sink are rubbish bins in which the old flowers are placed. Workers come by periodically to police the area and take the rubbish to large 30-yard trash bins. In turn, those are removed from the cemetery by large trucks from the local trash service.
After all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I decided it was time to head home. I walked to the main entrance of the cemetery. Not far from there was an exit. As I stepped onto Avenida Baptista I noticed the street was closed for the holiday. There was a real carnival atmosphere. One of the first things I saw was an art deco building that reminded me of a building in Wellington, New Zealand (see the posting Wellington Museum).
There were a couple of zebras walking on the sidewalk. The zebras are people in costume. The La Paz Zebras were born as a way to help regulate traffic and avoid pedestrian/vehicle mishaps. The Zebras have been around since 2001. As I walked past, they both said buenas dias!
One of the streets heading off from Avenida Baptista had what seemed like dozens of stands of BBQ and other delicious smelling foods. I wanted to try some, but I did not since Mr. E. Coli had just visited me. While on that street, I ran into a shoe shiner. Many of the shoe shiners keep their faces covered because they do not want their friends and family to know that is what they do to earn money.
Directly across from the main entrance to the cemetery is a small mall with nothing but flower shops. While I was there, it was doing a booming business.
I began walking east along Avenida Baptista. Luckily, it was all downhill, so I did not have to grapple with gravity very much. As I noted above, the street was closed to traffic. Instead of vehicles, the road was packed with vendors of every ilk; ladies’ lingerie, plasticware for children, handmade wooden items, DVDs, ice cream, fruit, etc. It was varied and noisy as some vendors shouted out what was available. Pedestrians choked the parts of the street that were not covered by vendors. I can only imagine the scene later in the day when it would no doubt be busier.
At the Garita de Lima park roundabout, I stopped to take in the sights. That is where I saw the Evangelical Baptist Church and the Hospital La Paz.
Departing the Garita de Lima park roundabout on Max Paredes, I saw something that very much reminded me of home, the kitchen gadget salesman. A man set up a portable table in the street. The edges of the tabletop held about four dozen oranges. In the middle of the table, there was a pile of different colored plastic gadgets. The salesman, speaking loudly and rapidly, demonstrated how one could insert the device into an orange and quickly obtain the juice. He had several people standing around watching his demonstration. I am not sure if he sold any to that crowd.
Shortly after passing the kitchen gadget salesman, the street opened to traffic once again. At that point of Max Paredes, there were still vendors; however, they were relegated to the sidewalk or curbside. This area is where the food market begins. It is set up in specific sections. There are sections for vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cooking spices, lentils, fish, and meat. There were even a couple of fabric vendors thrown in for good measure. Between the vendors, pedestrians, and vehicles, one has to be careful while walking.
After walking nearly a mile (1.3 kilometers), I found Sagarnaga, the street for which I had been searching. That street would take me to the Witches Market and the Basilica of San Francisco. I was quite happy that my walk from the cemetery to the Basilica was downhill.
In the Witches Market, I did a little shopping. I found several touristy items that I could not live without.