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!
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Asiel Timor Dei circa 17th century. This image is from Khan Academy.
The Coronation of the Virgin by Gaspar Miguel de Berrío circa 18th century. This image is from Wikipedia.
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!
The Triumph of Nature (1928), by Cecilio Guzmán de Rojas. This image is from Biografías y Vidas.
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…
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the left side of the altar is a statue of Peter, complete with the keys to the Kingdom.
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.
Leaving the chapel area, one encounters another bas relief. This bas relief depicts the Holy Trinity. It looks ancient.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
After our refreshments, we called for our taxi and returned to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.
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 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.