Travels with Mom and Dad

April 26, 2008

It is amazing how fast time flies, even when you are moving slowly. My parents have both felt the strong effects of the high altitude. Tuesday as we toured Tiwanaku (pre Incan ruins) they both had very little energy. We had the same guide, Juan, for Tiwanaku as we did for the city tour the day before but this time I drove. He took us to the original site of La Paz, present day Laja. We saw the an ancient church with the foundation stones built out of rocks from Tiwanaku.

Juan is a local “mayor” of his neighborhood of 6,000 people and after the day of ruins and history Juan invited us to see his neighborhood in El Alto. We drove through the neighborhood; learned how the local government is divided up, how he leads his neighborhood in improving streets, schools and local governance and met some of the people placing pavers in the streets. He explained how USAID and Save the Children provide food for every 25 square meters the woman pave over. The results were very even, environmentally sound and attractive streets were there was only dirt before. They are planting street trees as well. Juan’s unpaid job may well lead him to greater political heights. From what we saw he is doing a fine job for his neighborhood.

We also met Juan’s family. We visited their house which is more aptly described as a compound. There are about seven families within his immediate family living at the compound and there is currently a large addition underway. I expect there is always some aspect of addition going on. His mother, father, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews even cousins were all very cordial and friendly as he introduced us around. We had dinner that night at one of La Paz’s better restaurants, La Comedi (Tracy and I ate there last December).

The next morning we took our time and left a little late for Copacabana. We crossed between San Pablo and San Pedro by the same rickety ferry boats that Tracy and I had five months ago. It was a beautiful drive, very clear and sunny. Lake Titicaca sits at 3,800 meters (12,450 feet) and the we figured the passes we drove over high above the lake were another 300-500 meters (1000-1600 feet).

Copacabana is where Mom and Dad really felt the altitude. The first night we were there Dad was sick and the second day Mom was sick. Dad recovered fairly quickly and we took a tour of the Isla del Sol (Sun Island) which is credited with being the religious birthplace of the Incas some 800 years ago. It was a perfect day with lots of sunshine. Dad stayed close to the water while I hiked to some ruins on the north end of the island. We climbed a fairly steep path for a mid day lunch (fresh trout) in the middle of the island. We both climbed the short distance to the 800 year old Sun Temple at the southern end of the island. Back at the Hotel Rosario (which we would all highly recommend) Mom stayed in bed all day and worked through her bug. The night before it was just Mom and me for dinner in a restaurant and that night it was just Dad and me in a restaurant for dinner.

Friday everyone was feeling better. We took our time leaving town and toured the famous Basilica of our Lady of Copacabana and saw the Virgin of Copacabana which is a 450 year old carving that people pilgramage to see and is the patron virgin of Bolivia. On the three hour drive back to La Paz we had rain, snow, sun and blowing dust. The drive through El Alto was dominated by the strong wind throwing dirt and debris across the road and at the multitudes walking roadside.

Friday night we had a filling Japanese meal at Wagamama’s, a local Japanese restaurant and Dad and I ate trout sushi. This trout is actually the same color as salmon.

We had a leisurely Saturday morning this morning. I went to the gym and we were of course late getting started. We first headed to Plaza Murillo to find a bookstore Juan had told us about. As it was after 12 noon but before 3 pm the store was closed. There was an interesting celebration in the square of folkloric music and dance. We walked along Calle Comercio, the pedestrian shopping street, and across the bridge over Avenida Montes.

On Calle Comercio all three of us had our shoes shined by two young boys. These shoe shiners always were ski masks over their faces giving them the appearance of bank robbers. The only plausible explanation for the ski masks I’ve heard is that they don’t want their school mates to see them shining shoes. I have had my shoes shined a number of times and it has always been two bolivianos (which is about 24 cents and I generally give them five bolivianos). This time the kid asked for 20 bolivianos. I objected and said that is way too much. He quickly reduced it to 10 bolivianos, still a high “gringo” price but within reason. So we paid the total 30 bolivianos. In the meantime two policemen approached and started questioning the boys. The policeman told me that it shouldn’t be more than one boliviano. I stupidly explained that they asked for 20 bolivianos but we were fine with paying 10. The last we saw of the boys they were being walked away with the two policeman who we can only assume ended up with the bulk, if not all, of the 30 bolivianos.

Our goal was to reach San Francisco Church. It’s really more that a church and dates back hundreds of years. We toured the cloisters attached to the church and by then were very hungry. We walked a few blocks south of the church using the directions written by our forefather Archibald Baker to try and find the location of the house where my grandmother was born. The area has obviously changed significantly in the last hundred years and it is impossible to locate any sign of the immediate area he described, needless to say the house. The second house they lived in was on a street that a veteran taxi driver of 20 years told me doesn’t exist under that name today.

Finally we found a cafe and had lunch around 3 pm. After lunch we walked back up the hill to the Plaza Murillo only to find the bookstore still not open. Now it is nap time before we venture back out tonight to San Francisco Church for a baroque concert


One Response to “Travels with Mom and Dad”

  1. Hello nice to meet you.
    KO-N-NI-CHI-WA (^_^)v
    I am Japanese.
    I saw your wonderful site.
    Please link to this site !

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