Having had some time to reflect now on my weekend trip to La Paz, Bolivia, I’m still as fascinated and in love with the city as I initially was. I think what I liked so much about it in comparison to other cities was that I really felt like the traditional Bolivian lifestyle was embraced and there wasn’t this push to be “just like the US/Insert Developed Country Here”. Part of this may be because compared to the other cities of Latin America that I’m familiar with, La Paz is much smaller; less than 1 million people compared to Buenos Aires’ 12.8 million and Santiago’s 5.5 million.
There is also a huge difference in the economic situations of Chile and Argentina compared to Bolivia. I remember when I was initially telling people I was studying abroad in Chile they were all excited for me that I would get to do cheap shopping and save money on good food, etc. False. My friends and I found that while certain items varied due to their availability in different locations, in general prices tended to be relatively the same in Chile compared to the US. In Argentina, things were a little bit cheaper, but nothing mind-blowing. (Except for The Most Amazing Dining Experience of My Life) However. La Paz was a different story. We got three course meals with drinks for 4 bolivianos, approximately 57 cents. We got a bag of 6 loaves of fresh baked bread for 2 bolivianos, or 28 cents. What?!?!? Kevin and I were mind blown.
It’s also a cool city because they literally built it in the middle of the mountains. The streets are made up of some crazy hills, a few of which we conquered in our quest to find this hidden “lookout spot” or mirador that we had heard rumor of. Finding it was an adventure, but so worth it. Some fews from the top:
I tried to capture in my pictures how the city is just in a little bowl of mountains, hopefully that comes across. The elevation of the city ranges from 9,000 ft to 13,000 ft. Interestingly, but not necessarily surprisingly, the upper classes occupy the lower altitude regions of the city and the lower classes can only afford to live in the higher altitude locations.
Check out the beautiful snow capped mountain in this next picture!
Today in my US History class a group gave a presentation on Bruce Springsteen`s “Born in the USA”. Made me homesick!!
Also, I`ll admit that it wasn`t so long ago that I didn`t understand the real meaning of this song. Regardless of it`s intention though, it just makes me want to smile.
For the past few weeks, high schools and universities across Santiago have been taken over by the students. Essentially, when there is a “toma” the students arrive at school really early and lock the teachers out. The idea is to demand better education and resources by preventing the schools from being able to open.
For the high school students, these protests to my understanding are almost an annual thing, and they’re pretty effective. Public schools in Santiago are extremely under funded, but I’ve heard stories of students in the past petitioning for things like whiteboards and having the government cave in to the demands and provide them. It may not seem like anything huge, but imagine high schools across the country all doing it at the same time.
However, for the college students, among a number of demands, their largest and most important demand is that public higher education be free. Wait…what?? My initial reaction to hearing this demand was along the lines of “Who the hell do they think they are?!” Being accustomed to the United States higher education system leads one to question what makes them think they have the right to go to college for free, everyone knows college costs an arm and a leg.
After some consideration, I’m still not sure I’m completely in agreement, but I understand their point. In Chile, as I imagine it is in any developing country, the differences in social classes are very large. While in the US your background definitely affects the opportunities available to you for higher education, Chile lacks the scholarship culture that we have. It’s just not something they really do. Which means that if you’re poor, you can work as hard as you want through high school, but it’s not really going to get you anywhere. For comparison purposes, the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina is free to anyone from any country.
In addition to the schools being shut down there have been protests all over the city. I have some friends who are teaching English in public schools and they have all been off work for the past few weeks. There have been some signs hung up around my university and people have been passing out fliers but since we are a private institution we haven’t actually been en paro. Well, all except for the school of history and social sciences. Nobody is really quite sure why they’re en paro.
Last week was a whirlwind of projects, tests, and other assorted assignments, but my reward for getting through it was a trip to Bolivia this weekend. We left yesterday morning, and despite a number of hiccups along the way it was an extremely enjoyable trip. We flew from Santiago to Iquique, Chile and then stayed on the same plane to continue through to La Paz.
Well, we were on the 45 min. plane ride to La Paz from Iquique when all of a sudden we noticed on the screen that tracks the plane’s progress that we were turning in a circle. We didn’t really think much of it until the pilot came on and said that we were going back to Iquique because of an “operational error”.
They wouldnt tell us much more than that but once we landed they explained that because of the high altitude in La Paz, the airplane hadn’t been equipped to handle the pressure. Or something like that. The point was that apparently the oxygen masks were about to fall and we could have had a serious problem. It ended up working out great though because Iquique was one of the places in Chile I really wanted to see, but didn’t have the time for. The airline drove us about an hour from the airport into Iquique and took us to dinner at a nice hotel. Iquique is a beach town so we ate right on the water, gorgeous. Then they drove us back and we were ready to go.
The only unfortunate part was that we got into La Paz pretty late, but we took a cheap taxi to the hostal, checked in, and went to sleep. This morning we got up still exhausted but enjoyed a free pancake breakfast at the hostal. Our main adventure of the day was going to the Tijuanacu ruins about 2 hours outside of La Paz. The travel to and from the ruins was an adventure in itself.
This reminded me of the time when I was either 9 or 10 years old and my mom took me to Stonehenge in England with our neighbors, the Fosters. There is a very unfortunate video recording of this day with me proclaiming that I dont understand what the big deal is, theyre just a bunch of rocks. I was thinking about this today as I realized some of the extremes Ive gone to in order to see other sites that in essence, are just a bunch of rocks. Between Easter Island (which I owe you all a post on), Tijuanaca, Machu Picchu coming up in July - I think it would be fair to say that my mindset has changed substantially from when I was 10 years old. Despite thinking I was the smartest cookie in the box back then, I think I just couldnt grasp the significance of Stonehenge back then.
More to come!
It has been so neglected. Between being sick all of last week and recently spilling a glass of water on my Macbook, I haven´t had an opportunity to post. Right now I´m using the computer lab to get my homework done, but if I`ve got some time after I`ll post a real update.
I just finished my first soccer game here in Chile. Brief backstory, yesterday I met a new friend, Tamy, through a friend from my field hockey team, Dani. Tamy invited me to play in a soccer game with her today, and after explaining that I haven’t actually played in quite some time, and her assuring me that didn’t matter, I said ok!
Oh my goodness.
I. Am. A. Natural.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the best one out there or anything, but I certainly fit right in. Given that I haven’t really played since the 8th grade…some 7 years ago or so, I felt great. Also, on that note, why couldn’t I have been such a natural in 8th grade? That would’ve been ideal.
And it was so much fun. Afterwards Tamy asked me if I could play with them every week, and of course I agreed, but we’ve got two weeks off before the next game.
Either tell them the pisco is better in Peru or that the wine is better in Argentina. Guaranteed to work.
Don’t bother making fun of how they talk, they’re proud of how hard they are to understand.