Tag Archives: Bolivia

Why we love being dogs on the Choro trek, Bolivia

25 Aug

Translated from Aymara by Angie.

Our mate, Tenedor, an Argentinian dog, has a blog and we feel that dogs in Bolivia are unrepresented so we thought we would do a blog on our experiences on the Choro Trail.

Now we don’t have names but we like Tenedor’s name a lot so you can call us Tenedor Dos (for me the little cute one) and Tenedor Tres (for me the big, fierce looking one).

Tenedor dos on the ground and Tenedor tres behind...we are just chilling out in this photo

Tenedor dos on the ground and Tenedor tres behind...we are just chilling out in this photo

We also don’t have collars, just like Tenedor and we run free just like him.  We don’t have dog training..to be honest that just sounds stupid to us…how difficult can it be to walk in a straight line and to sit when your owner tells you (if you want to of course!).

Now Tenedor emailed us and told us that Angie and Marco would be doing the Choro Trek so we decided to have some fun with them…of course, they had no idea that we knew Tenedor but that’s humans for you…they assume that only THEY can communicate using wi-fi and skype and all that nonsense…humans eh??  Those idiot humans have to use maps and gps and all sorts of stuff to navigate….us dogs..well to be frank we are just smarter…we navigate using scent…meaning we never need to worry about our maps getting wet or our gps not having a signal.  Humans could learn a lot from us if only they would listen to us (but that’s another story!)

A human (Angie) looking at her trek notes...what did we say about humans and navigation?

A human (Angie) looking at her trek notes...what did we say about humans and navigation?

Anyway we live in Chairo which is a small village (of only 50 people and a few dogs – none very special to be honest) at the end of the Chairo.

But when we heard the news that Angie and Marco were doing the Choro we headed upwards to the Japanese House, which is in a tiny hamlet called Sandillani.

The Japanese House

The Japanese House

Man you meet some interesting folks around here.

The Japanese man came from Japan in around the 1950s on a boat passing South Koreo, Singapore and South Africa and landing in Brazil.  I’m not sure why he settled in Sandillani but he has a lovely little house there with tropical plants and lots of space for dogs like us to run about…

Anyway we arrived in the afternoon at Sandillani.  We just moodied around a bit…and waited ….and waited…man humans walk slow…why can’t they just be practical and use all 4 legs like us???? The Choro is largely a downhill trek but they faff around, worry about slipping, looks at the soles of their ridiculously expensive Vibram soled shoes….why not just walk on their bare feet like us???

Angie and Marco didn’t arrive until almost six…and then…man these guys are stupid…they faffed around for ages before they found the entrance to the Japanese house.  They were saying “maybe the man is away on vacation or something”.  He’s been there for bloody 50 years…vacation?  Oh my word!  We almost gave up and headed down to Chairo…Tenedor said she had yellow hair…but that’s not true…it is more ginger now I would say (bet she has fallen victim to one of those notorious La Paz hairdressers..hee hee!)

We watched from a distance as they put up the tent….right on the edge of the cliff…they then cooked using this tiny little pot…and a little metal tin with a blue light coming from it…how strange it all was…they loved the little fire flies but didn’t realise that there were mosquitos until they had so many bites you could join the dots on their bodies…I really don’t know where they educate humans these days?

Their tent

Their tent

They finally got into the tent at about eight and then it was time for some fun…we waited until they had the tent all closed up and sounded as if they were settled…then we started….

We stayed at a distance and barked…once…then twice…then as if there was a real commotion outside….we made a deal…one barked and the other scraped the ground….we weren’t looking for bones or anything…that stuff is only in cartoons…no this was just for the sheer fun of it…we heard them say “what’s that outside, should we go out and see”.  She said “No I’m a bit scared”. Scared..of what..two cute dogs….anyway we kept up the barking and the scraping until morning…of course we stopped for a bit just to allow them to drift off to sleep and then started again with a vengeance.  At one point we had to run outside as we were laughing so much….Tenedor would have loved it!

Next morning they crawled out of the tent…of coure being humans…rather than being honest they pretended they liked hearing us barking and scraping all night…they were saying “It was nice to have those dogs protecting us all night”.  What garbage humans speak..really?  We went crazy when they came out…trying to scare them a bit but we couldn’t keep it up for long so before long they were patting us and giving us bits of their cereal bars and chocolate cereals…what cool humans we thought…

This is us just before we followed them...hee hee...

This is us just before we followed them...hee hee...

Now of course, because they are “travelling” they are obsessed with where THEY are going and where THEY come from..they didn’t even ask us where we live…so we decided to double bluff them…this was hilarious…we waited until they started walking to Chairo..now Chairo is a good 12 km away and quite hard walking..at least for humans…we then followed them…they tried to get rid of us using their poor Spanish shouting “fuera” which means outside…we speak Aymara so we pretended not to understand and how bloody daft anyway…we are outside…we are always outside…they tried to stop walking and send us back…we stopped for a minute and then followed on…they kept saying “those dogs are so far from home, how will they ever get back?”.  Now firstly we could navigate to the moon and secondly if they had asked us we would have told them we live in Chairo….en route we decided to make them laugh a bit so every now and then we would run into the bush and pretend we were attacking creatures…of course we don’t attack anyone, we are just two cute little Bolivian dogs…now me, Tenedor dos decided to have more fun..so I fell behind and put my tongue out as if I was gasping for water…out came the water bottle and they gave me some water…then we pretended we were hungry…a minute later we were happily munching peanut bars…yum yum…much better than the poor quality meat we get at home…

For almost 3 hours we followed them..ignoring all attempts to be sent “back” and putting on our cute puppy dog eyes to get patted whenever we wanted. She, especially, is very suspectible to our cute brown eyes! Quite sweet really….the funniest was when they started worrying about how we would ever get back…saying “will they follow other tourists back” and “how can we get the bus to Coroico without them”.  Little did they know that naughty Tenedor had put us up to all of this…once in Chairo we double bluffed them again…their little faces were contorted with worry…but we just headed off to our porch and found some shade to sit in…they were perplexed saying “do those dogs live here?” “is this their home do you think?”.  After three hours trying to get rid of us they wanted to spend more time with us…you can’t please humans..

We waited for an eternity while they drank coke and then negotiated a rate for the minibus to Coroico…and then we called Tenedor to tell him our tale..we used Skype…and you should have seen his face…it was a picture….and of course as soon as the next unsuspecting tourists come along we can do the whole game again from start to finish…man it’s so much fun being dogs on the Choro Trail!

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This week’s novel way to learn Spanish..

18 Aug

What better way to learn Spanish than to sing out some words to learn them?

Now maybe it’s just because I’m travelling but somehow nothing seems embarrassing here.

So when my charango teacher suggested I do a duet with him on the guitar and me on the charango I said “que bueno” which translates as roughly “what a nice idea”.  He explained to me, using his arms, what the song was about….

Before I knew it the Helios Music School(which holds a Guiness Record for the most charango players playing at once – 1,000!)  was filled with the sounds of me singing a song about…wait….two….pigeons “dos palomitas” having a conversation – hence the teacher’s arms flying in the air…arms are a useful tool when you don’t know the words for things in Spanish…

Now I’ve always thought of pigeons as the poor sisters of other birds..no one really likes them, lots of people are scared of them but they somehow don’t give up and pretty much place themselves in the most beautiful squares in the world in a large group where they randomly wait to be fed by small children whose parents buy them a bag of bird seed and then hide in a corner while the birds flock to the kids…

It’s actually a beautiful song and to help me practise my language skills more I have translated it here..

“Dos palomitas se lamentaban llorando

Una a la otra se consolaban diciendo

Quien ha cortado tus bellas alas paloma

O algun falzario ha sorprendido tu vuelo

Ay ay ay

Paloma

Algun falzario ha sorprendido tu vuelo”.

Translated (roughly) this is….

Two mourning pigeons are crying

One says to the other

Who has cut your beautiful wings dove?

A liar has taken your flight

Ay ay ay (no translation necessary) dove

A liar has taken your flight…..

Singing along to mycharango is the most fun I have ever had at a music class…and here it is captured for posterity, remember I’ve only been playing the charango for a few weeks and the song is in Spanish……

and when you next see a pigeon remember that they have feelings too…

Trekking in the Cordillera Real, Condoriri Trail

18 Aug

It’s important to take a break from learning now and then so I decided to trek the Condoriri trail which is in the Cordillera Real range, not far from La Paz.  This is a wonderful trek.  The whole trek is situated above 4,000 metres so I was literally about 3,000 metres above Scotland the whole time and nearer the clouds than anything else! Breathing at this altitude can be hard so my four weeks in La Paz paid off in getting me acclimatised to the altitude.

The trek starts in Tuni which is a small hamlet with not much to it but where you can hire mules for the trek if you want.  I didn’t hire a mule deciding to be one myself and carry my stuff.  For some reason, (maybe four weeks of only eating meat and rice several times a day in La Paz) I decided to make my rucksack into a health food shop filling it with avocados, tomatoes, fruit (even kiwis!), nuts and the like.  This made it heavy but good training I suppose!

The hike is along a nice clear path where we met a woman who tried to get us to come to her house that night for trout and chips which she said she caught in a local lake…there is something about hiking in South America..people just appear in the strangest places wearing the thinest clothes in the world and flip flop like shoes while Westerners are gore texed up to the hilt wearing stiff boots…makes me wonder whether all the gear makes a difference?

Night one was spent beside Lago Condoriri which is truly stunning with a view of all the 13 peaks which make up the Condoriri massif.  The little woman couldn’t accommodate us in her house for trout and chips so it was a tasty meal of pasta cooked on the gas stove.

The hills round here are huge and require ice axes and crampons (and courage to climb!).  Thankfully left my ice axe back home so escaped with just a nice (though hard trek).  Had a fab night in the tent playing with an app (google sky map) on a mate’s phone.  This app is amazing..you point your phone at the sky and it picks out all the stars and constellations…wonderful!  As we were so far out of the city the sky was full of stars..

Next day had a nice trek up, up and up….made it to just above 5,ooo metres and felt as if I was towering above Europe..

Second night camped down in the Valley..lots of clouds so no star gazing…

Then walked to Zongo the next day, a little village at the bottom of the valley where they use hydro power to generate electricity. Waited a few hours for the local bus to take us on the frankly scary trip back to La Paz…they just don’t believe in crash barriers here and with a 1,000 foot drop on the side and a rickety old bus I was lucky to make it back to La Paz in time for more Spanish and charango lessons!

Wrestling with a Sunday in La Paz

10 Aug

Sunday in La Paz is the day of the “Cholitas Wrestling”.

It’s a La Paz institution which takes place in El Alto, the upper part of La Paz where most of the population resides.

“Cholita” originally meant a person of mixed race but today it is sometimes taken to mean a person of “inadequate behaviour”.

Now I’m not a fan of wrestling but decided this was something that had to be seen to be believed so I boarded the bus up to “La Ceja” to see what it was all about.

The arena was very basic.  It was more like an old sport’s hall than anything else.  It was packed with locals who brought along their children.  The show started at about 4.30 Bolivian time, ie 5pm.

The “compere” introduced the wrestlers with much aplomb.  And first up was a man in a bright green suit pitted against a beautiful cholita adorned in her bowler hat, beautiful shawl and wonderful flowing skirt.  The hat and her earrings came off for the fight.

The wrestling itself is largely staged as you might imagine. The emphasis throughout though is on the underdog winning and on each occasion while at first it seemed that the cholita might lose to her opponent this never happens.  Seemed to me like a bit of a victory for girl power in what appears, otherwise, to be a machismo society.  The referee also gets involved in each fight, usually against the cholita.  What’s funny is that the guy who does the refereeing then later comes back out in a wrestling suit as a wrestler…this is spit and sawdust entertainment at its best!!!

The crowd also gets well into it.  They throw tomatoes, crisps, empty water bottles and other things into the ring which are then seized upon by the wrestlers and used as “weapons” against  opponents.  The “coach” also got involved at one part. She was dressed in a a beautiful flowing skirt and a tracksuit top and was pretending to coach a child who randomly was also part of the show.  The little kid had on a weird mask and dungarees and the cholita took great joy in picking him up by the straps of his dungarees (ouch!) and smacking him!!!!

At one point one of the wrestlers picked up a huge tub of crisps and threw these onto an opponent.  At another point one of the wrestlers took a water bottle from a spectator, took some water and then sprayed it back out over the crowd!

Three hours later and it was time to leave. although the fighting was still ongoing and the locals were still loving it.  It is something worth seeing but for me the only word which sprang to my mind when I saw these little ladies in pretty clothes wrestling was “random”!!

An English grammar lesson in La Paz

6 Aug

I’m currently in La Paz trying hard to learn Spanish.  You might ask why I would also need to learn English grammar?

Well, I’ve realised that learning a foreign language needs much more than a basic grasp of the grammar of your own language…why is this?

Well the language teacher uses the proper terms for such things as adjectives, adverbs, pronouns. relative pronouns, pronouns with prepositions…

and all those things I have never had to think about in English…like which tense to use…well now that needs to be part of my thought process…is the action past and completed..was it a continuing action in the past….can I link it to the present or was it in the past but still in process….do I walk or am I walking…..and what are gerunds anyway?  Do we need to think about them?

Some days I feel my head is swimming with such thoughts as is this word masculine or feminine?

There is no rule but a skirt is feminine (falda) and trousers are male (pantalones).  You need to learn this for every word you need to use, and then if you want to say that the item is your’s you change the word for that depending on the gender of the noun (check me!!!), you also need to change it if you are saying there is none of the thing in the area or any in the area……

They also quite often miss out the “subject” of the sentence so you just have to look at the verb to work out who is doing the “action”.

But probably so far my two least favourite Spanish grammar things are imperatives..you use these for when you want to order someone to do something like “give me my jacket” or “don’t drink anymore”.

What I don’t like about these is there are different forms for when you want someone to do something so eat more is “comE mas” and don’t eat more is “no comAS mas”.  I really don’t get this at all…why not just bite the bullet and use the same phrase????  Wouldn’t that make it easier?

My second least favourite Spanish grammar rule…personal pronouns…where I now need to think about direct and indirect complements….what?

And once I have decided whether it’s a direct or indirect complement I then have to look at the words and if for example “le, les” is next to “lo, la. los or las” heaven forbid I have to change the indirect complement to “se”…still not sure why but for some reason this is one rule that seems to stick in my head..I just have to picture the “le and les” fighting it out with the “lo, la,los or las” and then I realise there is simply no way they can be together….even more strange is the rule whereby you add the direct and indirect complements onto the end of the verb….if you are not lost by now…I am…let’s take an example….”El profesor esta exlicando la leccion a los alumnos” which is “the teacher is explaining the lecture to the students”..now in English to replace the lecture and the students it would be pretty damn easy…”the teacher is explaining it to them”.

Now in Spanish the them would be “les” and the lecture would be “la” but remember what I said about the fighting direct and indirect complements…so it becomes “El se la esta explicando”….so far so good…a bit contrived but hey ho…but not finished yet…they then decide randomly to add the “se” and the “la” onto the end of the “gerund” so it becomes “El esta explicandosela”….oh my word is there any need for such complexity….

I suppose the real difficulty is learning English as a child you never really think about the tenses you are using….and you never really have to think about whether an action is continuing or not…and whether the complement is direct or indirect….at least I am gaining a useful grammar lesson in English though it might be some time before “estoy escribiendo mi blog en espanol” which translates as “I am writing my blog in Spanish”!

The magic of La Paz…

3 Aug

The Witches’ Market in La Paz is quite simply magic.  This is a place where the ancient traditions of respect and making offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) still survive in abundance.

It is a busy time in the Witches’ Market just now.

I noticed this when wandering through it the other day, captivated by the many little sculptures, the plates with an arrangement of offerings on them and of course the llama foetuses hanging from every stall.

I was intrigued as to why there were so many people buying offerings and then I discovered that the month of August is the time when the cycle of fertility of Mother Earth begins.  It is a time when offerings are made by believers for the things they have received during the year and also for the things that were missing.

The plates prepared by “yatiris” contain little tablets representing many different things.  I saw tablets with “health”, “good fortune”, “an office”, “a car” and also “a bank” and “$1,000”.  The “yatiris” give those wishing to buy an offering a list of all the things that it needs to contain. The price of each of the “ingredients” for the offering varies between half a boliviano and 20 bolivianos depending on what it is! Seems intriguing.  I would assume that “$1,000” would be at the upper end of this scale but I am not sure!!!!

As to the llama foetuses…well I remain divided about this.  There is something of the macabre about them…something not quite right..you are supposed to have one in your house to ward off bad spirits…though I am very unsure that customs would allow this back to Scotland! Although once at Edinburgh Airport at customs I saw a guy who was asked by customs what was in his rucksack as something weird had turned up on the x-ray.  He replied, nonchalantly “sheeps’ heads” and the lady at customs replied “oh is that what it is, no worries”.

I decided to buy a little tribute at the market so I got the guy to explain them all to me.  Eventually I left with the one for good luck on my travels though not before he tried to persuade me to take the ones for my house, my health, my family, and my intelligence…I started to wonder if he just wanted to make money out of me….

A movie that moved me…El Minero Del Diablo

2 Aug

As part of my mission to learn Spanish en route and because I have always loved foreign movies I have watched a few foreign movies along my journey.

One of the best has been El Minero Del Diablo, “The Devil’s Miner” .  This tells the story of a young boy, Basilio who is 14 and his younger brother, Bernardo, who work in the Potosi mines at Cerro Rico.  Their father is dead and they must work in the mines to eke out a living for their family.  They live on the slopes of Cerro Rico and their mother looks after the entrance of the mines (along with their little sister) to make sure none of the miners’ tools are stolen.

They work to try to earn enough to gain an education and buy the clothes and things they need for school.  One of the sad things is that other kids at the school they attend make fun of them because they work in the mines.

The footage inside the mines is incredible with the story being told through the eyes and words of Basilio.  He tries to work alongside his brother so that he can look after him and though young they seem, when they are inside the mines, like old men.  They worship “El Tio”, the devil inside the mine believing that that will keep them safe from the many hazards which exist inside the mines.  It is strange watching two young kids make offerings to “El Tio” when they should really be at school and playing football with their mates.

The highlight of the year for them is the carnival.  This is when the miners all dress up and dance through the streets.  They call it “Ch’alla” and on that day they make offerings to the mines and to pachamama to ask for health and good fortune.  They also splatter the doors of the mines with the blood of a sacrificed llama again to seek good fortune.  This is a huge event for the miners with fabulous costumes, wonderful dances and native songs.  For Basilio and his brother the highlight is being together as a family and you see in their eyes the pride they have when their mother and cute younger sister watch them in the parade.

Their hope for the future is that they can get an education and stop working in the mines.  One of the funniest moments in the movie is when Basilio is telling his younger brother about the solar system.  There is something strange about talking about the solar system in the depths, darkness and bleakness of the mines.

The movie came out in 2005.  Has life changed for Basilio and his family?  In short, not really.  They still live on the slopes of Cerro Rico.  Basilio now works as a guide taking tourists into the mines.  He recounted to a friend of mine that he received some money from the filmmakers but not all that he was supposed to….and not enough to move away from the mines…

This movie cannot help but move you in the way that it moved me..and I suppose if it raises awareness of the child workers in the mines it has made a difference in that way…

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