By: Curtis Abney
Life in Bolivia is a humbling one. Once here, you will learn quite quickly that you must be patient, that you are not in as good of shape as you thought you were, and that the sun is not your friend. In addition to these life lessons, you will also learn how to take the good with the bad, to be thankful for everything that goes smoothly, and appreciate those who work hard. You will hear crystal clear Spanish that is delightful to the ears with all the ito’s and ita’s, but you may also here Spanish that sounds as if it is spoken through the am radio on the lowest volume. Bolivia truly is a world of contrasts. There are extreme heights and extreme depths; extreme heat and extreme cold; extremely wet and extremely dry; the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Nonetheless, life in Bolivia is an adventurous one.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Curtis Abney. I am here in La Paz, Bolivia for 6 months working as a sustainable economic development facilitator with indigenous communities in the Altiplano region of Bolivia. What does that look like exactly? Well, after a month in the country, we can tell you that it definitely looks like a lot of meetings, a lot of relationship building, and not so much pencil-pushing or report writing. However, I am sure these tasks will come. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am not alone in this country. I have another Canadian here with me. Her name is Lindsay and I do not know what I would do if she wasn’t here. I would probably spend a lot more money, have a lot more panic attacks, and be significantly more lonely. She’s great.
Here’s us in our in our new city!
Although we live in La Paz, we do not exactly work here in the city. We get to travel 2 hours to the municipality of Viacha multiple times a week, and that in itself is no easy feat. We leave our apartment at 7:45am, get on a minibus to the teleferico, ride the teleferico from our neighborhood (Obrajes) to the higher city of El Alto, get on another minibus that takes us into the neighborhood of La Ceja, and finally our last minibus which takes us from La Ceja to Viacha. If we are lucky, we will get to the office by 9:30am, but usually the trip there is 2 hours long, and the trip back is slightly shorter. Your commute to work doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
Actually, our commute does have its perks. We get to ride the teleferico every week, and this cable car system is truly something else. Here is a pic from our daily commute with a beautiful view of La Paz. Every day is a treat when we get to admire our city this way.
Now I know I didn’t paint the best picture of the work we will be doing here in Bolivia, but that is only because some of our work has yet to be determined. We will only pursue projects here that the communities WANT to support. There are 64 communities scattered throughout Viacha, and not all of them see eye-to-eye. But on the bright side, a few community leaders have expressed interest and verbal support in the construction of greenhouses for organic lettuce production. This project is a sustainable way of increasing income and dietary supplementation for the people of the Altiplano, and we are excited to potentially get some greenhouses built while we are here. Commercializing cheese production is another project desirable to some of the communities in the Altiplano. We are hoping to have a meeting with a Canadian organization here soon that may be able to spearhead that project with us, as well as provide some financial support. Lastly, rabbit breeding is starting to gain some traction with communities here. Rabbits grow quickly, are relatively low maintenance, reproduce rapidly, and provide both protein-rich meat and desirable pelts. Although many of the communities here are not accustomed to rabbit farming, interns from a university here in Bolivia have been able to conjure some interest from community leaders in the project through live demonstrations. It is starting to look more promising.
In addition to these little community-based projects, we have also been given tasks by the municipality office. They have Lindsay and I working on establishing a sustainable tourism industry here in Viacha. After some talk of the logistics of what we can accomplish in the next 5 months, as well as identifying the assets Viacha has to offer, we figured we could make something happen. We plan to make an official website for Viacha that offers information to prospective tourists. We have already made an Instagram account for Viacha (@ViveViacha) where we regularly share images from around the municipality and some little tidbits of information, and we hope to make a Facebook Page to help further our campaigning efforts and raising awareness about Viacha’s attractions. Surprisingly, the municipality office already has an existing tourism ministry, and they have produced many publications regarding Viacha’s festivals and cultural attractions. However, without effectively marketing their region through social media, they have been rather unsuccessful in attracting a substantial tourism base. Our job is to take good pictures, gather interesting facts about attractions, and disseminate this information through various forms of social media. In order to accomplish this, we need to do a lot of site visits, and that is our favorite part about working in the municipality.
Here we are doing a site visit to the ruins of Pan de Azucar with the tourism team from Viacha and a physics professor from La Paz who believes the ruins in Pan de Azucar were an astrological hotspot for the Incan Empire.
Viacha as a whole is a tranquil place. It is drastically different from the bustling city life below. It is quiet, spacious, verdant (at least in this season), and boasts a picturesque countryside. This is probably why the municipality is wanting us to try and invite tourism into this region. It is a beautiful part of Bolivia that many visitors don’t even know exist.
Here is the beautiful countryside I am referring to!
Finally, I promised that Bolivia was an adventurous place to live, and I mean it. Every time you put yourself on a bus here, you are also putting your life at risk. Driving here is beyond unsettling. Even being a pedestrian here is a gamble. Let’s just say that the pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and that road lanes mean nothing. And the street dogs here aren’t exactly the type you would want to pet. But beyond the street life, Bolivia is a spectacular place. It has beautiful landscapes, culture, food, music and more. It offers mountains to climb, jungles to trek, rivers to raft, caves to explore, pink dolphins to swim with, and so much more. There is absolutely NO reason why someone should ever be bored in Bolivia. I’m sure it has more to offer than some continents.
Anyways, I figure I have given you all enough to digest for now. I will be sure to document future adventures to keep you all loving Bolivia from afar. If you ever get the chance, come visit this place! It truly is amazing. With each new day I am realizing more and more that the opportunity to work and explore this country is a dream come true.