Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Horse-jumping competition, round I

The weekend of the 18th and 19th of March was the first departmental horse-jumping competition, and it was held at my club, Los Sargentos. The Wednesday before, my coach Cedric had a divine inspiration and made me and another girl switch horses, so I got Bolero... which, it turns out, is the very horse I pointed to the first time I visited Los Sargentos and my brother asked me which horse I would choose if I could pick any one. Weeeee! In terms of how the competition went, I have to say it was a lot of fun to be back in this kind of environment! IHSA was great, but this is just fantastic. I love jumping. Did one course Saturday and one course Sunday, knocked a bar down both times, and both times it was my fault. Bolero is a star!

So, meet Bolero, the bay stallion I currently have in half-pension. This, of course, is him making a silly face, but take my word for it - he is stunning.

Bolero and I in action.

Here's us jumping. I know the picture is a little blurry, but you have to admit the timing is perfect! My cousin Martin is the person to thank for that. =)

Monday, March 20, 2006


Down south, Tarija is the gas-rich wine-producing area of Bolivia. Just spent a weekend down there with my brother and mother, and it was prime rest and relaxation time. We saw old friends of my mother’s, spent time with a great-aunt and her new husband (they seem so happy together!), and I even got to go riding and try a Peruvian Paso horse! Of course I got quite burnt, for the first time in my life, thanks to unexpectedly strong sun and more specifically an SPF 8 sunblock which was actually “anti-wrinkle and rapid tanning”… Oops. Live and learn! Reading is a talent worth using… Ahem. And we had to stay an extra day because our flight was oversold, and the thunderstorms at night knocked out the electricity… but staying that last day in the amazing hotel there, Los Parrales (picture on the right is the view we had from our room!), catching the 24 marathon, and flying back in business class – it made it all ok. In terms of lessons learned (aside from the whole check-what-kind-of-sunblock-you-are-using thing) – if you are looking for good wine, get Campos de Solana Reserva 2001 (another good alternative is Concepcion but those vineyards aren't pseudo-family's!), and if you want tasty Singani, stick with Casa Real.

Me on Nina, enjoying a stunning view of Tarija and its surroundings.

Lucho and Aide (the newlyweds!) and my mother, standing on the dam by the artificial lake.

The view you had if you leaned over the edge of the dam a little bit... definitely worth it!

The Danish Influence: Chewing Coca

A few weeks back, two Danish journalists arrived in La Paz to do a documentary on the political situation in Bolivia - Morten is on the left and Allan is on the right. Thanks to my Danish connection (DJ Restless-G), they hired me as their interpreter! The apple never falls far from the tree, oh so true. The week with them was amazing - I went to places I had never even heard of both in town and in the Ciudad El Alto, met all sorts of people, found out about very interesting resources... It was exhausting, in the best possible way.

One of the most interesting experiences was when Allan and I went to find the Coca market. I didn't even know such a thing existed, although in retrospect it makes perfect sense. So we took a cab up to Villa Fatima and eventually found our way to the right street, which was empty. Normally, markets are on the street, so I was about to start arguing with the cab driver for taking us to the wrong place - and then I realized the Coca market was on the left, down a not-very-well-lighted staircase over which was a huge glass mosaic representing a coca leaf... sketchy! But at least we were in the right place. So after trying a few different storage rooms, I found a coca producer and another lady who let themselves be convinced to talk about coca and demonstrate coca chewing on tape. We interviewed them and another man who showed up randomly but had great things to say (including "the coca leaf is what enables us to work hard and bring education to our children... we hate americans, they interfere too much... the coca leaf is not a drug, just as the grape is not alcohol...), and then I was offered to chew coca. I had never done it before, and decided that the polite thing to do was to accept (gasp shock horror).

Initially, the coca leaves tasted like paper. Then I added a bit of lejia (sticky black substance derived from burning different vegetables, the chemical composition of which allows for more efficient breakdown of the coca leaf, and a better taste) and there was literally an explosion of taste! Bittersweet, very similar to the taste of mate de coca (coca infusion)... and eventually, the right side of my tongue went numb! Very strange and sort of enjoyable, and most assuredly a recipe I will remember next time I have to go to the dentist, hehe!

Conclusion: Thanks to a Danish journalist, I am now more Bolivian than I used to be! Makes sense...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Back in the Saddle

A few weeks back, I finally gave in and went down to the country club Los Sargentos. My brother wanted to visit and potentially sign up (which he did), and I was itching to see horses again... and what had to happen happened – after just a few minutes walking around the stables, I spoke to someone who seemed to know what was going on and arranged to come by the next day to talk to the instructor about the possibility of me riding at the club. The next day I met the instructor, who – what are the odds! – turned out to be French, and within 24h I had tried a horse and agreed to take him in half-pension! Hehe. He was also new, having arrived from the military school barely a week before I showed up. His name is Jet, he is decent-sized, darkish chestnut gelding who is a little bit on the lazy side but has a big heart and is just what I needed to get back in shape. We started jumping together, and although so far it seems that his limit is around 1m, I love it. It is so great to be back in the saddle, you have no idea. The jumping season is around the corner, and the cherry on the cake is that due to my flexible schedule, the instructor has asked me to help him work out horses on certain days when he in theory has to defy the time-space continuum and ride 9 horses in the morning! *Does a little dance*.

Everyone, meet Jet!

Me on Jet.

Ch’alla Tuesday

The tradition of the ch’alla is one where you bless something. If you buy a new car, for example, it should be blessed. Friday 24th of February was the official day to bless your office. This means the afternoon was dedicated to waterfights with coworkers (generally using mini water guns, called chisguetes to keep damage down to a minimal), the burning of special sweets for good luck, and the distribution of various other elements (the spirally paper thingies – serpentines?, and little round candy) to complete the blessing. Tuesday February 28th, the last day off for Carnival, is traditionally dedicated to blessing your home – and, I suppose because of its second-home nature for many of its volunteers – the La Paz branch of the Red Cross. The whole filial was decorated with serpentines and balloons, and then while Alvaro started up the grill (we decided to have a chorizada – a sausage BBQ), petards were set off for more good luck. Instead of desert, an all-out water fight broke out (the important people left early, knowing what was next on the unspoken agenda). It started with water guns and chisguetes, evolved to water balloons, and then within barely ten minutes of the beginning of the madness, people started using buckets and other large recipients to drench others. Having gotten to the filial early and having played with Don Andres’ sons, I was nearly dry when a bucket was dumped on my head… It was sunny, the streets were empty, and water abounded. Oh what fun we had! The twins, Alvaro, Andres, Clau, Monica, Janet, Oscar, Pepe, Janeth, Cesar and I – we spent approximately three hours running after each other, plotting and planning, teaming up, avenging each other, putting select individuals under the shower. It was glorious.

Andres who just got hit in the back (I think), holding a yellow waterballoon. The serpentines are wound three times around his neck and are meant to bring good luck for the year. Obviously good luck does not include being safe from a water fight, hehe. After I took this picture, the camera went away to a safe, dry place...

Carnival Party

Monday night, a fellow Red Cross volunteer hosted a party at her house for Carnival, and the costumes were quite good so I thought I would share…

Luis the Corn on the Cob with Worms

Clau the Angel, Juan the Vampire and Scream!

Pepe the Chinaman, me the Chinawoman (the red dot is courtesy of the soldier... so wrong, yet amusing)

Oscar the Priest and his friend Ale the soldier

Mauri the graduate and his reflection, Ale the soldier

The Jedi

The fate of those who did not make the effort to dress up...

My First Red Cross Activity: Carnival Monday in La Paz

At long last, I was able to participate in a Red Cross activity not just backstage but on stage too! We headed out at 8am to make sure street vendors did not set up in the spot we had chosen to set up the Red Cross tent, and while waiting for the traffic to be put on hold, we practiced manipulating the ambulance stretchers and ate tastey, Bs.1 saltenas. Later on, once the tent was up and the show began, we had pairs of volunteers (ideally, male and female) walk up and down the street to tend to any potential injuries, to complement the volunteers manning the tent and available to help people with more elaborate tools (trauma gear, for example) if need be. The patients we had were mostly dancers with blisters on their feet or people who got hit by a water balloon in their face/eye – all in all, a quiet activity. I could barely wipe the grin off my face, because I am a dork and was uber-excited to be there as a one-step-closer-to-real volunteer!

And of course I was too excited to think of asking someone to take a picture of me... so the best I can do here is post a pictures of me in uniform at my second activity. The only difference is the time and place, I promise. I am only pseudo-cheating. And if I manage to get a picture of me on Carnaval Monday, I will fix this asap.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Carnaval de Oruro: Urban warfare in Neverland

There are three traditions for carnival: party, drink, and urban warfare. When I say urban warfare, I am referring to a game of aim-shoot-duck, with weapons of choice being water balloons, water guns, and foam spritzers. This is the part of carnival which many people do not enjoy, as they participate passively in the game and end up wet, sticky, maybe cold and definitely disgruntled. I myself was quite irked when, within minutes of arriving in Oruro, I started being sprayed with foam and wet with water guns. Then I bought a poncho, a foam dispenser, and water balloons, and the fun began (evil grin). I spent the better part of two days wet and sticky, because of all the people I was with, somehow I was the unanimously chosen target – and the poncho, although a very practical tool to stay relatively safe from direct contact with foam and water, acted a little bit like a greenhouse (can you say hot?). My brother and I became quite a good team, one always ready to avenge the other, leading to often confused individuals who happily targeted one of us and then didn’t quite understand where the delayed but precise and merciless response came from! Muahaha. Big fly-from-outer-space sunglasses were one of my best investments, as they protected my eyes from excess contact with foam or violent contact with water balloons… so thank you Gabriela and Maria for vetoing the unfashionable, smaller sunglasses. In case you were wondering, the people participating in this urban warfare voluntarily were of all ages, shapes and sizes, and in my opinion, it is one example of why people around here are so happy – they never fully grow up!

My brother in his protective gear.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Carnaval de Oruro: Tradition with a capital T

The weekend of February 24th was a busy one - my mother flew into La Paz at midnight on Friday, and at 4.30am we were sitting in a minibus on our way to Oruro, the Carnival capital of Bolivia.

The Carnaval de Oruro is one of the biggest carnival events in the world (apparently it’s in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of dancers that participate and how long they dance for…). Oruro is a small town on the Altiplano (that means it’s flat and windy) which is relatively dead for 360 days of the year. A stunning majority of its income is generated by the carnival, which brings in swarms of tourists, gives work to the tailors and the musicians, and explodes the economy for just a few days a year. Known to be one of the most stunning carnival destinations, it deserves the reputation hands down – the costumes were absolutely breathtaking, each team of dancers having carefully chosen their colours and design, and each costume being unique, with small differences in the execution of the design applauding the hand-made aspect of the costume. A big element of the emotions generated by the show is that each group of dancers has their own band, marching behind them in uniform and sharing the effort of making it from one end of town to the other, all the way to the Socavon church where each participant can enter on his or her knees to make a promise to the Virgin. The enthusiasm is so palpable that as a member of the audience, you get caught up in the music and get an overwhelming urge to jump over the barrier and participate in the show!

How are people convinced to dance in these insanely hot bear-suits for 4-6h? It's a requirement the first year you participate in the dance called Diablada (Or was it Morenada? My neuron is failing me right now, but it's one or the other...)

Don't think I know the name of this dance, but this is the most spectacular photo I took. Looks like fire! Me like.

Caporales. One of the more emotional dances, which requires insane amounts of energy and is done best by the group called San Simon...

Morenada. The thing he is holding in his right hand is an armadillo which they wind up and then rattle... It's hard to explain, you had to be there.