Archives for May 2018

Reflections on Bolivia

By Katlyn Maas

Before I left the States, my cousin from Chicago called me to talk to me about my travel to Bolivia. He had been deployed to South America for close to 2 years, and Bolivia was one of the countries he visited as a diplomatic bodyguard. He could tell I was nervous about the trip, so he reassured me by telling me that the people were friendly and that my Spanish was proficient enough that I could at least get my point across. “You’ll have so much fun in La Paz,” he had said. “Just be kind to the people, and they’ll return the favor to you.”

Once we entered Bolivia, I realized what he meant. The people were so friendly to all of us, and their hospitality was mind-blowing; I never would have imagined that the Bolivians would want to engage in detailed conversations with us all, whether it be about politics or music. They were just as curious about us as we were about them, which I also never expected. Even when we went to the rural community of Lupalaya, the people were interested in our culture, which is something else that I didn’t expect. It was so much more engaging than sitting there and being talked over to talk to our professors, which is what I was expecting more.

Our travels have definitely left a positive impact on me. I never knew that the people of Bolivia could be so friendly, but they obviously proved me wrong. I now have a better understanding and a higher respect for their culture, something I hope to keep experiencing in the future. One day, I’ll come back, but for now, I’ll keep my Spanish lessons and my cultural observations close to my heart.

By McKenzie Ruff

Bolivia was a great experience and I learned so much. Not only did I learn a lot about the language, but I learned a lot about Bolivian culture too. I think the biggest shock to me was how different the culture was from what I was expecting, like how open everyone was about talking about politics. Here in America and in all the other countries I have been to, I have never been bombarded with so many political conversations or questions. It was a bit overwhelming and I am not the most open to political conversations because I have some close friends that have opposite political views and it is normally just a topic we avoid. However, almost every single person we talked to brought up politics—not just Bolivian politics, but also American and Peruvian politics. In America, it’s rare to hear about politics in South and Latin American countries, so it was odd to hear how invested Bolivians were in American politics. Another way La Paz specifically was different from what I was expecting was its layout and how massive the city was. It was absolutely breathtaking and I was in such awe when we went on the gondolas over the city or when we went to the outer rim of the city. I got to see and experience so much while in Bolivia and I had a magnificent time learning more about the Spanish language and Bolivian culture. I would love to go back because there were some things I didn’t get to see that I would really love to see.

By Elisabeth Warner

I am someone who has always wanted to travel. I have been to many places within the United States, and I have traveled abroad in Canada and Italy. Bolivia was different from anywhere I’ve been. Bolivians are passionate people, and most of the ones I met were all very cheerful. And very friendly. I had the opportunity to talk with a lady on my return flight, who invited me to visit her hometown next time I was in Bolivia. And that’s how it was most of the time. We were Americans, and stood out from the crowd, but they didn’t care. We talked with them, and they welcomed us.

I think the most unique aspect of Bolivian culture (at least from an American standpoint) was how involved everyone was in politics—how much they wanted to discuss them at any given moment, but especially at meals. Even in the remote village of Lupalaya, politics were brought up over lunch. All of the graffiti was political as well. It changed my outlook on how I view politics here in the United States, and my idea on how involved the average person can and should be.

In January, I couldn’t tell you anything about Bolivia, let alone pinpoint it on the map. Now I feel innately connected to the people of Bolivia, and I believe that I will try to go back one day. Their culture is different from our own, but this isn’t bad. It’s new and exciting. I’ll always be glad that I visited Bolivia.

By Rachel Birchmier

Before traveling to La Paz, Bolivia I didn’t have any solid expectations. Having not traveled far or often I had no basis for expectation except what I had read in books and U.S news sources. Most of what I read was from the assigned book Bolivia in Focus or from the Internet. One thing I learned was how politically involved and informed the people were in and around La Paz. Everyone was informed about the political environment of their own country as well as about a lot of world politics. Most of the graffiti around the city was political and one of the most popular topics for conversation was politics. While I have never minded political discussions, it’s considered a difficult topic in the United States, and I rarely hear discussions about politics beyond the scope of our own country. This trip taught me a lot about the importance of informing myself about events that influence the whole world rather than focusing only on information about my own country. It also taught me about different perspectives. A lot of the information I’ve learned in school and from U.S news sources has a biased perspective. It was refreshing and informative to hear the same news and histories I’d heard in the United States from the perspective of another country. This trip showed me the educational value of travel and allowed me to practice navigating in a new environment. I was also able to practice speaking Spanish and learn about a few of the other languages of Bolivia that I had never heard before. This was a great first travel experience. It inspires me to continue looking for new experiences and to continue to travel in the future when possible.


In Search of Polleras

By Rachel Birchmier

Before traveling to Bolivia I had heard that most goods were obtained through an informal trade system and had friends mention the Witches’ Market. However, I was unaware of how extensive the system of open-air markets was throughout the city. One of the first shopping experiences I had was at a supermarket buying bottles of water. The supermarkets were more like a small grocery store or a drugstore is in the United States, rather than a huge covered warehouse with any item you might need. Most of the shopping in the city was centered at these open-air markets that sold everything from fruits, vegetables and fish to clothes or sporting gear. The informal trade was everywhere. There were Easter candies and palm leaves being sold in St. Francis Square, women with baskets of salteñas or carts of fruit in the morning, piles of sweaters and clothes at the Antonio Jose de Sucre Square, and soccer cleats and camping gear in the El Alto market.

I asked my family if there was anything I could bring them back from La Paz before leaving. My mom showed me a picture of a cholita in extravagant clothing and asked me to bring her back a large layered skirt similar to the ones in the photo, which I later learned were called polleras. I didn’t see any polleras for sale along the streets on the way to our other destinations or at the Witches’ Market so I asked one of our Spanish teachers in the morning as well as one of the vendors at the Witches’ Market where to find these skirts for sale. I was told about another market a few blocks uphill from the Witches’ Market. We walked uphill to find a market with stall after stall of vegetables, meats, fish, and bakeries. We continued to walk through the stalls looking for the polleras until asking for directions and learning the market was separated into categories and the skirts were in the opposite direction of the vegetables. There were two stores across from each other with polleras displayed from the ground to the ceiling of the small open shops. There were different styles of polleras; some had layers or lace and others were simple, with solid colors. I learned that layers can signify that a woman is in a relationship, and that showing the lace of the underskirt can signify that a woman is single, although these rules are not strongly adhered to. I chose a layered floral skirt for my mom, which I unfortunately have to tailor myself since I purchased it during the holiday, holy weekend, and the tailor wasn’t working. The pollera will make a wonderful Mother’s Day gift this coming May!

A Visit to Lupalaya

By McKenzie Ruff

On Thursday March 29, we took a trip to Lupalaya, Bolivia. To get to Lupalaya it was about a 4-hour trip from La Paz, where we were staying at a hotel. Lupalaya is a very rural community right on Lake Titicaca. During our visit, we visited the community’s school and orphanage, talked to leaders and officials, and walked around. We started our day off by looking at the magnificent view of Lake Titicaca. When the community leaders arrived, they gave us a tour of some of the main areas of the community. We started at the orphanage, which is home to over 100 kids. Since we visited during Semana Santa (Easter) the children who lived at the orphanage were not there because they were on one of the few trips they get each year for the holidays. We were still able to see the orphanage. Each bedroom was assigned to a certain gender and age group and contained about 10 beds. Two, maybe even three children, were assigned to a bed. It was sad and sobering to see the amount of space that all the children have because many people would hardly consider a single bed to be big enough for one person, let alone three. We then went to see the kitchen where all the food for the children was cooked. After visiting the orphanage, the leaders of the town prepared a meal for us, which was a traditional soup of Lupalaya. It was very kind and thoughtful of them to do this for us and I appreciated the meal enormously. Next, we went to visit the school. This was cool because we got to see a new building that was just built within the last year that the students can start using whenever they have all of the desks and supplies. The new building was not in use yet, so we went to the original school and walked around the classrooms and saw some of the types of educational activities the students take part in. Lastly, we visited the home of one of the professors from the university in La Paz. He had the best view of the lake! He is passionate about this community and helping them develop and succeed. Overall, I really liked traveling to Lupalaya because it gives such a different feel from La Paz and shows how developing communities live. It also gave us students a new way to look at the world and learn about how other people live all over the world. I am glad we got to experience all the different aspects of Lupalaya like the orphanage, the school, people’s homes, customs, food, and the environment. It is something I will hold dear to my heart from this trip because love knows no borders. “El amor no conoce fronteras.”


By Elisabeth Warner

It was impressive to see the ruins of the civilization of Tiwanaku. The structures were surprisingly advanced and intricate, and took a long time to complete. The people were able to carve in perfect symmetry and with 90 degree angles. The stones of the buildings were carved so exactly to one another that there were no gaps between them. The modern reconstruction of some of the walls was less perfectly carved than the original stones. Even some carved indentations in the stone were perfectly square: the sides and bottoms were at all 90 degree angles. Some of the carvings were practical, but most were for religious reasons. My favorite part was that many Aymara people still practice the ancient ceremonies that the people of Tiwanaku did. This was, and still is, a sacred place to them. This made me feel more connected to the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. Seeing their history, the roots of their religion, helped me to better understand them. They had carvings of faces, and not all of them are what we consider to be Bolivian today. Represented among the carvings were faces of African and Asian origin, telling of the diversity of Bolivia even back then. We toured ruins of three temples: upper, middle, and buried. They are representative of the three worlds: the upper world (heaven), the middle ground (the world we live in), and the underground. Everything circled back to their beliefs. Even the shape of the pyramid (upper temple) was representative of their Andean cross. We had an Aymaran tour guide, and hearing him talk about his connection to the temple today is something difficult to put into words. He was able to bring us even closer to the culture of Tiwanaku through his explanations of his culture, his beliefs. The religious ceremonies practiced in Tiwanaku are ones he still celebrates to this day. The temple of Tiwanaku even has a reconstructed altar that they use nowadays for ceremonies. The largest ones are at the equinoxes and solstices. Overall, I was impressed with the dedication of the people of Tiwanaku to their religion. The magnitude of the temples and carvings are a testament to depth of their faith.