Bolivia, so far (north)

UPDATE: added photos, since I’m up early and no one else is hogging bandwidth. Apologies if you’ve already read this sans photos.

(Apologies, I did mean to upload photos with this post, but the internet is really slow, we think one of the other guests is streaming a movie or something, grr)

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(We are headed by bus to Oruro tomorrow, where we’ll catch the overnight train to Tupiza, from where we’ll do a tour of Salar de Uyuni. Tupiza is a major town in southern Bolivia, near Argentina, where we plan to cross overland.)

OK, onto regular programming . . .

I’m making up for all the TV I haven’t watched back home (where we also didn’t have cable TV). It’s Day 3 of staying off my feet, since I sprained my ankle rather badly by missing a step of the Plaza San Francisco here in La Paz.

My Spanish is not improving as much as it should, because there’s many TV channels that broadcast programs in original English, and then paste on Spanish subtitles. However, the Bolivian Nacional Policia channel puts on a lot of Korean soap operas, dubbed over. (The ads, naturally, are public service announcements reminding people to use seat belts.)  The hats that are part of the Bolivian police uniform look exactly like those worn by US National Park Service rangers, and since the uniform is also a darkish green/khaki, it makes them seem less intimidating, somehow.

So thanks to the Bolivian National Police, I’ve finally seen an episode of “My Lovely Samsoon.” (It’s interesting that there’s one street near our hotel that’s door-to-door full of hairdressers/barbers, and most of them have posters of Korean boy bands, with tousled floppy longish hair.) It’s about time for Joe to get another haircut, but were he to walk into any of those hairdressers, they’d probably be disappointed that a real Asian customer wouldn’t ask for that kind of haircut.

Unfortunately my two favourite cartoons are also dubbed, not subtitled: South Park and the Simpsons.  For some reason, it’s a lot harder to understand Spanish voiceovers in a cartoon than in a regular movie or live-action TV show. Maybe it’s because the voices are also cartoony.

“New to me” shows I’ve discovered are: “All on the Line” where a magazine creative director tries to help struggling designers turn their business around; and “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills,” which was more entertaining than I would have expected out of such a hokey concept.

OK, so most people reading this blog don’t really want to hear about my TV reviews. What have we been up to since Macchu Picchu? We went to Bolivia  and went to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and La Paz.

Lake Titicaca is a bit like Lake Tahoe in that the border between entities cuts across the lake (Peru/Bolivia; California/Nevada)

Things are cheaper here than Peru, which was pricier than I expected.

Saltenas, the XLB of Bolivia: XLB is the abbreviation of xiao long bao 小籠包, a bite-sized steamed pork dumpling from the Shanghai area. They are a bit unique in that there’s a lump of jellified pork broth tucked inside before the dumpling is sealed, so that it melts during cooking. The tricky part of eating an XLB is to slurp/suck out the pork juice without letting it dribble to waste on your plate or spoon. It takes finesse, especially since the dumpling wrapper is very thin and it’s usually steaming hot.

Saltenas are the savory baked turnovers on Bolivia. Usually filled with a mixture of meat. potatoes, maybe some other vegetables, olives (Joe doesn’t like olives, so I get his), and sometimes slivers of hard-boiled egg. They cost 4 bolivianos (such a sensible country, to name its currency the same as its name. About 7 bolivianos to $US 1 right now).  There’s a pinched seam of dough to mark the closure, and often the seam is usually burnt almost black, in contrast to the golden dough of the rest of the saltena.  The inside of the saltena is also very juicy; at first Joe and I were puzzled as to how people ate them without making a wet mess of their fingers. It turns out you’re not supposed to get juice on your fingers, so I guess you suck/slurp the juice out, but it’s easier than an XLB, because most of them time the saltena is only slightly warmer than room temp, from sitting under a heat lamp in a glass display case.

Olives: It’s interesting; we’ve encountered more olives in food in Peru and Bolivia than the other parts of South America so far. I wonder why that’s the case.

Potatoes: Potatoes are big in Peru and Bolivia: tons of varieties here, since they originated here. We’re familiar with the small purplish variety since it got introduced to California. But there’s also some other odder looking varieties, like pink/yellow ones with long dimply dents.  What’s also common here, but new to us are the dehydrated/freeze-dried potato called chuños. They look like little white pebbles. There’s also dark potato versions.  They’re used in soups and stews, but have the texture, and almost the taste of taro. Since they also eat a lot of pork here, presumably there’s a five-layer pork stew that includes chuños . . . . that would almost taste Chinese/Thai.

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Peanuts:  There’s also over 60 varieties of peanuts in Bolivia, which was a big surprise to me.  There were snack stands in Copacabana that sold giant peanuts roasted in shell, both natural, and dyed lightly in brick red dust.  The dyed ones reminded me of something that has disappeared from my childhood: red-dyed pistachios in shell. Maybe it was the FDA red-food coloring cancer scare thing. You could buy a small bag for 5 bolivianos.  There was also giant popped/puffed corn/grain called pasancalla, which tasted slightly sweet. I don’t know if it was natural from the grain, or if they added a touch of sugar. There’s also a peanut soup, called sopa de mani, which is a direct translation,

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New vocab all the time: Peanuts, while called cacahuetes in Mexico, are called mani in South America. (As much Spanish as we can learn in one country, there’s always new words to learn in the next, i.e. avocados are known as aguacate in some places, and palta in Peru. We can never keep up!

Chicha . . . chicha morada: One thing I miss now that we’ve left Peru and are in Bolivia is chicha morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn. It’s a common Peruvian no-alcoholic beverage option, along with lemonade, if you didn’t want to order gaseosas (soda pop) like Coca-cola. Chicha in Bolivia is a fermented white corn drink. It’s supposedly slightly alcoholic.

There’s something called api in Bolivia which is made of purple corn also, but supposedly served warm.  I haven’t tried it yet. There’s a chain called Wist’upiku that serves api and pastries.

Another non-alcoholic drink we’ve seen In Peru and Bolivia is called mocochinchi in Bolivia (I don’t know what it’s called in Peru.) Not to be confused with mocachinos (coffee-chocolate concoctions), it’s a drink made with a dried apricot or peach, cinnamon and sugar. I’ve mostly seen it sold by street vendors in little plastic bags, and was afraid to try it, since I wasn’t sure if they used bottled or boiled water. I tried it at the food fair in La Paz. It was not too sweet, and refreshing.

The Post Office: I don’t know if it was specific to the La Paz Main Post Office, but it was open for business on a Friday night at 7:30 PM (I was buying stamps for a postcard), which was incredible.  Considering the federal shut down we just had in our first world country . . .

Paint: A few blocks south from our hotel along Calle Illampu  is a hardware section of town. Before you get there, you run a gauntlet of camping equipment/clothing shops (lots of North Face).  (The blocks north of our hotel are the party decoration/costume shops.)

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Right at the corner are several street vendors who sell paint, color mixed to order. They have signs made of what looks like white butcher paper with round spots of bright colors, so it looks like a twister mat, with more shades. Peering into the paint vendors’ carts, there are square tin cans with round holes on top, like the big ones back home for madras curry or mustard powder. Someone told us paint was expensive: I don’t know if that’s true. But what is common throughout South America are unfinished houses.  Often if you look at the façade straight on from the street, it looks perfectly finished and painted, but go round the corner, and you will see the raw brick or cinder blocks with bits of frosted mortar in between. Apparently most countries have a law that says you pay less property tax if your property isn’t completely built/finished, so most people never finalize the construction of their homes, i.e. leaving it unpainted would be the most obvious sign that it’s unfinished. In some countries, the law has been changed, but the custom still remains.

Witches market: Joe joked that I should have gone there after I sprained my ankle, maybe they could have cured me physically and spiritually at the same time. (I did have a spiritual cleansing when I was at Cuenca, it involved someone spit-spraying herbal-infused water around me, including on my stomach. I didn’t really need to experience that again.)  The witches market is a famous attraction for tourists in La Paz, but the concept is hardly exotic if you’re from an Asian background. It’s where you can buy herbs, love potions, and other paraphernalia for spiritual/religious ceremonies.  This includes sets of colored sugar paste candies, tinsel and bottles of booze to use as offerings when inaugurating a new business, little black stone/clay figurines that with patterns chiseled and painted in white representing luck, money, health, etc,  . . . and of course the infamous llama fetuses that you are supposed to bury in the foundation of your house when you start its construction.  It smelled like a Chinese herbalists’ shop when we were walking through there. They only thing missing was the bundles of fake money for burning.

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Benedicion de Movilidad/Blessing of the Cars:  Copacabana is the most touristed Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca. For gringo travellers, it’s the springboard to Isla del Sol.  For Bolivian and Peruvian travellers, it’s the place to get your car blessed, at the Cathedral, where the famous Virgin of Copacabana resides. Many of the hotels there also offer car-parking, which is not an amenity sought by backpackers! In the early afternoon you can see cars decked out with ribbons and flowers, and other offerings, including bottles of cider. (Maybe it’s a preventative measure against drunk drivers hitting you?). In any case, the landscaping in the plaza in front of the cathedral incorporated many of those glass cider bottles.

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