Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Yesterday, we caught a seven person van back from Samaipata to Santa Cruz. It was cozy- there were ten adults crowded in! Luckily we did have a good driver though and so we avoided the terror that we had on the way to Samaipata. Part way back, in a mountain valley, near a stream and steep rock cliffs, all the traffic had to stop for 45 minutes for road work. Immediately the vendors appeared-- People carrying bowls and baskets and coolers. After a vendor had walked further along, the ground would be littered with all the wrappers of whatever people had bought. Is this just my ethrocentricity showing??

I did do four quartersheet paintings in Samaipata. Painting on location in an unfamiliar country is fraught with nervous worry. People tend not to want their image painted and the buildings tend to be flat and brown on the outsides with anything interesting- flowers, washing, pigs etc., all tucked inside inner courtyarts. And in a high valley, with altidude the lighting is often flat. Anyways, once I have a subject and a spot and I am plunked on my little stool (compliments of Shelley Austin of Sea Shell Design) then I´m usually just fine and I enjoy myself. In a few minutes, I´m usually surrounded by admirers watching my entertainment. The other day, when I painted in the main square, one of the post carnival cleaner-uppers became my front man. He gathered folks around me and then proceeded to point at everything in my painting by touching it with his nail on a stick. All the while, I continued to paint!

The day before, I had about a dozen kids for the afternoon. Most stared with big dark eyes but one little girl was a lively chatterbox with an enormous smile. She rushed home and came back with her ¨Learn to speak English book¨ She annouced Ït is five oclock!" " No" I laughed, "it is three oclock" and we proceeded to chat for the afternoon. By the time she introduced me to her mother and father :¨"Joy, Mother Father" she knew my brother and sister´s names and ages and lots of other random details.

In Santa Cruz, the city is trying to clean up after canival. Most of the buildings need repainting because of all the paint guns. A huge workforce is rewhitewashing the buildings and cleaning the streets. We are also back to the constant horn honking. One chap was crossing himself as he drove by the cathedral, at the same time he was laying on his horn to help more the traffic along! The sidewalks are crowded. Among the brown skinned dark haired Bolivians, there are some skinny, fair skinned, blue eyed menonites with dark severe clothing and sour expressions. Also there are a few nuns wandering around in their habits (and using the internet cafes). So often I´ve seen a short Bolivian girl from the back, with long black braids, wearing a straw hat, and a knee length gathered skirt with an apron tied over and I´ve thought of Anne Shirley. Then they turn around and I see their old wrinkled faces and hands and I realize that these are not young girls! Jim and I always smile and coo at Bolivian babies and kids. It usually backfires. When the babies are old enough to really look at us, they usually recoil in horror and they cry and scream. They find our ¨"üniform" of battered hats, tee shirts, shorts and our old white faces just so different.

Later today we are catching the Train of Death towards Brazil and by tomorrow we will be leaving Bolivia for another year! I have some buns to eat, some bottled water, our bug suits, insect repellent and a cheery disposition ready for the trip!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday 24, 2009

Hello All
Om Sunday, we got a taxt to Samaipata, a small village 100 km from Santa Cruz. The ride was one of the scariest of my life. Our driver attacked the winding mountain road at top speed, passing all vehicles whether he could see around the curves or not. He wore a seat belt. We had none available. Miracle or miracles we arrived safely.

We booked into a terrific hostel (one of our nicest rooms because it has no television, no air conditioning and it has three windows and a balcony!) We have to pay a 25% surcharge because of Carnival. I told the owner I thought we should get a discount for having to put up with the non stop shinanigans! Anyways we´ve had three days of drunken partying, loud loud music from many different bands playing at the same time, (all different tunes) and constant water fights, paint ball, foam spray, and fire crackers.

Yesterday, to avoid some of the mayhem, we took at taxi 10 to 12 km up a mountain to Le Fuerte, a large preinkan ruins. We spend an interesting couple of hours touring the site (it´s a UNESCO site), five hundred remains of building and a gigantic carved rock surfact. Then we hiked back to town. Although I found the hike long and tiring, I loved the cliffs, the path, the foliage, a soaring condor, flocks of parakeets and the quiet!

Today, I did one sketch and painting from one of the decks in the hostel. Then I did a second quarter sheet painting a bit up the mountain looking down on some clotheslines, tiles roofs and the mountains in behind. I was often surrounded by at least a dozen kids. I gave everyone canada pins. At the end there was just one little girl so I gave her a set of paints, paper, and brush etc. She was thrilled.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Feb 21, 2009

We caught the bus last night
On the brown altoplano,
Surrounded by the mountains of La Paz.
We awoke this morning
In the lush green tropics.
Grasses as high as trees sway in the breeze.
Chickens wander freely.
Pigs are tethered on ropes.
White humped-backed cattle graze
Along side small white birds.
People eat ouside their thatched adobe huts.
Small brown boys chase and dig and climb trees,
Their sisters play house
Caring tenderly for younger siblings.
Occationally, we pass a town where
The houses are brick and have windows,
The roofs are metal or tile.

Here, approaching Santa Cruz, Bolivia,
There are power lines on big metal poles
And pipelines on the ground.
The pipelines are raised on tresles
Over the huge rivers and small streams.
Everywhere is green.
We are back in the land of giant ant hills.
Fields often have hundreds of these 5 to 6 foot brown mounds.

Sugan cane is grown here,
Date palms, tobaco, soya beans, corn.
And from the road side stalls,
I suspect that avacados and oranges are also grown.
In the wet areas, pink mallow-like blossoms
Look like Disney gardens:
They´re reminescent of the Amazon jungle
Seen on last year´s adventure.

And the back drop of all this green undulating beauty
Seen from the bus,
Is the relentless violence on the bus televisions.
Even though I can ignor the images of
Shooting, smashing, killing, pain,
I can not escape the sound track.
The sounds of fists hitting flesh,
The groans and screams of the dying.
Would they just get it overwith
And die already.

A indigenous lady on the bus reaches
Over to an open window
And tosses out a large bag of garbage.
It bounces close to one
Of the many road side shrines.
One more bag added to the many
That are strewn along
Every road side in Bolivia.

This is the dicotamy that is Bolivia,
The great beauty next to the ugliness.
This is my personal see-saw,
Do I love this land and it´s beauty,
Or can I hardly wait to leave the noice and filth?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 20, 2009

Hello all:
We´ve been in Sorata the past several days. This is a small village in the mountains. The Andes mountains are spectacular, several are snow capped and rival the Himalayas at 6500 meters. Most of them are craggy, vertical mountains, sheathed in green. After weeks of seeing just brown mountains, the green is wonderful. We´re at a lower altitude here, hence the green. This afternoon, Jim and I took a taxi 12 kms to see some caves. The road was amazing, a narrow gravel path winding around the mountain edges. All vehicles here are 4 wheel drive but even the 4 wheel drive couldn´t reach the caves. Part of the road had just disappeared down into the valley last night.

When we returned to Sorata,I convinced Jim to stop for Lupper. While we were enjoying our cervasa and pizza, a local band started playing. It was so sudden and so loud, I thought I´d been shot. It sounded terrible but was played with huge enthusiasm. When a change was called for they speeded it up and played even louder!!

I am still smarting from being told off by an old indigenous lady a couple of days ago. I was plunked down in the market and had a painting started. This old lady was some upset. I promised that I wouldn´t paint her in the painting but that didn´t appease her and so eventually I closed everything up and moved. I felt like crying, I felt so horrible. Eventually I found a sweet little girl, Bernace, and she let me paint her and her stall. A little friend of hers squeezed in as well. After I finished the painting, I did sketches of each of the girls for them. Yesterday I just didn´t have the heart to go to the market again and so I found a narrow street view with mountains in behind. When I say narrow, I really mean narrow. Trucks kept turning down into this street and very very narrowly missing me. The folks that were watching me were flattened against the wall or almost on my lap. Today I did a similiar subject. At times I had fourty kids crowded around me. It was okay except I couldn´t see what I was painting and when ever someone walked by the kids would biff a water balloon and lots of times my painting got splattered with water!

After I finished, I thought I´d nip by the market and give paint sets to my two little friends from a couple of days ago. Immediately one of the women gestured that I should paint her. I couldn´t resist and so I started a second quarter sheet. Then of course I also had to do a sketch to give to her. By this point it was pouring rain. We, artists, certainly have to be tenatious.

Eventually I gave Bernace the paint sets and she was so incredibly happy. She can´t attend school because she has to work her families market stall.

Tomorrow, we will attempt to get a Collectivo out of Saroto and once we get to LaPaz in about three hours we will then try to get an overnight bus to Santa Cruz. I was keen to fly to Santa Cruz but Jim still likes the bus better than flying. Jim is certainly a wonderful travel partner. Nothing gets him down. I´m a bit tired of the stench, the sketchy living conditions and the uncertain safety of the food. Jim just carries on, enjoying all the people, both locals and tourists alike. This morning he was studying his Spanish learning phrases such as ¨Ï think I´m pregnant!
änd more pracically ¨How do I kill that rooster?¨

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 15, 2009

This morning, Jim and I took a tour to Tiahuanico. This is an ancient site (two hours by bus from La Paz) that preceeds the Incan Empire by over 1000 years. Probably this site is far more historically significant than Machu Pichu, but the setting is not amazing and the entire site has been looted for 600 years. Five churches in the area were built from stone from Tiahuanico. We did see a giant pyramid and several temples and gates and some monoliths that were quite amazing.
This site now has UNESCO designation and perhaps will gradually be more and more restored.

My main conplaint was that there was a tiny village of Tiahuanico close to the site, but as tours generally go we were not given any time to visit it but rather we were presured into shopping from stalls at the sites gate and also to eat lunch at a restaurant there. Of course I refused. And Jim to his credit, stuck with me. The tour guide was absolutely adamant that the bus was leaving in 30 minutes and we could skip lunch and walk to the town but that we had to be back in 30 minutes and that the bus would not come for us. She also insisted that there was no market in the village. We raced off. Unfortunately the town was more than a ten minute walk. The town was filled with indigenous folk having a marvelous colourful Sunday market. The village church was built in 1500 but of course we barely had time to take a photo of the outside. I snapped photos madly and we raced back to the bus. Of course the other tour people hadn´t even been served their lunch by the time we returned. I was so hopping mad. Then iñ the grand tradition that are tours, we were forced to stand about looking at a few more things and then once we were returned, an hour early to La Paz, we were not taken back to our hostel where they had picked us up but rather we were dumped out in that same witches market we had survived yesterday. Tours may provide safety and ease in visiting various tourists spots but they are definitely not to my liking.

February 14,2009

Plodding uphill from the old cathedral.
Before long,
I am winded from the altitude,
And crazed by the noice of traffic and horns,
The smells of food and feces,
And the thick dusty air.

The cars, buses and colectivos,
Pack the streets solidly.
Often there is not even room
For pedestrians to squeeze between the gridlocked vehicles.

The sidewalks closest to the valley
Are filled with stalls selling tourist trinkets.
The shops behind sell tours, treks, adventures.

Slightly higher up the steep hill,
We walk through the witches market.
Here you can purchase tiny cars, houses, cell phones;
Anything that you want to aquire in the next year.
The stalls also sell llama fetuses, coca leaves
And sweets,
All are gifts for Pacha Mamma.
(Apparantly Pacha Mamma loves sweets.)

A bit more climbing,
And the stalls now sell light bulbs,
Sink plugs, door locks, brooms,
And cheap aluminum cookware.
The shops are packed with carnival clothing.
All handmade,
Clown outfits, masks,
Glitsy shawl pins.
Hundreds of colourful gathered skirts
Are admired by the indigenous ladies.
The many millinary shops
Have shelves of marvelous brown and black bowlers.
On the shop walls are calendars,
Featuring full figured, fully clothed women
Sporting benito sombreros.

We huff and puff
Higher up the mountain road.
Gradually most of the local people
and the traffic is left behind.
At the top we reach the cemetary.
Like mini high rise appartment buildings,
Each tomb is stacked on another.
Stalls in this area sell
Flowers and glitz to decorate the tombs.
Even the tombs themselves are for sell in the shops.

After reaching this heaven,
We reverse the hike back to the
Hell of noice and people and cars
In the valley.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 13, 2009

We started today with a visit to the Academia National de Bellas Artes. This art school has been in existence for over 200 years. Last fall, Jim and I provided the seed money through the sale of last years South American sketches for the Academia to put out the very first issue of Otra Arte. Otra Arte is a world class art magazine featureing Bolian art and artists! After hundreds of years of art history in Bolivia and an active vital arts community, it is about time there was such a magazine since it will provide a calling card about Bolivian Art that can be used around the world. Having such a publication, was entirely Ivar Mendez´s idea and we just suppported his initiative with money. Ivar, his parter Ivonne Aracena and Jim and I met with the principal and all the teachers of the Academia. I took my tiny travelling paint set and all the sketches done so far on this trip. This broke the ice and bridged the language barrier. With Ivar´s translation, the principal thanked me for my interest and support and I expressed my thoughts on the universality of art and invited all of the staff to visit Nova Scotia as our guests.
Then we toured the school and a student exhibition.

We also learned from Ivar that unless we can extend our trip for a further two months we can´t visit Acapaca on this trip. Disappointing, however things generally work out for the best. We will see other Bolivian areas in the time we do have remaining.

On the walk back to our hostel, I found an art shop with some quality art materials. I got a bit more paper; not as heavy as I like but it is archival quality. I also bought a dozen quality painting sets for kids and pencils, sharpeners and paper. Jim´s wondering where I´ll find a dozen kids who want an art lesson and I´m wondering how I can buy more paint sets once I run out!

This afternoon, we visited two galleries, (the national gallery and the museum of contemporary art). It was interesting to see work by Mamani Mamani, the artist we visited last night and also to see work by the two artists that we were going to have dinner with tonight.

At 7:30, Ivar and Ivonne took us to their favourite restaurant, Villaserena and ordered for us all the best of Bolivian food and drink. The highlight was sharing the evening with two more of Bolivia´s top artists; Mario Conde, a hyper realist watercolourist and Victor Hugo Echeverria, a sculptor. Both Mario and Victor were charming and delightful. I had so much in common with them and it´s always a treat for a solitary artist to meet kindred spirits. Again I issued invitations to be our guests in Canada and discussed the possibilities and benefits of some Bolivian Canada art exchanges.

The last two days have been a gift from two exceptional people. Ivar Mendez is not only a world class neurosurgeon in Halifax and researcher and innovator, he is also an artist and a passionate philanthropist. His partner, Ivonne Aracena, is a dentist, a teacher at the university and a potter. She´s kind, wonderful and the perfect social planner. She will also be living in Canada in the near future.
Throughout my life, I´ve had the amazing good fortune of just happening to get to know some very special people. For many years, these special folk have always been older than me. I assumed part of their wisdom and passion was because they were further along in their lifes journeys. Ivar and Ivonne are both young enough to be my children but I am inspired by their energy, committment and eclectic interests. Being a special person obviously has nothing to do with age.

For most of my life, I have harboured a passionate belief that enhancing creativity, enhances creative thought and this is integral to being a leader, a teacher, a researcher. Only by thinking outside the box, can world problems be negotiated. Ivar not only shares this belief, he´s living it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009

Ivar Mendez, the young Halifax neurosurgeon, who is doing so much good in Bolivia and his partner Yvonne, picked us up in the morning and took us to Museo Antonio Paredos Candia in the next city of El Alto. This museum was completely empty except for us. It is far from La Paz city centre. This museo has a spectactular collection of paintings, ceramics and sculpture, both contempory and historical. I loved most of the work. After a marvelous tour of the collections, we talked with the sulptor Victor Sapana who was sculpting in the courtyard.

Our afternoon was filled with a hike beyond the witches market up hill to the market that sells goods for the local indigenous people. Up hill climbs are always difficult at this high altitude. I was looking for frilly panties that are worn in Peru under all the slips and skirts and aprons. I thought they would make a marvelous gift for my friends and my daughters and could be used as summer pajamas. Well we looked for a couple of hours and despite my trying to ask in spanish and sign language we never found those frilly panties. Obviously they are not worn in Bolivia. Later in the afternoon we got caught in a thunder lighting, hail and torential rain storm. Last evening many roads were blocked by the huge boulders that had been washed into the streets.

At 5:30, we were somewhat dried out and we were again picked up by Ivar and Yvonne and taken to meet one of Bolivia´s most successful artists, Mamani Mamani. Despite my lack of Spanish, Ivar translated and Mamani and I had much in common.(even having done calendars and serigraphs) Mamani´s work is spectacular. Of course I´m a colour nut, so I was particularly enthralled with the glowing colourful shapes done in oil pastel. Art is so universal. It can be a marvelous bridge between cultures.

February 12, 2009

La Paz: the buildings rise up from the steep streets in sepias, umbers and siennas. The crumbling walls are textured with spawling stucco that exposes brick, stone and adobe. A jumble of wires runs higgeldy piggeldy over the surface. In the shadows, on the ground level (as in life) are the beggars outside the basic shops of shoe repairs, photocopy places, contact lens shops. Some of the shops are covered in rolled sheet metal and some in painted wooden shutters. Above the shops, there is an uncertain area of round windows, ventilation holes and holes from the rotted out wood beams that once upon a time supported floors. The buildings starts to be more and more ornate and atherial the higher they rise. They end in steeples and towers that gleam against the blue sky.

The traffic in the street is noicy and solid. Little cars reve engines and blare horns. Hundreds of mini buses (collectivos) are the public transport. They have a driver who swerves, and races and stops suddenly and honks madly and a helper that hangs out the open side door doing a singing holloring chant about the destinations.

On one street, rows of men sit at tiny tables with old portable typewriters that have paper and carbon paper at the ready. Every street has kiosks on the sidewalks; for the news, for goat cheese, for salenas, or watches. Men in ski masks shine shoes.

In La Paz, pedestrians pack the streets. They wear modern clothing, lots of dark suits, with pink shirts and dark ties (Latino men look great in pink) Lots of sharply dressed shapely women in narrow pointy shoes with high high heels. Lots of students. Everyone with a cell phone. Among this rushing cosmopolitan throng are some indegenous people, short, plump in full full skirts and carrying bags and infants.

Many police are milling about, far more than last year.
Some with tear gas,
Some with rifles,
Some with small guns,
Some with shields and face protection,
Some with motorcycles or clubs.
So far no tanks.
At the entrance to every bank and most shops are armed security;
Even the small upscale coffee shop we had lunch in.

Groups of beggars hunker on the sidewalks.
Pitiful old women crouched on the street
With knarled old hands grasping at us for money.
Young mothers, with one, two three or four dirty ragged children.
The two year olds make the best beggars.
Even when it is dark, some of the families are still on the sidewalk
sharing a communal bowl of supper or sleeping.
Some beggars, like the tiny serious girl,
Who was singing and dancing her heart out
have to be supported.
I´m not sure how to handle the rest.
Does it help for me to give money or asurbate the problem.
I feel so guilty,
I want to help but how.

And when the overstimulation of the La Paz streets
threatens to overwelm me,
I step inside a quiet old church.
Gone is the jostling, the cacaphony of sound and the confusion.
For the moment I stop clutching my purse and camera,
And I sit and breathe

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11,2009

At seven this morning we arrived by overnight bus to La Paz; it was a hellish trip best quickly forgotten. This morning as we drove along the alto plano to the valley of La Paz, it was just getting light, the moon was full, local buses were piled with colourful packs on the roofs and colour indigenous folk were gathered on the road sides. It felt like coming home. La Paz is the only place that we will visit on this trip that we visited last year. We´re even staying in the same divey Hotel El Torino that we stayed in a year ago. One of its best features for me is that it doesn´t have a television. Our room has the same Snoopy sheets and the book exchange most of the same books! The location is wonderful, the price is right and there´s a great little cafe next door for breakfast!

We are coming to La Paz to do some work on our Bolivian Art Project. Last night on the bus¨, I was thinking about what art education could do or why it might be important to encourage it here. I think that art education fosters decision making skills and creative thought and that both are essencial for leaders. Creative thought is useful for anyone in any country but it is especially useful in a poor developing country such as Bolivia that is just finding its feet economically and politically. In addition, on a personal level, making art is a form of self expression and enhances self worth.

The past several days we explored Sucra, the original capital of Bolivia. Sucra is a fantastic colonial city, most of the core was built in the 1500s. I´d love to return here for a month or more. Indigenous folk were demonstrating, milling about, hunkered down cooking on little charcoal cookers or working and relaxing on the streets of Sucra. Almost all wore their tradional dress.It seemed like life was being lived out on the street. I saw my first young infant out of it´s colourful carrying poncho. The baby had only it´s face showing and was a tighly wrapped package bound with a long white woven strip. I saw women releaving themselves in the street; with their full skirts it was very discrete. They just squatted over a road drain and their full skirt hides everything. Across the street from the hospital were seven funerias, all with their caskets on view to the street.

Jim and visited several museos. Two were fantastic. The Museo of Indigenous Craft was a private museum started by an anthropology foundation. There were gallery after gallery of amazing weavings and pottery. Some pieces were several thousand years old. Each area around Sucra still has its distinctive woven patterns, colours and clothing. Lucky for us, there was a paper translation in English of all the labels. A highlight was two young women sitting on the ground each weaving an intricate amazing piece from their culture on frame looms. I could have sat there for the three months until they finished.

Yesterday, Jim and I visited the Museo of the Constitution. This building from 1500 was initially built by the Jesuits as a church and later became a university, then the seat of government where coalitions, constitutions and agreements were brokered and now it is a museum. We were very fortunate to get an English guide (I suspect that he was much more than a guide as he was frequently interrupted to sign letters and forms). This fellow gave us an amazing one hour history lesson as we toured the actual rooms where many of the historic agreements were signed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 9, 2009

Whenever I travel I love to try many of the local foods. However as soon as I get sick, all foods become suspect and I´m back to my safe choice of plain boiled noodles.Since I´ve been sick allot on this trip, my exploration of new foods may have to wait for future times.

Yesterday, at a road check point, our vehicle was surrounded by local women selling snacks. These long narrow plastic bags of food had white marble sized balls on the bottom, maybe goat cheese, maybe bean balls, and on top was a slurry of brown ground meat. I´d have loved to have tried them but just didn´t dare.

Two days ago, at the miner´s market, I watched two tiny girls cook empanadas on a tiny cooker in the street. The older sister, maybe seven years old, kept the charcoal under the pot of oil and deep fried the little stuffed goodies. After she scooped them out into a basket, her little sister, fished them out with her fingers and arranged them on a plate and sold them.

So many culture have little packages: cornish pastries in England, egg rolls in Asia, perogies in the Ukraine and perogs in Latvia. The South American empanada comes stuffed with beef, chicken or cheese and ham and when freshly cooked are fantastic!

Saltenas are another little package we´ve had lately. They seem to be baked not fried and are filled with cubes of potatoe and beef.

I really loved the chippa from Paraguay. These are yummy yellow spicey crescent shapped rolls that are probably flavoured with anise and probably have goat cheese kneeded into the dough.

In Boliva, we get a dry tasteless large flat roll for breakfast. These remind me of eating cardboard. To be fair, they usually come with a large pat of butter and perhaps if I slathered on the butter they´d taste okay.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday February 8,2009

I came to Postosi with hopes of finding small silver trinkets for all my friends and family. I am leaving with a story and no trinkets.

Potosi was built upon it`s mountain of silver. For 250 years, its` silver financed all of the Spainish empire. When 80% of the indigenous people had died, African slaves replaced them as mine workers. Over 8,000,000 men died from their work in the mines. Today all the mines are co-operatives but even today once a miner starts underground, slithering into small ladderless shafts, few survive more than ten years. The underground air is very hot and filled with dust, asbestos and silicon. When the miners are underground they feel closer to Tia, the devil-god of the underground.

Yesterday, Jim and caught a local bus to the miner´s market where dynamite, picks, wedges and all the basic necessary mining tools are for sale. Then we walked up the mountain of silver to be a part of the annual miner´s fiesta.

All the dancers and miners and bands met in front of their respective mines. They started drinking and partying and dancing their way down the mountain.
There were many many brass bands all with lots of tubas, trumpets and relentless drumming. Older women danced by in their beautiful orange dresses with embroidered hems and lace shawls. Their hair was tied with ribbons and huge pompoms and they wore large flat hats. Little girls and old women danced by in long red full shirts, black bowlers, white blouses, and lace shawls each tucked with a fancy blanket.
Many of the male dancers in elaborate costumes wore shoes with 5 inch soles and huge spur like bells on the back. There was lots of drinking. Even the people carrying the religious litters had their cans of beer propped next to the Virgin.

The miners, wearing their hard hats, cigaret in one hand, can of beer in the other and carrying flasks made of llama legs danced by. Always a little booze was dribbled on the ground for Pacha Momma. Men in dragon-like costumes, blues, green or reds, swayed down the mountain. At the end of the green dragons, one plump girl in a full gathered ultra mini skirt, strapless top, over the knee green boots with high gold heels and bright green bowler hat with peacock feathers shimmied by. Throughout the parade there were many such girls. Some wore clear raincoats over their glitzy revealing costumes.

All along the route, women in everyday clothes hunkered down beside tiny deep fryers and barbeques, complete with sheep heads and bits of meat with fur. They cooked, nursed their infants and sold food and drink to the hungery.

All of this sounds like a fun, a civilized party, but the fierceness of the miners life and the control and horror of Tia was present at this wild drunken party. In addition to the hundreds of miners with wedges and hammers that did an almost brutal lunging dance down the mountain, there were hundreds of people not in the actual parade who were shooting off enormous water guns, and fire crackers. They hurled water ballons and sprayed cans of foam at everyone in the parade and everyone watching it. And the explosions of dynamite were continual. Initially we could see and hear the the dynamite going off on the mountain side. Eventually the detonations got closer and closer until when they exploded, I experienced the boom and shake in every pour of my body. For just that second, the world stopped. Then it was over, my eyes opened and my heart resumed beating.

We watched the first four hours of the miner´s fiesta, and then we walked back to Potosi dogging waterballoons, spray foam and water from the big water guns. The miner´s fiesta continued all of yesterday, all night and all day today. Tomorrow life in the mines begins again for another year.

Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6, 2009

The trip to Potosi by local bus was awful. Usually you can pay extra and get a bus with a bathroom and slightly more leg room. This wasn´t an option here but we were fortunate to be able to book seats. Once you are in your seat, the bus is packed with as many other locals as can fit in the aisle. The locals usually travel with babies, small children and enormous packs and so it can feel claustrophobic with a backpack in your face and someone almost sitting on your lap. I did manage to do sneak a sketch of one old man standing in the aisle. After a few minutes, I realised that all the other aisle folk were watching me watching him!

The trip was six hours on remote bumpy gravel mountain roads (95% of roads in Bolivia are unpaved). After three hours we had a fifteen minute stop-- no bathrooms at all. The men just lined up on the mountain edge and I walked back down the road and tried to find a little privacy behind a potato plant.

All of this would have been okay (I do love adventures) except I felt very nausiated for the entire trip, even with the gravol. After we reached our hostel I was very sick all night. I am just now thinking of rejoining the land of the living. Before we came on this trip, Jim and I both tried Dukerol, a $ 160 option to stop vomitting and diarreaha for three months. We can both attest that it doesn´t work!

February 5, 2009

A lazy day in Uyuni after our recent four day adventure in the outback of Bolivia. The shower felt good, as did a real bed. All the important chores were taken care of; clothes to laundry, photos on cds, travellors cheques cashed, sun screen purchased. Also a couple of post cards were written and mailed and a bus ticket for tomorrow to Potosi has been purchased.

One of the highlights of Uyuni is supposed to be a train grave yard three kms from town. Jim and I walked there this morning. The way was filled with a terrific stench and the ground was littered with garbage. There were no people anywhere. Eventually we came to the start of the old trains which were spewed ahead of us. I got one shot of some old box cars. Suddenly we realized that we were being closely watched and followed by two young men who appeared up out of a gully beside us. Jim immediately grabbed my hand and we turned around and headed quickly back to town. The two men continued on down the tracks for a short distance, glancing back at us regularily, no doubt hoping that we would continue into the mass of old trains where our cameras and money would have been easy pickings.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 4th, 2009

Running vicunia, blending with the red, brown sand.
Bumping, thumping and jiggling over sand, rock, and gravel,
For over 1000 kilometers on no roads,
We travel in a four by four truck.
Four days and only two flat tires and one broken water pump.
A wonderful trip.

The mountains surround us,
In soft reds, yellows, gray-greens.
The alto-plano, our very high plane
Is often at 5000 metres.
We rumble past red rock fins,
Herds of ostriches and llama,
Abandoned gold mining towns,
With piscatchios scrambling
Up and over the old stone walls.

Occationally we pass coloured lagunos.
Sharp green--Laguno Verde
Sharp red--Luguno Colorado
These lagunos have large areas of white salt flats,
And occationally mounds of salt which are surrounded
By pale green circles.
The reflection of the mountains is broken
By the bands of salt.
As we get closer, we see that every laguno
Has flamingos,
Often many thousands of flamingos.
Glorious pink, and white and black flamingos.
They walk magestically, stooping to fish.
Their huge bodies with graceful long necks and heads are
Balanced on two tiny stick-like legs.
Legs that seem unending because
They become reflection and extend until
They meld with the relected up side down body.
Suddenly, the flamingos take to the air
And glide past with slowly pumping wings.
The birds and their reflected parade of pink,
Dazzles my eyes.
Until now, I didn´t like flamingos.
Perhaps, they were falsely pink,
Like blue hydrangeas.
Perhaps even falsely shaped
Like fashion models for Florida parks,
Or plastic phoneys for
North American lawns to celebrate birthdays.
Now I feel blessed.
My eyes tear.
The world is a wonderful, amazing place
Because it has flamingos.

We race with a red four by four,
Piled on the roof like our vehicle,
With luggage, spare tires,
blue drums of gasoline,
Yellow bombas of propane,
Food, bottles of water,
A red pick axe.
Our cook Sylvia tries to sleep
In the front seat.
She too was sick in the night.
Soon the red four by four is gone.
¨Driven by a young Heffa´, says Gerando.

We are again alone in this vast landscape.
We spew a huge cloud of dust behind.
Occationally we see patches of coarse yellow grass
or a green mossy rock,
But mostly nothing else growing.
Huge rock shapes sometimes jut out
Of the altoplano.
They´re called stone trees.
Daly painted these rocks,
And now I stand in the cold fierce wind
And try to capture them.
Later I paint in the tiny adobe village,
That we stay the night in.
I paint until the sky is rent with lighting,
And hail pelts down.
The next morning the land is a white snowscape,
Until the sun burns through.

In the jeep, we creep, rocking and bumping
Down a stone gully,
A winding bouncing route
Surrounded by enormouse loose rock walls,
Even driving under bits of overhanging rock at times.
Eventually the gully widens
And we drive again on gravel or sand.

With no trees or plants,
It´s hard to find a little privacy
So I pay the 5 Bolivianos
And get my four little squares of tissue,
And the privilege of using
A seatless, waterless, toilet,
In a tiny adobe hut.

The road again becomes especially brutal.
We pitch and dodge
And inch over and around boulders.
Eventually we leave Gerardo to drive alone,
And we walk for ten minutes
To escape the jarring.
Our lunch destination is worth every moment
Of bone rattling.
We stop near an active volcano.
Smoke rises from a vent
And geysers bubble and spew in
Many holes around us.

On day four, well before dawn
We are woken and we climb out of
Our beds made of salt bricks,
In our salt block hostel.
We pack our bags by flashlight.
Then we are off across
Sala de Uyuni,
The world´s biggest salt lake.
It is 1400 square kms and 40 metres deep in places.
As the horizon lightens
We turn off jeep´s headlights
And drive alone in this flat gray landscape.
The sun breaks the horizon.
The vast white surface is suddenly
Marked with fantastic tiny salt ridges
That pattern the sufface with hexigonal shapes.
It is cold at this high altitude
Until the sun rises and warms us.
We arrive at a coral mountain.
Enormous cactus,
Some 1200 years old,
Catch the early light.

I sit alone on top of this island
And paint,
Internalizing the vast white quiet of salt,
Savouring the tall thick prickly cacti,
In dusty greens and oranges with strong mauve shadows.
The cati rises into the morning sky
From the pale bone-coloured coral
With its pitted, blossoming surface.
In the far distance,
Beyond the Salar de Uyuni
Is a ancient volcano.
All I can feel is love for the world.
And gratitude to have taken this adventure,
Into the beauty that is Bolivia.

January 30, 2009

Yesterday we walked around Tapiza. It´s a colourful village although the buildings, the roads and the surrounding mountains are mostly brown. It was market day and I loved walking up the market road. This is a market for locals, cheap aluninum cookware, coloured plastic containers, shoes, blue print aprons and the fantastic gathered skirts as well as fresh goat cheese, buns, spices and vegetables. I kept grabbing-sneaking photos of the women buying baskets, climbing into or out of the back of big trucks or just walking. I love the shapes and the colours. Jim thinks I probably already have photos of every possible combination of clothing, activity and lighting but still I am moved by the women´s shapes and colours and so I keep snapping the photos. After my camera was stolen in Bolivia last year, I replaced it with one with an 18 times optical zoom. Now I can really creep in on images unnoticed!