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The New World

July 31, 2006

For the first time since we´ve arrived in Bolivia, I feel like I´m in a place that is like no other I´ve ever been to.  We are in Tupiza now (a clever pizza parlor here is named “Tu pizza”), high in the Cordillera Chichas, 9,000 feet above sea level.  The town of 20,000 is nestled among red-rock ridges that rise another 1,000 feet or so into the clear blue sky.  Only dirt roads and railroad tracks lead into and out of town, which supposedly has, surprisingly enough, one of the most well-educated populations in Bolivia. 


The bus ride in from Tarija was a cultural experience all its own.  At the first stop, at least half a dozen women got on the bus to sell sodas and baked goods to the passengers.  The women were all very young, one of them no older than 6 or 7.  “Quieres sandweeeeech,” I can still hear her high-pitched voice call out over the din of the passengers.  She and one of the older young women were so desperate for the income provided by selling their goods to bus passengers that they didn´t get off until after the bus started driving away–and even then, they didn´t disembark for at least a mile from their original location.


Along the way, the bus would pick up passengers in the most remote places.  Around one curve in the road, two traditionally dressed women with a dozen woven baskets were waiting to board at 3 a.m.  At other places, passengers would disembark in the middle of long stretches of road surrounded, seemingly, by nothing but scrubby trees and dust.  What a different life from the one I have known.  It is fascinating to get a glimpse into and a small sensation of what it must be like to live in one of the remotest places in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.  The contrasts are endless–and not just between my world and theirs.  Within this city, there is a mix of wealth and poverty, centuries-old tradition and modernity.  For one thing, I´m writing to you at an Internet cafe in a place with only a few miles of paved roads.


Tomorrow Paul and I are going on a “triathlon” tour of the surrounding landscape:  a jeep, bike, and horseback ride around the stone formations in the nearby valleys.  On Wednesday, we´ll be taking the train north to Uyuni, another small town outside of the massive salt flats that occupy ancient sea beds in Bolivia´s southern altiplano.  As the 80s music our bus driver was listening to last night declared, “I´m so excited, and I just can´t hide it!”

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