La Paz, Bolivia

During our last week of January, Eduardo and I spent five days in La Paz, Bolivia. It is the highest capital in the world at 3,640 metres above sea level. That must be the average as much of the city is precariously built on the surrounding mountains

Its tumultuous, confusing streets take your breath away, literally and figuratively. Traffic and people mingle in often chaotic ways. We used taxis as buses were just too confusing. We walked a lot too, frequently going around in circles. Especially one evening. We had tickets for a traditional music concert by three of Bolivia’s most well-known artists, and we were looking for a relatively clean place to eat.

Trip Advisor sent us on a wild goose chase. We finally found “the place”, but it had closed down. No wonder! We lost about one hour just trying to locate it. People on the street sent us to a “safe” place although the man said he preferred the food in the market.

Let me assure you: clean is a relative term. Luckily, Eduardo and I have fairly tough digestive systems!

Food-wise we never did eat anything really good. Although I heard later that we should have gone into the richer section of the city for some better fare.

Our Airbnb was located fairly centrally, and the family was very nice. They lived in a modern 10th floor three bedroom apartment.

The father is an architect, and still works on contracts part-time. His wife (both around 60) keeps this room rented plus an apartment on another floor that her son (who lives in the US) owns. Another son who is doing a Masters degree stays with them one week a month, along with his wife who works nearby, and their two year old son. Grandparents take him to and from daycare. They seem to be a very close family who help each other in many different ways.

That’s what I like about Airbnb. You often get to meet and interact with a local family.

During our stay, there was a festival going on called Alasitas. It honours the Aymara god, of abundance, Ekeku. Merchants sell all kinds of miniature objects and money. People buy what they would like to have in the coming year. Or what they want to give to friends and family: cars, houses, money, gold, or other more mundane articles such as cell phones or even university diplomas!

It reminded me of the Chinese custom of buying miniatures for the dead. Things one would need in the next world.

At the concert, the musician even gave out wads of miniature money to the audience. He gave me so much I had lots to share with everyone around me.

Ernesto Cavour Aramayo (picture of hin posing with Eduardo in title photo, and playing the charango on the left immediately above) is the founder of the Museum of musical instruments. He is also a prolific writer, an accomplished musician and inventor of many instruments. One being the two-sided guitar which you can see being played in the pictures.

Oh, yes, we took a ride up a mountainside on their new “Mi Teleferico”. There are four different lines of cable cars. What would take one hour in a noisy, crowded, dusty, smoky bus takes only ten minutes, but locals told me it costs twice as much as the bus.

So don’t go to La Paz to relax or enjoy fine cuisine. Go for the experience! People watch! Breathe deeply; drinks lots of water; and chew coca leaves.

La Paz is interesting, but it would not be my favourite place to live…

Cusco, on the other hand… but that is for my next blog.


Peru: Week One


Peru, Week one, January 18, 2018, Thursday, 7:30 AM, Arequipa

Our first week in Peru has been busy: Lima 3 days, Paracas 1, Huacachina/Ica 1, Nazca 1, and now we have landed in Arequipa early in the morning after an all-night bus trip. We were lucky to have a rather luxurious bus with big comfy reclining seats and even a duvet to keep warm.

My first impressions are that Peruvians are polite, friendly people, a little on the quiet side. The countryside has been coastal so far. It is a narrow stretch of desert between the Pacific and the mountains. The towns are small, dusty, rather poor, but each centre has something of interest.

Obviously tourism plays a large part in the economy, but there is a thriving farming area around Ica because of ancient aqueduct systems built by the Nazca people. Today there are vineyards, fruits, and vegetables using the same ancient aquaducts.

Peruvian cuisine is very tasty with many spicy dishes. We have enjoyed the ceviche that they serve with different kinds of corn kernels and slices of sweet potato. It sounds weird but it quickly becomes addictive! We also enjoy the wonderful fruit juices: orange, mango, lulo, pineapple, passionfruit, (our favourite) watermelon, and more. We are starting to explore the chicha which is an ancient, slightly fermented drink made of almost anything that ferments!

What surprised us most is the size of the servings. They are huge! So we usually share an appetizer and one main dish with a little dessert. There is also a plethora of sweets often with chocolate and/or manjar blanco, which we call the cajeta in Mexico and dulce de leche in most other countries. I’ve noticed it’s becoming more popular in Canada lately.

Highlights in Lima: the Puk Llama ( a huge archeological site) Where I got off to a great introductory sunburn ( no hat, no sunscreen). DUH!


The wonderful murals in Barranco. The National Museum of Archeology and the Larco Museum. On our final day we just enjoyed visiting a market and then taking a very crowded mini train into the historic center. After three days of walking we a good massage helped loosen our sore muscles.( 40 soles for 1hour, about $15)


In Paracas, six hours south of Lima by bus, we went out in a small speedboat to see the animal life on the Ballestas Islands (really just big rocks). They look white from a distance as they are covered by thousands of birds which produce large quantities of guano. But a few penguins and see lions don’t seem to mind the mess or the smell!


Moving on the next day to Huacachina: Lots of towns here in Peru have the word Hua in them. It means place, and it makes things rather confusing as there are so many Huas. Here all the young’uns went sand-boarding on the huge dunes. They put arborite on the bottom and then wax it. If you have money a dune buggy will take you for a speedy ride up, but many people just climb up in their big boots and their board on their back. I can only imagine how difficult it must be as we trudged up this soft, fine sand in bare feet, and it was exhausting and hot too. On the ridge we watched the boarders and waited for the sunset as the wind came up and sand insinuated itself everywhere: eyes, hair, ears, clothes. I worried most about my camera.

Huacachina is really a little suburb for tourists surrounding a tiny natural lake outside of the rather prosperous town of Ica, the home of the famous Tejas candy. Tejas are mainly manjar blanco with nuts or dried fruit and covered with a plain sugar coating or chocolate for a fancier version. Very rich but no gluten!


They make Pisco and a rather sweet wine in this area. Also, there is a busy mining industry I am told.

Continuing south along the coast is Nazca named after the Nazca people who lived here from about 200 BC to 700 A.D. Over this 1000 year period, they created the Nasca lines which are considered one of the world’s marvels. Straight lines and figures go for kilometres on the flat, rocky desert. They had to have great mathematical knowledge to make them as you can’t really see the full figure from the ground. We did a 30 minute flight in a small Cesna over the lines which are truly amazing. There are many theories how and why they were made which include conjunctures of extra-terrestrials.

Today we are in Arequipa, perhaps Peru’s prettiest city which is inland at an altitude of 2300 meters. It is warm and sunny this morning. I had my breakfast on a second floor veranda overlooking the Plaza Major.

I think I will go and wake up Eduardo; he was grumpy this morning as he didn’t sleep well on the bus, and he forgot his phone plugged into the wall of our last hotel, nine hours back. I left my sunglasses on the table in a restaurant yesterday. Fortunately I got them back! (So I am keeping my mouth shut!)

Hasta la próxima.

Two Parks

Two parks up on the mountain sides

So far I have visited two parks up on the mountain sides. They are very different.

One is a conference centre in a park setting where artists are encouraged to install their art and visitors get free transportation up the steep mountainside to enjoy art, nature, and fine dining. It is owned by a hotel called Casa Santo Domingo which is here in Antigua. This hotel, built on the site of an old monastery is also a delight to explore.


Besides permanent art exhibits outside, there are art galleries and museums. The two most interesting were a museum to the Guatemalan author, “Miguel Ángel Asturias Rosales (October 19, 1899 – June 9, 1974) was a Nobel Prize-winning Guatemalan poet-diplomat, novelist, playwright and journalist. Asturias helped establish Latin American literature’s contribution to mainstream Western culture, and at the same time drew attention to the importance of indigenous cultures, especially those of his native Guatemala.” He was also a contemporary and friend of Pablo Neruda, the Chilean author and diplomat.” Wikipedia

And the other dedicated to Efraín Recinos (May 15, 1928 – October 2, 2011) who was a Guatemalan contemporary architect, muralist, urbanist, painter and sculptor. He thought art was best diplayed in a natual setting, so this park is a perfect match for him. Wikipedia again

The other park/garden is an organic garden that also has a great restaurant. It cost 10 quetzales to catch a little bus that ferries people up the mountain to the farm and back again. It is a very steep road with incredible hairpin turns. The gardens are planted on the mountain side and labelled quite well. We (my German friend, Christine and I) found a memorial to the founder, Frank Lee Mays Sirmons, of Cerro San Cristobal, of the textile store in Antigua, Nim Po’t, and  La Antigua Galeria de Arte. He died only last December in 2016, and from the pictures we saw there, he appeared to be a tall, long-haired, red-headed, hippy-looking man, well-loved by the people around him. He had lived in Guatemala for the last 25 years. The food was great and the view even better.



So this is how I spend my time when I am not studying Spanish. Presently, I have a lovely tutor, a history teacher, who is getting me to read some very interesting articles about the recent history of Guatemala. My writing lags far behind, unfortunately. Here is a picture of us at her school where her students did some photography on various themes.



Ephemeral Art

So many beautiful things in nature and in art only last a very short while. It always causes me some pain. The flower that only lasts a day or perhaps even a night like my datura that grow back every year. Physical beauty is another asset that does not last long enough.

Art on the other hand is something created by humans. Some art outlives its creator by many years even generations or centuries. It is a powerful means of communication, and we learn so much about the people who sculpted, painted or built objects in the past. Their work is often worth much more in the present than when it was so painstakingly created.

What is the point, then, of creating a work of beauty that will only be detroyed by the wind, the ocean, nature, or even by other human beings? Why spend hours dribbling sand to form a mandala, building sand sculptures, or producing a single dramatic presentation?

Here in Guatemala, the people create alfombras or carpets on the street which will be destroyed by religious processions which walk through them. This happens especially during lent, the forty days which lead up to Easter. Antigua is well known for its spectacular religious diplays. In fact, just yesterday, I visited a museum dedicated solely to La Semana Santa (Holy week).

This morning, I found a street blocked off and the people in this working class district busy making alfombras in front of their homes. It was around noon, and one woman told me that they had started around five that morning. Her family creates a different design each year; they buy all the material themselves. Usually sawdust is used. It has to be tinted beforehand and kept moist during the building process and afterwards so that it does not get blown around.

Another family was framing their alfombra with egg shells. The father told me they had saved up five cartons of eggs shells. That would be around 60 dozen eggs which had to be used, carefully so as to conserve most of the shell intact. The shells were dyed or painted by the children, and very soon they would all be crushed by the procession. img_0757

I hope you enjoy the pictures I took this morning. For more elaborate alfombras and detailed descriptions, look at this web site.




Markets and Artesanía

Artesanía translates as handicrafts, crafts, craftsmanship, or mastership. Where does the art come it? How do we differentiate between art and crafts? These questions have been niggling away while I visit the beautiful markets and shops of Guatemala.

For many items, it is obvious that commercialization has taken over. Some things are made in factories, maybe even factories outside the country. Some items are made over and over again in the same manner and same colours and size. To me this is craftsmanship (a rather sexist term, especially considering that most crafts are done by women). Craftsmanship demand a great deal of skill and is often confused with our modern version of crafts which often lovingly hangs on our refrigerator doors.

The Spanish word, artesanía, however includes the word ART. Much of Guatemala’s artesanía involves a huge amount of art and craft.

A visit to a Guatemalan market is a feast for the eyes. And if one goes into the food area, the array of food is tantalizing. Although I usually avoid street food, one item I consider safe is tamales because they are cooked the same day and are served piping hot. Yesterday was no exception. Eduardo and I clumsily ate two huge tamales wrapped in banana leaves right in the market stall. (Dough was made from rice and corn masa) It was the locals turn to stare!

Saturday market in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala








Discovering Guatemala

Travelling with my husband

Eduardo couldn’t have thought of a better way to get me back on track. He suggested we meet in Guatemala, a country we both have wanted to visit for years.

So after two weeks of diving in Cozumel on my own, we met in Guatemala City. From there, we went to the lovely colonial city of Antigua.

Strolling about the city, we visited a textile museum, and various language schools where I think I might study for couple of months after Eduardo goes home.

Presently we are located on the shores of Lake Atitlan which is surrounded by high hills and three volcanos.

A new generation of hippies have discovered the villages and crowd the streets, visiting, selling their own wares alongside the local Guatemalans, and offering various other services such as hotels, health spas, health food stores, and probably others that I haven’t discovered yet.

Clear mornings and misty afternoons with warm spring time weather make this an ideal place to get away from winter.