Bolivia, Destinations, Musings

Bolivian W{h}ine

February 5, 2012

About half way through our stay in Bolivia, I took up the invitation to attend a Women Who W{h}ine get together in La Paz. Each month, marvelous ladies of the city (expats and locals working for NGOs, designers and artisans running their own businesses, World Bank employees, and tour company owners) bring a bottle of something delicious and spend an evening of drink and discussion in the company of other interesting minds.

In that spirit, here is our own whine and wine take on Bolivia:

WHINE: Border Crossings, Long-Haul Transportation, Stormwater Management, and Loopholes for Transgenic Crops

To make our exit from Peru, we bussed from Cusco to Puno (complete with overnight stay in sketch-city-hostel) and then followed the lake shore of Titicaca toward the border crossing with Bolivia. As Americans, we forked over $135 each in U.S. Dollars to satisfy the Bolivian government, and receive our entry visas.

While the bills were inspected for the tiniest rips, tears, crumples, or marks and then shoved into a nondescript desk drawer, we shook our heads at the reciprocal policies that make foreign visits so difficult on U.S. citizens and our respective international visitors.

The Bolivian busses ground our patience to a pulp. One of us tried the optimism route, the other became designated grump. Such are the realities of difficult days on the road.

Interestingly, for perspective, when we later traveled from La Paz to Uyuni, sleeping overnight in our bus seats and breathing exhaust fumes through the wee hours, we’d look back on the first ride from Copacabana to La Paz as deluxe. It’s all a mater of comparison and perspective, isn’t it?

(Our surprise water crossing. They had us pile off the bus, load onto a little dinky boat, and watch from afar as they ferried the bus across on a mini barge.)

(La Paz, Bolivia)

Part of our stay in Bolivia included a Workaway arrangement with a tremendous host family living half an hour outside of La Paz. Through that experience, we learned much about the current management (and mismanagement) of the land and water. Our positive Workaway story will come in a future post, but the short bit is this: La Paz experiences just a few high rainfall months each year, and the systems in place (or not) for managing storm water contribute to massive flooding and erosion troubles.

(Roadside Flooding in the Bolivian Rainy Season)

The issue is compounded by the lack of proper construction methods and oversight, even in the heart of the city. Entire neighborhoods of homes have caved in past landslides, and the impacts of haphazard development on the long term stability of the land and its people is cause for concern.

As Bolivia is a developing country, there is hope that their decisions and directions will be responsive to outside examples of what not to do.

In semi-recent history, thanks to cultural cognizance of the importance of slow food, Bolivia became the first South American country to effectively shut down McDonald’s. The company closed all eight of their Bolivian franchises after failed attempts to market cheap, unhealthy foods to a country that wouldn’t bite.

On another front (as I understand it), up until very recently, Bolivia was entirely free of transgenic crops, and their practices by and large were entirely organic. Recent legislature has left loopholes for genetically modified plants to begin working their way into the system, and the country stands now at a point of many decisions, with potential to turn a corner, set a trajectory, and lead by example.

WINE: Chocolate, Potato Chips…and Wine, of course!

The exchange rate between Dollars and Bolivianos translates into guiltless food splurges. There are interesting things afoot in the Bolivian chocolate industry (more on that in a future post), and there are delicious chocolates available for reasonable prices. A personal favorite: El Ceibo Cocoa Nibs & Uyuni Salt bar with a box boasting, “Our land, our trees, our chocolate.”

(Incidentally, if you’re in Portland and want to try it, The Meadow imports! Thank you, Google, for assuring me that I can have a taste of travel once home in Oregon…)

I’m a food nerd at home, and I try resisting processed junk products about 90% of the time. I’m willing to admit defeat, however, when it comes to Bolivian potato chips. Truly, there are three ingredients on the bag: potatoes, oil, and salt, and they snap in your mouth, perfectly crisp, perfectly seasoned, perfectly addictive. I bet you can’t eat just one bag.

Lastly, at the typical grocery store, we could pick up Bolivian, Chilean, and Argentinian wines that would give Trader Joe’s Two-Buck-Chuck a run for the money in terms of price and leave it in the dust in terms of quality.

Side note food and wine story: An Italian expat (a professional chef) opened a tiny restaurant in Jupapina, about half an hour from the city center and ten minutes from the Valle de la Luna.

At the high recommendations of our host family, we went for dinner one night and no sooner opened the menu than closed it and took our queues directly from the chef. He brought out Caprese Pizza (smothered in fresh tomatoes, basil and cheese) from his wood fired oven, hand/house-made ravioli and pesto, a delicious bottle of red wine, panacotta with seasonal fruits, and a chocolate affogatto.  The restaurant was slow on a Tuesday night (a.k.a., empty, so we had the full attention of the kitchen!), so we invited the owner to join us for a glass or red. After enjoyable conversation in broken Italian, Spanish, and English and a reminder that these little experiences were the exact matches to our pre-trip hopes, we left a generous tip and departed.

Total cost in U.S. Dollars? About $31.00.

There are many more stories to share: Our Workaway Campground Master Planning experience, the fine examples of progressive Social Work practices in La Paz, and the quirks of living at high altitude. In time, we’ll share more…

Bolivia captured our hearts with its eye-opening practices and policies, mouth-watering foods, and endearing inhabitants. For all the hassle of that $135 Bolivian visa, it’s good to know it remains valid for five years: it would be a joy to return.

This Post is Dedicated to Knitting Peace. One of the ladies at Women Who W{h}ine started a wonderful non-profit aimed at bettering the lives of the disenfranchised, restoring dignity, and promoting local commerce. Sonia works with incarcerated Bolivian women, equipping them with knitting skills and high quality fibers and patterns, then markets their wares as a unique, high-end products of Bolivia. Take a peek!

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  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica February 6, 2012 at 5:03 am

    This post just got me really excited about Bolivia. Looking forward to more stories!

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      We loved it! It’s so raw and affordable and ready for exploration. The downsides are customer service and, sometimes, safety — but that’s not so different from other areas in South America. If you travel with a healthy balance of caution and confidence, it’s terrific. We’re already talking about how to make a return trip.

  • Reply Grandma & Grandpa Menzel February 7, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Very interesting side trip. We had a Missionary, Thelma Wagner, (now retired) who had a Christian Bookstore somewhere in a major city in Bolivia. She loved it !

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      We can see why people love it! : )

  • Reply sonia February 7, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Thanks for the shout out! It was a great pleasure to meet you, and I hope your travels become incresingly delightful!

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Sonia, so lovely to meet you as well and learn about your inspiring work. Best of everything to you as life unfolds and you bring beauty and hope to women in Bolivia.

  • Reply Kirsten February 12, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    There are just soo many things to respond to in this post I don’t know if I can remember it all. First, “It’s all a mater of comparison and perspective, isn’t it?” <– yes, it really really is . in all areas of life

    Also, I so appreciate that you are addressing things that really truly matter in your reporting on your travels. I don't do this enough on my own site and in my own writing and yet I have been trying to. I had no idea Bolivia had such a strong stance against the dreaded McDonald's (a feeling I share and a situation I only break when desperate). Also, that it is this cheap?! Bolivia sounds like it could be a budget travelers dream.

    And you connected with people through wine? That's my kind of connecting.

    Lastly, so glad you drew attention to Knitting for Peace! AND – such beautiful photographs in this post.

    • Reply twoOregonians February 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Kirsten, thank you sincerely for taking time to visit! Such a treat to have you : ) I still think so fondly of our coffee date. Hopefully we can have a repeat sometime, somewhere on the globe?

      We were so impacted by our time in Bolivia; such food for thought on many fronts, and it’s seemed difficult to figure out how to write about deeper things without steering too far off track. I’m glad to hear that you’ve appreciated the read.

      I admire you for wanting to use your voice for good, and it’s a treat to be able to follow along as you continue to develop and use your platform to bring positive things into the world… Much love to you, dear! xx

      P.S. – Isn’t that incredible about McDonalds?! And yes, Bolivia really, really is a budget traveler’s dream. We’re already wishing that we could’ve spent many more weeks enjoying the fine food and company. : )

  • Reply Workway Bolivia: Landscape Architecture for Room & Board | twoOregonians February 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

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