RELEASE DATE: 26 Sep, 2016

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

The coca leaf is perhaps the most indelible symbol of Bolivia: iconic, recognizable, simple. But within its image lies millennia of history and unknown depths of energy and power. Cultivated in the Andes since at least the period of the Tiwanaku – predating the Inca Empire – the coca plant has been employed for a variety of uses, including as a stimulant, an appetite suppressant and as an anesthetic. It is prepared as a tea, applied to wounds and most famously chewed in the mouths of workers of all walks of life here.

Playing such a key role in many societies over centuries, coca is venerated as a sacred plant, and has purpose beyond its biological and medical uses. Yatiris, or shamen, incorporate coca leaves into their practices in many ways. They are spread around in sacred ceremonies and ch’allas, or blessings. Yatiris ‘read’ coca leaves to tell the fortunes of believers. And the leaf is reduced to its essence to make extracts.

It is no wonder that the coca leaf plays a special role in Bolivia’s spiritual, social and economic spheres. It has driven civilizations to greatness, and has enlivened the spirits of their countless inhabitants, as it does today. At the core of this importance is the leaf’s ability to store and give life to those who engage with it. In Bolivia, the coca leaf is more than a symbol, it is the single most potent giver of enduring vitality.        

The spirit of the coca leaf resides in many corners of Bolivian society. Similar energising forces which enliven the spirit and bring people together, can be found in other facets of day-to-day Bolivian life. In this issue of Bolivian Express, we explore vitality through the  stories of people filled with power and life, from Aymara cholitas scaling the heights of Bolivia’s highest mountains to dancers taking their improvisational movements to the street. La Paz’s famous zebras show us ways to imbue city streets with positive energy, and Korean immigrants and volunteers tell us how they are becoming part of Bolivian society to do good works. We celebrate big advances made for Bolivia’s transgendered community, we also learn about objects and foods filled with the powers to enliven, including Bolivian spirits and the variety of items, old and new, sold at La Paz’s famous Witches Market. Bolivia is known for a number of ‘superfoods’, and we explore their local origins and uses to provide healthy sustenance to people here and abroad. And we dive into the collective national promotion of Vivir Bien, or ‘Living Well’, an abstract idea turning into a tangible, measurable metric for creating and maintaining balance and wellbeing for all of Bolivia’s citizens.

Bolivia is a place with its own kind of energy, its own vibrance. As is the case with every issue of this magazine, here we offer stories that show this beauty in many different ways. We want to show you, the reader, that the same enduring spirit that inhabits the coca leaf also resides in the people, places and things that call this country home. And we hope that you see Bolivia as a place that can be described as, above all, vital.


Defeating Death Road

26 Sep, 2016 | Toby Clyde

Photo: Alfredo ZeballosRunning in Bolivia’s SkyraceIt’s not the finish line that decides the winner of this race – it’s the mountains. Every year, a pack of leading runners climbs into the sky and eve...

Spirit of the Zebra

26 Sep, 2016 | Jacob Klein

Photo: Ellen WeaverAn Exhaustively Happy Philosophy ‘¡Actitud, Cebra! ¡Acción, Cebra! ¡Espíritu,Cebra!’, shouted a herd of students, dressed to the neck in zebra suits, holding long snouted hats in th...

Legalising Identity

26 Sep, 2016 | Gabrielle Mcguiness

A Watershed Law for Transgender BoliviansOver the past few years, the global understanding of gender within cultural and social spheres has advanced with the increasing presence of transgender issues...

From the Jungle to the Kitchen

26 Sep, 2016 | Alexis Galanis

Amazonian Superfoods Are Spicing Up the Menu and Healing the BodyMyriad stalls fill Plaza Avaroa on this bright Thursday morning as vendors look to promote their business on this unique market day for...

Remembering, Reminiscing, Rejecting

26 Sep, 2016 | María Mayböck

Photo: María MayböckA Peek Into the Past Through Milky EyesThey are almost invisible, unless they are part of our families. But the elderly are still a force to be reckoned with. They are many, t...

From Bhutan to Bolivia

26 Sep, 2016 | Alexis Galanis

Photo: Alexis GalanisThe Challenges of Measuring Living Well‘This is the challenge of our generation,’ states Simon Yampara, a leading Aymara sociologist, speaking at the presentation of his new book...

Affording an Organ

26 Sep, 2016 | Maria Mayböck

Photo: Courtesy Of The Ministry of HealthThe Changing Reality of Renal Patients in Bolivia‘There was a moment in which I wanted to die. I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to eat. I was depressed....

Old Market, New Medicine

26 Sep, 2016 | Toby Clyde

Photo: Toby ClydeThe changing products of the Witches MarketThe name, El Mercado de las Brujas or the Witches Market, does little to accurately describe the bustling medicine and ritual trade just off...


26 Sep, 2016 | Iván Rodriguez

Ayawasqa is the new line of fashion accessories from Amancaya Rivera, who works to bring forth the natural heritage of Bolivia through ancestral textiles and 71538188Photo...

To Heaven and Back

26 Sep, 2016 | Toby Clyde

Illustration : Oscar ZallesCholita Climbers break boundaries at the summitPerhaps the hardest part of climbing a mountain is coming down again. Standing at the 6,088m peak of Huayna Potosí you are met...

Looking for a Killa Drink?

28 Sep, 2016 | Isabel Cocker

Photo: William WroblewskiTwo Partners Are Looking to Redefine the Whisky Market in BoliviaBarely five minutes after arriving at Bolivia’s soon-to-be first-ever whisky distillery, I find a shot glass h...

A Two Way Road

03 Oct, 2016 | Eduardo Baptista

Illustration: Mauricio WildeA Korean Organization’s Growing Relationship with La PazIt is no secret that, by definitions set by the United Nations, Bolivia is one of the most ‘underdeveloped’ countrie...

A Universal Language

26 Sep, 2016 | Madeleine Pollard

Photo: Lucia BrasaFrom street performers contorting their bodies before halted cars in the glow of traffic lights, to shuffling feet as the beat of yet another parade drum tremours through the streets...

The Colours of Water

26 Sep, 2016 | Maria Mayböck

It is life, it is birth, it is a drop, it is a torrent, it is mist, it is dew, it is clear, it is muddy, it is pure, it is polluted, it is stagnant, it is rapid, it is dripping, it is flowing, it is b...