RELEASE DATE: 17 Feb, 2017

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

If you spend time on Lake Titicaca, you have the opportunity to experience one of Bolivia’s most serene and beautiful sights. As fisherfolk pull their nets out from the depths of the water, totora boats with their majestic sails and bows adorned with proud animal faces skim across the surface, taking their passengers on adventures across the world’s highest navigable lake. Much activity happens on this water, but below is an ecology all its own, with species of fishes and aquatic animals only found there, swimming in and out of legends of lost cities and civilizations believed to be submersed below the waves.

Our writer Julia McGee-Russell travelled to Huatajata, on the road to Copacabana, to work alongside master builder Máximo Catari, to learn the craft of reed boat building. For centuries, residents here have used these techniques to build vessels of all sizes to traverse the lake, providing opportunities for trade and exploration. These living practices continue to be passed on today, and offer a way to dig deep into the culture and history of the area.

In this issue of Bolivian Express, we are exploring the theme of ‘Surfaces’. We are taking a wide look at initial appearances of this diverse country and examining the details that give it the colour and life it has when viewed from the outside. We are also digging deep to see what is below the surface, to understand the inner workings hidden from first glances – the history, the structures, and the motivations of the people that make everything here move and come to life.

We visit Oruro to experience the Diablada, one of the most popular dances of Carnaval, which gives the opportunity for the devil to come out from his subterranean domain to perform for the masses. We explore Bolivia’s historical heritage through unearthed and recovered artefacts and once-hidden cave paintings that provide a window to the ancient past. Bridging the past with the present, we visit Huanuni, a mining centre on the altiplano recently featured in the award-winning Bolivian film Viejo Calavera, to see for ourselves the place portrayed, and to understand the motivations of those involved in the film – the director as well as the stars and residents of the town itself.

There is much history in Bolivia below the surface, but exciting and deep changes are constantly making the country a new place year after year. We examine the new distances covered by new lines of the teleférico, the cable car system in La Paz and El Alto, that will allow residents of far reaches of the metropolis to reach the city centre in record time. And we look to the future through the vision of restaurateurs who are changing spaces, re-envisioning both physical surfaces and Bolivian cuisine to create new experiences for the gourmands in La Paz.  We examine the very present struggle for wildlife conservation, particularly the protection of wild quirquinchos, or Andean hairy armadillos, whose hard shells are prized for their usefulness in making musical instruments and ornaments and for generally bringing good luck.

Initial impressions of Bolivia are astounding enough. Anywhere you go in this country you will see nothing but the amazing. From the jungles of the Beni to the high peaks of Illimani and Sajama, there is so much to explore here. And this includes the boats and their builders on the shores of Lake Titicaca. As you take in all Bolivia has to offer, don’t forget to dig, to look under the surface to see the true inner workings of this wonderful place. The stories you will find can only enlighten your senses and offer you the full Bolivian experience.


Feria of Alasitas

17 Feb, 2017 | Julia McGee-Russell

Photo: Nick SomersThe Little Fair Where Big Dreams Come TrueWalking around the Feria of Alasitas, crowds move together and street vendors shout ‘¡Dólares! ¡Dólares!’ as the smell of palo santo smoke f...

Boat-Building in the Andes

17 Feb, 2017 | Julia McGee-Russell

Photo:  Julia McGee-RussellA Workshop with Lake Titicaca’s Master Reed-WeaverBringing with me the skills of finger-knitting, hair-braiding, and a solitary workshop in willow-weaving, it is clear...

Quirquincho Conservation

17 Feb, 2017 | Louise Lacourarie

Burrowing Deep into the Protection of the Hairy Andean ArmadilloThey have pointy noses and hairy shells, and they live in sand-dune burrows in the harsh, high-altitude conditions of the altiplano. ‘Th...

Hovering above El Alto

17 Feb, 2017 | Louise Lacourarie

Photo: Nick SomersMí Teleférico expands with a new route across the flats of El Alto‘The Línea Azul will definitely improve our lives. It will be much easier for me to travel and sell my products and...

Propiedad Pública

17 Feb, 2017 | Julia McGee-Russell

Photo: William WroblewskiThe restaurant that welcomes everyone‘I used to be a girl scout,’ Gabriela tells me. ‘We did a lot of camps, and I used to love cooking for everyone. I used to cook with my gr...

HB Bronze

17 Feb, 2017 | Marianthi Baklava

Photo: Marianthi BaklavaCoffee with identity below the surfaceThe exterior of the boutique hotel, Altu Qala, embodies a 1930s Chicago revival, with two added floors looking ahead over the other buildi...

A Smuggler’s Loot

17 Feb, 2017 | Marianthi Baklava

Photo: Marianthi BaklavaA new investigation into Andean heritageAt the National Museum of Archaeology in La Paz, historian Alvaro R. Fernholz Jemio is opening cardboard boxes labelled with stickers fr...

The Sacred Cave Paintings at Cala Cala

17 Feb, 2017 | Marianthi Baklava

Photo: Marianthi BaklavaAncient rites imbedded onto a rock faceCala Cala, a small, nondescript pueblo 21 kilometres south- east of the city of Oruro, boasts an extremely rich archaeological inheritanc...

Dance of the Devils

17 Feb, 2017 | Julia McGee-Russell

Photos: Nick SomersThe changing traditions of the DiabladaThe bells on the spurs of each man’s left shoe sound in time with the boisterous music of the band. The Urus, a comparatively young Diablada d...

Education on Wheels

17 Feb, 2017 | Louise Lacourarie

Photo: William WroblewskiBringing the blackboard to the streets of El Alto I arrive at the Casa Cultural in Ciudad Satélite, a suburb on the southern edge of El Alto. It’s a shabby building that house...

Dark Skull

17 Feb, 2017 | Louise Lacourarie

Photos: Nick SomersA cinematic view of what lies beneath the mining communities of the altiplanoHuanuni is a small town in the altiplano, an hour’s drive from Oruro through the sparse, high-altitude c...