Posted on 1 November 2013 | No responses
This is a very late post, from July in fact, so it will be more of a photo entry than a story… but I think that’s ok because probably the most fascinating part of our trip to Salar de Uyuni was the regularly changing and breathtaking vistas.
We were excited to meet our friends, Edouard and Laetitia, who had traveled from France to spend 2 weeks with us in Bolivia. We had been waiting for friends or family to visit to do some of the tourist highlights, but understandably Bolivia is just too far away and expensive to get to for most people. This was our chance! We decided to meet our friends at Lake Titicaca soon after they crossed the border from Peru and take them to Isla del Sol before our adventure to Salar de Uyuni.
After 11 hours in a bumpy overnight bus, with Laetitia very sick with a gastro virus, we met up with some other friends and all wearily filed into a 4WD to be taken into Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers and at an altitude of 3,656 meters. Salar means salt flat in Spanish and Uyuni (the gateway town to the Salar) originates from the Aymara language meaning a pen (enclosure). Aymara legend tells that the mountains surrounding the Salar were giant people: One mountain, Tunupa, married another, Kusku, but Kusku ran away from her with Kusina, the third mountain. Grieving, Tunupa started to cry while breast-feeding her son. Her tears mixed with milk and formed the Salar. Many locals consider the Tunupa an important deity and say that the place should be called Salar de Tunupa rather than Salar de Uyuni.
Our first stop was at an eerie antique train cemetery, located just outside the town of Uyuni. Rusting skeletons of trains covered in graffiti tell a story. The rail lines were constructed between 1888 and 1892 by British engineers, who were encouraged by Bolivian President Aniceto Arce, believing that Bolivia would flourish with a good transport system. Also, Uyuni became the distribution hub for trains carrying minerals en route to Pacific Ocean ports. However, the rail system was constantly sabotaged by the local Aymara indigenous Indians who saw it as an intrusion into their lives and then in the 1940s the mining industry collapsed, partly because of mineral depletion. Many trains were abandoned, producing the train cemetery.
After briefly wandering the train graveyard we headed out in to the once prehistoric lake – impressive, very flat, and glaringly white Salar de Uyuni. The seemingly endless white is actually a top layer of salt which goes down a few meters. Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tonnes of salt, of which less than 25,000 tonnes is extracted annually. The salt layer covers lacustrine mud that is interbedded with salt and saturated with brine that is exceptionally rich in lithium – in fact, it’s estimated that Salar de Uyuni contains around 50% of the world’s lithium reserves! You know about lithium, right? It’s that vital component of many electric batteries. At some point an American-based international corporation invested $137 million to develop lithium extraction but in the 1980s and 90s foreign companies met strong opposition of the local community, who, despite their poverty believed that the money infused by mining would not reach them. Now there is no mining plant at the site and the Bolivian government does not want to allow exploitation by foreign corporations. Instead, it intends to build its own pilot plant.
Every stop was an opportunity to admire the landscape, marvel at the pyramid like crystals of salt and of course, we couldn’t resist playing with the perspectives to take some interesting photos
The center of the Salar contains a few “islands”, which are the remains of the tops of ancient volcanoes submerged during the prehistoric era. We visited one of these islands – Incahuasi Island or Inkawasi (Quechua, meaning “Inca house”), also known as Isla del Pescado, Isla de los Pescadores or Isla Inca Huasi - admiring the unusual, giant cacti atop this rocky hill as the sun lowered in the sky. Given the Salar is virtually devoid of any wildlife or vegetation, this was a fascinating place to wander. There are 1000 year old cacti some of which are 3 and a half meters tall.
That night we slept in a salt “hotel” which was a very basic structure made primarily from salt, without heating and limited hot water for showers (to be paid for). Thankfully I chose to shower that night as the next place we stayed didn’t even have showers. The nights are cold all through the year, with temperatures between -9 and 5 °C, so Jean and I were happy to squeeze into a single sized bed together for the night.
We continued our journey the next day, exploring the lakes of the region. These lakes are a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. It’s also an abundant source of borax, evidenced by the many large trucks we saw carrying it away.
Our first lake was Laguna Hedionda – rich in sulphur it is normally tinged green with the mineral but as you can see from our photos it reflected the bright blue sky while we were there. The wild grasses growing around the lake danced softly in the brisk wind and flamingoes fed, often balancing on ice.
Laguna Onda was next – bigger with mossy black volcanic earth.
We next drove to the Arbol de Piedra which is a volcanic rock formation in the desert Silol that is unique because the natural elements have carved its shape into that of a tree.You can see from these surreal formations why a nearby area is known as the Salvador Dali rocks.
Laguna Colorado was absolutely incredible – a mass of red water (made by the micro organisms living in it) surrounded by a myriad of yellow grass, green moss and white salt. This lake holds vast amounts of borax. Jean and I broke away from our friends to enjoy the tranquility together. The frozen winds against our rugged up bodies was calming and the perfect time for reflection (and play). That night we marveled at the bright galaxies that shone so brightly above us in the night skies while our friends played with their lit frisbees, creating swirling patterns across the endless darkness.
On our last day in the Salar we woke up early to see the geysers which are natural boiling mud formed by the volcanic activity under the surface. Everyone braved the cold to see the steam billowing out of the earth, except me. I stayed in the car as I was very sick with a chest infection and was trying to stay as warm as possible.
Next we stopped to dip our toes in the hot springs and view the beginnings of the vast Atacama Desert. The scenery around the hot springs was captivating as steam rose from the hot waters, creating beautiful mysterious scenes with birds standing on ice.
We made our way back to the town of Uyuni and got ready for the bus journey back to La Paz… to get ready to go into the jungle
Posted on 18 July 2013 | 10 responses
A journey into the jungle, development projects, stunning art, permaculture and community…
Jean and his colleagues were flying to Santa Cruz to then continue in the Chiquitania region – visiting their projects, meeting volunteers, partners and government officials to discuss their work. I was kindly invited to accompany them and was grateful for the opportunity to see another part of Bolivia, experience rural areas and to be in the tropics again. Nothing feels more like ‘home’ to me than the warmth and humidity on my skin.
We flew to Santa Cruz where the city surprised me. I felt like I was in a different country. In contrast to La Paz it is flat. I mean, really flat. No mounts to be seen, no high rise buildings. Unlike La Paz it oozes modernity with its café culture and trendy Cruceños, yet it remains traditional with its markets selling local crafts, street stalls offering chicha (fermented corn drink) and small radios broadcasting their indigenous beats across the main square.
We headed East from Santa Cruz stopping first at Cotoca for a delicious breakfast of mashed yucca and cheese, pressed around a stick and barbequed. Cotoca is the entryway to the Chiquitania region, where 400 years ago Jesuit priests attempted to convert the Chiquitanos (one of the several tribes that inhabited the area) to Catholicism and established Jesuit Missions.
As we made our way toward San Antonio de Lomerío, eagles, falcons and other birds of prey glided above us, swooping down occasionally into the fields of corn, sunflowers and soy. Behind the fields, walls of thick forest gradually came closer and closer. Eventually we were surrounded by dense layers of green and the road had to be traversed carefully, over ditches, around rocks and through water.
San Antonio de Lomerío appeared – a break in the jungle – clean, neat buildings of natural materials of earth and bamboo, roofed by terracotta tiles, linked by only 1 year old electrical wires. Now they have light at night and computers in the mayor’s offices. We are there in Winter so the temperature is warm and comfortable but I know normally it is stifling hot and difficult to think through the humidity. They grow pumpkins, yucca, corn, rice and some fruit but mostly eat chicken and pork. Despite the fertile conditions, eating vegetables is not part of their culture, which is tough on the vegetarian volunteer stationed there for a year. She works in the area of local economic development – what can be produced, sold and transported? How can the standard of living be improved? The locals aren’t convinced. Do they have enough or is this way of working just too foreign for them?
I see fruit and nut trees. I marvel at the inedible avocado-like fruit growing from bulging trees called the toborochi tree, spreading the remnants of their bright pink flowers, a white cotton-like material, around the town. I wonder if it could be used for something. I watch some native bees coming and going from their small entrance in the ground at the base of one of these trees. Locals refer to them as the pregnant trees which fit with their legend. When the world was still very new, the Aña, or spirits of the darkness, liked to abuse and murder humans. Then they found out that Araverá, the beautiful daughter of cacique Ururuti, who had married the god Colibri (hummingbird), was pregnant and would give birth to a son who would punish them, so they decided to kill her. With the help of a flying seat her husband had given to her, Araverá fled from the village, but the evil spirits followed her and harassed her wherever they found her hiding. Tired, she decided to hide in the trunk of a Toborochi tree where she gave birth to her son in peace. The boy grew up and fulfilled the prophecy, avenging his mother, who had to stay inside the tree until she died. Forever buried in the amphora-shaped trunk of a Toborochi, Araverá likes to come outside in the shape of a beautiful flower that attracts hummingbirds, that way, she keeps contact with her husband.
I smile as the pigs, chickens and dogs freely potter around their village, searching for food and company. Children laugh, play and make their own entertainment. I imagine plunging myself into meditation, art or gardening if I was the volunteer living so remotely for an entire year. Whilst beautiful, I can imagine the challenge of working and living there.
After our visit we continue driving. The darkness closes in while cows and donkeys watch us pass with little interest. Armadillos, porcupines, a tiny rabbit, foxes and a jerboa delight us as they scuttle across our path while an indigenous artisan who accompanied us recounts his story in Spanish. I try to understand but thankfully Jean translates it for me later. The storytelling deepens our connections to Bolivia as he recounts his participation and leading of the 2011 nation-wide march against the government’s decision to allow a highway from Brazil to Peru, crossing the now famous TIPNIS national park. The march gathered representatives from many indigenous tribes across the country for the 65 days walk to La Paz. As this community grew, the government feared for its political survival and initiated a crackdown. They were beaten, arrested and the leaders temporarily deported – all this from Bolivia’s supposedly pro-indigenous government. Our friend endured both physical and emotional hardship, but he has written part of Bolivia’s history. The army was ordered to violently repress any intention to continue marching but fortunately the local commander refused. In front of mounting local and international pressure the marchers were finally allowed to finish their journey to La Paz where thousands of supporters welcomed them. Several days of negotiation followed, directly with president Evo Morales, and an agreement was found. However, according to our narrator it was never upheld. Ironically, our friend who risked his life to ensure the protection of the environment and their people surprised us by carelessly throwing his rubbish out the car window into the jungle… we contemplated humans and their contradictions…
Eventually we arrive in La Inmaculada Concepción where we settle into a charming, family run hotel with breezy, calming inner courtyard gardens, hammocks and lounges. While Jean and his colleagues attend meetings I gently wander this friendly, quiet village that is surrounded by cattle and agricultural land. This Jesuit mission town houses the Musical Archives where sheets of baroque music that were brought to the Americas by Jesuit priests are preserved. The indigenous population that lives here has participated in taking great care of this precious ages-old archive and every second year Concepción and the other mission towns host an International Baroque Music Festival in which orchestras and choirs from all over the world participate. The elaborately restored 1709 Catedral de Concepción commands attention, overlooking the peaceful, central plaza and boasting 121 huge skilfully carved tree-trunk columns, buttresses and a bell tower. Its baroque designs depict flowers, angels and the Holy Virgin in natural pigment painting. Inside, it is colourfully and intricately decorated, with multiple altars. The Museo Misional displays documents preserved since the 16th and 17th centuries, photos of some of the churches along the mission circuit, and wooden, woven and leather handcrafts.
We eat lunch in another courtyard, a restaurant full of life, with a talkative parrot and lots of laughter. I can’t remember when I last laughed so much and I wonder why.
We banter with some children. We visit some handcraft stores. I accept a gift from Jean – it’s a simple necklace of twine with a seed and some feathers. He has bought it from an elderly woman whose first contact with people outside her tribe was just 30 years ago. I ponder her life experience. I take the time to breathe in the history and peace of this place in the middle of the jungle.
The red soil of the road meeting the lush green of the jungle characterises our journey to San Ignacio de Velasco. I notice the latest shoots and fastest growing plants as their clean, bright green leaves stand out against the dusty foliage. As darkness falls we are passed by large trucks and swallowed by clouds of red earth. We have to drive carefully to make our way through it. The sunset is magnificent. The stars are numerous and worth contemplating. The company is friendly and light hearted – again, I haven’t laughed so much in such a long time and it feels healing. We frequently slow to avoid donkeys and cows standing on the road, unphased by our bright lights. I feel privileged to be there.
In San Ignacio de Velasco I am fortunate to be invited on a tour of Minga Cooperative’s site where they apply a more holistic approach to coffee and almond production. Finding the balance between expanding and paying their producers in cash is difficult. To help, they give producers additional coffee plants that are raised on site. They also grow moringa, cherimoya, banana, almond, cashew, acerola cherry, papaya and various nitrogen fixing trees. I discover the uruku tree – the seeds are used as a natural red food dye. This productive area was once bare compacted earth from years of heavy machinery but now it is fertile, complete with a worm farm that they harvest castings from to give to the coffee producers. They lead by example and I am impressed. I felt so excited to see this sort of work happening. I wanted to know more and they willingly shared. They have also recently built raised beds to grow stevia and have installed a large dehydrator to process it.
They demonstrate the coffee production process, from harvesting to selling. If the beans are left too long on the tree they become too dry. Ideally they are harvested green, with 12% humidity. They know when they are ready through experience – when biting into the bean it should break, but they have a device to check and in the humid climate it frequently needs to be dried in a machine anyway. The skins are removed and used as mulch. I am happy to see it isn’t wasted. The beans are then roasted for 40 minutes, sorted by size and weight and packaged. The smells are delicious. I breathe deeply and feel my belly expand and enjoy the aroma. We couldn’t leave without purchasing some of their coffee and almonds. I’m sure we’ll reminisce about this experience as we enjoy them later, back in La Paz.
After an early morning unsuccessful search for fuel we find an elderly man who sells us some from softdrink bottles and we finally make our way to San José de Chiquitos. There, I avoid the heat by strolling around the Mission church and its beautiful galleries of wall paintings while Jean and his colleagues attend meetings. I then join them to learn about one of their current partners, the escuela taller, which is a technical school where teenagers and young adults can learn a craft such as carpentry, masonry, painting, archaeology and textiles – combining the traditional, regional methods with modern techniques. The beauty of this concept is that these schools have been founded in various places throughout Latin America, always near a UNESCO world heritage site, enabling graduates the opportunity to generate income whilst restoring historic sites. In addition, the students take lessons in using computers, speaking English and sexual education. Most students travel from the surrounding towns and receive a scholarship from their municipality. This is a unique opportunity for rural children with few prospects to reconnect with their history and crafts.
After a satisfying Brazilian buffet lunch we make our way back to Santa Cruz where we spend a day before Jean and I take a romantic long weekend together to Samaipata, a well-known gringo destination thanks to its mystical pre-Inca site El Fuerte, the lush surroundings, mild climate, bohemian feel and of course, where Ché Guevara found his death. I enjoy the 3 hour journey. It is mandarin season, evident by the overfilled baskets and orange pyramids congregating along the roadside. Dogs, chickens and pigs scavenge and play, knowing not to cross over the dangerous boundary from dirt to bitumen.
We take the opportunity to stay at a permaculture farm called La Finca Vispera. It is run by a Dutch couple, Pieter and Marga, who arrived 30 years ago and are now in their 60s. We felt at home wandering the food terraces that guests are free to harvest from, playing with their dogs, absorbing Pieter’s passion for Bach as he plays piano, exploring the natural buildings and herb shop and generally enjoying the 6 hectares of food production and wilderness. Long discussions with delicious, organic food and coffee inspired me. Marga is peacefully confident and encouraging as she answers our many questions while Pieter interjects playfully with jokes. They meditate, play music and create. They have been in love for 40 years. I enjoy meeting couples who last, who do things together, rediscovering their love over and over. I ask them for their secret – there isn’t one, Pieter says, simply surrender. This site is their playground, an extension of themselves where they are living ‘the good life’. This is not an idealistic community, but rather a project that has grown organically from the simple desire to live sustainably into an ecological business that now supplies lodging, a campsite, horse riding, herbal products, organic produce to the Santa Cruz market, employs 10 local staff, takes volunteers and promotes knowledge sharing. They see themselves as the guardians of the land despite being the owners and welcome others who wish to join their vision – we were humbled to be invited to stay. I am tempted…
While we are at La Finca Vispera we meet Ryan, a Californian who is travelling with his Brazilian partner, Letícia, in a cheerful campervan around Central and South America documenting sustainable communities, eco-villages and permaculture centers on www.comuntierra.org. They have already been on the road for 3 years and imagine another 2 ahead of them to finish this project that they constantly fundraise for. They have an impressive set up. Ryan is softly and carefully spoken, a good listener with a lot of wisdom for a 25 year old. We feel instant acceptance and harmony in his company as he introduces us to his lifestyle and home. I feel my heart flutter as I dream of such a life. I see they share many of our interests. They have sprouts on the sink and kombucha brewing on top of their bicycle-washing machine-blender. He shares some of their water kefir grains with us which makes my heart jump with excitement and gratitude. Their dry toilet contributes to the compost at communities they visit; they have solar panels and even a water filter for their 19L tank. Their small home doubles as a music and art studio – more interests we share. I don’t want to leave. I wish I could join them also…
We stay in Samaipata old town after that, wandering through the village hand in hand, receiving massages and enjoying just being together. Good food, warm days, cool nights. One night, while we are walking to the main square, we both look up at the night sky and take it in with wonder. So many shining stars, galaxies and even the darkness reminding us of how simultaneously small yet grand we are. I’m happy I get to walk this earth with Jean and I imagine what we’ll be like in 35 years’ time…
We hurriedly visit El Fuerte the morning of our departure. This important archaeological site was called ‘The Fortress’ by the Spanish who used it as such. We admire the monolithic sandstones that have been carved and decorated by various peoples from the pre-Columbian era. What does it all mean? Undoubtedly, the zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images, geometric patterns, niches, channelling system, vessels, solar calendar, engineering and architecture expertise are full of intention, skill, magic and religious significance. We think about what Jean’s mum would add to the experience with her knowledge, history and passion for ancient cultures.
We leave Samaipata with sadness in our hearts. I want to stay in the warmth and humidity, surrounded by green and abundance. I nestle into Jean for the trip back to Santa Cruz and I fall asleep listening to joyful tunes, content in my place in his arms. Our trip is over and we are returning to La Paz…
Posted on 29 June 2013 | 4 responses
I am yet to experience the joys of motherhood but I regularly find myself reading about natural parenting and birthing. I’m not sure why but it seems to fit with my quest to ‘make sense of things’ so I roll with it. My friend’s frequent flyer points recently delivered me to their family in Perth, Australia, where I spent a month as part of their growing family – mum, dad, 2 year old Nova and 6 week old Lumen. Before arriving I wondered… how would I cope? After all, reading and doing is very different.
My concerns dissipated quickly. Every [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 16 May 2013 | 1 response
In case you haven’t seen via facebook, Carly (that’s me) is currently in Perth, Australia, visiting friends, looking after babies and hanging out in their suburban permaculture food forest, Thyme Lords Cottage. My friends are aiming to become as close as possible to self sufficient one day. I am loving spending time with their 2 year old and newborn, as well as seeing what they are growing and cooking!!
The mum in this beautiful little family developed allergies around 15 years ago – to wheat, soy and tomatoes. As you can imagine, this has made cooking a little difficult, buying [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 6 May 2013 | 10 responses
Relaxing in each other’s arms and sipping our local organic coffee we are now enjoying the stunning subtropical vista of the mountainous Andes from an eco-lodge in Coroico, Bolivia. We are surrounded by diversity, coffee plants, avocado trees, bananas, hummingbirds, butterflies and myriad of insects. It feels like bliss, however this moment of peace and quiet has been well deserved…
When we were preparing for the 4 day Choro Trek (most people do it in 3), we knew it could be difficult as we had to carry all of our camping gear, first aid kit, food, water and clothing to [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 25 April 2013 | 1 response
Today became the day for seed saving. It wasn’t what I had planned but it’s what I ended up doing since I had a stomach bug, was lacking energy and, as it turns out, one of our mizuna plants was well and truly dried and ready to drop her seeds.
I’m not very experienced with seed saving and propagating but I try to learn whenever an opportunity arises. I’m keen to learn more and I figure nature teaches me if I’m willing to observe and spend time with her.
While I was pulling tiny black seeds from fragile dried pods I had [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 22 April 2013 | 3 responses
Recently we posted this photograph of our lounge room garden on facebook where you can see some of the plants we are growing indoors. In addition to these, we are also growing more tatsoi, mizuna, spinach, rosemary, laurel tree, oregano, thyme, parsley, mint and some cucumber seedlings have started to take off!
As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t produce enough to make any huge contribution to our food supply but we enjoy doing what we can experimenting growing and seed saving indoors, at an altitude of 3,200 m (La Paz, Bolivia)! Our lounge room is perfectly situated to make the [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 1 April 2013 | No responses
When we arrive at the Lazy Dog Inn near Huaraz in Peru, we feel like we are coming home. Not only do Diana and Wayne run the eco-lodge like their family home welcoming guests, but for us, the way the way they run the property and engage with the neighbouring communities is exactly as we would like our home to be. Following is a little video we have made to share some of our photos with you this unique place; it’s our first time creating such a video, so feedback is welcome… we hope you also enjoy the jazz! We provide more information [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 26 October 2012 | Enter your password to view comments.
Posted on 5 October 2012 | 3 responses
Okay, so this definitely isn’t a health food but with a French man in this household we needed to try a healthier version of nutella… also one that doesn’t use palm oil, contributing to deforestation!
What’s the deal with palm oil, you ask? Well, check out this this article (among many!), which reminds us that in 2012 things have gotten even worse than the headlines from 2007/2008, when the huge ecological impact of Indonesia’s relentlessly expanding palm oil plantations first really started being scrutinised. A report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tells us that the palm oil situation is even worse than we [...] Continue Reading…