• Bolivian Story: Gabriel Coimbra, bringing nature to urban Bolivians

    I met Gabriel whilst volunteering at Red Monkey, a vegan restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia. At first I knew him as the guy washing dishes and tidying up but I soon learnt that there was so much more to this young man from the Amazon! One day he gave me some soapnuts he had collected… I hadn’t seen these since we were living in Europe, in the eco stores. I was so excited to use them to make soapnut liquid as an all purpose cleaner and natural pesticide for the white flies on my tomatoes. Another time I tried his Andean wild herbs bath salts as well as various other…

  • Bolivian Story: Alejandro Barrios

    I met Alejandro whilst volunteering at vegan restaurant, Red Monkey, in La Paz, Bolivia. Ale was in charge of baking the bread and making the vegan cakes. I was fascinated by making cakes without eggs, milk or butter and I knew they must be good because Ale is the happiest, most laid back person there… high on life and baked goods! Actually, Ale’s wonderful attitude to life, his joyful presence and playfulness is what kept me going back on Thursdays to help out in the kitchen. I’m so grateful for the time spent with him, exchanging, learning from him and teaching him my sourdough skills too. I hope you enjoy this short interview…

  • Bolivian Story: Felipe Ballon

    I have known Felipe Ballon since very soon after our arrival in La Paz but most of my time was spent with him in his car! Felipe is the taxi-driver hired by the NGO I used to work with, so we would frequently spend the hour long trip to/from the airport discussing Bolivia and its intriguing contradictions.  As a taxi-driver I particularly enjoyed his punctuality – even when he had to pick me up from the airport at 3 am – and as a friend I enjoyed learning from him as he shared his perspectives on Bolivian society. So, Carly and I were really happy when he accepted to spend…

  • Bolivian Story: Maria Calzadilla

    One sunny day I went to a Mercadito Pop [a fair] and discovered an amazing electric blue felted hat I just had to have to protect me from the harsh sun we get here at the high altitude of La Paz. The lady designing and selling these unique hats was Maria. I noticed straight away she was a woman caring about design. You know those sort of people, right? They look effortless. They always have something ever so slightly different hanging from their ears or neck, but never too over-the-top or in-your-face. This is Maria – comfortable, unique, creative and warm. She’s the sort of person who wears what she…

  • Bolivian Story: Sandra

    Just two weeks after I arrived in Bolivia I began daily Spanish classes with Sandra. She didn’t want to be interviewed or have photos taken, which is also why I haven’t included her surname. This Bolivian Story is to tell you about why she has been such a big part of my life here. My first year in La Paz was difficult for me. Jean was frequently travelling for work, I didn’t know anyone and most days the only other person I spoke to was Sandra, for 1 or maybe 2 hours… in Spanish.  It was exhausting. Some days I couldn’t help the warm tears from tumbling down my face…

  • Bolivian Story: Diane Bellomy, Artesania Sorata

    Soon after we arrived in Bolivia we met Diane Bellomy. Diane’s work was very interesting to me since she owns a Fair Trade business called Artesania Sorata, producing and selling hand dyed and handmade alpaca clothing, accessories and home wares that are generally made by women. Here in La Paz there are very few places that sell genuinely handmade, genuinely Bolivian or genuinely Fair Trade alpaca wear, despite the numerous shops in the tourist street Calle Sagarnaga claiming some of these. So, before long I started volunteering unofficially around 3-4 days a week, for around a year. During this time I met many of the women working for Diane, learnt…

  • Bolivian Story: Enrique MacLean and Paola Recacoechea

    Our first trip out of La Paz after we arrived in Bolivia was to Lake Titicaca for a long weekend away. We spent a couple of nights on Isla del Sol in an eco-lodge, which is where we met Enrique and Paola. They became our very first friends here. During that weekend on Isla del Sol we enjoyed dinner together each evening, laughing and talking about everything from heavy metal to politics. Back in La Paz our friendship grew, including pot lucks at our home and sometimes Enrique and Jean would ‘jam’ together – Enrique on guitar and Jean on his clarinet. We have been enthralled by their comments and…

  • Bolivian Story: Crisil

    We decided to visit Bolivia’s largest glass factory that uses only recycled glass to produce some of their wonderfully organically shaped round glasses like the ones shown in the below photos. We were in for a very warm welcome and tour thanks to Marcelo who, along with his father and brother, run the factory in Cochabamba. Actually, it was his father who founded the Fair Trade business in 1993. After having a small workshop transforming plastic, someone suggested he could easily do glass instead and at the time the Dutch government was offering funding… and so it was born! Now they have around 100 employees who do shift work during…

  • Bolivian Story: Luis Alberto Quispe Ochoa

    One day we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art here in La Paz, Bolivia, and became captivated by the works of Luis Alberto Quispe Ochoa (check out his website here). After much deliberation we finally purchased two works that spoke to us. Both were meticulously created with coca leaves and aguayo, which is the traditionally woven textile here. One depicts an indigenous woman’s face while the other is the face of an indigenous man who is wearing a chullo, the traditional knitted woollen hat with flaps to cover the ears. We regularly admire these pieces that now grace our lounge room and so many of our visitors have been motivated to…

  • Bolivian Story: Vanessa Vargas

    I met Vanessa when she was heavily pregnant with her baby, Rafaela. She was working at her partner’s restaurant, Red Monkey, as well as producing natural products for her business, Moi. Moi makes handmade cosmetics and personal care products based on natural and organic ingredients, without the use of preservatives, artificial colours or synthetic fragrances, being careful not to degrade our bodies or the environment. Vanessa never stops. I was surprised to see how busy she was whilst heavily pregnant and even since having her little girl it is not uncommon to find her in her workshop making products with her baby strapped to her or sleeping nearby. She’s a strong woman with…

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