Melting glaciers, llama love and hanging effigies

PampalaramaA little while ago I took a hike up to Glacial Khuno Tinkuta, which is situated in Pampalarama, an hour and a half`s drive from La Paz.  Sitting at 5000m above sea level, the glacier was a short hike but a strenuous one nonetheless due to the altitude.  Almost immediately I was out of breath (which I initially attributed to over-consumption of potatoes) and developed a persistent headache, which meant for a slow climb. The landscape was fairly barren and except for a lone shepherd, my friend and I did not encounter a single person on the trails.  Herds of llama and alpaca grazed in the lower slopes, generously obliging my frenzy of photo-taking.

According to recent studies, Andean glaciers have shrunk by as much as 50% since the 1970s.  The nearby peak of Chacaltaya used to be home to the world`s highest ski resort, before its glacier rapidly melted over the years, disappearing entirely in 2009.  Glaciers act as a vital source of water for thousands of Bolivia`s inhabitants in El Alto and the Altiplano, as well as supplying hydro-power.  As a poor, landlocked country, the impact of climate change is felt more than ever and sadly the future looks bleak with Bolivia`s few remaining glaciers receding fast.

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Journeying back into La Paz, we wove our way along steeply sloping cobbled streets in the outskirts of the city.  Several Guy Fawkes-like effigies were strung up on telegraph poles, a sight I was curious about, having noticed them often in El Alto.  As it turns out, these hanging dummies are warnings for rateros (thieves) and potential criminals, in areas where crime is rife.  Often they are hung with accompanying signs, macabre messages professing that captured thieves will be lynched and/or burned alive.  It is perhaps indicative of a lack of faith in the judicial system and local police force (considered to be somewhat corrupt and inefficient), that residents claim to resort to `community justice`, prepared to take matters into their own hands.

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Stay tuned for an upcoming coffee-related post, before I head to Buenos Aires on holiday next week!

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La Paz

One month in, I am settling into life in La Paz.  It is, of course, vastly different to life in Montreal, and there have been a whole array of things to adjust to since my arrival.  For one, altitude!  La Paz sits at 3660m above sea level, and with the airport located even higher in the city of El Alto, it is the only airport in the world where planes need to ascend in order to land.  For the first two days I felt short of breath, had a splitting headache, and pins and needles in my face and fingers.  All I experience now is a humbling inability to power-walk as I tend to do, since the remotest incline has me out of breath as if I`m running.

The initial spectacular, panoramic view of the city, as you descend from the dizzy heights of El Alto (4100m) is quite literally breathtaking.  La Paz sits in a canyon, with houses built into the slopes, spilling and spreading for miles, and the snow-capped Mount Illimani looming in the background.

A couple of facts:

– La Paz was originally known as La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace).

– La Paz locals are known as paceños (peaceful ones).

– Bolivia technically has two capital cities: Sucre is the main, constitutional capital, while La Paz remains the administrative capital.