Bolivia is fascinating. It has over 30 recognized, indigenous cultures, and most people speak at least 4 languages. There seems to always be a party of some sort to enjoy, and the citizens are gregarious. Some tourista observations, if you would, that I’ve found very intruiging …
- Chulitas. These are the women dressed in traditional clothes with the mini bowler hats. The story goes that Bolivian business men ordered these hats a long time ago to be trendy and match the Spaniards, but when the order came from Italy, the thousands of hats were all too small. The men decided to sell them to the ladies and called it the next big fashion trend. Well, as soon as one lady had one, all the others wanted one too. It stuck!
Speaking of stuck, the hats are not pinned to the heads of the Chulitas, so they have to have incredible posture and our guide told us that they have virtually zero rates of heart disease because their circulation is so good.
- Pachamama. Like the Mother Earth. She grants wishes, and cares for her people. People often give her something (like sprinkle water on the ground or bury a treasure of sorts) to get good luck. We touched our lips to ethanol before the Death Road and sprayed some on our bike tires … I’m alive, so maybe she listened!
- Potatoes.They have a lot of potatoes. Over 300 types! Some smell and look like cat poo.
- Flirting. Chulitas who are single wear their hats off to the side. They flirt by pulling up their skirt and showing their calves. A big, meaty calf is most attractive, because this means a woman will be able to carry a sheep on one shoulder, and baby on the other, and push her cart of potatoes.
- Caseras. The Chulitas that sell things like to be called Caseras. Seniora is ok too, but Casera is better. You develop relationships with them, and they give you free stuff (like an apple or two) on top of your order, as well as better deals.
- Quantities. When you buy something, it’s usually comes in distinct packages. You must buy either 12 or 25 bananas. Then you can ask for your 2 free ones, if you play nice with the Casera. Always ask for your top up!
- Haggling. You kind of have to beg the Caseras to go down in price. They are penny pinchers, but love a good haggle. Haggling goes pretty much anywhere here, but don’t expect things to be marked up like they are in Mexico or Asia. Bolivians mark-up maybe 10-15%, so you may not get more than 20bs as a discount. Still try though, don’t be that Gringo!
- Gold. Because of their penny pinching, many of the Chulitas are weathly, but dress modestly. The only way to tell a Chulita’s wealth is by looking at how many gold teeth she has! During parades, wealthy Chulitas will go all out, and wear their $3,000 bowler hats, gold seamed skirts, and gold chains. Some even hire bodyguards during this time to protect their gold. Bawlers!
- Zebras. There are kids dressed as zebras in the intersections, raising awareness for pedestrian safety. I haven’t seen one yet, and I also haven’t seen any pedestrian respect either. Hmm, they need some Outreach strategists for this zebra campaign …
- Chulitas are afraid of heights! Ironic. This poses a problem for them riding the tram from La Paz to El Alto because it’s too high. They only go up it, but not down. La Paz and El Alto flow into each other, and going up takes you above 4,000m!
- There’s Chulita wrestling. I’m going to miss out because we left on a Sunday, but this sounds generally hilarious.
- Shoe shiners. You’ll find them on the street with their faces covered. In Bolivia, the feet are believed to be the worst part of the body, so it’s shameful to be a shoe shiner. Be wary of the uncovered faces – there’s a lot of glue sniffing and drinking here, so we were warned these shoe shiners could be dangeours.
- Witches and Witch Doctors. They tell fortunes, and if you are cursed they burn llama fetuses for you to alleviate the curse.
- Chulita’s are business women! They build their houses up, and take advantage of the large spaces to make more money through advertisements. Their homes are always bright and colourful and composed of multiple floors.
- The President. The current Bolivian president is anti-American (because of the cocaine industry) and has been caught saying some funny things. One day he said that he thinks all women over 18 should be required to get pregnant to bolster the population, and even considered taxing women over 18 who did not have children. He’s since retracted the statement …
- Llama fetuses. All the llama fetuses die of natural causes. Thank goodness.
- It’s cold. Sometimes you have to go outside to warm up.
I keep learning interesting things, maybe I’ll share more. Will update soon on my Death Road biking experience and the Salt Flat tour!