I have found my vocation in Bolivia

You may have been wondering why I haven’t published anything for a whole month. (Actually, far fewer of you wondered than I had hoped would wonder. Only two people of my tens of thousands of readers contacted me, asking if everything was OK. A very depressing outcome of this little experiment.)

Well, first I was offline because I didn’t have internet at home – which is now in wonderfully cozy Cochabamba in Bolivia -, then I had to catch up with work, and lastly, I spent a lot of time outside and away from the computer because the climate here is perfect. Really perfect.

Farmacia Boliviana

central square of Cochabamba

Fellow travelers may know the feeling: Sometimes you come to a country where you have never been before, yet you realize right away “This country and me fit together.” This is what happened to me in Bolivia. The beautiful and diverse nature, the extremely interesting history with everything from Incas to Mennonites, from revolutions to water wars, the colorful indigenous cultures, and most importantly the Bolivians themselves. Maybe I am extremely lucky, but I have mostly met very friendly, humorous, polite, educated, warm, welcoming, interesting and helpful people. Already on the first day, I felt at home. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of Bolivians who invited me, showed me their town, introduced me to their friends and offered all kinds of help.

panorama snow lady with hat

Cochabamba with Mt Tunari (5,020 m) in the background

It also seems to become a regular feature of my traveling that I cherish and appreciate countries which are over-looked by most travelers and dismissed by everyone else. It hurts me when Europeans coming to South America ask “Is it worth to go to Bolivia?” You only need to look at a map to see that Bolivia spans all climate, geological and vegetation zones from the Andes to the Amazon, from salt flats to savannas, from the low-lying Pantanal to Mt Sajama with 6,520 m. Even other South Americans too often dismiss Bolivia as “the poorest country of the continent,” ignorant of any other fact and not in the least interested to learn more or to discover it for themselves. Admittedly, flights to Bolivia are rather expensive, even from the neighboring countries, which may dissuade some interested visitors. But there is always a bus or a romantic train connection.

view from El Fuerte

view from El Fuerte near Samaipata

Well, you already know that I prefer to live in and write about countries that don’t receive 100 million tourists a year. So I decided to stay in Bolivia for a bit longer, explore the country, its culture, its history and the contemporary social, economic and political issues more in-depth. Let’s see if I can convince some of you to visit.

Luckily, I discovered that in Bolivia I can even find work with my otherwise useless talents: Last weekend, I was in Quillacollo when I saw this crowd of people listening to a speaker in the park. Because there is currently a heated debate going on in Bolivia about a constitutional referendum on 21 February 2016, because of Simón Bolívar in the background, and due to wishful thinking, I assumed that a political discussion was raging. Impressed by the number of people interested in such an event, I walked up to the congregation – and noticed that this was actually a storyteller.

joke teller Quillacollo

a storyteller and the attentive crowd in Quillacollo

Yes, in Bolivia it’s a legitimate profession to stand in the park and tell jokes or stories. My Spanish was still too limited to understand anything, but the performance of the guy was strong and the audience was visibly captivated. More and more people joined. When the storyteller finished, a hat went around and got filled with gold and silver coins.

This is the solution to my constant financial destitution! There is no doubt that I have many stories to tell. I like to talk. As anyone who has ever met me in person can attest, I can talk for hours. And I have a fancy hat to be filled with coins of appreciation. – Now I only need to speed up my Spanish studies, and soon you can find me in a park in your town. Hasta luego!

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

Posted in Bolivia, Photography, Travel | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Dakar Rally in Argentina and Bolivia

My timing could be better: Just as I have moved to Bolivia to find some peace and quiet, the Dakar Rally thunders and roars past.

The famous desert race, which has removed Paris from its name, still calls itself the Dakar Rally, although it went to the Senegalese capital for the last time in 2007. In 2009 the rally moved to South America.

Since the beginning of the year, the cars, motorcycles, trucks and quads have been racing through Argentina. From 7 January 2016, they will be in Bolivia for a few days to disturb and destroy the salt flat of Uyuni.

Dakar 2016 map

A few weeks after the world came together in Paris to agree on leaving behind fossil fuels, fuel is burnt and the air is polluted here, just for fun and sport. Any optimism one could have had after the Paris accord (I had none) volatilizes in the clouds of dust swirled up by the race.

The direct impact on the environment and on archaeological treasures isn’t any better. But Evo Morales, who plasters the whole country with posters explaining “Living in unison with nature means living a good life,” thinks that the Dakar Rally is good advertising for Bolivia. Apart from the fact that the salt flats of Uyuni are the last place in Bolivia that would need any promotion, the money would be better spent if a travel blogger would have his stay in Bolivia financed for a year and would regularly write about the country and the people. Coincidentally, I am available.

Instead, Bolivia allows the sports company ASO to dip into the public purse and even deploys the military for logistics and for securing the racetrack. A practical side effect of the army’s presence is to dissuade anyone who would have thought of staging a protest against this racket.

My main point of criticism about the Dakar Rally is that it is a murderous spectacle, literally. The deaths of drivers can still be booked under risks willingly taken. But in the 37 years of its existence, the Dakar Rally has taken 69 human lives in total. Among them were more journalists than have been killed by some terrorist organizations and several children, who tend to cross streets, particularly if nobody bothered to inform them that this deadly circus would pass through their village.

Nani Roma of Spain and co-pilot celebrate winning the car title of the South American edition of the Dakar Rally 2014 in Valparaiso

“Sorry for all the people we killed. But it was great fun!”

In accordance with tradition, this year’s race began with  driver mowing down a dozen spectators.

If I drove like that, I would (hopefully) have to stand trial. Not so in the case of the Dakar Rally, whose drivers apparently enjoy legal immunity.

(Zur deutschen Fassung.)

Posted in Argentina, Bolivia, Environment, Sports, Technology, Travel | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Film about my Adventures in Brazil

Now that I am safely on a plane from Brazil to Bolivia, I can reveal a bit more about what I have been doing here. Here is the trailer to the upcoming film about my adventures in Brazil:

oss-117-hippies

In Vale do Capão. Seriously, there are still people there who believe they are hippies.

Posted in Brazil, Films, France, Israel, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fashion Forecast 2016

After I began setting a new trend in 2015, one thing is certain: 2016 will be the year of the hat. Gentlemen, if you don’t want to look very old-fashioned next year, I recommend that you ride to the next hatter right away.

hat close Westernhat wide Westernhat wide 2 Western

I took these photos during my hike to Morro do Pai Inacio, the prominent flat-topped mountain in the background, in Brazil.

In his new film The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino has already jumped on the stagecoach.

Posted in Brazil, Films, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Easily Confused (55) Bill Cosby

Rap star:

ice cube

Rape star:

bill-cosby

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How is Brazil doing?

Not too good, it seems:

Brazil flag

(Photographed at the Carnival Cemetery on La Maddalena, Sardinia.)

Posted in Brazil, Italy, Photography, Sardinia, Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

Early Birds

When Némo said “we will meet on Saturday morning at 4:45 and we will return on Monday just before midnight,” I knew I had found the right guide for the 3-day hike through Vale do Pati.

Some agencies in Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil offer tours that cozily depart hours after breakfast, where tourists are driven around in SUVs and may have to walk the last few steps to a waterfall. But I wanted to hike, wanted to advance deep into nature, to where even off-road vehicles couldn’t reach. The 50 km in three days sounded manageable,  although I underestimated the difficulty of the terrain and the differences in altitude that would have to be covered.

Only on the way to the bus stop, I noticed that World War II had begun at 4:45, too. My search for a witty remark to this effect was abruptly interrupted by the sunrise, one of those natural spectacles one can observe very rarely due to its disadvantageous scheduling.

Morgenstund1Morgenstund2Morgenstund3Morgenstund4

Sunrise is the wrongfully neglected partner of the duo of situations in which the sun heaves itself across the edge of Earth.

(Hier gibt es diesen Artikel auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Brazil, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments