July 24, 2016: Cable Cars, Folk Masks, and Fighting Cholitas

This morning, I woke up on the bus from Potosi, just as we entered La Paz, and two million little lights called out in the darkness to welcome me.  I was going to spend this day with the city.IMG_20160724_055110

My morning started with the (traditional?) Peruvian breakfast of roast beef, tomatoes, and mayonnaise on white bread.  I was walking through the market and told myself I’d eat at the first stall that invited me.  It was good, and by the time I was done eating, all of the spaces at the stall were full.  Breakfast and coffee for less than a dollar…

Then I decided to take a ride up to El Alto, the city that hugs the rim of the valley that contains La Paz.  In an effort to alleviate the intense traffic on the city’s narrow streets – choked with collectivo minivans and taxi cabs, more than anything – the government has begun investing in a system of state of the art cable cars to link the lower levels of the city to its upper reaches.  The result is popular with locals at less than fifty cents a ride…  And with tourists, too.  These cable cars offer an unparraleled view of the city…  Even the locals in my car seemed impressed…

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At the top, I spent an hour or so walking through the largest single market I have ever seen in my life.  I walked at a fast clip and still didn’t find the end – it must sprawl for at least a mile in either direction.  Need a replacement tail light for your car?  What kind is it?  That guy has a bunch…  How about a knock off Spider-Man figure?  That is going to set you back seventy-five cents…

After the hustle of the market, I headed back into downtown La Paz.  It was mid morning by now, and the city was coming to life.  One interesting thing I’ve noticed here is that many of  the shoeshines wear ski masks to cover their faces.  I’m told that in traditional Aymara culture, this is one of the dirtiest, most shameful jobs one can have, and the shoeshines do this to protect their identities and their families.

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Masks turned into the theme of the day.

La Paz’s Museum of Archeology and Folklore is full of them.  Much of the museum is in Spanish, but I learned a lot that is going to help when I settle in to develop my lessons, especially on Inca culture.  For now, check out a few of the more striking masks created by native societies throughout Bolivia…

 

More masks… The evening ended once more in El Alto, which is a very working class kind of town.  There a bare bones little arena plays host to Bolvian luche libre, featuring the (famous?) wrestling cholitas.  Cholitas are the traditionally dressed women who work the produce stands and street markets throughout the city.  The wrestling cholitas are a stroke of marketing genius who tantalize the crowd with their bawdy, hammy fighting.

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In addition to two free bathroom passes, I got three intense hours of melodrama and some honestly pretty impressive athletic feats.  The cholitas alternated bouts with male wrestlers.  The cholitas were really great, but I think the highlight of the evening for me was when a fly-themed tag team took on the wolfman, for some reason.  It was high camp, all the way through, with the locals pelting the crooked ref with trash and fruit that they seemed to bring expressly for that purpose.

My journey is winding down – only two days left – and I’m honestly starting to feel a bit like one of La Paz’s ubiquitous dogs…  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

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