Learning to Fly

(Learning to Fly, La Paz – 09/06/2018)

La Paz is the highest capital in the world and the place for one of the experiences I wanted to do in this trip: paragliding.

After pushing myself doing the zip line over Victoria Falls, it was time for me to go to the next level and try to float in the air. To fly and feels what is like.

La Paz offers the possibility of doing lots of adventure activities at very affordable price, so when paragliding was offered to me for $60 USD I did not hesitate. I booked my fly with  Marco Aruquipa through an agent although can be done directly with him (https://parapenteboliviia.es.tl)

Although I was excited, I became anxious about it since the minute I committed to it. The night before I couldn’t sleep well… the idea of jumping over a cliff was frightening to me and making me anxious.

-‘Close your eyes when you run towards the cliff’ – I was advised. But that seemed to me even scarier thing to do.

Early start at 6am for a jump that would happen around 11.30am…. 5 hours of anticipation for the moment of that jump…. That wasn’t helpful… I wanted to be the first one so I could relax afterwards.

Paragliding requires lots of preparation. And I wasn’t the first person jumping, so the hours waiting felt to me like an eternity. But apparently mid morning conditions are always better than very early.  I was given the best slot for the fly that morning.

Finally my turn arrived so I jumped into the car to get to the top of the mountain.

We ascended through an impossible bendy road with sharp vertical cliffs. I am not sure what was more dangerous, the flight or racing up the mountain in that impossible road. However, I must say that driver was very skilled. He squeezed the performance of the car.

Once we arrive to the top of the mountain the instructor was checking the wind conditions from the space we were suppose to jump. My heart started to go faster and I could feel the adrenaline. However, due the direction of the wind, that platform was not suitable so we went for an alternative jumping place.

The second place chosen for the jump was even scarier. In less than 20m run, there was the cliff.  More adrenaline was running through my system, but fortunately everything happened fast. We did a couple of rehearsals for the running bit and in few minutes I was set.

I decided to jump with my eyes closed. Just run and go!

So the moment arrived….  ‘Three, Two, One…… RUN!!!!’

Almost immediately I was up in the air, flying. And everything was smoother that expected. Once comfortable sit on the para-glide, the whole thing felt like a gentle movement of a feather in the wind.  Marco allowed to drive it and as I gained control over it, my anxiety dissipated completely and my enjoyment soared.

After 20min in the air, with safely landed. What a beautiful experience paragliding was. I would definitively do it again.

My pictures and movie of the experience are blended in the video below.

 

 

 

Cars & Girls

(Oscar Crespo Urban Race, Sucre – 02/06/2018)

Prefab Sprout was a band that got successful with a hit called ‘Cars & Girls’

Perhaps that song should have been played last weekend in Sucre. The Oscar Crespo race was taking place during Saturday and Sunday.

I have never seen a car race so, despite I was meant to leave Sucre already, decided to stay two more days and see what is like.

It was the 50th edition. The Oscar Crespo race brought drivers from all South America and made Sucre the automotive center of Bolivia for 3 days.

And yet, the whole thing looked tacky to me. Young kids full of testosterone driving tuned cars in order to make noise, both visually and acoustically…. And all of that hosted by girls wearing tight suites and impossible heels. As if both things, loud cars and lousy girls, should be connected….. well, isn’t that what the song is about?

So once I initially went over my horror and judging mind, I started to see some merit and skills in the race. Driving through the circuit as fast as you can while maintaining the control of the vehicle isn’t an easy thing.

There were some spectacular laps and cars turning on the devil’s bend by the square. The entire town was seeing the race and a festive atmosphere took the square, with people drinking, eating and sharing the experience.

So at the end it was more enjoyable than envisaged. Still think that displaying girls as mere visual add-ons to the event was a bit tacky and cliché. A bunch of handsome men and cute girls all together will make the hole event more inclusive and interesting.

The painting kids in Sucre

(Sucre city center – 31/05/2018)

In the centre of Sucre, near the market, you can see the new trend for some people to earn some Bolivianos. Kids go onto the pavement and replicate drawings they copy from a piece of paper. I have to say that some of them are quite good and draw better than myself.

It touches my heart to see such young kids forced (by the circumstances) to work at such early age…. Part of me wanted to support them but at the same time I am convinced that giving money to the kid will perpetrate that activity…. a kid should be playing!

So I bought 5 sets of playing cards (the Simpsons, dragon ball, etc….) and some sweets and gave them to the kids I found on my way….  Their gratitude and smile made my evening. Although I feel a bit guilty as I distracted them from completing the drawing….

In the pic, these two brothers are comparing what type of cards they got.

The Fallen Guard Angel

(Visiting the mine of the Cerro Rico de Potosi – 22/05/2018)

The history of Spain, Europe, Bolivia and South America cannot be understood without the inclusion of the Cerro Rico of Potosi.

The Cerro Rico of Potosi has been the biggest silver mine on earth. The mountain reaches almost 5000m above sea level and its presence dominates the views of the city. There is some kind of majestic shape to it, the profile of the mountain looks like a protective presence over the city.

This triangular mountain shape represents the nurturing essence of the Pachamama (the mother nature for andeans). The presence of this shape is so powerful that got featured in the local religious art. ‘La virgen del Cerro’ is one of the most important paint we can find at the Museo Casa de la Moneda, in Potosi, and one of the peaks of andean painting school.

Despite the magnificent and protective shape the mountain projects, the reality is that the Cerro is a soul eating mountain. Since the discovery of silver in 1545, it is said that 8 million people died inside.

The silver mine was feeding the greed of the Spanish empire (and proto-capitalist Europe) during XVI and XVII century. One would be inclined to think that with the independence of Bolivia, dignity would get in place. But the history of the mine and its working conditions have not much improved since. Greed is a timeless and global condition.

So, once in Potosi, I decided to visit the mine myself and see it with my own eyes.

At the hostel they offered me the tour for 120 bolivianos, but you can find it cheaper (specially if you speak Spanish) in the local agents across the city. I ended up paying 80.

The money paid for the tour does not go to the miners (only 5 bolivianos) so that’s why you need to buy presents to the miners and bring them to the visit.

Once inside I could not stop feeling the strong energy of the place. Entering the mine is an act of courage. The mine is like a jungle of tunnels and dangers. And no one knows who’s inside so you are at the mercy of the elements and people around you. That is why you will require good luck and protection.

El Cerro has been perforated viciously since mining started, like a Gruyere cheese and some fear one day it will collapse.

Local miners seek the protection of “El Tio”. Located at the entrance of the tunnel, El Tio is a representation of a devil that trades with the Pachamama. In order to bring protection, El Tio demands presents and sacrifices. Presents in the shape of cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves are offered to him every time someone enters the mine.

But El Tio requires more presents and some blood. You can see around the figure red stains: these are the blood of sacrificed llamas during the rituals held during the celebration of Pachamama festivals (May and November). The blood of cute llamas is traded for protection and luck.

However, it seems that the deals that El Tio trades might require higher costs. Rumor has it that human phoetus from abortions are brought to El Cerro to be presented to him. And legends and stories circulating around in the city talk about kids been brought into the mine as they were given toys and sweets, just to be left alone inside to get lost and die to satiate the appetite of the mountain.

I was not aware of these rumors while visited the mine, so my brain was just dealing with the darkness and claustrophobia.

Entering the mine is a challenge. The tunnels are tiny and dark. No signaling, some of the beams propping the tunnels are broken, descending or ascending levels are made in the Indiana Jones way… and all of that several meters underneath a mountain at 4200m high. Breathing isn’t easy and coca leaves are your best help.

Once inside you can see real miners working and realize how tough this job is. Life expectancy for these miners, if nothing happens, is around 50. We exchanged presents and drank with them before we decided we saw enough and kindly suggested to our guide that it was time to see the sun.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience but certainly it was one of the most impacting experiences in this trip. Glad I did but I would not come back inside again.

And despite the pain trapped in the mountain, I still find fascinating its shape and presence over the city.