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Spirits in the House | Smithsonian Magazine Travel QuarterlyFor most of the seven years I lived in La Paz, my home was a small stucco cottage pressed into a hillside. The cement floors were cold, and the second-story roof was corrugated metal, which made rain and hail such a racket that storms often sent me downstairs. But the views more than compensated for the hassles. When I moved in, I painted the bedroom walls heron-egg blue and put the mattress so close to the window I could press my nose against the glass. At night I fell asleep watching the city lights knit up into the stars, and in the morning I woke to a panoramic view of Illimani, the 21,000-foot peak that sits on its haunches keeping watch over Bolivia’s capital. It was like living in the sky. Read More
The Day of the Sea | Harper's Magazine
“But wait,” he said. “The sea.”
Up to then, he’d been talking at my reflection in his rearview mirror. Now he twisted around to make direct eye contact. “I saw the sea when I was in Chile. Now that was interesting. It was this half-bluish green. Some spots were clearer than others, of course, because of the moss.”
“Seaweed” isn’t a common word if you don’t have an ocean.
“On Lake Titicaca, you might go out a distance of a few city blocks, maybe. We’re not used to being able to go out very far. But with the sea, there’s nothing but water, all the way to the horizon.”
Forget trade and development, contact with the outside world, sea-food joints, sunbathing on a white sand beach. It seemed that in Pacheco’s eyes, the most important thing about the sea was that it was limitless. And limitlessness implied infinite possibility. Read more
Father Copper | VQR [photo: Rodrigo Llano]
When Carmen Ahumada first looked on the copper mining city of Calama, she wanted to die. It was 1958, long after Germany’s World War I-era invention of artificial saltpeter – the main ingredient in bombs – brought Chile’s glory days as a world supplier to and end and made obsolete the tiny, arduous saltpeter towns that had cropped up all over the Atacama Desert. Carmen’s home, Peña Chica, lay on the outskirts of the Atacama and was one of the last to hold on, but when it disappeared too, her family moved deeper into the desert. There was little choice but follow the tide of workers to Calama, where copper was fueling a new boom. Now there’s a photograph in Carmen’s living room, taken around that time; in it, she’s sixteen, with soft brown hair, and doe eyes like Annette Funicello.
“We only took what we could carry,” Carmen tells me. “We just locked the door to our house, with the furniture and plates still inside, and carried our suitcases to the train.” …more
Once More Potosi | Virginia Quarterly Review photo: Tim Hussin
A day’s travel from the capital of La Paz lies the state of Potosí, a stretch of high altitude plains covered in scrub, plots of quinoa and potatoes, and homes made of mud brick. The houses are small and often lack windows, as darkness is preferable to the cold gusts of wind that gnash across the plains. Sometimes, if you venture across this landscape, known as the altiplano, a stick figure of a human can be seen at a distance, tending fields or herding animals. Even more infrequently several homes appear together – a town, where an indigenous man will be selling soda bottles of gasoline near the road, and his wife or daughter sells cola and bread and matches and telephone calls. To use the outhouse, she’ll charge half a boliviano, which also buys a length of toilet paper she cuts and folds between customers. Another such town might appear two hours later…more
The Amazon’s Mysterious Cure-All | The Atlantic photo: Annie Avilés
After Steve Witte was laid off from his job at Pfizer last year, he decided to pursue a radically different approach to medicine. Swapping his New York apartment for a thatch hut near Iquitos, Peru, Witte, 44, set aside his squash hobby to become an apprentice under the master shaman Alfredo Cairuna.
Like many of the traditional healers in this part of the Amazon, Cairuna—who is of the indigenous Shipibo people—serves as an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds, with the help of a hallucinogen known as ayahuasca, a plant-based concoction that has been used for centuries to treat a range of physical and spiritual maladies. Tourists, equally convinced that ayahuasca can alleviate everything from chronic pain to depression, have more recently turned its distribution into a thriving local industry. People “go back to work more calm and accepting—or they make huge decisions they weren’t able to before,” Witte says of those who come to visit Cairuna’s ayahuasca lodge. “People say it changes their lives." …more
All Rivers Lead to the Sea | Virginia Quarterly Review photo: Rodrigo Llano
César Barros is the head of Chile’s national salmon producers organization, known as SalmonChile, which is a bit like being head of the National Cattleman’s Association in the United States. Barros is stout and flushed, and he is forceful in a way that almost feels staged. And he believes that the only way to keep salmon farming strong is to continue spreading out across the sea. Aggressively.
"We’ve divided the sea into neighborhoods," says Barros, as if talking about a housing development, rather than the Pacific Ocean. He says these so-called neighborhoods stretch for thousands of square miles. I ask if salmon farms effectively control Chile’s coast, and Barros says, "Mainly. But we do give some room to tourism and fishermen, too." I gape. "Hey, it’s a big ocean," he says, and smiles… more
Bolivia’s Constitutional Challenge | The Nation photo: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
Mariano Aguilera is driving fast down a country road in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, heading towards his sugar cane fields. He coaxes the red Mercedes over ninety and passes a truck full of peasants, regarding them in his rearview mirror.
"I bet they’re headed to La Paz to take over the Congress or something," he says. "A new constitution is going to bring nothing but more problems."
From August 2006 to December 2007, Aguilera was actually part of an assembly that rewrote Bolivia’s constitution. The draft will be approved or rejected by a highly anticipated referendum here on January 25. And Aguilera now says he is against the charter he was supposed to have co-authored… more
In Mozambique, A Glorious Inn Becomes a Slum | The Atlantic photo: Vlad Sokhin
Limbo could be the motto of the Grande Hotel. At the start of each day, several dozen people set up shop throughout the space, swatting flies from tables piled with items like cookies, bananas, condoms, and bootleg gin, which they sell to other residents. Some people take bucket baths in their rooms, or behind makeshift curtains in hallways and courtyards, and a few make their way into the city of Beira to work coveted jobs as maids and truckers. For many others, a day becomes an exercise in burning time.
"All we want is to work so we can go back to our homes, but there are no jobs," says Arlindo Wafero, who’s squatted in the hotel for over 30 years. Wafero passes time teaching himself French, a broken pair of women’s reading glasses on his nose… more
Past Tomorrow: A Letter from Bolivia | Virginia Quarterly Review photo: Annie Avilés
In 2004, Bolivia’s postal service led a campaign to write the world’s longest letter. It collected missives from school children, glued and taped them together to form a chain over fifty kilometers long, and addressed it to the United Nations. The letter, which fell short of being the world’s longest, was entrusted to the Bolivian Navy for delivery, but three years later it still sits in a warehouse at the La Paz Naval Headquarters, great spools of paper over six feet in circumference, draped in plastic and covered by dust.
“Dear Kofi Annan,” one letter begins. “I want to speak to you of our pure sea which must be returned to us, the people of Bolivia, for these marvelous and lovely waters pertain to us, and so I want you to help recover our sea which was once stolen from us by the Chileans.” They all read this way, thousands of letters in children’s handwriting, each asking that Annan return their sea… more
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