In 1940s-era Latin America, a new genre of literature started to take off. Magic realism, initially inspired by the Surrealist art movement, started to gain major traction when Gabriel Garcia Marquez published his epic One Hundred Years of Solitude. In magical realism, men could live well into their 200s. Women could levitate above the ground, and bake emotions into their food.
Echoes of magic realism can be found today throughout the Aymara region of Bolivia. The mountainous area is home to some 2 million indigenous people who practice a peculiar blend of Roman Catholicism (a remnant of Spanish colonization), and Aymara mythology, which includes the worship of Pachamama(“Mother Earth”).
These people, and the fantastically ornate costumes and garb they wear in honor of their mythology, are the subject of Waska Tatay, a book by Swiss photographer Thomas Rousset and designer Rapaël Verona.
Part ethnography, part picture-book fairy tale, Waska Tatay catalogues three months that Rousset and Verona spent in Bolivia. Verona had lived there before, and when he returned to Switzerland he regaled Verona with stories about the country’s unique spiritual culture.
The pair decided to visit the Altiplano region of the country together, to study and photograph the ways Bolivians keep their rituals alive today. Verona’s wife is Bolivian, and brokered their relationship with many of the subjects. The duo sat with her father, for example, and learned about how the Aymara stay up all night on Tuesdays and Fridays.
On those days humans are more susceptible to evil spirits, so it’s tradition to stay awake, smoking Maitos (handmade cigarettes). When smoke is exhaled, the evil spirits get pushed away.
The most decadently costumed people in Waska Tatay are Orureños, from Oruro, where the annual carnival is held. Rousset and Verona visited the artisan neighborhood in town where professionals have been making these costumes from metal, repainting them for years on end.
Each costume honors a spirit or is an expression of a folk legend. The Jukumari bears for instance, fought against the plagues brought on by Wari, a feared God. The bears ornate masks are painted with plague imagery, like snakes, insects, and ants.
Rather than just photograph the costumes and the iconography like photojournalists, Rousset and Verona decided to stage some of the photos and create a mise en scène directly inspired by magical realism. Costumed characters aren’t always in parades or at ceremonies; they’re sitting at a drafting table, bent over work supplies.
Two women perch on a desk near modern appliances, like televisions. Another worshiper sits on a naked mattress, and a plastic bottle beverage sits on the floor.
“We decided to mix two languages: one very staged and those that are very snapshot,” Verona says. “We mixed a lot to create ambiguity for the reader, in knowing what’s real and what’s fiction.”
They also slyly threaded pieces of technology into the photos, thus altering the meaning of “magic realism” for a modern day audience. One picture shows a girl standing in a tree, wearing an outfit of leaves. She’s holding a cellphone up to her ear. Communication with spirits is a common part of Aymara worship, even today.
“You could see that the girl is a witch, trying to talk with divinities or evils,” Verona says, “but her voice to God is replaced by a cell phone.”
HE MAY be only little, but Joaquín “Shorty” Guzmán, who was captured in Mexico on February 22nd, is reckoned to have run a big criminal business.
Mr Guzmán, who spent 13 years on the run after escaping from prison hidden in a laundry cart, is said by prosecutors to have been the boss of the Sinaloa drug-trafficking organisation, reckoned to be the world’s largest.
“Cartels” such as Sinaloa have helped to create a global market for cocaine, whose active ingredient is grown only in remote parts of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.
In recent years police have seized the drug in nearly every country in the world. Though its popularity shows signs of declining in some rich countries, emerging markets such as Brazil are developing a taste for the drug.
Here’s an awesome video from Speed Society that shows a motorcycle riding across the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
The ground basically mirrors the sky which makes it look like the motorcycle is just gunning it through the clouds. Not a bad way to spend a day.
La Paz – Achacachi – Moho – Juliaca – Nicaso – Pupuja – Ayaviri – Sicuani – Checacupe – Pitamarca. 230km of railway link Juliaca to Checacupe (at which point we veered north to bikepack across the Ausungate range), before wending onwards to Cusco.
The train line runs roughly parallel to the main road, avoiding pavement and associated traffic for 80% of the way.
Sometimes this means riding railside singletrack, connecting dirt roads, or even across the actual railway sleepers. Disclaimer: not recommended for bikes without fat tyres!
As it is, tackling the Cusqueñan railtrail proved to be one of the more unusual highlights of this Americas ride, and a memorable way to reaching the old Incan capital of Cusco, especially when coupled with the Ausungate traverse (more on that little gem later).
Certainly, it helped lift my spirits after a sorrowful Bolivian farewell – a country that lived up to my every expectation – and provided a fitting finale to the end of this journey.
After the striking scenery of the high Altiplano, the paved ride around the quiet, eastern shores of Lago Titicaca seemed relatively uneventful.
Segmented by a flurry of quality dirt across the actual border, the fun didn’t really begin until after the sprawling settlement Juliaca – a noisy, rambunctious city, even by Peruvian standards, home to the gracious Giovanni and his newfound Casa de Ciclistas.
In fact, given the relative peace and serenity of Bolivia (drunken fiestas notwithstanding), Juliaca’s gridlocked traffic and swarms of tuk-tuks came as something of a jarring surprise.
Visa stamps procured in nearby Puna, it wasn’t long before Miguel and I were escaping the city on a scrap of dirt, squeezed between the main highway and the rail line, preferring to bounce along rough tracks and dodge trash than have trucks and buses buzz by.
The plan was to make maximum use of our fat tyres, following the historic railway line that runs to Cusco – as Kurt had done the year before – before peeling off towards 6384m Ausungate, reported to be amongst the most beautiful mountain folds in the country.
And, bar the odd push and grunt, it all pieced together spectacularly well. At times a decent dirt road even ran alongside the rail lines, completely bereft of traffic, except for kids pedalling to school.
But generally, we picked our way along a footpath, beside the actual rails, or we dipped onto singletrack worn smooth by motorbikes that shortcut across the pampa.
We passed little more than old railway villages and llamas, surprising children and elderly folk alike.
Before the advent of the highway, this was the main mode of transport for locals; now it’s just a couple of tourist trains that trundle past by each day.
Gringos who stop in such settlements are thus a rare commodity – cue a barrage of enquiries at every stop. ‘No te cansa?’ Don’t you get tired?
The lady at the store seems particularly preocuppied with the state of my riñones – kidneys. Clearly, she didn’t grasp the plush comfort afforded by fat tyres.
In another railroad village, an old man in a smart trilbe rolled over for a chat, leaning on his Indian singlespeed with a solemn air. Once we’d fielded his tirade of questions, he commented:
‘How sad. It must be so cold at night. And what do you do when it rains?’ It was true, the first of the storms had arrived, signalling a shift in the seasons.
By afternoon, sunny skies were laden with clouds. They circled us conspiratorially and lent further drama to the landscape.
But we pedalled on, scything across the valley on our fat tyres, following a trail of endless rails…
A note on fatbikes:
The more I tour, the more I’m smitten by these remarkable bikes, and the unparalleled scope they offer in terms of exploration – ample reward in my mind for their inevitable compromises on pavement and their extra heft.
Beach, ripio, snow, singletrack, rock… and now railways. Truly, these machines have inherited the All Terrain Bike crown. More thoughts on travelling on my Surly Pugsley coming soon…
If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings.
While there is a man in Bolivia said to be the oldest living person in the world, at 123 years of age, a village in China is boasting ages far older than the global average, and few suffer from any health problems. Scientists believe the secret is in their diet, which actually includes lots of hempseed.
It also helps that the water and air in Bama Yao, China are exceptionally clean, and that their food contains noticeably less fat, animal proteins, salt, and sugar than let’s say, the standard American diet.
But according to some experts, the villagers’ consumption of a superfood high in essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6) is also part of the reason they live so long. Their primary source of receiving these fatty acids is through a diet rich in hempseed.
Life expectancy in Bama Yao is well over 100 years for its inhabitants, one of only five places on the planet where people can expect to live so healthfully for so long. Centenarian hot spots, called ‘blue zones,’ include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa just off Japan, and Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
Among these rare places, there is a commonality of lifestyle habits: they eat a plant-based diet, often with several super foods, invest heavily in family, get moderate exercise daily, and have a sense of faith and purpose in their lives.
It is well known that plant sterols and antioxidants can help reduce the risk of many cancers including breast and colon cancer, as well as control sugar levels in diabetics.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids found in hemp seed are also full of plant-based protein, vitamins A, E, and D, and many B vitamins – all important antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals in the body.
Hemp seed is also rich in calcium, dietary fiber, and iron. The high amount of soluble fiber in hemp seed helps to prevent over-eating since it makes you feel full, longer, and it can help keep the digestive system healthy.
Furthermore, omega 3 and 6 ratios that are in balance also contribute to a healthy brain as we age. Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats are used by the body to make certain hormones and signaling molecules. Roughly speaking, the omega 6′s are the precursors for many of the molecules that make up our body’s inflammatory response.
As an example – the omega 6 linoleic acid is a precursor for many molecules, among them the prostaglandins that the enzymes COX-1 and COX-2 work on. But these must be balanced with Omega 3s or we have some highly inflammatory chemicals running rampant in our body.
In hemp seed oil, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 3:1. This favorable ratio helps to compensate, at least partially, for the general over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids in the typical American diet, and likely leads to the overall anti-inflammatory health benefits that villagers in Bama Yao enjoy.
Bolivia on Wednesday renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, and declared it a terrorist state, according to AFP.
President Evo Morales announced the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba.
It “means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” he said.
The treaty has allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia without a visa since 1972.
Morales said the Gaza offensive shows “that Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.”
Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza.
In mid-July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”
But the UNHRC – like much of the international community – has blatantly ignored Hamas’s tactics.
Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, has openly boasted about the “success” of its strategy of using civilians as human shields during Operation Protective Edge, and the IDF has published extensive evidence of the practice.
By contrast, the IDF has dropped leaflets, sent phone messages, and issued general warnings to all civilians within range of upcoming airstrikes to prevent further harm.
Five additional Latin American countries – Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Chile – have recalled their envoys over misconceptions regarding the operation, in a move Israel condemned Wednesday as showing “encouragement for Hamas.”