Day Trip in La Paz, Bolivia – Valle de la Luna and Mount Chacaltaya

While in La Paz for Carnival, we weren’t really sure what to do. We knew that museums and other tourist attractions would be closed, and we found out that almost all the restaurants were closed as well – not ideal!  We normally try to do activities on our own, but had no ideas, so we looked into a group tour instead.  I’m super glad we did because it turned out to be a really fun day!


Left: Steve and I on the road leading up the mountain. Right: Alpacas here are as popular as cows in Canada.

We talked to our hostel (Hostel Pirwa in Sopocacchi) to find out which tours were possible in just one day, given the season and the carnival festivals. Some weren’t available at all, or we had already done, so we chose this tour.  Unfortunately, our hotel said that we needed four people and we were only two. So, when we went out for lunch and shopping near the Witches Market that day, we decided to go in a bunch of tourist agencies.  They all had basically the same tour for exactly the same price, so we just chose the one that would pick us up closest to our hostel (they wouldn’t pick us up there because it’s not on their list of hotels). When we got back to the hostel, they said they could do it for us with just two but we had already booked so we just declined that tour.  We also booked the tour that didn’t include the entry fees. This was because the tours normally include the “foreigner” entry fee, but since we have a residence card, we can get the “local price” instead.


Left: View of the city of La Paz from Mount Chacaltaya. Right: Snowball fight!
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Why Bolivia (a land-locked country) is so obsessed with the sea!

Even though Bolivia has no ocean, they’re completely enamoured with the idea. Everyone from young to old feels passionate about the need for access to the sea. Bolivia once connected to the Pacific ocean between Chile and Peru, but lost the land over a century ago in The War of the Pacific. However, Bolivians are still not ready to accept the result, and feel it is a great injustice that they don’t have the land that was theirs when “their country was born”.  I’ve become completely fascinated with this event, and took time this past week to do some digging into the history of this country that I currently call my home.


Boats are definitely the theme of the day! Everything from giant boats on top of cars with oceans of blue tarp to teenage boys with paper sailboat hats.

Yearly Celebrations for Day of the Sea

Day of the Sea is celebrated on March 23, commemorating the day of the Battle of Topater (the first battle in the War of the Pacific) in 1879. The Bolivians were trying to defend the town of Calama from Chile. It was in the battle that Colonel Eduardo Aboroa died, making him into a national hero. You can still see streets named after him in every big city in Bolivia, and one of the main squares in La Paz is also name Aboroa.  Every year on this date (or at least 3 full days this year in Sucre), the whole town is excited. Thousands of people come out to the main square to watch the spectacle. Politicians come and speak about important issues on a stage in front of hundreds of flags. Every marching band in town shows up in blue to navigate through the central streets. School children with hand-made signs march through town in blue to show their support.  Music videos are made about the sea and shown to spectators who sit for hours watching them on the big screen – nodding along and cheering in agreement whenever someone states (or sings) about Bolivia needing the sea. Everyone in the city shows up with pride to share their support in the need for Bolivia to regain access to the Pacific Ocean.


Left: Aw, what a cutie in his little sailor costume! Right: Boris and Julie found me these great paper flags with the Bolivian naval flag – yay parades!

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Pujllay: The Harvest Festival in Tarabuco, Bolivia

Bolivia loves festivals of all types! The Pujllay festival is a wonderful festival in the city of Tarabuco (just an hour outside of Sucre, Bolivia).  The area is known for its Yampara culture, and people from far and wide flock to the city for the yearly festival.  The main part of the festival is the parade, with dancing groups in amazing costumes visiting from 60 nearby cities around the district. Last weekend, we were able to take a day trip to Tarabuco to join in the excitement!


History of the Festival

Meaning – The word “Pujllay” is a Quechua word (one of the most spoken indigenous languages in Bolivia) for play or dance. The festival signifies the harvest season, when the wind plays with the clouds in the sky and the blossoms dance in the fields. This time of year in the central Andes of Bolivia is a time where the rainy season is coming to an end and the crops are ripe for harvesting.  The festival begins with a Quechua mass, followed by a marching progression of dancers in costumes.  Quechua doesn’t translate perfectly to English and is more of an oral language, so you’ll often find alternative spellings to all Quechua words on various signs around Bolivia. Pujllay (the word for play/dance) can sometimes be spelt phujllay, pugllay pujhllay. or pukllay.


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Enjoying the Caribbean Beach in Cartagena, Colombia

When you think of Colombia, you probably think of busy South American cities full of empanadas and beautiful fabrics (and maybe drugs – but let’s not get into that right now…). However, Cartagena is not a bustling metropolis, it’s more like a beach town. With a combination of hot weather, old forts, and tropical fruits, Cartagena is more like a Caribbean Island than a South American city. It’s a great break from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires or Lima, and gives you a chance to just relax.


Arriving – December 24th, 2016

From the airport in Medellin, we took a quick plane ride to Cartagena. After landing, we could feel the heat and humidity right away – a big change from the other cities. Thankfully, the airport is really close to the city, so we hopped in the official taxi line-up and took a taxi to our AirBnb. Because it wasn’t a hotel, and was in a residential neighbourhood, our taxi driver had to ask a few people for directions, but we found it eventually. He was super nice and helped us carry all our heavy bags up the stairs. Eventually we found the neighbour who let us into the apartment – it was nice to be able to settle in.

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International Women’s Day + Being a Female Travel Blogger

Today is International Women’s Day, and I’m a woman, so I must have lots of feelings about it, right?  Honestly, when I think about what it’s like to be a woman, I feel great. I’m happy to be who I am. But when I think about it a bit more critically, I realize that there are a lot of things that I “put up with” that men rarely have to.

I do have to worry about walking home alone at night when strange guys are walking closely behind me.

I do consider what to wear to yoga on Saturday morning, and accept that more or less people will look and comment depending on what I decide.

I do feel that I would get hired for a job I’m capable of, but I also don’t think my male colleagues will hesitate to ask me to do secretarial tasks. 

Overall, I’m happy with being a woman, but maybe I just wish it were a tiny bit easier and that I had to worry a tiny bit less.  So, for International Women’s Day I decided to talk about how women are treated in three different spheres of my life: in the news media, in the local culture (with a focus on Bolivia), and in my online world of travel blogging.

Women in the News

On January 21st, 2017, people from around the world watched as over half a million people in the “Women’s March” descended on Washington to show that women need to be considered in important policy decisions. Since today (March 8th) is International Women’s Day, women around the world are trying to show the public how much women actually contribute to society by having a “Day Without Women“. Women will wear red, not go to work (if possible), and avoid buying anything, to show how vital they are to the economy.  In a huge showing of solidarity, some schools across the Eastern Coast of the United States are even closed today because so many teachers are women, and the schools just can’t function without them. I mean, we kind of all already knew that, right? But I think it’s really interesting to see the school boards realize and cope with that fact.

Women in Bolivia

Canada is definitely not perfectly equal by any means, but I definitely notice a difference when living in other countries like Bolivia. Inequality between genders in Bolivia is a lot more overt that I’m used to… Here are a few examples, just from my workplace, just from the last few weeks. They’re working to improve rights for women but it slow progress…

Since I work at a technical school, we focus on trades (like carpentry, plumbing, and metal work). This means that gender stereotypes are even more pronounced.  Although we have students of both genders, it can be quite obvious that the girls end up doing the sweeping up while the boys carry heavy bags. The boys tend to think the girls are “not strong enough to be capable”, even though most boys in Bolivia are smaller than girls in Canada (but apparently see themselves as very big and strong, regardless).

The management is always very happy to announce that we have more women than men on staff. However, it is rarely mentioned that the women hold the roles of secretary, cleaning lady, and accountant, while the men hold the roles of director and (every) professor. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence…

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I won! :) – Best Travel Blogger of 2016

nepaliaustralianblogaward2016Guess what? I won “Travel Blog of the Year” 2016 for this blog! How exciting is that? If you didn’t read my original blog post about being nominated, then here’s the short version. Every year, a fellow blogger who goes by “Nepaliaustralian” nominates her favourite 5 blogs in a variety of categories, such as food, travel, photography, and fashion.  This year, I was one of the top 5 nominees for “Travel Blog” of the year, and yesterday I found out that I came in first – wow! 🙂

Thanks to all my fans out there who voted for me – I guess it paid off! I started off blogging mostly for my friends and family to follow along on my adventures while I travelled. Over the years, I have gained other followers (who I don’t know – hey you guys!) and starting branching off from just travel to talk about other issues I care about like human rights, privilege, new things I learn about the world, life in developing countries, facts about new cultures, and international development.

In the coming months and years, I’m going to dedicate even more time to my blog. I’m hoping to write at least once a week so you all know what I’m up to! It might not always be right away, but I will try to write about all the places I go and the important things I learn. I think it’s important to constantly better yourself and learn about the world around you. There’s no shame in saying you didn’t know about a certain issue in a certain country, but I do think you’re always a better person if you seek out new information and then try to do what’s in your power to change the world for the better. You may not always succeed, but at least you can say you tried!

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No electricity? How would I even survive?!

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, or if we know each other in real life, you’ll probably know that most of my travels take me to “developing countries”. While I don’t love this term, I realize that it’s the best phrase we currently have to describe the group of countries where organizations and government from places with Canada normally do work in “international development”. I honestly enjoy my time living in places like Nepal, Ghana, and Bolivia. It is not the “norm” for places where people enjoy travelling, but it’s a great way to learn about the world. What better way to understand cultures than living in the same places where a majority of the world’s people live?  Although these countries have their challenges, I think the hardest for many people is learning how to live without access to modern luxuries.

garbageIn my latest blog (Living Without Modern Luxuries) I talk about some of the challenges of living without certain “luxuries” like running water and central heating. I also offer some suggestions for how to live a good life despite the lack of services in your new home. Although I haven’t ever lived in a place missing ALL of these things at the same time, I have lived in many places that often had regular outages of things like water or electricity, and I currently live in a place (Bolivia) where water outages are seasonal, central heating doesn’t exist, recycling is not available in my city, and hot water only comes out of shower heads. Here’s a sample of the first section of my newest blog:

There are many different places to live as an expat. In fact, any country other than your own would probably count, so you have hundreds of options! Most “expats” choose to live in comfortable countries with all of the modern amenities included. However, people are often surprised when I choose to live in “developing countries”. Although each country is different, these places often lack access to services that we would consider non-negotiable back in our home country.

coldCan you imagine renting an apartment in Canada and someone telling you that it didn’t have central heating and that you may figure out what to do during regular 12-hour power outages? I’m pretty sure you would say “No!” right away, and quickly leave to find another place that’s more suitable for your needs.  But in reality, that’s the kind of decision I make all the time when working in development. Although many rich expats have ways around these problems (like hiring someone to wash your laundry by hand for you, or buying an expensive gas generator), these solutions are not in the budget of your average aid worker. Plus, it’s often important to live in local neighbourhoods instead of embassy neighbourhoods, for the sake of learning about the culture and understanding the people you’re there to work with. So, how can you cope?

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