27.07.10 – La Paz, Tiahuanaco

Joined a guided tour to Tiahuanaco and prayed that the guide would be informative since I know zilch about this civilisation.

Along the way, we passed by a viewing point for the Cordillera Real, or the Royal Range. Another magnificent view of the great Andes.

Tiahuanaco was an important indigenous Andean civilisation in this region, with its influence eventually extending to south of Peru, north of Chile and Argentina, that could be distinguished by 3 periods: “village” (which is pre-Christ), “classic” (A.D.) and “expansion”.

There is an interesting museum which exhibits, amongst other things, a mummy in foetal position. If I remember the explanation about the foetal position correctly, the Andeans believe that in death they return the way as they arrive. While the Incan civilisation is the most well-known of the Andean civilisation, their practices are not necessarily unique and are influenced by earlier civilisations, e.g. Tiahuanaco.

At the archaeological site itself, the guide explained about the significance of astronomy to the civilisation and, typical of Andean tradition, the importance of the winter solstice. There was also a statue – an Andean emblem – that was strangely marked with a cross, and apparently this was an act of exorcism by a priest when the conquistadores (and consequently, Catholicism) came.

All in all a very informative session, so didn’t regret going for the tour at all. Had trout (again!) for lunch.

Got back to La Paz in the afternoon, and walked around a bit as well as visited the Museo de Coca. An interesting glimpse into the history and Yunga tradition of chewing coca leaves. Apparently, while Catholicism (when it came to the continent) considered coca leaves chewing to be diabolical, it was eventually still permitted because it was thought to improve the productivity of slaves! How utilitarian. However, the museum also exhibits studies that indicate that coca leaves do not actually improve work productivity; rather, it makes it easier to tolerate harsh working conditions. A sad but true fact that exists till today, apparently in the mines of Potosi.

There are also very informative studies of how cocaine came about, and how it is actually produced. While Bolivia is a large producer of coca leaves, and coca leaves itself provide the raw base for cocaine, chemicals are needed to make consumer cocaine and these chemicals come from outside Bolivia, particularly western countries, and the illegal cocaine industry is controlled by foreigners. So says the museum’s exhibits. But I am inclined to believe it: if cocaine is indeed as lucrative as they say, then why is Bolivia still such a poor country? Anyway, drinking coca tea – a form of green tea but with a fungus-y taste – is not going to make you high, nor infuse you with cocaine in your blood stream. Locals use it as a remedy for altitude sickness.

Even though it is very small, the museum is very informative and has explanation booklets in a variety of languages. It even has a coca cafe, kinda geared toward tourist with coca-flour baked cookies. But if you want to buy coca leaves, just walk outside to the streets, and you can easily buy a bagful, as this is very much part of Bolivian life.

Walked a bit more thereafter, passing by more souvenir stalls, hoping to find the Witches’ Market, just to realise that street was it! Slightly disappointed as I thought the Witches’ Market was for locals, but it really felt touristy, even though the dried llama foetuses (and the stench!), talismans and strange aphrodisiacs were curiosity-inducing.

For an evening snack, I had a cheese empanada and api, a typical Bolivian purple corn hot drink with herbs, and it tastes so familiar. Trying to recall where I had a drink that is similar to this before!!!


One thought on “27.07.10 – La Paz, Tiahuanaco

  1. MP

    Did you see lotsa women in bowler hats? Apparently some English merchant over stocked hats and spun a myth about good luck and that’s why Bolivian women sport that fashion now, so said Andrew Zimmern 🙂


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