viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014


 Last weekend one of our Spanish teachers, Carlos was kind enough to take a group of students and staff to the Ñatitas celebration at Cementerio General. Although I had previously visited Ñatitas, it was great to have the opportunity to go with someone more knowledgeable about this uniquely Bolivian celebration. This is really a “you have to see it to believe” kind of thing. Arriving at the cemetery, one is confronted by an array of skulls adorned with hats, sunglasses, smoking cigarettes and garlands of flowers. Around the skulls, families gather, chatting and drinking coke while musical groups play traditional songs nearby. The atmosphere is incredibly festive and happy, providing a strange contrast to the backdrop of mausoleums and graves. 

Below, Carlos will give you the low-down on the roots of this incredible Bolivian tradition.

This party is basically about sharing bread, candles, coca leaves and even cigarettes with the soul of the person remaining in the skull. In return we receive protection and good luck. The skulls are commonly found in small businesses in the city or country, especially near the door. They like privacy which is why it is normally a little difficult to see them, unlike during the ceremony of Ñatitas where the skulls are publicly displayed in the cemetery.

There are many theories about the origins of the Ñatitas. Some believe this tradition comes from the Aymara culture. The Yatiris used these skulls as lucky charms, not just for protection, but also to predict the future. Ñatitas were also used to ward off black magic. People in those days were so afraid of black magic that they would have a skull for the protection of themselves and future generations. The Ñatitas made up part of their will and would be inherited by the children after the parents died.

Another theory about this tradition comes from the Chaco war. According to some researchers, a single old lady, whose only son disappeared in action during the war, went looking for him when the war ended. The lady had dreamed about him dying on the battlefield and desperately went to the "Chaco" where found only a skull and took it as if it were from her dead son. She cared for the skull by lighting candles, talking to it and sharing coca leaves with it. She said her son was home and he was taking care of her house and businesses - which improved incredibly. The neighbour who saw this believed they could receive the same good luck and protection from the skulls as this lady did.

No matter the origin of this tradition, people enjoy sharing a day dancing and singing with the Ñatitas. Even though this is maybe not seen as an important celebration, like All Saints Day for example, it is important for the believers like me :)

jueves, 13 de noviembre de 2014

To Instituto Exclusivo and beyond...

Check out the new Instituto Exclusivo video made by Rebecca, one of our English teachers.  It gives a little taste of La Paz and life here at Instituto Exclusivo.  If you're toying with the idea of travelling it!  You won't regret it!  Latin America is so wonderfully diverse, with incredible people, places and cultures and by learning some Spanish, you will get so much more out of your travels.  Here at Instituto Exclusivo we provide our students with a safe, friendly place to learn Spanish that won't break the bank - pretty high concerns on any backpackers list (I say this from experience)!

So.....why come to Bolivia?

Por que no?! - You have nothing to lose!  Fear of the unknown puts so many people off travelling but it really is life-changing in the best possible way.  

The diversity - This country has so much to offer - from the jungle to the moutains and everything in between.  Think high plains, deserts, salt flats and hot hot heat. And Lago Tititcaca is pretty much as big as an ocean so we even have that ;)

The adrenaline rush -  and I'm not talking about the rush when you find out your long distance bus has a working toilet.  Tourism in Bolivia has grown rapidly over the last few years and extreme sports are really starting to take off.  A couple of La Paz companies who spring to mind for that sort of thing are Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking who provide crazy mountain biking trips in breathtaking locations and Urban Rush, if abseiling down a 17 story building dressed as spiderman is your thing.  From paragliding to swimming with pink dolphins there is something for everyone on this adrenaline spectrum. 

You get bang for your buck.  Hate saying it, but as a developing economy, prices are still very low here in Bolivia.  If you're coming in with dollars, pounds, euros etc your money goes will go an incredibly long way.  You can load up with as many llamas sweaters as you can fit in your backpack while still having enough left over to spend 4 days in a jeep touring the Salar de Uyuni before hot footing it to the jungle and going piranha fishing in Rurrenabaque. 

Last, but by no means least, Bolivian Spanish is easy to understand!  Might sound like a small thing but trust me, once you've heard two Chileans deep in conversation you'll realise how much easier it can be here.  
So what are you waiting for.....?

If this little list has whet your appetite then check out these links for more  information on Bolivia  - Bolivia Bella and Bolivia-online