jueves, 16 de junio de 2016

The top 10 stereotypical expats living in La Paz.

La Paz welcomes a small number of new foreign residents each year.  Although immigration statistics are hard to come by, it’s fair to say it’s not the world’s premier expat destination.  This little-known capital of a landlocked and hard to reach country has a modest economy and limited foreign investment opportunities.  What expats get instead is a very low cost of living, warm and friendly people, fascinating indigenous culture and unparalleled natural beauty.
We all have different motivations for living in La Paz.  “What are you doing here?” is the go-to question between newly acquainted expats.  Although responses are always interesting and insightful, the typical expat can easily be stereotyped.
Therefore, I present to you my list of the top 10 only slightly offensive stereotypical expats living in La Paz.

1. The English Teacher
The English Teacher is an adventurous nomad who has lived in countless exotic locations around the world.  They love nothing more than to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in an unfamiliar foreign culture.  The English Teacher isn’t here for the money; they admit to living a comparatively modest lifestyle.  Instead, they come for the unique culture and breathtaking landscapes that La Paz has on offer.  You’ll often find The English teacher in their institute’s staff room discussing the most effective way to explain the Present Perfect Continuous to a lower intermediate student.

2. The Significant Other
The Significant Other met the Bolivian man or woman of their dreams, fell in love and decided to make it work by packing up everything they own and moving across the globe.  It’s a big risk to take but it happens all the time.  You’ll often find The Significant Other at the Multicine eating Pollos Copacabana before a movie date with the love of their life (especially on Wednesday’s two-for-one special).  Love has no boundaries.

3. The NGO Worker
The NGO Worker is a 20-something-year-old European with endless energy and enthusiasm.  They come to La Paz en masse to gain interesting life experience and help the less fortunate.  Many work here as volunteers, but that doesn’t faze them because they can survive on their home back account and know the extra work experience on their résumé  will pay serious dividends.  You’ll often find The NGO Worker chain smoking cigarettes at a Sopocachi café while discussing the local politics of some far-flung pueblo in Chuquisaca.

4. The Academic Researcher
The Academic Researcher comes to Bolivia to write a thesis potentially titled “The adverse effects of illegal logging on the blue-throated macaw”.  They are ridiculously knowledgeable on their chosen subject and are always happy to share said knowledge.  You’ll often find The Academic Researcher at a party stressing about how their thesis is due next week and they’ve only written two pages.

5. The Retiree
The Retiree doesn’t mind Bolivia’s below average salaries because their working years are well and truly behind them.  While they might run a small business to keep them occupied; it’s their foreign pension that brings in the real money.  Bolivia’s becoming more popular as a retirement destination for its low cost of living and decent (private) healthcare system.  However, most retirees look for somewhere warm to spend their twilight years so it’s no surprise that there aren’t that many calling La Paz home.  Santa Cruz on the other hand, has plenty.  You’ll often find The Retiree complaining on Facebook about how things “just ain’t as good as they are in the US”.

6. The Missionaries
The Missionaries are a married couple in their fifties who moved to Bolivia 20 years ago from Utah.  They’ve settled here permanently to spread the word of God by helping those most in need.  The Missionaries’ modus operandi is to start a small NGO that provides food and shelter, hand out bibles and convince the locals of their need to be closer to the Almighty.  You’ll often find The Missionaries reading a passionate sermon in a low socio-economic neighbourhood church or saying “Que Dios te bendiga” to random passers-by.

7. The Businessman
The Businessman settled in La Paz years ago at the insistence of their locally born significant other.  With savings earned or inherited in their home country, The Businessman successfully invested in a bar, restaurant or hostel that caters to the tourism industry.  You’ll often find The Businessman complaining to his cashed up colleagues in an upmarket watering hole about Evo Morales’ excessive increases to the minimum wage.

8. The Student
The student moved here in order to take advantage of Bolivia’s ridiculously cheap educational system.  They often hail from other Latin American countries and assimilate effortlessly into the Bolivian way of life.  The Student typically only stays for the duration of their degree at which point they happily return home with their new-found knowledge and expertise.  You’ll often find The Student complaining to anyone who’ll listen about how poorly funded their university is.

9. The Professional 
The Professional has extensive qualifications and experience in the field of Petroleum Extraction Engineering or the like.  They originally moved here for their job in a large multinational energy company, but eventually fell in love with the place (or a significant other) and decided to stay.  The Professional can be found indulging in beer and tapas at a high-end Zona Sur “After Office” with a table of rowdy Armani suit wearing compatriots.

10. The Digital Nomad
The Digital Nomad has mastered the art of making a living online.  They are skilled writers, programmers, web designers or online marketers.  The Digital Nomad loves Bolivia for its low cost of living and easily avoidable tax regulations.  You’ll often find The Digital Nomad at home on the telephone complaining to their Internet Service Provider about how f*^@ing slow their connection is.

jueves, 5 de mayo de 2016

Peggy in La Paz!

Six months ago today I remember my first, very memorable view of La Paz. Dozing in the back of a taxi after a long flight I was suddenly and unexpectedly aware of a sprawling and colourful city. Thousands and thousands of multi-coloured houses, precariously stacked on top of each other, watched over by the majestic snow-capped Illimani, winking in the morning sun. It was a wonderful start to a wonderful adventure. I was taken to San Pedro, a bustling neighbourhood where there is never a dull moment and my home for the next 6 months.

I’ve loved living in and exploring this incredible and diverse country. Living at 12, 000 feet makes everyday spectacular and allows for some truly breathtaking (in more sense than one) adventures. Tucked in amongst the monstrous Cordilleras range there is unlimited trekking and exploring to enjoy.  Head 569km south and you can find the other-worldly splendour of Salar de Uyuni with its moon-scapes, pink flamingos, volcanic plains, and dark night skies crammed with stars. To the west there is steamy jungle teeming with birds and wildlife. My highlights have been camping trips in the mountains, whizzing down the dramatic and infamous death road, and exploring the beautiful Toro Toro National Park

Working at Instituto Exclusivo has been a real pleasure. There is a lovely team of teachers here and I felt very welcomed from my very first day. Our classes are usually one on one or small groups which means you end up getting to know your students really well. We teach in class, on Skype, and at people’s homes or work. This makes for a diverse group of students making everyday unique. From Bolivian businesswomen, to Spanish UN ambassadors, to plastic surgeons in Italy, to Bolivian teenagers, I’ve definitely had an eclectic bunch of people. It’s been really fun teaching them and they’ve taught me some things too.

If you’re thinking of coming to teach and live in La Paz I would highly recommend packing your sunscreen (particularly if you’re a fellow scot) and heading out here. It’s an interesting, diverse and lively place and I feel very privileged to have lived and worked here. 
Good luck and happy travels!

jueves, 21 de enero de 2016

Kateri's Top 4 La Paz Experiences!

So you’ve arrived in La Paz and are wondering what to do with your time.  There is no easy answer to this question, La Paz is an incredible tourist destination and at times can be extremely overwhelming with its plethora of activities and guiding companies welcoming you at every turn.  Sometimes even searching online won’t give you the upfront honest answers you are looking for.  If this is the case for you, I am here to help.  I have had the opportunity to live in this city for the past 6 months and pretty much every weekend has been a different adventure of sorts.  I’m here to tell you about my top 4 experiences so far, both on and off the tourist map.  All of these are within a 45 minute mini bus/taxi ride of the city and are extremely low budget.  If you find yourself in La Paz for only a few days and want to make the most of them, I highly recommend any of the following:  

#1: Paragliding with AndesXtremo
AndesXtremo is a small local company that specializes in extreme sports.  They do everything from paragliding, to trekking to rock climbing.  The guides are incredibly safe, professional and helpful.  I chose to partake in a once in a lifetime opportunity to fly over the Andean mountains on the outskirts of La Paz.  The cost is 450 Bs, which is on the lower end of the usual guided tour prices.  A paragliding trip with AndesXtremo will begin in La Paz, followed by a beautiful drive through the south and then up a steep road that will bring you to the right altitude for takeoff.  The launch point offers you stunning views of Illimani and the surrounding mountains.  After a safety talk and gear check, you will be ready to fly eye to eye with the birds.  These are the best guides in Bolivia and I had the time of my life.  After a thrilling thin air, Andean style paragliding experience they will take you for some popular local food and drink in Mallassa.  Overall a 10/10 experience and I would recommend it to anyone who has an extra day to spare and the taste for a little La Paz Xtreme.  

#2: Hiking the Tuni Condoriri
Tuni Condoriri is a wonderful, high altitude hike achievable in one day if you are short on time, or two days if you would rather take your time and camp among the mountains and glacial lakes at base camp.  This “short” trek takes you through the spectacular, glaciated Andes, and is possible for anyone in good physical condition and well acclimated to the altitude.  No special equipment is required, just good hiking boots, warm, layered clothing, sun, wind and rain protection. The trek starts at an altitude of 4500m and rises slowly to the turquoise Chiar Khota Lake, at the base of massive glaciated peaks.  The summit is at a stunning 5400m viewpoint with views of the Cordillera and Lake Titicaca.  You could use a guiding company for this trek if you like, but it is also possible to organize your own transport to the base of the hike at Janchillani, and (as long as you are well prepared) do the trek on your own!  Transportation takes about 2 hours and will take you through El Alto, the Bolivian Antiplano , and the Cordillera Real.  I did this trek in two days with a group of 6 friends.  We had a fantastic time both hiking and camping.  It is a solid hike with stunning views without too much technicality and preparation necessary.  Definitely a must-do! 

#3:  Rocking Climbing and Hiking La Muela del Diablo
La Muela del Diablo is an iconic feature of the La Paz landscape.  The name means “Devil’s Molar” and refers to the shape of this massive rock feature.  It is visible from all parts of the city -  always reminding you to go check it out! Many people know that it is possible to hike this, but not many people know that you can actually rock climb it as well! There are bolted sport routes hidden in plain sight all over the formation.  Unfortunately, not much is written online about the specific routes, but if you are an experienced climber, know your personal limits and have the right gear, it is well worth a try.  The only website I have found any beta about the type of climbs available is on https://www.mountainproject.com/v/west-tower/110875008. My brother and I did this without using a guide because we are experienced climbers and had brought all our gear with us.  It is possible, however, to find a Bolivian guiding company to “show you the ropes”.  Even if you can’t rock climb La Muela, I highly recommend the 4 hour day hike from La Muela to the town of Jupapina.  You can access La Muela cheaply using the mini bus system, or a taxi service.  A taxi would cost around 80 bolivianos, but if you take a mini bus it will only be 3bs! Take the mini bus to Los Pinos as far as it will go and then just hike up through the town and you will find your way to La Muela.  Definitely worth checking out and it is only about 30 minutes away from the city center!

#4: Colibri Camping night out with friends 
Finally, if you are feeling city cramped and needing a quick escape into nature and silence, I recommend a trip to Colibri Camping Eco Lodge.  This is a beautiful camping facility with tents, teepees, cabins, a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, hot showers, hammocks, firepits and more! The best part is that it is an easy minibus ride from La Paz to Jupapina, it´ll only cost you 3bs!  I would recommend combining a day hike from La Muela del Diablo with a night camping at Colibri for an extremely full day and night of outdoor fun.  The owners of the camping facility would be more than happy to organize transport and tell you everything you need to know to make this adventure a success. It is amazing how wonderful it feels to find silence and stars no more than 40 minutes away from the hustle bustle of La Paz city center. If you are looking for a break from it all, this is the place to go! 

These are only a handful of the wonderful activities La Paz has to offer.  I hope this has inspired you to find yourself on an epic adventure, even if you only have a day or two and under 100 dollars to spare.  Good Luck and Happy Trails!

- Kateri Raglow