If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts (see my second post here), you’ll probably guess that I spend most of my days sitting at my desk. It’s true that I spend most days reading hundreds of pages of research, entering data into spreadsheets, and writing briefs. That said, I also take advantage of opportunities to get away from the desk, whether by joining colleagues for events, or spending my weekends exploring La Paz and other beautiful places throughout the country. Read on for some insight into my life outside the UNICEF Bolivia office!
Exploring La Paz…from up above
One of the downright coolest things about La Paz is their teleférico (cable car) system. Starting with my very first conversation with my AirBnB host, Paceños (people from La Paz) seem to unanimously rave about the teleféricos—so I knew that I’d need to experience it for myself.
La Paz’s “Mi Teleférico” system boasts the title of being the most expansive aerial cable car system in the world. As the backbone of the public transportation system in La Paz, the teleférico system has an impressive 10 lines that can take people to/from most parts of the city—just in the air. There’s a constant stream of available teleféricos, and while I’m sure it gets busy during rush hour on the weekdays, most routes that I’ve taken have been a calm atmosphere and the teleférico cabins haven’t been packed (except that one time I made the mistake of taking the route that leads up to the city’s biggest mercado, on the biggest market day of the week). It also costs about $1 USD to go on five different lines, which makes this a cost-effective, and safe, way to get around the city.
But my favorite aspect of taking the teleférico is the spectacular views. I’ve spent entire weekend mornings leisurely hopping from one teleférico line to the next. Since I sometimes get the entire cabin to myself, it’s been a really nice way to relax while seeing parts of the city from up above. Like many Paceños, I’m determined to take all 10 lines before leaving La Paz, and between site visits for work and my weekend jaunts, I’m doing great— 9 down, 1 to go!
UNICEF Bolivia also has a partnership with Mi Teleférico, where several of the cable cars on the celeste line (UNICEF’s iconic color) proudly display various aspects of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, as a part of UNICEF’s #YoPorLaNiñez campaign. From the right to an identity and nationality, to the right to equality regardless of race, religion, or nationality, to the right to education that cultivates solidarity, friendship, and justice.
One Sunday during my first few weeks in La Paz, I joined my supervisor and a couple of other colleagues for a day of celebrating the migrant population of La Paz. Since one of my main personal and professional interests is migration, I was giddy with excitement to learn about migration here in La Paz, especially since I was in the company of one of my colleagues who is equally as passionate (she even spent a couple of weeks working with UNICEF at the Mexico-Guatemala border during the “caravan crisis” a few months ago).
The event, organized by the Pastoral Movilidad Humana La Paz- Casa del Migrante (a Catholic charity), was meant to be a celebration highlighting the diversity of migrants in Bolivia, paying special attention to the sizeable population of newly arrived Venezuelan refugees.
While there were musical and dance performances, it was basically a food festival, with folks representing different cultures/nations each having a booth with signature cultural dishes. We shared so much good food—arepas from Venezuela (these were SO GOOD), empanadas from Argentina, arroz chaufa from Peru, and even TACOS from Mexico (I’m Mexican, so you better believe I did a happy dance when I saw this booth).
This ended up being such a perfect way to spend a Sunday in La Paz. I had good food, went to a part of the city I hadn’t been yet, immersed myself in the local conversation about migration, and spent time with my colleagues.
Salar de Uyuni & More
In addition to exploring La Paz, a couple of weeks ago I embarked on a three-day adventure to the infamous Salar de Uyuni. Considering this is in my Lonely Planet book of 500 places to see in the world (thanks to my old college roomie, Katie, for this great gift), visiting the Salar had been on my list since before arriving to Bolivia. Little did I know that I’d end up planning my trip with two other Americans, who I met through the Expats in Bolivia Facebook group.
Our excursion started on a Wednesday, with an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni, where we arrived right after 5am. After sitting in a cafeteria getting to know each other for several hours, we headed over to the travel agency’s office to wait for our 4×4 jeep–the only way to travel through the Salar, given the salty/rocky/sandy terrain (there are basically no paved roads). We spent all of the first day traversing the vast salar (salt flat). At times it seems like it stretches on until the end of the world–all you can see are the salt flats and other jeeps traversing the terrain. It’s so other-worldly that some scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi were even filmed here. Lucky for me, the people I traveled with came well-prepared to use the Salar’s environment to take some perspective-altering photos–peep me “riding” a llama in the photo below!
After watching a beautiful sunset on the Salar on our first night (that’s the cover photo for this blog post), we headed to our hostel for the night. Given the remoteness of the Salar, and the desire to preserve its natural-state by not over-industrializing the area (yay for Bolivia!), most accommodations out there are really simple–they’re really just meant to be places to eat and rest your head.
The next day, we left the Salar and headed into new environments that made us feel like we had left one extra-terrestrial planet for another. From the multi-colored salt-water lakes that are surrounded by wetlands and home to flamingos, to the geysers that sprout from the volcanic-ash covered ground, to a desert that inspired Salvador Dalí, this tour gave us amazing new views every several hours.
Moral of these stories: taking advantage of weekends to go exploring is a must-do during the IEDP internship. Perhaps more importantly, if you ever find yourself in Bolivia, don’t miss out on an adventure to the Salar de Uyuni!