LAS PEÑITAS, Bolivia—Before he’d ever seen a paiche, fish trader Eric Salazar had heard the giant Amazonian fish could grow up to 10 feet long, weigh 400 pounds and eat a man whole. The paiche, or Arapaima gigas, is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish. Native to the jungles of Peru and Brazil, it first appeared in nets in Bolivia’s Amazon Basin in the early 1990s. As it migrated upriver, rumors traveled with it. People said it was created by nefarious Peruvian scientists, that they fed it with the blood of farm animals, that it wasn’t a fish at all but a monster. (more…)
Even in the context of a huge and under-appreciated continent, La Paz, Bolivia’s high-altitude administrative capital, is something of an obscurity. Most travelers barely pass through for a stopover en route to the jewel-like mineral lakes, fuming volcanoes, and the lunar salt flats at Uyuni. All that is about to change.
Ignore what you’ve heard about the city’s lack of obvious attractions. Forget about the protests that used to regularly shut down the colonial center. And cast away all your doubts about the food: notoriously bland mountains of meat and potatoes, washed down with tepid coke or a passable lager called Paceña.
Thanks to an unprecedented period of political stability and peace (courtesy of the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales), improved infrastructure, and a bonafide culinary revolution spearheaded by the co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, La Paz is ready for its moment in the spotlight. (more…)
Head to a local market in Bolivia, and the first thing you’re likely to notice is a smell, damp and vegetal, emanating from huge bushels of dried green leaves that are being sold for a few bucks a pound. These leaves are coca, and to Bolivians they’re far more than just the raw material used to make cocaine. Andean peoples have chewed or brewed the leaf for thousands of years, using it to increase stamina, aid digestion, and combat altitude sickness. More recently, it’s become a gourmet ingredient in the nation’s administrative capital of La Paz, a city that has in recent years been transformed from a culinary backwater to an unexpected darling of the global eaterati.
Every morning is a cold morning in La Paz. The capital of Bolivia sits in a steep-sided basin 12,000 feet above sea level—the highest peak in the Rockies isn’t much higher—surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains and the flat expanse of the Altiplano. The sky is the kind of blue that gives its name to my favorite flavor of sno-ball, but that never quite materialized in the hazy Mid-Atlantic, where I grew up. Clouds are so close overhead that you can match them to their freeform shadows as they drift uphill. In La Paz, you often feel as though everything is uphill, the altitude working like a weight on your ankles, your lungs, your head. It can take days to stop feeling tired here, whether you’re a visitor stopping through or a resident returning from a more richly oxygenated sojourn somewhere closer down to earth—which is anywhere at all. (more…)
“On All Souls Day, the butterflies arrive,” Mauricio told me, clutching his violin and bow, “and the spiders cross the road.”
We were in the tiny village of Santa Ana de Velasco, a remote settlement on the Jesuit Mission Circuit of the Gran Chiquitania in the lowlands of southeastern Bolivia. We had just left mass at the village’s 18th-century church, the last and smallest of the UNESCO-protected Jesuit missions built in the region. Outside, the expansive plaza was empty save a few boys roughhousing in the pavilion at its centre. (more…)