THE SPANISH LANGUAGE
is the second most spoken language in the world due to the number of speakers who claim it as their native tongue (after Mandarin Chinese). It is spoken as a first and second language amongst 450 and 500 million people. It is the third most spoken language as a first or second language after Mandarin Chinese and English combined, and is the mother tongue to 400 million people worldwide... Read more
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT BOLIVIA
The Republic of Bolivia, named after Simón Bolívar, is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil on the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina on the south, and Chile and Peru on the west.
.: La Paz (government)
.: Sucre (legal)
.: Total: 1,098,581 km² (28th) 424,163 sq mi
.: From Spain: August 6, 1825
.: Spanish, Aymara, Quechua
.: 2005 census : 8,857,870
.: Density: 8.4/km² (210th) 21.8/sq mi
A fascinating land of ancient heritage and tradition, Bolivia, with its soaring peaks and sapphire skies, has been likened to the Tibetan Plateau. Home of the Aymaran civilization before being conquered by the grand Inca Empire and then the Spanish, Bolivian culture reflects its rich and varied history. This history is reflected in Bolivia’s three official languages: Aymara, Quechua and Spanish. In Bolivia it is possible to glimpse many of the old ways– like the hand-woven reed boats that skim across Lake Titicaca as they have done for hundreds of years.
Bolivia is home to impeccably preserved ancient sites and a living Andean culture. The brilliant weavings, music and spirit of Bolivia’s Andean ancestors can be seen, heard and experienced throughout its villages and towns. Festivals and fiestas of both Catholic and indigenous origin enliven streets and churches throughout the year. The awe-inspiring, natural beauty of its altiplano, snow-capped mountains, savannas, the Pantanal (one of the two largest wetlands in the world), magnificent rainforests in the northeastern part of the country, and colorful strength of its culture make Bolivia a truly unforgettable destination!
PEOPLE AND CULTURE BOLIVIA
In pre-Columbian times, craft and artisanship were focused on architectural achievement, gold and silver ornaments, ceramics, and intricate weavings. The Incas introduced new systems of roads and aqueducts, hanging bridges, surgical and medical practices and songs and rituals. After the conquest, the Spanish brought their own traditions, art and ideas, which the locals developed into a distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as "Mestizo Baroque." The era produced some skilled painters, sculptors, stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths and is characterized by churches, religious paintings, sculptures, woodcarving and embroidery.
Bolivia’s regional folk music is distinctive and varied. In 1952, a return to traditional music followed nationalistic reforms granting increased social, cultural and political awareness for the Aymara and Quechua natives, and a folklore department in the Ministry of Education was founded. Today Bolivia is rich with traditional music and instruments, which include the siku (Andean pan pipes), quena (Andean flute), skin drums, copper bells, bronze gongs, and the charango, which resembles a small guitar and was originally made from the shells of armadillos. The national dance is the Cueca, which originated from the Chilean version of the dance. Cueca consists of couples moving in three-quarter time while waving handkerchiefs. The Cueca dance of Bolivia is most commonly seen during festivals. Also, the devil dances at the annual carnivals of Oruro and Tarabuco are one of the great folkloric events of South America.
About 95 percent of the population is Roman Catholic with a much smaller percentage actually participating in religious activities. Women are traditionally known to be more religious, attend church regularly and practice their customs. However, much of the Catholic observance is blended with pre-Colombian ritual. An example is the near synonymous association of Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the Virgin Mary. Also, on religious feast days, pagan pre-Columbian rites are still practiced, and the Indians express themselves through dances and songs that blend the two cultures. In such festivities, some symbolic dress presents the Indian interpretation of European attitudes: the dance of the palla-palla or loco palla-palla caricatures the European invaders, the dance of the waka-tokoris satirizes bullfights, and the morenada mocks white men, who are represented leading imported African slaves.
Bolivia has a diversity of geographical zones with varied climate, culture and food. Bolivian cuisine has great variety of dishes mainly meat, fish and poultry blended with herbs and spices. The diet also consists of fresh fruit and vegetables. Some traditional dishes include Majao which is a rice dish with eggs, beef and fried banana, ‘Silpancho’ meat served with rice and potatoes, Pacumutu is a rice dish with grilled beef, fried yucca and cheese, ‘Saltenas’ and ‘Empanadas’ which are meat or vegetable pies, ‘Locro’ is a soup made with rice, chicken and banana and ‘Chicharron de Pacu’ made with the local Pacu fish, rice and yucca.
Alcoholic beverages include beer and wine along with local specialties like 'Singanis' a kind of pisco and Chicha (fermented maize). Non-alcoholic beverages include 'Api' and 'Zomo', (sweetened flour of maize boiled in water with cinnamon), as well as a host of tropical fruit juice drinks. The larger cities have excellent restaurants serving a variety of international cuisines.
Bolivian literature has a unique and distinguished history which features such writers as Gastón Suárez, Alcides Arguedas, Jaime Saenz, Pedro Shimose, and Franz Tamayo.
The daily dress of highland Indian women in both the urban and rural regions remains traditional: very full skirts (polleras) and colourful shawls. The latter are usually stuffed with goods being taken to market for sale, as well as with fresh purchases, extra clothing, and a baby, all in a carefully balanced bundle on the back, leaving both hands free. Hats always complete the outfit, their shapes varying with the different regions of Bolivia.
In dress, language, architecture, and lifestyle, the large Native American population follows the ways of its ancestors with a mixture of modified Spanish traditions. Clothing is colorful and suited to life in high altitudes. For example, many Bolivian women wear brightly colored Native American clothing and stovepipe or derby hats. Holidays and religious festivals are celebrated by dancing and festivities. The Spanish-speaking population, which is largely European in ancestry, has adopted some of the Native American customs but generally follows Western traditions.
The official languages of Bolivia are Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish. Over half of Bolivia’s population is of pure Indian heritage, and only 60-70% of the population speaks Spanish, and then often as a second language. The indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara are the preferred languages. When bargaining in rural markets, a Quechua word or two will go a long way. There are at least 30 other indigenous languages spoken by smaller groups. English is usually understood only in the best hotels, airline offices, and travel agencies.
For the first time, thousands of indigenous children in Bolivia are learning to read and write in their native languages--Aymara and Quechua--as well as in Spanish. An innovative bilingual education program began in 1990 that features texts depicting rural traditional life and dress.
GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT BOLIVIA
Bolivia is a landlocked country in central South America and is bordered by Brazil on the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina on the south, and Chile and Peru on the west. It is made up primarily of six regions: The Andes, the Altiplano, the Yungas, the highland valleys, the Gran Chaco, and the tropical lowlands of the Parana and Amazon basins.
Two major braches of the Andes make up Bolivia's mountain territory. The Andes run through western Bolivia in two separate principal Cordilleras. The Cordillera Occidental is closer to the Pacific and has many isolated summits made primarily of volcanoes. This is where Sajama, Bolivia's highest peak at 6,542m/21,465ft can be found. The Cordillera Real has steep and rugged mountains with permanent snow, glaciers and contains the origins of many whitewater rivers.
Altiplano literally means high plain, the altiplano is actually made up of valleys, small hills and rolling areas, volcanoes, rivers and lakes as well as salt flats, including the world's biggest salt flat (Salar de Uyuni). It is generally cold, windy, and mostly treeless, covered with native ‘ichu’ grass, Thola bushes, and ocassional stands of native trees called Quenua. The Altiplano contains freshwater Lake Titicaca, which is north-west of the Bolivian capital, La Paz. Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest, large navigable lake. The lake borders both Bolivia and neighboring Peru. The Desaguadero River, outlet for Lago Titicaca, feeds Lago Poopó, a saltwater lake, to the southeast. The huge expanse of Lake Titicaca, is the highest navigable body of water in the world.
The Yungas are on the eastern side of the Andes and are primarily the steep jungle-covered mountains. The upper reaches are made of cloud forests with rivers that cascade off the high glaciated summits and cut their way down into the upper Amazon Basin. They are rich in flora and fauna and some of Bolivia's most spectacular parks, including Madidi National Park, are located here. Here you can find thermal baths, good fishing, trekking, rafting and nature tours and ancient Inca trails. This region provides the bulk of fruits and vegetables for the highlands and is home to coca plant cultivation. The climate is hot and there is a lot of rain, especially in the summer time.
The Highland Valleys:
The Highland Valley region lies east and southeast of the Altiplano and has the most hospitable climate in the whole country, with rolling hills, valleys and basins that are part of the Central Cordillera. The soil is fertile and the climate is Mediterranean-like, except that it rains in the summer (just like the rest of Bolivia) as opposed to the winter time. The Highland Valleys, where a large majority of the colonial Spanish cities were founded, is the second most populous region of Bolivia with cities such as Cochabamba, Sucre, Tarija and Potosi. Many of the luxurious mansions and estates of colonial times are being renovated to accommodate tourists. Major roads connect all of these cities and a few modern highways have brought these areas into the 21st century only recently. In-country flights give easy access to these areas from cities across the country.
The Gran Chaco:
This region, located in the south-eastern corner of the department of Santa Cruz and bordering with Argentina and Paraguay, has been characterized as a harsh but beautiful land of thick brush, cactus, and grassy expanses where temperatures can reach the high 40s (C) /105-113 (F). It boasts one of the most diverse regions for wildlife (like peccary and jaguar) and flora. Much petroleum production also comes from this area. Very few and isolated settlements are in this region. The only large town, Villamontes, is situated on the railway and is said to be Bolivia's hottest spot.
The Tropical Lowlands:
This region is made up of two major basins the Upper Amazon in the north and east and the Parana in the south-east. In the north lie the vast savannahs, thick jungles and broad rivers of the Beni, Pando and La Paz departments. In the East, the grasslands and jungles of Santa Cruz and the jungles and rivers of Cochabamba in the Chapare region. The meetingplace of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz is the elbow of the Andes. It contains a wide range of ecosystems from high mountains and cloud forests to semi-tropical valleys and thick jungles and rivers. Amboro and Carrasco National Parks, the Chaco National Park, and the Noel Kempf Mercado National Park are located here. This region is hot and humid and rains anytime throughout the year.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE BOLIVIA
There are primarily two seasons in Bolivia - the dry and the wet. The dry season is from May to October, the winter time months. The wet season is from November to April, the summer time months. It is coldest during the months of June to September and wettest from December to March. Although Bolivia lies entirely within the tropics, its varied elevation gives it a wide range of climate types. In the higher elevations, conditions are cold, dry, windy and bright. The atmosphere is thin, and the daily temperature can go from one extreme to the other. The climate is warmer in the lower-lying regions, with both lush and humid and dry kinds of heat – depending on the area. Mean annual temperatures range from about 8°C (about 46°F) in the Altiplano to about 26°C (about 79°F) in the eastern lowlands.
The currency of Peru is the Bolivian Boliviano (BOB). There are 100 centavos to each Boliviano. At the time of writing USD $1.00 was equal to Bs. 8.00. In the large cities, there are a number of automatic teller machines that take credit cards and numerous "Casas de Cambio" where Travelers Checks may be cashed or US Cash may be changed.
If you can't find a cambio, try travel agencies, jewelry or appliance stores and pharmacies..
There are also ATMs that except Eurocards. It is useful to arrive with American dollars as, for cash, US dollars are the only foreign currency accepted throughout Bolivia, but currencies of neighboring countries can be exchanged in border areas. When changing money, be careful that you are not distracted with anything to make you lose count of what you have been given. Also take care that ATM machines do not duplicate each of your withdrawals in the records (without actually giving you twice the money) creating a double drain on your account. Credit cards may be used in larger cities, but not elsewhere - best bet stick to using ATMs in major centers.