“We travel to lose ourselves, and we travel to find ourselves.” Pico Iyer
This week I’ve been spending time up in El Alto. El Alto is the city above La Paz. It’s where the airport is located and it’s only slightly smaller than La Paz in population. It is almost all Aymara. In fact, El Alto is the worlds largest Native American city! The Aymara are a strong and proud group of people. Their chiseled wind-burned features and wide-chested physiques are as much a result of evolutionary adaptation as their community activism, quest for justice and take-no-prisoners attitude towards life is a result of over 500 years of oppression and racial injustice! I admire these people and am fascinated by their ability to overcome adversity.
Part of the reason that I’ve been hanging out in El Alto is to interview people. Not just any people but women who have been innovative, or brave, or trend-setters in some small or big way. I interviewed an Aymara women who built her own greenhouse and has been growing organic produce and selling it at the first organic farmer’s market in La Paz. Dona Norah is a rock star! She hauls her huge bags of produce with her for the two hour commute into La Paz. She uses three modes of transportation to get there with a few little ones clinging to her skirt. Whew! Makes me tired just thinking about it.
My other reason for hitting El Alto is indigenous women wrestlers, also know as Cholitas Luchadoras or simply, Lucha libre. The first Sunday I went I had to sit through all the ridiculous antics and costumes of the men fighters (okay fine, some are so stupid that all you can do is laugh). I left before all the Cholitas (Indigenous women) came out because it was taking so long. I just saw the one woman fighting the man. I went back the second Sunday late hoping just to see the Cholitas and wouldn’t you know it- yep, they finished early. Missed it again!
My third big trip to El Alto was ito nterview the edgy, upbeat and in your face Nina Uma! She’s a “famous” Spanish/Aymara rapper and hip hop radio personality. I contacted her on “Whatsapp” asking for an interview like I was Barbara Walters. She immediately responded with a big Yes! Damn if I didn’t start sweating! What? Now she’s going to find out that I’m a fool. Well, she never found out because she stood me up! Oh well. I did my part!
In other news…Dana, my bike partner through Bolivia arrived on Tuesday morning. He is settling into his new reality. On Monday morning we take a bus to Oruro where “we” will put our bikes back together, buy food and get ready for take off on Wednesday…Yikes!
After 18 days in La Paz, I’m both ready to leave and sentimental. This city has been good to me, and I won’t soon forget her!